By Kim Roach
Has it happened to you? You begin to train hard and you’re watching your diet like a hawk. You start seeing some incredible improvements and then about 4 – 6 weeks into the program it seems like your training program has gone stale. The scale stops moving, the muscle stops growing, and you’re starting to look at those desserts with a vengeful eye. Stop! Refocus yourself. You have most likely hit a training plateau. Once you hit a plateau, it becomes much harder to lose weight or gain additional muscle, depending upon your current goals.
In the journey of fitness, plateaus happen to everyone. Your body is designed to adapt to any training or nutritional program. This adaptation response requires you to constantly make changes in your training program. If you want to continually make progress, you have to keep the body guessing. Fortunately, there are unlimited ways that you can break through a plateau. Here are some tips to get your body moving again.
Tighten Up Your Diet
Keep in mind that a diet does not mean restricting your calories to dangerously low levels. The key to a successful nutrition program is to eat fewer processed foods and center your diet around whole foods that are in their raw, natural state. To reach a new level of fitness, you may just need to clean up your diet. Most people do well on a diet composed of 50-55% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 15-20% fat. However, a drop in carbohydrates with a corresponding increase in protein can often help break through a plateau. Some people are more sensitive to carbohydrates, making it beneficial to limit this particular macronutrient. Increasing your protein intake will also have metabolic advantages.
Increase Your Meal Frequency
Having 5 small meals a day can immediately rev up your metabolism. Every time you consume calories, you give your metabolism a boost. Women should aim for 5 small meals per day while men should aim for six. Eating 5-6 smaller meals per day will help you reach new fitness levels. These frequent meals will also control your cravings and prevent binges.
Cycle your calories
When you put your body through extreme calorie deficits, your body will automatically adjust and begin to conserve energy (also known as calories). Prolonged calorie deficits cause your body’s metabolism to plummet and go into starvation mode. In starvation mode, your body tries to hold onto every calorie possible in order to conserve energy. Fortunately, using a method called calorie cycling, you can trick your body into keeping a high metabolic rate while you’re dieting for fat loss. Calorie cycling allows you to eat one to three days of higher calories and higher carbs followed by three days of lower calories and lower carbs. On these low calorie/low carb days, you lose body fat rapidly. However, before your body can adapt to these changes and go into starvation mode, you raise the calories back up so that you don’t hit a weight loss plateau. By increasing your calories, you also increase your metabolism and prepare your body to start burning fat again.
When you’re working towards fat loss, cardio should be one of the cornerstones of your training. For optimal results, each session should be a minimum of 30 minutes. However, if you find yourself hitting a plateau, increase this amount incrementally by five to ten minutes at a time. It is best not to go beyond 60 minutes in a single workout. By increasing your cardio time in intervals, you can bust through a fitness plateau and find which session yields the best results.
If you are already performing cardio workouts that last 45-60 minutes and are still looking for ways to increase your results, it’s probably time to increase your frequency. You should always start with at least three days per week of aerobic exercise. If you find that your routine has hit a plateau or you want to increase your rate of fat loss, begin to add one additional workout per week until you reach six or seven cardio workouts per week.
You can also use a training technique known as double cardio. Performing cardio twice a day can be used for short periods of time to break through a plateau and get extremely lean. These two-a-day workouts will provide you with an incredible boost to the metabolism and enormous calorie burn. However, keep in mind that this is not a long-term plan. It is only used to bust through a plateau or reach a new peak in your fitness level.
To reach a new level of fitness, you may just need to push yourself a little harder. Increase the intensity of your workout and you will immediately find yourself burning more calories in the same amount of time. If your heart rate is 120 push it up to 130. If you’ve been doing 30 minutes of walking on the treadmill, why not start some jogging. If you’ve been doing 30 minutes on the elliptical, why not try some high intensity interval training to crank up your workout. High intensity cardio allows you to push yourself for short bursts and then rest for a short period of time. The intervals can last from 30 seconds to two minutes. These type of interval workouts allow you to burn an enormous amount of calories in a relatively short period of time. Interval training also produces a greater post-exercise effect, burning calories even after the workout is finished. The possibilities are endless.
Don’t let your Body Go Stale
If you have been doing the same form of cardio 5 days a week for an entire month, you will likely hit a plateau. Your body will quickly adjust to any training routine you throw at it. Once this occurs, you will stop burning as many calories during that particular activity and weight loss will slow down or possibly even come to a screeching halt. Fortunately, there are simple solutions to this problem. The key is to add some variety to your workout routines. Try some kickboxing, jump-roping, circuit training, or even swimming. If you’re looking to enjoy the outdoors, running, biking, and even roller-blading are all great choices. In fact, why not sign up for a boot camp class at your local gym. This is one of the latest fitness trends that is becoming extremely popular and can add lots of variety and excitement to your workout routine. If your weight training is going kind of stale, why not incorporate some Kettlebell Training or some heavy bag work. You can also change the exercises you do for each body part, use different set/rep schemes, change the tempo, use shorter rest intervals, or even change up your grip or stance width. Even subtle changes can make a difference and activate new muscles.
More is Not Always Better
Keep in mind that there comes a point when you could be over-training. If you’ve been doing high intensity cardio 6 days per week and weight training for 4 days per week, you could easily go into burnout mode. Remember, muscles grow while they are at rest. You should be taking at least one day off each week. When you find yourself completely flushed, you may want to take off for a complete week. This rest period will allow you to come back twice as strong and make even further gains. Always keep the body guessing. By adding variety to your workout routines, you will begin to strengthen many more muscles and are much less likely to develop weak points.
Track Your Progress
Throughout your training, it is crucial to track all of your progress. Keep a weekly journal of your total body weight, body fat percentage, and lean body mass. Otherwise, you will never know what works. To be successful in all of your goals, you must know where you are, where you want to be, and how to get there. Along the way, you are sure to run into plateaus and possibly even a few problems. However, if you are tracking your progress, you’ll always know how your body is responding to your training. Any time you find yourself off course, you can simply adjust your approach and revise your plan. Everyone is different, find out what works for you.
About the Author
Kim Roach is the fitness reporter at healtheveryday