Fitness Articles

Plateau Busters - Part 3

Add Variety to Your Workouts

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We hear it all the time—you changed your habits and lost weight steadily, but after awhile, that progress halted. You’ve been stuck at the same weight for days, weeks, or even months. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying your best, feeling like you are doing everything right, yet not making any progress towards your weight loss or fitness goals.

Before you inhale a bag of cookies to console yourself, realize that weight loss takes work, and isn’t always perfect. But there are plenty of ways you can re-energize your program (and motivation) to bust through your weight loss plateau.

But…what is a plateau anyway?
If you’ve been exercising and cutting calories for several weeks, and you’re no longer seeing the same results that you experienced in the beginning, then you’ve probably hit a plateau. This occurs when your progress comes to a standstill, and can be described as not making any “gains” (such as improving your fitness level or losing weight), but not necessarily moving backward (losing endurance or gaining weight).

Because every individual is unique, there’s no way to actually predict when a plateau might happen. However, the following principles of nutrition, rest, and variation will jumpstart your body, mind, and metabolism. (This article, part 3 in a series of 3, will focus on exercise variety. Consider reading Part 1: Eat the Right Nutrients at the Right Times and Part 2: Include Adequate Rest in Your Exercise Program first.) Incorporate some or all of the following suggestions to both prevent and overcome a weight loss plateau. With just a little tweaking, you’ll be in your skinny jeans in no time!
 
Add Variety to Your Workouts

Incorporate variation into each workout. Variety is critical because your muscles become very efficient at the exercises they are accustomed to doing. Switching things up or doing something radically different during each workout session is more challenging to your muscles. This concept should be applied to both aerobic exercise and strength training.

An individual who always does the same exercises will usually plateau sooner than someone who continually makes changes. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a different workout each time you hit the gym, try to change your exercise routine at least every 6-8 weeks. Changing your routine is crucial to keeping your body/muscles surprised. They'll have to work harder, you'll be challenged, and you'll burn more calories and build more lean muscle in the process.
  1. Change your cardio activity:
    • Change the type of exercise you usually do. The possibilities of aerobic exercise are endless. If you walk, try cycling. If you take kickboxing, try the elliptical. Consider adding some of these possibilities to your routine: running, jogging, walking, elliptical machine, swimming, cycling, indoor exercise, outdoor exercise, hiking, fitness videos/DVDS, group fitness classes like kickboxing, aerobics, spinning, stair steppers, etc.—anything, just change it up!
       
    • Change the duration of your workouts. Try to increase your minutes as you become fitter, and occasionally, try a shorter (but more intense) workout.
       
    • Change the intensity of your workouts. This is something you can play with on a daily basis. This includes working at an incline or harder level, sprint work, distance work, maintaining intensity, or interval work (shifting between fast/hard and easy/recovery intervals).
  2. Change your Strength Training Routine:
    • Change the mode of exercise. If you are using machines, move to free weights. If you are using body weight, try resistance bands. If you are doing free weights, add a stability element like a BOSU ball or stability ball. Try doing exercises while balancing on one foot or switch between any and all of these.
       
    • Change the exercises you actually do. If you have been doing chest press, change to a chest fly or use the pec deck machine. Think of an alternative exercise for each muscle group and you’ll have an entirely new workout! Check out SparkPeople's Exercise Demonstrations for more ideas.
       
    • Change your resistance level and/or number of repetitions. Be sure to increase your weight regularly. Make sure you are lifting to fatigue with each set. If you typically lift 12-15 reps, try doing 8-10 (with a higher weight) or vice versa. Play with your weight and reps in each set. Try lifting (as an example) 25 pounds for 15 reps, then 30 pounds for 12, then 35 pounds for 10 reps on your third set. You can also do it backwards, starting with high weight/low reps and working the weight down.
There are lots of ways to add variety to your workouts—and it's SO important that you do to continue losing weight and improving your fitness level. By always challenging yourself, you will avoid hitting a plateau in the first place, and overcome the one you're stuck in now.


The principles of nutrition, rest and variation all work closely together. When not followed properly, they can instigate a negative snowball effect: Repeating the same exercises can cause overtraining, which leads to plateaus and an inability to sleep. Lack of rest hinders you progress, making recovery take much longer, especially if you are not well-nourished and hydrated.

The human body is amazingly adaptable. By making a few changes in these areas, you can jumpstart your routine and see those positive results in no time.

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Member Comments

  • 97MONTY
    Information I can use.
  • Just started changing up exercise routine and it does make a diffetence.
  • BILLTHOMSON
    I think the key is I always have to challenge myself.
  • This was helpful. I hit a plateau last month after losing 17 lbs. I varied my routine and have begun to lose weight again, but not at the previous pace. I will incorporate some other tips into my routine-- especially adequate sleep.
  • Joined the 28 day bootcamp challenge to break the plateau
  • Thank you for the advice. I already do most of them. I don't drink alot so I guess I'll try that.
  • I hope that some of these tips will help me get past the plateau I have reached. I have started varying my exercise routine quite a bit and increased reps and weights on my strength training. Going to look for other things I can do as well.
  • It was hitting a plateau that brought me to Sparkpeople in the first place. I had lost a "quick" twenty pounds within two months of starting a diet/exercise program, and then everything ground to a halt. Finding resources and support like this is exactly what I had hoped when I signed up here.
  • TERIANA, losing ten pounds in one month is terrific! Whatever you are doing, it seems to be the right thing. Keep it up!
  • Okay, one month into SP and I have already hit my first plateau. Now this is when it gets scary for me because typically this is when I give up. I don't have a lot of options for working out because I live in a rural area, but I will get an exercise DVD and try that instead of walking. However, I doubt my body could have "grown accustomed" to walking in just a few weeks. I am feeling a bit discouraged today but I will not give up.
  • I came cross this article just at the right time. I have been in a kinda rut for the past month, not knowing why, now I am willing to try out these tips given by Nicole.
  • It should be understood that if you have tried all or some of the plateau suggestions and it doesn't work, then perhaps you do need other methods or need to see a nutritionist or endocrinologist. Basically these articles are offered to help those that it can help. My mom hit a plateau and I gave her the tips, she followed through and started losing weight again.
  • I agree with the most recent statement. I was 140 3 years ago and managed to gain 35 lbs within 2 years. I was working out 5-6 times per week 1-2 hours per day and still continued to gain weight. I eat well and watch my sugar, fat, and salt intake. The articles focusing on plateaus I've read on SparksPeople have been less than useful. I am hoping that there would be something for people who have tried everything and what they could do next. Something outside of the box, like seeing a nutritionist, or endocrinologist, looking at current health challenges and seeing if those would affect your weight. Also determing if medications are a cause and looking at alternative medicines. Please look into providing a more broad range of information for those of us who have gone through the usual steps of getting past a plateau. I plan on looking at other means of meeting my weight loss goals.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.