How long has it been since you last saw noticeable gains in your fitness, strength, or muscle size? Chances are, it’s been a while! A large percentage of non-competitive exercisers are stuck on a fitness plateau and are not seeing progress from their workouts.
Of course, some people are happy with their current fitness level or shape and are quite content to maintain rather than further develop themselves. However, if you are frustrated with your lack of progress and want to bust out of your current fitness rut, you need to take action!
Follow a progressive plan
If you always do what you have always done, you’ll always get what you always got. In other words, if you want to get fitter, you need to challenge your body with something new. If you only ever run two kilometers in 15 minutes, you’ll only ever be two kilometers in 15 minutes fit!
The same is true of strength training; if you use the same weights and exercises week after week, your body has absolutely no reason to get bigger or stronger.
For this reason, it is essential you follow a progressive workout plan that builds in intensity and/or volume. Increases can be small and frequent e.g. an extra half a kilo on your bench press per week, or larger and less frequent e.g. increasing your running mileage by 10 percent per month. How ever you do it, you need to expose your body to gradually increasing amounts of exercise stress to force it to adapt and become fitter.
Don't follow the same plan forever
Even the best progressive plan will falter eventually; you simply will not be able to add more weight to the bar, do more reps, run faster or further. Many people mistakenly stick to their plan despite the fact that it is no longer producing results. Maybe it’s a comfort thing, a fear of change, or simply that they enjoy the workout and hope it will start producing results again soon. Whatever the reason, once a plan stops working, it’s time to shake things up and do something new.
You can make small changes over several weeks to prevent a plan from stagnating or big sweeping changes all at once. Customisable plans are great because they are flexible and can change according to your needs. Exercises and training methods that push you out of your comfort zone will provide the best results.
Don't be a program butterfly
While it’s important to periodically change your workouts, changing them too often will also cause a fitness plateau. If you change your workout every couple of weeks, your body never gets the opportunity to adapt and grow stronger so, as a result, your progress will stall.
How long should you stick with the same plan? It depends. If your plan is still working then there is no reason to change; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But, if you notice your progress is beginning to stall, making a change will hopefully mean your fitness doesn’t plateau.
Six to eight weeks is a good basic guideline but don’t be afraid to shorten or extend this time frame depending on the results you are experiencing.
Include deloads in your program
Rest is just as important as training hard but many exercisers only take a rest when they start to feel exhaustion set in. This invariably means taking an extended break from training that will result in lost fitness. Rather than take a break because you have to, it’s much better to take shorter breaks before you need to so that forward progress can be maintained. These short, planned, breaks are often called deloads.
A deload is not a week off training but a series of easy workouts designed to give your muscles, nervous system, and mind a rest without allowing your fitness or strength to regress.
For example, you might simply do one set instead of your usual four of all your major training exercises using 80 percent of the weight you last used. Or you might reduce the frequency and/or duration of your workouts for a week.
Each deload workout will feel easy and leave you refreshed and energised so that you can attack next weeks’ training with maximum intensity. And don’t worry – you won’t lose fitness but will actually gain fitness during a deload.
Taking a one-week deload every four to six weeks will help extend your current training cycle, prevent fitness plateaus, and reduce your risk of developing chronic injuries.
Plan a competition cycle
Even if you are not a competitive sportsman or woman, training like you are can help keep you free from fitness plateaus. Rather than just showing up and exercising with no real purpose or goal, follow a plan designed to take you to a new peak in fitness. Then, after this peak has been achieved, back off for a week or two and then build up again to a new high peak.
Eight to twelve-week cycles work best as they are long enough to produce good results but short enough that you can remain focused.
Of course, there is nothing to stop you working toward a “real” competition such as a local triathlon, novice strongman competition, or CrossFit event.
Having a clear cut fitness destination means your training will have focus and the ebb and flow of your workouts over the build-up period will help prevent plateaus.
While you may well find that your fitness improvements slow to a crawl once you have passed beginner status, there is no need for your fitness to plateau completely.