Hit an Exercise Plateau? Here’s How to Overcome It

Our body needs different types of exercises and physical challenges to keep fit and steer clear of stagnation.

Updated
Flex 'em
4 min read
To help you achieve the optimum results from your workout, let’s first understand what truly hitting a plateau means.
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Anyone who has been down the fitness road long enough has at some point or another battled what is called a plateau - when your body stops responding to the same fitness regimen in a manner it had done so far. It becomes harder to build more muscle, lose weight or to simply increase the returns of the same workout you had benefited from all along.

To help you achieve the optimum results from your workout, let’s first understand what truly hitting a plateau means.

Hitting a Plateau

Dr Subhash Jangid, Director and Unit Head, Fortis Bone and Joint Institute, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram, explains a basic approach to fitness in the following manner:

“You begin exercising with a goal in mind. In the beginning of your workout, you get dramatic results and feel good about the changes in your body. After some time the effect of exercise on your body is not noticeable and you stop enjoying your workout. This is called the exercise plateau, when you hit a roadblock in your journey towards fitness. It happens when your body gets adjusted to the demands of your workout. ”
Dr Subhash Jangid, Director and Unit Head, Fortis Bone and Joint Institute

Before you lose heart, it should be noted that this happens to most people, making it one of the most common causes why many abandon their fitness routines. Dr Jangid further points out that your body has a tremendous ability to adapt to new challenges which is precisely what happens when you reach an exercise plateau.

How to Prevent an Exercise Plateau

While the apprehensions of hitting a plateau might be intimidating when you have religiously stayed with a fitness regime for a while, according to Dr Jangid, it can be prevented in the following manner:

  1. A new training style

  2. Understanding your body’s own adaptation patterns to get the most out of your routine

  3. Progressively increasing the intensity levels of your workout

  4. Identifying an exercise plateau correctly — because a regime feels easier over time, it does not mean you’ve hit a plateau. As long as you’re still getting desired physical results from the exercise, it’s not a cause for change.

  5. Avoiding overtraining — getting proper rest and recovery is very important for your fitness progress. Overtraining leads to muscle and joint pain, fatigue or low energy levels. You may find that you get sick easily. These symptoms are often described as a “fitness hangover

  6. Also getting enough water and nutrition along with the rest. During rest, your body begins to replenish its energy stores and repair the muscle tissue used during your workouts, says Dr Jangid. This is an essential part of the process to help your muscles grow bigger and stronger.

Dr Jangid emphasises that it is essential to get this rest day in in order to be able to turn up refreshed and energetic for your next workout. “You may find that after taking a rest day you have more energy for your next workout, and your performance improves,” he adds.

Advice if You’ve Already Hit a Plateau

If you feel you have already missed the prevention bus and find yourself in the middle of the quicksands of an exercise plateau, the doctor offers more advice. “Small and frequent changes in your workouts can help significantly with this. When you increase the weight, sets, repetitions, intensity, number of sessions completed each week, the amount of rest taken between sets, or use variations of your exercises, you encourage a “training response” in your body. Making small changes regularly encourages your body to continue building strength using the same exercises,” advises Dr Jangid.

Ways to achieve this:

  • Increasing the number of reps of an exercise — if you were doing 10 pushups, increase to 12 pushups
  • Increasing the weight used in small increments
  • Increasing the number of exercises completed in a given timeframe

It should further be noted, as Dr Jangid aptly points out, for some, a plateau isn’t a problem. “If you are happy with your current level of fitness, keep going with your existing exercise routine to maintain fitness,” he says.

This will, however, not increase your level of fitness, instead gradually the fitness level will go down because of the body’s adaptability.

“If we keep doing the same type of exercises with a similar routine for long periods of time, our muscle strength will not improve and will also lead to imbalance in different groups of muscles. This can lead to falls and injuries whenever the concerned joint is put under stress. So, it is always better to keep challenging yourself for better health and fitness by mixing up your routines.”
Dr Subhash Jangid

How to Watch out For Plateaus

The single most important way to prevent a plateau is tracking your fitness progress, underlines Dr Jangid, for you can’t be sure that you’ve hit one otherwise.

Here are some ways to track fitness, according to the expert:

  • Record your workouts — including the number of reps and weights used. You can use fitness tracker apps for this.

  • Take progress photos.

  • Take a timed fitness challenge every 4-12 weeks.

  • Remember that weight loss is not a reliable indicator of fitness improvement. Instead, consider whether you are able to lift heavier or do more reps of an exercise than you could before.

  • Add strength training: resistance training, or strength training, improves strength, endurance and size of skeletal muscle while protecting your joints from injury during other activities. It also helps with cardiovascular health, and achieving other goals such as running faster, building lean muscle and feeling confident in your body.

  • Use progressive overload: Progressive overload is a principle for training that means you gradually increase the stress placed on your body during workouts. This means that your body has to keep adapting to new stressors. It’s important to do this in a safe way to avoid injury or over-training.

As we need different types of food to keep ourselves healthy, our body needs different types of exercises and physical challenges to keep fit and steer clear of stagnation. Avoiding the plateau will also ensure that your workout continues to give you the results for which you started with it in the first place - fitness.

(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)

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