There's nothing more frustrating than having your fitness progress suddenly halted by the dreaded workout plateau. In case you haven’t heard of them, a workout plateau is a stage – usually months into a consistent workout regimen – where your results seem to have hit a wall. No need to worry, though -- the problem is common, and there are several workarounds to help avoid them.
Try New Things
Change is a good thing when it comes to getting in shape, especially with resistance training. Going to the gym everyday and doing the same old routine using the same old resistance every time almost guarantees you’ll hit a plateau at some point. Simply trying a different exercise that works the same muscle group from a slightly different angle can help get you past a workout plateau. For example, swap out your regular barbell bench press with dumbbell bench press. This small change will make a big difference.
Increase the Intensity
Workout plateaus are often a result of not pushing yourself enough. In order to continue getting stronger and more physically fit, it’s imperative you continue increasing your intensity level week to week. You can really ramp up your intensity by adding a bit more resistance to your workout or trying a high-energy, full-body workout such as circuit training, which consists of moving from one machine to the next with little or no rest in between.
Rearrange the Workout Plan
Avoid following the same exercise order day-in and day-out. By varying the order in which you do each of your exercises, you can avoid or get past workout plateaus, according to certified trainer Dr. Michael D. Chivers. This strategy is as simple as doing your normal full-body workout in reverse. For example, work the legs, arms, abs, chest and shoulders in that order instead of doing shoulders, chest, abs, etc.
Take a Break
There are times where a workout plateau is a sign of overtraining. If doing full-body workouts five or more days per week, this could very well be the case. Take a full week off from training to allow your body ample time to rest and recover. Don’t worry – you won’t lose all the progress you’ve made. During your time off, continue to do a light aerobic workout every day, such as walking or biking. You may just notice improved results over the next few weeks.
Change What You Eat
Sometimes it's not what you do in the gym, but what you put in your mouth that can prevent or overcome workout plateaus. Eating healthy foods, and avoiding those filled with empty calories, is a critical part of any exercise regimen. The energy provided by carbohydrates can help maximize your efforts in the gym. Protein is also a key nutrient for muscle recovery. Junk food can leave you feeling sluggish, which isn't a good thing when it's time to workout. Consider eating five small meals per day to keep your energy levels high. Focus on whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables and fruits for a well-balanced diet.
Joseph Eitel has written for a variety of respected online publications since 2006 including the Developer Shed Network and Huddle.net. He has dedicated his life to researching and writing about diet, nutrition and exercise. Eitel's health blog, PromoteHealth.info, has become an authority in the healthy-living niche. He graduated with honors from Kellogg Community College in 2010 with an Associate of Applied Science.