Plateau Busters - Part 2

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. Luckily, 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 backwards (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 2 in a series of 3, will focus on rest. Click here to read Part 1 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!
Include Adequate Rest in Your Exercise Program

1.  Always allow 1-2 days of rest between working muscle groups. During a strength training session, tiny tears occur in your muscle fibers, which cause that all-too-common muscle soreness that lasts about 1-2 days after lifting weights. In order for those tiny tears to repair themselves—rebuilding as stronger muscles than before—you MUST rest those muscles. For example, if you lifted arms on Monday, you should wait at least one day, preferably two, before overloading those muscles again (Wednesday or Thursday). If you don’t rest long enough for repair to occur, you will actually get weaker, which is the opposite of everyone’s goals, and a common plateau-causing culprit. (For an in-depth look at strength training, check out SparkPeople’s Reference Guide to Strength Exercise.)  
2.  Try active recovery. Research shows that engaging in lower intensity exercise after a strenuous workout session may be more beneficial than resting completely. There are two types of active recovery. The first is the typical cool down phase that you perform at the end of your workout. Properly cooling down has been shown to help your muscles recover faster, and reduce the levels of lactic acid in the muscles. The second type of active recovery involves exercising lightly in the days following a hard workout. So, rather than taking a day or two off from the gym, consider exercising at a lighter intensity level (go for an easy walk and follow up with some stretching, or try some gentle exercises such as yoga, for example). In addition to helping your muscles rebound, active recovery has also shown to enhance relaxation and psychological recovery.
3.  Get plenty of sleep. While most people are familiar with the concepts of rest, not everyone equates resting with sleeping. However, a significant amount of muscle repair occurs during your slumber. In turn, inadequate amounts of shut-eye hinder your ability to recover from exercise, making plateaus more likely. While every individual’s needs for sleep are different, most experts recommend getting AT LEAST 8 hours per night. Make sure this sleep is consistent during the week and through the weekends. After all, there is no real way to play catch-up when it comes to sleeping. If you are exercising intensely (long workouts most days of the week, or training for events such as marathons), your need for sleep may be even higher—up to 10 hours a night or more!