How to break through a workout or weight loss plateau

If you feel stuck in your fitness journey after tirelessly putting in the effort without seeing results, you’re not alone. We’ve all experienced frustration when progress seems to come to a halt. But fear not, because all of us at Rocky Mountain Flex understand the struggle and are here to help you break free from the dreaded fitness plateau.

What is a workout or weight loss plateau?

This is when your body adapts to the demands of your current exercise routine or diet, resulting in a slowdown or complete halt in your progress, whether it be with weight loss, a body composition change, increasing strength, or an endurance improvement. Whatever your goal is, it can be frustrating and demotivating, leaving you wondering what went wrong, especially when you feel like you’re doing everything right.

However, it’s important to understand that hitting a plateau is a natural part of your fitness journey and signifies that your body has adapted to the stressors placed upon it. In order to continue making progress, you need to implement strategic changes and push beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone so you can start to make progress again.

Why have I plateaued? 

Lack of progressive overload

Progressive overload is the principle of gradually increasing the demands on your body to stimulate adaptation and improvement. If you don’t challenge your body with increasingly difficult workouts through increasing weight, reps, and/or frequency, it may adapt to the current level of stress and stop making progress aka a plateau.

Monotonous routine

Doing the same exercises or following the same routine for an extended period can lead to a plateau. Your body adapts to repetitive movements, and the stimulus becomes less effective. Varying your workouts by changing exercises, intensity, volume, or training methods can help break through plateaus.

Insufficient recovery

Proper recovery is essential for progress and growth. Overtraining or not allowing enough time for rest and recovery can hinder performance improvements. Inadequate sleep, poor nutrition, and high levels of stress can also negatively impact your recovery.

Inadequate nutrition

If you’re experiencing a weight loss plateau it may be because you are not sufficiently fueling your body, getting the right amount of macronutrients, eating an excess of calories, or eating too few in calories. These factors can impact your performance and progress whether that is to gain muscle, put on weight, or lose fat. 

Adaptive thermogenesis may also be the culprit, this refers to the body’s ability to regulate its energy expenditure in response to changes in the environment and metabolic demands. Essentially, it’s an internal mechanism that allows your body to adjust the amount of energy aka calories you burn based on various factors such as body temperature, diet, and physical activity. When exposed to cold temperatures, for instance, our bodies increase heat production to keep us warm, resulting in additional calorie burning. Similarly, during times of caloric restriction, our metabolism slows down to conserve energy. So, without realizing it, your energy levels may decrease, lowering your ability to perform at a high level during an intense workout.

Lack of variation

If you primarily focus on one type of exercise or neglect certain muscle groups, it can create imbalances and limit overall progress. Incorporating a variety of exercises that target different muscle groups and other aspects of training (e.g. strength, endurance, flexibility) can help overcome a workout plateau.

How to bust through your fitness plateau

Change up your workouts

Try incorporating new exercises, varying your workout intensity, or frequency, upping your reps, lowering your reps and upping weights, adding in drop sets, or exploring different training methods.

If you are someone who loves group classes but isn’t seeing progress, this might be your sign to jump into a periodized training program where you have planned cycles and phases through programming to improve stabilization, strength, and muscular development. By challenging your muscles with various stimuli, you’ll kickstart progress and break through your plateau.

Set specific goals

Doing the same exercises or following the same routine for an extended period can lead to a plateau. Your body adapts to repetitive movements, and the stimulus becomes less effective. Varying your workouts by changing exercises, intensity, volume, or training methods can help break through plateaus.

Insufficient recovery

Define what you want to achieve and break it down into smaller, manageable goals. A vague goal of losing weight or gaining muscle, just won’t cut it. Having clear objectives not only provides direction but also keeps you motivated and accountable. Whether it’s increasing your lifting capacity or completing a certain number of repetitions, setting specific goals will give you something tangible to work towards.

When setting fitness goals, it’s important to follow the SMART principle. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Clear and well-defined goals that are realistic and aligned with your overall fitness or weight loss objectives, with a measurable timeline for completion that will keep you motivated and on track for success.

Dial in your nutrition

Fitness isn’t just about what happens in the gym, it’s also heavily influenced by what you put into your body. Evaluate your diet and ensure you’re fueling yourself with the right balance of macronutrients and calories. Don’t just guess or make assumptions about how much you are consuming. 

In general, most people underestimate the amount of calories and fat they eat, and overestimate the amount of protein they intake daily. Ensure you’re consuming a balanced diet that includes enough calories, high protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats to meet your energy needs. 

You can determine what these numbers are by determining what your BMR (basal metabolic rate) is by using a calculator or if you want to get specific, get an RMR (resting metabolic rate) via testing, then multiply your BMR by your activity level to determine your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) which is an estimate of how many calories you burn at rest in a day. Once you have this number, you can then strategically reduce calories by putting yourself into a deficit for fat loss or adding calories if you are trying to increase muscle. 

Once you have your calorie number based on your specific energy needs, you will then determine a macro approach and track your food in an app to determine if you are hitting those numbers. If you are unsure of what macro approach to try, then enlist the help of a health pro to guide you. 

If your progress stalls because your metabolism slows down as a result of being in a caloric deficit for too long and you can no longer safely reduce calories, then you may consider “reverse dieting”. You can restore your metabolic rate, hormonal balance and increase your metabolic or dieting capacity with “reverse dieting” by strategically increasing your calories slowly over a period of time to help minimize weight gain. This method will help your body transition back to a more sustainable eating pattern, restoring your metabolism and hormones. 

Focus on whole, unprocessed foods that support your fitness goals, and consider consulting with a health professional such as a nutritionist, health coach, or personal trainer in Denver for personalized guidance.

Prioritize recovery

Your body needs time to repair and rebuild after intense workouts. Make sure you’re allowing yourself enough rest and recovery days, getting adequate sleep – aiming for 7-8 hours nightly, foam rolling, and stretching are all crucial for preventing burnout, preventing injuries that will set you back, and optimizing your performance. Remember, it’s not always about pushing harder but also about giving your body the chance to heal and grow stronger. Muscle change occurs during recovery, so maximizing recovery will improve your results.

Get support and accountability

Don’t underestimate the power of a support system. Hitting a workout plateau is a great time to consider hiring a personal trainer. By working with one of the RMFF trainers, you can train with intention, accelerate your progress, and accomplish your goals more quickly, safely, and easily.

Track your progress

Keeping tabs on your achievements is a great way to stay motivated and identify patterns. Consider tracking your workouts, KPI (key performance indicators) and/or PR (personal records), noting your strength gains on a workout app, or simply taking a note on your phone or going old school with pen and paper. You can monitor your body measurements using multiple data points with a tape measure for circumference measurements, scale weight, progress photos, caliper measurements, or body scans such as InBody or DEXA. This will not only help you visualize your progress but also allows you to spot any areas that might need adjustment, while you can’t spot reduce, you can dial in your nutrition, add in some additional cardio, walks, or change up your workout routine. 

Breaking through a fitness plateau requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to step outside your comfort zone. By implementing these strategies and staying committed to your goals, you’ll be well on your way to smashing through plateaus and crushing your health and fitness goals.

If you are not yet a gym member of RMFlex and looking for a gym in Denver to call “home”, sign up for our 7-Day trial pass to come check out our facility.