The initial benefits of exercise in great. Within weeks of starting a new programme you are making vast improvements. The weight is falling off, and you are shaving seconds or even minutes of your PBs. Then suddenly you hit a wall and no changes happen - this is what is call a plateau, and your progress will look like the graph below.
Why Does This Happen?
The body is an efficient machine. When you begin a new activity, your body burns maximum amount of calories, but over time, it learns to complete that activity more efficiently, burning far fewer calories.
Hitting this wall is both frustrating and exhausting, as you push yourself to make the gains you were so used to before. Your motivation can also be effected by this. However, here are 5 steps that can help you to overcome this in your own workout.
1. Get Your Rest
You may not believe it, but adequate rest is the key element to training and progression. If you have insufficient rest between heavy bouts of exercise, you'll start to see detrimental effect on your fitness gains and even performance.
The human body can only cope with a certain amount of stress (whatever the cause), and if you exceed it, you will start to hit trouble; you may even find yourself falling ill.
If you are exercising hard you need to balance it out with proper rest, and if you are experiencing stress due to work, exams or other lifestyle commitments, then cut back on the exercise for the time being. Your body will benefit much more in the long run.
2. Consistency Is Key
We all live in a busy world of meetings, late nights, commutes, and convenience foods, where it can be hard to stick to a consistent training plan. Refraining from not exercising for 3 weeks and then hammering yourself for one. It won't make up for what you have missed. The same can be said about those running shoes abandoned in the wardrobe until the weekend. Try to manage your time more effectively and look for gaps where you can get out and train. 4 short runs during the week are far better than one long run on a Sunday. Remember 'It is not what you do some of the time that counts; it's what you do most of the time.
Ask yourself if you are pushing yourself hard enough. Question whether the last session really tested you physically. Were there areas where you could've done better, gone further and tried harder? Be honest with yourself. If you continually exercise in middle gear, you won't see the improvements you're hoping for. Hard days are going to hurt and it is going to be these hard days that you'll see the gains from.
Prepare for it, not just physically but mentally too. Think hard about the session that lies ahead: what it will require from you, what to eat and drink. Come to terms with how you are going to feel afterwards, and plan some rest days and easy days into you schedule afterwards.
4. Feed Your Body Right
Correct nutrition and hydration is vital if you want to train consistently and recover from the hard sessions you're putting in. If you hit a performance plateau the chances are that your diet is wrong. The good news is, the moment you make changes you should see vast improvements.
Inadequate nutrition can result in fatigue and loss of muscle mass and bone mass, all which hinder performance. In addition, low energy intake can negate the benefits of training. You need to fuel before, during and after training for optimal performance.
5. Take It Easy on Easy Days
Some people can't let go, and when they are meant to be recovering, end up pushing themselves just as hard as always. Recovery days can still include exercise, but it must be significantly easier than your normal routine.
Easy runs and rides can seem boring, but try to refrain from pushing yourself. The moment your easy day turns into a training session, you're no longer giving your body chance to repair, adapt and therefore progress. Without easy days, you will become progressively more tired and fall victim to the over-training syndrome. You wont' just hit a plateau, you may actually see a drop in your performance.
Take these 5 steps into account to continue to work towards your long term fitness goals.
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