You have been working out for an extended period of time but can’t seem to really make any substantial strength gains or lose anymore fat. Is there something wrong with you?
The answer is, probably not; but maybe. Before you throw your arms up in frustration, give up and blame your weight loss statement on bad genetics or crappy metabolism, it’s important to do a little investigating first.
Did you know that plateauing in the gym is actually inevitable after a certain point? On any given exercise program, it’s common to stop seeing the results you once did in the beginning of your routine, maybe 3 to 6 months ago. So why does this happen? Why do we plateau?
To put it simply, exercise is stress we are placing on the body. Our bodies don’t like to be stressed. Our bodies don’t like to lose fat and be forced to utilize the stored glycogen (aka calories) in the body. Why? Because our bodies are trying to protect us from “starving ourselves”. Way back when we used to hunt for food, our bodies had to save calories and store energy for us to burn later, because who knew when the next meal would be. Yes, I am talking about cavemen times, BUT our bodies still do this. This tactic is known as “fight or flight” mode. When we diet and exercise, we introduce new elements of stress to the body. The body then is forced to dip into our stored energy, “fight of flight” to adapt to these changes, which ultimately results in you losing weight and seeing the desired changes you want in your body. However, once the body adapts (and it does so quickly!) your results will slow down.
Here are seven variables to on how to avoid plateau in your strength training program.
1. Not enough change in your program
Your exercise program should have some staple moves in it consistently, but your program needs to change every 6 to 8 weeks. Now, in order to see progress week to week, the workout you do should be changing weekly. Some variables you may consider changing in order to keep your body from adapting are:
- Adding heavier weights
- Rest time
- The pairings of your exercises
- Your sets, reps and level of intensity
Just keep in mind, something should be altered week to week but on a larger scale, you should consider switching up your program every 6 to 8 weeks to keep your body from plateauing. There are so many different variations of, for example, the squat. Throwing in a front squat instead of your back squat is enough of a change to “keep your body guessing” and will help with preventing plateaus.
2. Not enough intensity during your workouts
Setting a timer during your rest between sets is very important and often underrated! I see people all the time in the gym get carried away on their phones and let too much time pass between sets by getting stuck writing an email or taking a phone call they didn’t want to. In order to see change in the body, it’s important to hit a certain muscle group within a given time frame. I recommend putting your phone in airplane mode to prevent any texts or calls from coming through and giving yourself that 45 minutes to an hour of solely focusing on your workout and nothing else. If you are giving yourself the time and putting in the work by getting to the gym, you might as well make it worth your time!
3. You’re doing it wrong
When it comes to the actual lifting part of your workouts, making sure you are:
- Connected to your breathe
- You have proper form
- Warming up efficiently
Are ALL super important in getting the most out of your lifts. It took me a long time to realize how important connecting to your breathe was during your lifts because synchronizing your breathe with your movement is how you tap into your nervous system and recruit more muscle fibers in that particular exercise. It’s proven that when we focus on our breathe and think about the muscles we are working when lifting, they will be activated more so than when we are distracted or just going through the motions.
Having proper form is also important to seeing the results we want in the gym. Wondering why you can’t grow a butt? Maybe your form is off or you're just not squatting deep enough. It literally can be that simple. Sometimes hiring a coach or taking the time to backtrack and do some research on your own to make sure the movement is actually being performed right is worth the time and/or money. If you are putting in the time, you have to make sure you are doing the movements right! Small changes can sometimes go a long way.
Warming up is similar to the breathe in the sense of physically getting the body ready to perform the exercise by connecting the body to the mind which in turn will allow you to activate and isolate the proper muscles you are intending to use.
4. Not eating appropriately for your desired goals
It’s amazing how much people think they can eat or believe the work they have done in the gym is a green light to eat whatever they want outside. Most times, especially when it comes to strength training, we don't actually burn a tremendous amount of calories. It’s important to still track your food outside the gym even if you feel like you “earned it” while in. Don’t negate all your hard work by going to the bar after your workout and ordering a cheeseburger, hot wings and drinking 6 beers because you “earned it” and worked out for an hour. Not only are calories important when it comes to getting the results you want, but the quality of food choices and your macronutrients are also very important. For example, If you want to build lean muscle, it’s very important to try and eat at least 40% of protein on a consistent daily basis. If you are trying to lose weight, you should be in a slight caloric deficit of where your resting metabolic rate is. (about 300-500 calories below your maintenance). Which means when you go to the gym and go home to eat, if you are someone who wants to lose weight, NOT being so full after your meals and being aware of your proteins, carbs and fats are very important when it comes to getting the results you are going for.
5. You’re consistency sucks
Having one great week and one bad week doesn’t mean you are a weak or bad person, it just means your consistency is off and if you are blaming your bad genetics on the fact of why you're not seeing the results you want- think again because it can definitely be your consistency. Even if you have 3 great days and two bad days, unfortunately it doesn’t equal out and your results will suffer. When it comes to seeing results in the gym, being consistent means working out at least 3x a week, making sure your food and macros are on a point and making sure your recovery is on point for about 6 weeks. Sure you can have one day when you allow yourself some dessert, but it shouldn’t be a massive “cheat day” where you consume 3000 calories and have it all be processed and sugary foods. I say 6 weeks because it may take that long before you actually start seeing a physical change in your body. Now, you may definitely start feeling different well before that, but the scale and other measures of progress may not change much. Being patient and staying consistent are key points to see consistent change in the body.
6. Your recovery is lacking or your stress is too high
Sleep and days off are just as important as actually training. Sleep is the time when our muscles fully recover and not getting enough of it can affect our bodies in a negative way and hinder our results. The time needed to recover between lifting days is also important. Ideally, depending on how often you are working out you want to give your body one day of rest in between total body workout days. If you are training more like bodybuilder and splitting up your days between upper and lower, you want to make sure you don’t hit the same muscle group back to back and try to give your body at least 1 to 2 days off completely. So if you are working out 5 days a week, you want to space your days out by splitting up your upper and lower days and also by making sure you throw in a rest day after the second or third day of hitting the gym. When it comes to training, more is not always better. Allocating rest time is just as important as your workout days.
Stress is another factor that can hinder results and one that may be preventing you from seeing the desired changes you are going for. When we are stressed, we tend to not sleep as well and our bodies actually hold onto a hormone called cortisol which tends to make us bloat and literally retain water. Some of us deal with stress by emotionally eating or becoming depressed. Learning how to manage and handle stress is important because we all have it! Finding a way to manage yours is key to not letting it disrupt your progress in the gym.
7. You could have a hormone imbalance
Last but not least, yes, it is possible your hormones can be playing a role in not seeing the desired results you want in the gym. For women, your estrogen and progesterone levels could be off. As a man, your testosterone levels could be low. The thyroid can also be a reason you are putting on weight or losing weight. The body is SUPER complex and there are so many different hormones that affect us all. If you have run the gamut and ruled out most of the things I pointed out above, I would recommend heading to your doctor to get a full check up. We can’t see our hormones but they play a key role in every function of our body and most certainly influence not only our fat storage and muscle gain, but brain function, sex drive, and overall energy levels. Understanding our endocrine system and making small changes and adjustments can be key when it comes to getting certain results in the gym and obtaining the ideal body we want.
Are you hitting a plateau at the gym? Let's find out how you can fix that! Ask me a question and I will get back to you.
Learn more about my most affordable fitness program, best part - it's under $10 and available for instant download!