How to Overcome A Fitness Plateau?

Make your workouts more challenging.

Do you feel like you keep working out and eating right but you’ve stopped losing or gaining the weight you want? Maybe it’s time to give your system a boost by making your workouts more challenging.

Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned pro in the world of fitness, there are plenty of ways to push past a plateau or a slow point in your journey towards reaching your goals. Ideally you want to have your diet, fitness schedule and exercise form on point already before trying to increase the intensity of your workouts.

Here's a challenging full body workout:

The teachings of any trainer always revolve around something called progressive overload, which may sound complicated, but it’s actually a very simple concept. Over a certain period of time the body will get used to a specific routine and therefore you have to progressively change it over time.

For beginners this plateau period is after about 6-8 weeks, and for more advanced it’s closer to 4-5 weeks.

So how do we progress?

Although you can easily adjust your diet, how many times you go to the gym during the week, or how long you’re working out for, one of the easiest ways to change your routine is to adjust the work you’re already doing to make it more challenging.

How do we make cardio more impactful? Pushing suddenly into a much higher intensity is a way to train your anaerobic respiration (Strength and power), which helps increase your aerobic respiration (Endurance) in the long run.

The typical cardio activity starts slow and then builds up to a higher speed, then slows down at the end before stopping. A great way for beginners to increase the time spent at higher intensities is to gradually incorporate more waves of higher and lower speeds. This can get you used to the idea of slowing down instead of stopping when you get tired, so you can decrease rest time.

This can also be incorporated in the example above, adding in high intensity sprinting to your normal cardio time. This is mainly for more advanced, but also not limited to running, since you can put a high spike of intensity in any sort of cardio like biking or elliptical.

If you’re jumping to much higher intensities in a shorter period of time (Ex/ Sprinting), make sure you do not stop after the sprint. You should only ever slow down. Stopping after a high intensity spike causes a very sudden drop in activity, and can be dangerous for your blood pressure and heart rate.

HITT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. This is a method that incorporates points above to maximize metabolism, and is generally for the more advanced. A simple example of HITT cardio would be: After a 3-5 minute warm up, alternate between 30 seconds of sprinting/running with 60 seconds of walking/jogging. After, do a 3-5 minute cool down.

Here's a HIIT workout that you can do on the treadmill:

Strength training has many ways to increase the intensity, some for beginners and others for more advanced.

Active rest is when instead of sitting on a bench or standing around resting between sets, you can use rest time to work out another muscle group. Doing this can cut down on time spent on each exercise, so you can spend that extra time on more exercises, or finish your workout earlier!

A drop set is a very easy way to increase the intensity without changing up the exercise itself, and you can do this with almost any exercise as long as there is weight involved. The form and the execution are still the same, but in a drop set, you use different sized weights one after the other to fully exhaust the muscle.

An example would be to do 1 set of bicep curls with 15 lbs, then without resting between, you immediately do 1 set of curls with 10 lbs, and then 1 set with 5 lbs, etc… Even though the weight gets lighter, it gets much harder to lift because your muscles are already tired from the heavier weights. Its an easy way to push your muscles to their limits!

There are lots of different kinds of supersets, some for beginners and some for more advanced. A superset is two exercises done in succession. You can also use active rest (explained above) to stagger the sets between each other.

For beginners there is:

  • Upper / Lower: An upper body exercise followed by a lower body exercise: Leg Press + Pull Up
  • Push / Pull: Two exercises that work opposing muscle groups in a pushing and pulling motion: Chest Press + Rows

For more advanced:

  • Same Muscle: Two exercises that use the same muscle group: Leg Press + Leg Extension or Pull Up + Lat Pull Down
  • Push / Push or Pull / Pull: Using two exercises that use the same muscle groups to perform a push or pull motion. Pull Up + Bicep Curl or Bench Press + Skull Crushers.
  • Giant: A giant set staggers 3-4 exercises without rest, usually having some of the same muscle groups used across exercises: Glute Bridge + Squat + Push up + Crunch or Tricep Dip + Chest Press + Pull Up + Plank

Negative training is used for both beginner and advanced gymaholics looking to improve their skills. It relies on gravity or another person to do some of the work for you, so you can complete at least half of a rep of an exercise you can’t normally do.If you can’t do a pull up, you can boost yourself up above the bar and fight gravity on the way down to complete the second half of the rep on your own. Doing this can build up strength (for beginners) so you can eventually start without the initial boost, lifting yourself cleanly to the bar and then back down again.You can also use this for weights, having a trainer or a partner with you to start the rep for you and have you finish it, either on the last few reps that you can’t quite do (beginners & advanced), or for an entire set (more advanced).

Mentioned above in cardio, HITT training can also be used with weights and strength exercises, alternating between work and resting times. Tabata is a form of HITT training, where you work for 20 seconds, and rest for 10 seconds. It may seem simple, but a full tabata lasts about 4 minutes which is 8 rounds of that 20/10 interval. These time intervals can be changed accordingly. You would normally start with a 3-4 minute warm up and finish with a 3-4 minute cool down.

Though you can do all different exercises, many choose to pick 4 exercises and stagger them. A typical tabata exercise may look like this:

  • Warm Up
  • Exercise 1 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 2 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 1 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 2 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 3 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 4 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 3 (20 seconds)
  • 10 Second Rest
  • Exercise 4 (20 seconds)
  • Cool Down

Let’s review what we've learned:

  • Increasing the intensity of your workout helps you overcome plateaus.
  • Make sure your nutrition, fitness schedule and exercise form is already on point.
  • Over a certain period of time the body will get used to a specific routine.
  • You can make your cardio trainings more challenging.
  • You can make your weight trainings more challenging.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” - Albert Einstein

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Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Nutraceuticals. A Canadian with a love of food, fitness and health.

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