Recognise The Signs
Whether your goal is to improve fitness, build lean muscle or burn fat, a fitness plateau is more common than you might think. As Dan Little, head of fitness at Digme Fitness, explains, “At the start of a new training programme you’ll see results within about a month, but after six to eight weeks, you’ll see your level of improvement level off and start to decline. Another key sign of a plateau is when your motivation becomes a struggle and it becomes a mental battle.” Omar Mansour, personal trainer and co-founder of Track Life LDN, says feelings of burnout and exhaustion are also common when you hit a wall with training. “If you feel you’re not as dialled in as usual and that your progress has stalled completely for a long period of time, it’s likely you’ve hit a plateau.”
Understand Why It Happens
If you do exactly the same workouts week in, week out, your body will eventually acclimatise to your training. As Dan explains, “The human body is a highly efficient and intelligent machine. It will quickly adapt to its surroundings or training stimulus and essentially go into survival mode.” Omar adds it may also be a case of over-training, and it could simply be a matter of giving the body time to recover sufficiently before being able to go hard again – this is often referred to as ‘de-loading’.
Think About Nutrition
Don’t underestimate the importance of what’s on your plate. “Nutrition fuels the body and provides the essential elements to adapt, improve and recover,” Dan says. “The same food in equals the same output. Fuelling your body with exciting, fresh food will truly enable you to achieve your goals. Fuel yourself with sugar and refined foods and you will become slow, unhealthy and it will eventually lead to weight gain and other health problems. On the other hand, you can fuel with fresh produce that will provide the body with quality goods to enable an efficient machine equipped to achieve your goals. It’s a balancing act between fitness and nutrition – you can’t have one without the other.” If you’re trying to gain muscle, you need to think about your calorie and protein intake to ensure you’re getting enough to promote muscle growth – fitness experts say under-fuelling is a common problem.
Switch It Up
Want to keep seeing results? Dan says you should be switching up your exercise routine every few weeks. “Keeping the body guessing and progressing is key to overcoming a plateau. As humans, we love familiarity, so ensure you are keeping your environment refreshed. Mix it up, train outside, use a different piece of kit. Variety is the spice of life and these little things will ensure longevity in your programme and keep you engaged. Take a look at your weekly fitness routine – are you effective first thing in the morning, at lunchtime or later on? When you train in the evening, is this truly an effective session, or are you tired from a long day? Find out what works best for you, and when it starts to get boring and hard, mix it up.”
If strength training’s your thing, Freeletics training and nutrition specialist David Wiener recommends focusing on compound exercises which use multiple muscle groups and joints for a fitness boost. “Movements such as squats, lunges, deadlifts, bent-over rows and the chest press have a greater anabolic effect, meaning you’ll burn more calories and recruit more muscle than if you just sat on a leg extension for hours.”
Hit The Pillow
The link between sleep and recovery is well documented. If you aren’t getting adequate shuteye and are struggling to maintain the pace of your fitness routine, it could be worth looking to your bedroom habits. “Sleep is the most underrated lifestyle factor that most people neglect,” Dan says. “To be efficient, sharp and motivated most adults need between seven to nine hours’ sleep each night.” As Omar explains, when we’re sleep deprived, our bodies become stressed, which can take its toll on recovery. “Studies have shown stress increases the time it takes for your muscles to recover and also worsens the feelings of fatigue and soreness. In the fitness industry, there is a huge focus on training and nutrition but sleep often gets overlooked.”
Ramp Up The NEAT
NEAT is ‘non exercise activity thermogenesis’. It refers to the energy we expend outside of a workout and is an underrated element of fitness. Increasing your NEAT might be trickier now we are more house-bound, but simple things like gardening, cleaning and an additional daily walk all help. “People are always surprised to see how many additional calories they can burn by making small changes. Having a fitness watch is a great way to set a daily step goal and track it,” David says. Studies have suggested hitting your daily 10,000-steps goal can burn an additional 300 calories.
Set A Goal
If you find your motivation waning, now could be the time to set a goal. “Taking on a new challenge can give you a new focus and keep you motivated,” says Omar. “Training with others can also help push yourself to new levels, while enlisting the help of a coach or PT can help structure your training programme and monitor your progression. External feedback can be super useful in helping you get to that next level of fitness. Just remember to always be patient and realistic with your expectations.”
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*Features published by SLMan are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programmes.
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