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Hit a Workout Plateau? Here's How to Get Through It

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Hitting a workout plateau is a common occurrence for fitness enthusiasts of all levels. Despite keeping up with your exercise program, you may notice that you’re not getting faster, increasing endurance, or building muscle. This may leave you feeling frustrated or even apathetic. Luckily, there are many ways to break past a workout plateau and continue to grow.

Read on to learn more about why a workout plateau happens, the signs you’re in one, and how to successfully push past it.

What is a workout plateau?

A workout plateau is a stage of progress that happens when your body gets used to the demands of your current fitness routine, which causes your progress to level out. If you reach a fitness plateau, you may not see results even though you’re maintaining your workouts.

Why does a workout plateau happen?

A workout plateau occurs when you do the same exercise routine or type of activity for an extended period. Over time, you become accustomed to the demands of your workouts and your body adapts accordingly. As you become more efficient, you may burn fewer calories and build less muscle.

Repeating the same type of workouts, especially if they’re not challenging enough, can cause enthusiasm and motivation to wane, leading to a plateau. Workout plateaus can happen due to overtraining, insufficient recovery time, and burnout.

Additional causes of workout plateaus include:

  • ineffective training routines
  • not pushing yourself enough
  • failure to progressively overload muscles
  • inconsistent training
  • unhealthy diet and lifestyle
  • lack of sleep

What are the signs you’re in a workout plateau?

If you find yourself in a workout plateau, you may notice that your workouts feel easy and you’re not improving at your usual rate. Instead of gaining strength or losing weight, you may lose muscle tone, gain weight, or feel weak. You may be at a standstill when it comes to a certain speed, weight limit, or number of reps.

Workouts that were recently challenging may start to feel like a breeze. Your heart rate may stay stable and you may not easily feel short of breath. Even so, you may lack motivation, have low energy levels, and feel tired. You might not have the desire to workout at all.

6 ways to bust out of a workout plateau

While training plateaus are normal, you don’t have to stay stuck in one. Here are a few ways to move forward and blast through a workout plateau.

Switch up your routine

Changing up your workouts is a key factor in overcoming a plateau and there are several ways to do this.

For a start, switch up the intensity and duration of your workouts. If you usually do short, high-intensity workouts, you can swim, row, or cycle at a slow pace. To boost endurance, make your workouts longer. You can also try a yin yoga or tai chi class.

If you haven’t been pushing yourself hard enough, intensify your workouts by lifting heavier weights, adding more repetitions to each set, and limiting your rest periods. Do speed workouts and interval training to push yourself past your current limits.

Try something new

To challenge your body in different ways, try out a new activity, sport, or exercise class. Use a new weight machine or jump on a treadmill, rower, or elliptical trainer. This gives you the chance to use different muscle groups and movement patterns, which can prevent overuse and injuries. Plus, you may enjoy a change of scenery.

If you’re used to working out alone, participating in a group class or sport may add playfulness and connection to your solitary routine. If you usually exercise in a group setting, a solo workout may help to quiet your mind and reduce distractions so you can focus on your goals.

Add new equipment to your routine to modify your favorite exercises and make them more challenging. Popular choices include core sliders, free weights, and resistance bands. You can also wear a weighted vest, wrist weights, or ankle weights.

Determine your weaknesses and do workouts to strengthen them. This may include exercises that you usually avoid or find difficult.

Periodize your training plan

Periodization training is a principle that helps to improve progress, enhance performance for competition, and prevent overtraining. The technique involves using training cycles and altering variables such as intensity, volume, and duration.

If you lift weights, alter your routine by doing fewer reps with heavier weights and vice versa. You can also do a drop set to increase muscle growth and muscular endurance. The technique involves lifting a weight load to failure and then reducing the load for each of the following sets.

Cyclists and runners may include hill training, speed work, and long-distance workouts. They may train at a high intensity for short distances and at a low intensity for long distances.

Incorporate progressive overload techniques

According to a 2019 review, using the principle of progressive overload to adjust the frequency, intensity, and/or volume of your strength training routine encourages muscle growth. To do this, you’ll need to strategize ways to train more often, increase your weight load, or do more reps — or maybe even all three, at various times.

If the idea of planning a workout for progressive overload seems daunting to you, it may be time to…

Train with a professional

Working with a personal trainer can help you to make serious improvements. They can create a customized training program that helps you to push past your limits and achieve your fitness goals. A trainer can give you fresh ideas, insights, and feedback. Plus, they provide encouragement, motivation, and accountability.

A trainer can check your form and help you to improve your mobility, range of motion, and movement patterns. This ensures you’re using energy efficiently and reduces your chance of injury.

Rest, relax, and recover

Adequate recovery time is essential for rebuilding and repairing muscles. Give yourself enough time to recover between workouts, especially if you frequently do high intensity workouts. Since muscle growth occurs after you work out, you must have enough time to adequately recover. Get plenty to eat and take time to relax.

Increasing the amount of time you sleep may also have fitness benefits. A 2019 review suggests sleep extension positively impacts factors that impact athletic performance, including mood, reaction time, and sprint times. It also improves tennis serve, free throw, and 3-point accuracy.

The bottom line 

If you’ve hit a workout plateau, congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. Look back at what you’ve accomplished and forward at how you plan to move beyond it. A workout plateau allows you to assess your routine, make changes, and get out of your comfort zone. You can also look at your diet, lifestyle, and sleep patterns.

Keep in mind that at a certain point you will achieve your full or desired potential. From there, you can focus on maintaining your fitness level and finding ways to keep your workouts fresh.

Originally published on Healthline April 29, 2022. Written by Emily Cronkleton. Medically reviewed by Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS. Republished with permission.

Photo credit: FG Trade/Getty Images