You’re hitting the gym most days each week, eating clean and enjoying the benefits - then suddenly, disaster strikes. The dreaded exercise plateau has kicked in and with it your muscle gain, weight loss and motivation appear to have stopped in their tracks.
Whilst it’s common for many of us to ‘hit the wall’ in our workout plans - it’s something you will want to eradicate as soon as possible.
What is an exercise plateau?
Plateaus are a natural (and often frustrating) part of progressing and most people will experience them at some point during their training programmes.
Plateaus don’t care if you are a professional athlete, a bodybuilder, or a newbie gym-goer one month into an exercise plan; they can affect anyone.
When you fall into a plateau it can make you go from building muscle and getting stronger, to suddenly feeling weaker than before. You may have been consistently losing two or three pounds a week, but now the scales have stopped moving or you may have even put on a pound or two.
So how can we avoid this lull? Thankfully, our expert personal trainers are on hand to help you tackle your exercise or diet plateau head on and get back to what you love most - seeing results.
Here are six tips that you should follow...
1) Embrace rest days
When you begin to see results in the gym - it’s very easy to fall into an obsessive trap of going each and every day.
However, not only could you be doing your body some unnecessary damage, but you’re more likely to hit a dreaded plateau. Carly Tierney, Fitness First personal trainer and Miami Pro UK bodybuilding champion, believes learning to love rest day can work wonders for your gym routine.
“If you're just going to the gym and putting in 50%, you're never going to progress or see results. Take a rest day.”
2) Mix up your routine
One of the biggest reasons you may be in a workout plateau is because you’re continually performing the same routine day in, day out. Not only can it affect results, but you’re less likely to stay motivated in the gym. It just gets boring and soon becomes a chore.
By performing the exact same workout every time you hit the gym, your body will eventually get used to its strenuousness and will stop burning as many calories - you’ve got yourself a plateau right there.
Example: If you're used to long, balanced workouts then you could try a short, intense workout like our Metafit class.
You don’t need to make drastic changes however, as Carly explains:
“Vary your intensity (change up your rest periods), change your rep range, perform your exercises in a different order, take more rest days. Or if you're really serious about progression, consult an expert. Writing your own programmes is unlikely to get you the best results. Don't wing it.”
3) Call in the experts
You can read endless blogs and articles - littered with exercise programmes that promise to help you…
‘Torch your belly for good!’
‘Get killer legs like a Tour de France winner!’
‘Make sweet gains fast with the Conor McGregor diet!’
And many other questionable routines. But if you really want to get the most out of your workout (and see some incredible results), having a session or two with a personal trainer is the way to go.
Not only will they provide tips and give you a programme that suits your personal goals and requirements, they will revolutionise the way in which you train - as Carly explains:
“Even if it's just every now and again - invest in a personal trainer. I have some clients who book a session with me every four to six weeks as a motivational tool.
“When you workout alone, you can think you're pushing yourself but training with a PT takes it to a whole new level. A good trainer will inspire you, teach you new tricks, check your form (you'd be surprised how many people have poor form and this could be the reason you’re hitting a plateau) and encourage you to push for that last rep or that heavier weight.
“It's that point when you think you can't push any harder and break out of your comfort zone that the magic begins.”
You can find your nearest Fitness First personal trainer here.
4) Look at your lifestyle
You may be hitting the gym five times a week and pushing yourself to the limit. But if it’s coupled with late nights at the weekend, a few too many pints and a dodgy kebab to follow - you may be undoing your hard work.
For a start, alcohol is considered an ergogenic substance, meaning it impairs athletic performance - resulting in a potential plateau. So enjoying a boozy lunch before yoga is probably not the way to go.
Carly stresses the importance of keeping your life outside the gym balanced.
“Too many late nights, a poor diet and a lack of hydration are all lifestyle factors that will impact your training. You can't out-train a poor diet and your body can't repair itself without adequate rest.”
5) Lift heavier weights
Weight training is all about mixing it up - keeping your body guessing. By simply changing the amount of reps, or just switching up the method - you’ll see better, quicker results.
Try changing up the weight by 5% of what you are used to, or go a few numbers higher and try drop sets.
As an example, aim for four sets of 10 dumbbell curls, gather four different weights and use your heaviest weight on the first set, then the second heaviest, then the third heaviest, then the lightest on the last set.
Be aware there are no rests in between drop sets, you are literally ‘walking down the rack’. Drop sets use different muscle fibres which helps trigger growth that wouldn’t be ordinarily possible when using the same weight.
We’ve got a handy guide to bicep curls for you here. Go on - perfect your form!
6) Know your weaknesses
Each and every one of us has aspects of our training that we are better at than others.
Some of us may be able to smash leg day, but struggle when it's time for shoulders and traps - whilst others may be the complete opposite. It’s purely just the nature of working out.
A muscle imbalance is a surefire way to affect your gym routine and result in an exercise plateau - so Carly gives her expert advice on how to combat it.
“Regular massage treatments or using a foam roller can address soft tissue issues. A proper warm-up consisting of light aerobic exercise can not only prepare you for the workout ahead, but can also address range-of-motion issues. This will add strength and function to your body.”
So that’s our top tips on how to avoid the much-hated exercise plateau and get the most out of your workout. If you’re just starting out on your fitness journey, check out our latest membership offers.