How to overcome a plateauBy Linda Ericson // Personal Trainer and Operations Manager at RCSN Fitness April 2018
Once you get the hang of both your diet and exercise regime you will soon see how fast you will, at least initially, achieve noticeable results. Within just a couple of weeks, the scale will start to cooperate with you just as your waistline will. Your metabolism simply adjusts to your new diet, to the calorie deficiency and the increased physical activity. All of these factors will help you reduce body weight, either in the form of actual fat or excess fluid.
But we all know that nothing can last forever. Whether you are on a strict diet or in the gym trying to increase your muscle volume, your results will sooner or later start to stagger. You will find yourself in a situation where nothing you seem to do gets you closer to your goal, and you will have to realize that your body does not respond to the diet or exercise in the same way as it once did. You have reached a plateau, a phenomenon well-known in the fitness world and something that most of us have to deal with somewhere along the way.
A plateau in this context means that your body has fully or partially gotten used to the intensity of training or daily calorie intake. By now, we are all aware that weight loss or muscle gain is achieved by constantly challenging our bodies so that we never allow it to adapt to the activity in question. Our bodies have a great ability to become acclimatized to stress or to the task it is expected to perform. This means that variety is required from us if we wish to keep our physical development going. The effort of physical exercise or the stress that weight loss puts on our organism is something that our body naturally tries to minimize and, in the long run, counteract.
The good news is that you are far from alone in this and that it is quite easy to get yourself up and back on track again. Instead of surrendering or just continuing with the same ineffective program you should completely change the course. Logically, if the diet or exercise program no longer is doing its job, why would you keep struggling with it?
Adjust your diet
Even experienced athletes easily forget that the body is a living organism. It, therefore, works constantly to adapt to outer circumstances and gets used to the current situation relatively quickly. In other words, as your body composition changes, the number of calories and/or the balance of macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) also need to be adjusted. The energy intake depends on what phase you are in and whether your ambition is to gain muscle or lose excessive fat.
For example, let's say that you previously had a calorie intake around 2500 kcal in order to increase in muscle mass. Once you have put on a few kilos you might slowly start stagnating as your body is getting used to the amount of energy it is receiving. Thus, you should increase your calorie intake, perhaps up to 2700-2800 calories per day, to ensure that the physical development continues.
The same concept applies to weight loss. When you notice that the weight loss is slowing down it's time to look over the amount of energy that you are consuming in a day and consider either lowering it or adjusting the macronutrients to better match the current state that your body is in.
Adjust your training
As in the case with dieting, our body has a great ability to adapt to the challenges and pressure it is exposed to in the gym as well. For example, when we have just started lifting weights inflammation and soreness are both quite common. This is because you are exposing your body to something unfamiliar and is forcing it out of its comfort zone. When we have exposed our bodies to this stress for some time it becomes familiar and we therefore no longer experience the same effect from our training. This includes not only soreness but also visual results and increased strength. Suddenly, training has become the comfort zone itself.
Avoid these lack of results from your training by reviewing both intensity and frequency. For example, if you are used to series of eight repetitions, you can challenge yourself by increasing these to 12 repetitions per set and see how your body responds. Alternatively, increase the weight you lift and simultaneously lower the number of repetitions per set. You can also benefit from adjusting the time of rest between sets. If you want to lose weight, you should shorten the rest between your sets so that you really get the heart rate up during your workout. Regardless of what changes you choose to apply, you will notice how your body responds to these differences and based on that information you can keep your training schedule running in the most efficient way.
There is no universal rule for when you need to adjust and correct your diet or exercise program, but it may be worth evaluating and modifying your schedule at least once a month.
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