You’ve tried everything (or almost everything) but can’t seem to break through this darn weight plateau! You’re working out consistently 3-4x a week or more, “eating clean” and getting enough rest to recover. So what’s the deal?
In my experience over the last decade as a coach in the fitness industry, I have stumbled upon many people who have come close to giving up on losing weight because they thought they were doing everything right.
Often times, when I dive a bit deeper with these clients, there are a few common threads I see that can be the culprit for the individuals plateau. Below I outline the top four reasons why YOU may not be seeing the results you want in the gym.
1. You’re eating too much for what you are burning off on a daily basis
The amount people who underestimate what they consume on a day to day basis is huge. When clients come to me wanting to lose weight, tracking what they eat is the first thing I ask them to do. The reason is because most people, despite what they think they consume, are usually way under. Why? Well, the small bite of your kids pizza plus the mini candy bar snickers and the olive oil your cooking with should all be accounted for in your daily calorie consumption. Most people don’t remember all the little things they do eat and/or most people assume things to not be as high in calories than what they actually are. This is where tracking macros/calories come into play and why it is important to do even for a month if you are trying to lose weight. Most people could not tell you what they eat on a day to day basis. And that’s fine! But when it comes to wanting to lose weight and see results, I recommend tracking for even a short period of time to get an idea of what you are taking in. Knowledge is power. The tool I recommend my clients track macros and calories with and the one I use myself is called My Fitness Pal.
2. You’re not weight training
When it comes to getting results, building muscle is necessary not only to burn calories but to increase something called your excess post oxygen consumption. EPOC is the amount of calories you burn post workout. EPOC is our body using more oxygen after our workouts than before. We literally expend more calories during our recovery from the workout than we do before. Pretty cool, right? That’s the benefit of weight training, but NOT doing cardio. So not only is weight training beneficial because of EPOC, but also because the more muscle you have on your body, the more calories you'll burn at rest. I know, I know, even cooler! This is known as increasing your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Because muscle takes more energy to sustain, an individual who does weight training vs a person who only does cardio will definitely have a higher threshold for hitting a plateau. Cardio alone will not get you the same long term results as lifting weights. Therefore, lifting weights becomes even more imperative to do in order to avoid those plateaus that one can encounter by just doing cardio.
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3. You are overtraining and under-eating
Most people feel guilty when they take off a couple days from the gym. There is a fine line though between guilt and obsession. I’ve been on both sides and it’s easy to get caught up thinking that missing one day from the gym will derail all your hard work. This is NOT true! Over-training is a real issue that occurs and can happen when you don’t rest, recover, and eat enough to fuel your body. When you workout hard and consistently, your rest days become more essential because are the time this is the time when muscles actually rebuild. So in order to avoid over-training, not only do you need to make sure you are resting enough and taking your off days, but you need to make sure you are also eating enough food. Yes, in order to see weight loss we typically need to be in a caloric deficit- however, if we stay too long in a deficit and train too hard for an extended period of time, the metabolism will slow down and we will stop seeing the desired results we are aiming for. Signs of overtraining are constant fatigue and very little to no change in the physique despite how hard we work. When working out hard and consistently, rest and recovery is key to actually allowing your body to repair itself along with eating enough food to properly nourish and restore muscle. Rest, recovery and sleep are all apart of seeing those gains you work so hard for so make sure you are taking those off days and eating enough food to sustain your workouts in the gym. To find out if you could be overtraining or under eating, check out my reverse dieting program here.
4. You are too stressed
Not only does stress raise a well known hormone called cortisol causing physical bloat around the belly, but mental stress carries over into physical stress because when our mental state is off, our physical state is off as well. You cannot expect to be able to concentrate on workouts in the gym if mentally you are just not present. When it’s more difficult to concentrate in the gym we also have an increased risk of overall injury. Our bodies have a much more difficult time with repairing broken down muscle when we are mentally stressed so even if you do manage to get a decent workout in, the recovery time will be slower. Our motivation is usually affected due to high stress levels and our workouts suffer. If you find yourself highly stressed, I would take a couple days to a week (longer if need be) to recuperate mentally and allow yourself the time needed for things to quiet down. Incorporating tactics such as meditation and daily affirmations have helped me in the past when I have found myself in highly stressful situations. Also, adjusting your workouts to fit your life may not be the worst thing.
Keep in mind that your health and wellness is something you are investing in for the long term and the road will not always be easy. There will be ups and downs. Allowing yourself the time you need will get you back faster than trying to push it forward without taking a break. Listen to your body and tune into your mind. Sometimes taking that break is the one thing we need to get our motivation and “mojo” back to be able to break through that plateau.