After weeks of hard work in the gym and clean eating, your progress comes to a screeching halt. You tolerate the stall for a bit, but then you start getting antsy. You may begin hypothesizing that something is wrong with you, be tempted to drastically slash your calories and become a slave to the treadmill, or even decide to give up and eat a jar of peanut butter. Sigh. We’ve all been there.
But, before you overhaul your program or throw in the towel, take a little time to objectively assess your situation and determine the best course of action to fire up your fat loss. The best course of action may be to decrease your calories and increase your exercise, but that is not always the case. You may need to stay the course, or even do less and eat more. (I know— it’s a hard concept to grasp.) To help you determine how to push through your plateau, ask yourself the following questions:
How long have you been at a “plateau”?
Don’t rush to “fix” your fitness program if it’s just been a few days or even a week since your last drop. Weight loss is not always linear and predictable, so just hold tight and keep doing the work daily. If no change occurs after a few weeks, consider another course of action.
Are you really following your program?
Before you resign yourself to a diet consisting of only fish and broccoli, get real with yourself about your adherence to your current program. Are you following your meal plan? Have your food measurements become generous? Are you grazing between meals? Have you made it to the gym consistently? Are you training as hard as you always have?
If you’re not following your program with the same precision and enthusiasm as you once were, recommit yourself to your goal. Write down what you want to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and exactly how you will do it. Get back to preparing your meals and workouts in advance and say no to extras.
Do you need rest?
I struggle with this one. To me, the concept of doing less to increase progress just doesn’t add up. However, from experience, it’s often what a body needs to move forward. When you train really hard, put your body in a calorie deficit and manage many other life demands, you can put your body in a continuous state of stress. This elevates cortisol levels, which can inhibit fat loss.
So, if you have been pushing hard for a while without a break, try taking a weekend off from training and let your body rest and recover. During that weekend, sleep in, take a nap, enjoy a massage and have some fun!
How long has it been since you had a re-feed or cheat meal?
If you’ve been following a low-carb, low-calorie meal plan for a long time without an occasional day of increased calories, your metabolism may need a little jumpstart. To do so, you can go out for a cheat meal or increase your carbohydrates for a day by 50-75 percent. Then, get back to your regular diet the next day, and see what happens over the next week.
Has your body adjusted to your training and diet?
If you’ve plateaued for a few weeks, stayed 100 percent on your plan, given yourself proper rest and did a little re-feed and still continued to plateau, you may need to revisit your training and diet. In doing so, I do not recommend dramatic changes. Rather, I suggest doing one or two small adjustments at a time so you can assess the result of the change. In addition, small strategic changes keep you from falling into the overtraining and over-dieting trap, which can slow your metabolism and wear your body out. Here are some ideas to choose from:
CARDIO: Add 10 minutes to your cardio. Add an additional 30-minute cardio session each week. Switch a few of your steady-state cardios to HIIT. Increase the speed or resistance of your cardio.
RESISTANCE TRAINING: Instead of straight sets, do supersets and circuits. Decrease rest intervals. Increase your reps. Add plyometrics/cardio intervals between resistance sets.
NUTRITION: Maintain the same number of calories but increase protein to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and decrease fat and carbs to accommodate the change. Try different food sources: switch fish for chicken, sweet potato for brown rice, apple for banana, etc. Decrease your daily calories by 100 to 200 calories; however, do not lower your calories below 1,200.
Push Toward Your Best
Having faced a plateau just about every time that I have attempted to lean out for the stage or a shoot, I’m very familiar with how disheartening and frustrating it can be. However, it’s critical that you maintain positive belief and refuse to beat yourself up— negative emotions will increase stress and be another obstacle for your progress. So, refuse to let a negative thought linger and take root. When one pops up, remind yourself that you are on your way to your best and making a difference daily with your hard work. Keep pushing— your best is waiting!