The infamous training plateau…an athlete’s greatest anxiety, a body builder’s biggest fear, a fitness freak's foremost phobia. Okay, it’s not that bad, but you probably have heard the term thrown around between PT’s, or high-end athletes, or even just your average gym-goer. This insidious snare can catch out both amateurs and experts alike, and frustratingly inhibit progress until it’s realised what is actually happening.
So, what exactly is a training plateau? Well, in the context of exercise and fitness programs, the term ‘plateau’ refers to a dramatic stagnation in results and progress, with regards to building muscle, increasing cardiovascular fitness or losing weight. It can happen rather suddenly, and can de-motivate people considerably, which is understandable really isn’t it? It’s not that you will lose any progress you have made – you won’t get fit. If you think of it as a graph, it’s simply a horizontal line that comes after a bout of progress. Let’s call it a motivation destroyer.
But why does it happen? Well, our body is like a chameleon, not because it’s green and spikey, no, that would be weird, but because it can adapt brilliantly. However, in this case, it can sometimes adapt too well for our own good! After a certain period of time (it varies from person to person) our bodies adjust to meet the demands of our workout, and suddenly any progress that was being made comes to a rather abrupt halt. Training plateaus are definitely not a guaranteed occurrence, but if your workout is not continually changing and evolving to keep your adaptable body on its toes, you may well stumble onto one of these dreaded plateaus.
How to Overcome Training Plateau
However, don’t fret, don’t give up, all is not lost. With some small and strategic changes to your fitness routine, training plateau’s can be overcome and bypassed in the future. The exact methods will depend on what specific goals you are training for, but common sense prevails. If you’re weight training, plateaus will undoubtedly happen if you’re just performing the same routines with the same exercises and the same weights for months on end. So, try mixing up the orders of your workouts, combine muscle groups some weeks, add in full-body workouts, mix up the reps, or add in some drop sets, mix up the exercises themselves, or increase the intensity of your workout.
If it’s cardiovascular fitness you’re after, you don’t want to be running/cycling/swimming the same distance at the same pace, day in day out. This won’t help for long unfortunately. Cross-training is a great way to avoid stagnation, so if you’re a runner, hop on the bike once or twice a week, or do the occasional HiiT class. Even within running itself, there’s plenty of variety available; interval training isn’t the most enjoyable, but you’ll feel great afterwards…right? So, run some hills, do some sprint training, or even sprint up those hills if you’re feeling particularly brave!
Whatever kind of training you’re doing it should be mixed up regularly. Not only does this help to avoid any plateaus and stagnation, but most importantly it keeps you from getting bored! There’s nothing worse than your training becoming a chore, so change things up, for the good of both your body and your mind.
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