The Plateau


At some point in time most people who have tried an exercise or diet plan will have experienced something along the following lines:

The initial part of the programme which is characterized by great enthusiasm and a lot of optimism. In this phase it is fairly easy to stay motivated and to stick to the plan of regular exercise and “healthy eating”. During this time it is quite normal to see some reduction in body weight, and in some cases this can be quite dramatic. This in turn increases the levels of motivation.

Phase 2 tends to see a reduction in these motivation levels. At this point, the weight loss may not be as spectacular and the food plan and training programme may start to feel a little monotonous. When this happens, many people will abandon the plan because they feel that the benefits are not worth the effort they’re putting in.

If you manage to make it this far, Phase 3 is what is commonly known as the Plateau. When you’re here, it feels like an exercise and nutrition Groundhog Day. Although you’re still eating the same food and doing the same training sessions at the same intensity, you’re not seeing any changes.

This is a very frustrating and puzzling situation for most people. How could a diet and training plan that served you so well for so long suddenly stop working?

The answer lies in the S.A.I.D principle, which I’ve discussed in previous articles. In order for us to see strength or body composition improvements, our training must make use of this Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands Principle. This merely says that our body will adapt to whatever demands are placed upon it. So in order to grow stronger or to lose body fat, these demands must increase gradually but continuously.

If your current plan has allowed you to lose body fat and drop a dress size, congratulations! It has worked. However if you continue on the same plan, you will merely get the same results: the same body shape, the same weight and the same fitness levels. Welcome to the Plateau!

If you want to see better results, you’ll have to use a different and better programme. Let’s look at some ways to mix it up and ensure that your progress continues.

Change that Programme!

It’s the simplest way to kick-start some changes in body shape. Too many people have been doing the exact same programme for years and contributing to Einstein’s (alleged) Definition of Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Making changes to your training is not rocket science. Let’s look at the example of someone who has done the same walk at the same pace every day for years. This individual can change the training effect by doing any of the following:

  1. Walking faster and doing the same route in less time.
  2. Increasing the distance of the walk.
  3. Changing the route to something more challenging.
  4. Alternating jogging and walking.
  5. Alternating sprinting, jogging and walking.
  6. Getting a bike and going for a cycle instead!

For the gym-based trainee there are probably thousands of variations that can be introduced to keep the body interested: different exercises, different grips on machines and free weights, different set, repetition and weight combinations. You can even alter the speed of movement or even the rest/recovery period between exercises. All of these changes are simple but are vital in ensuring continuous progress.

Know when to change.

Most people, if they change their training at all, will usually wait too long before doing so. The ideal time to do it is when you’re in “Phase 2”. In other words when your progress is slowing down. Not when it has stopped completely (“Phase 3”).

How will you know when to change? The answer is easy: by constantly monitoring your progress. This can be done by having regular body fat measurements or by recording your workouts in a training diary. As soon as you see that your progress is starting to slow down, then take some action to get things moving in the right direction.

Although that’s the more scientific way of achieving best results, a simpler rule of thumb is to change your exercise routine every 3-5 weeks, depending on how often you train.

Avoiding the dreaded Plateau is much simpler than many people realize. Just shake up your programme on a regular basis and enjoy the improvements!


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