One of the most frustrating things in any exercise program is the dreaded plateau. In the desert it is beautiful, when it happens in your exercise or weight loss plan, not so much. I am hearing about this a lot lately with some of my students, many who are doing Pilates seven days a week!
Why does the plateau happen and what can we do to get past it without losing momentum in our program or giving up all together?
Hitting a plateau has definitely happened to me multiple times, so I know how it feels. It’s discouraging, certainly not a huge motivator like seeing progression is, and it’s maddening. What was working so well and got me to this point isn’t working anymore? Am I all of a sudden doing it wrong? Am I broken? Am I just destined to be a failure? Wait, is that a double chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie?! Give it to me now!
What many don’t understand is that plateaus happen. They are supposed to happen and they happen to everybody. Our bodies have what is called ‘muscle memory.’ When you repeatedly use the muscles in the same way, at the same intensity level, over time they adapt and adjust. In caveman times this was a survival mechanism. And just because we don’t fight wild animals for our dinner, our bodies still work the same way. Even though your workout may still seem challenging to you, the muscles are yawning and rolling their eyes at how boring it’s become. When you hit this plateau it is a signal to push the muscles harder and in different ways. This is why HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is so popular. The plateau effect is much less because you are always changing the intensity during your workout. But alas, it still does happen.
The best thing to do when you hit this plateau is keep a diary for a few days. Are you taking in more calories than you are burning? There are great easy to use apps for smart phones to track this. Or you can do it the old fashioned way with pen and paper. If you are cool in the calories ‘in’ and calories ‘out’ department, then next thing to look at is your intensity level. Add some time to your workout. If you are working out seven days per week for 40 minutes a day, try cutting that down to five and up it to 60 minutes per day. Also try varying the workouts themselves. In my opinion a combination of resistance/strength training and cardio is perfect, but if you have always done them separately, try combining them in one workout session. The more you can mix it up the better.
Once you hit that plateau again, and you will, go back to your original routines but with increased intensity. Eventually you will have a bag of tricks so big that anytime you hit that wall you will have something to get you over it pretty quickly. And remember, at a certain point, you are going to have reached your goal and want to switch to maintenance anyway. This is the time when you will be happy that plateau and that’s when the view is the best!
Here are my two favorite apps for calorie, exercise and weight loss tracking: