Plateau Busters - Part 3

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.