What do you do when your workout routine stops working for you? A fitness plateau can be your body’s signal that it’s time for a change, experts say, or a sign that you’ve been looking for progress in all the wrong places.
“A plateau is a period where you stop making progress,” said Marshall Roy, a New York City personal trainer at Equinox, a chain of fitness centres in the US. “It isn’t a death sentence and it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s feedback from your body that what you’re doing has stopped working.”
The human body will adapt to become as strong or lean or resilient as you train it to be, Roy explained. So if you keep giving it exactly the same challenge, it will not progress.
“Say you’re a woman who wants to lose body fat. You’ve been doing Pilates for a couple of months and experiencing the results you want. Then you stop seeing it,” he said. “It may be time to try strength training or swimming.”
Roy believed the best way to avoid plateaus was to have a long-term, progressive, goal-oriented plan. He said people were generally too quick to abandon a solid routine to follow the latest craze or celebrity endorsement.
“They hop around different styles. It doesn’t work. How would you know if you’re making progress if you’re always changing? Consistency is how you track your progress.”
Roy suggested giving a workout at least eight, and preferably 16, weeks to allow the body to adapt to it. He also noted that in fitness, as in nature, everything happened in cycles.
“There is a time for progress and a time for recovery and maintenance,” he said. “If my client is an accountant, I’m not going to plan a brutal workout at tax time. Summer is a great time for a teacher to make strides.”
Sometimes, he said, the problem lay outside the gym.
“Ask yourself: have I changed my diet? Do my workouts lack vigour? Has my stress level increased?” he said.
“Try to isolate the variable that led you to stall. Most of the time it’s a lifestyle factor that’s the reason.”
Shirley Archer, a fitness expert and spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise, said whether you’re doing aerobics, strength or flexibility training, fitness plateaus were inevitable if you repeat the same workout.
“Said (specific adaptation to imposed demand) is a tried and true training principle of the tenet that the body will adapt to the specific demands placed upon it. It guides our training,” she said.
Our bodies adapt to what we do and become more efficient over time, Archer said, expending less energy to perform the same activities. “Studies show that in as few as six workouts, our neuromuscular system has adjusted to a particular stimulus,” she said.
Add variety, said Archer. She quoted what she called her best rule-of-thumb: “If your mind is bored, your body is bored, too. Mix it up.” – Reuters