What is a plateau and how to overcome it
Steve Camby, the founder of one of the most cheerful NerdFitness HLS projects, talks about the reasons for the stagnation in the training/diets (and why it is the norm!) And simple tricks that can help you get back on the right track.
What is a plateau?
A plateau is a stagnant and sloppy period of a training program and/or diet, when you stop noticing at least some progress, although you are still doing “everything right,” namely:
- eat healthi,
- exercise regularly
- recovering qualitatively.
It seems like recently the scales were happy, regularly showing positive dynamics of getting rid of the excess, but now it seems like they are broken and stuck at the same value. Or we successfully swayed, lifting more and more, and then for a week or two we cannot add at all to the working weights.
You yourself understand that no one likes to bang their foreheads against a wall without progress.
How do you know that this is really a plateau?
I receive many letters from clients suffering from stagnation. They eat ideally, exercise intensely and get enough sleep – but no (pleasant) changes. In desperation, they want to give up everything! Or at least change the program / diet to a more fashionable one.
Since I am already an experienced coach, the first thing I ask is:
“Are you sure this is exactly the case? Seriously?”
In the vast majority of cases, “stagnation” is problems with control and discipline in disguise. So first, answer the following questions honestly:
1) How is the diet? Actually?
Often, it only seems to us that we are diligently observing the diet, but in reality, after a couple of weeks of a strict diet, we are gradually dismissed. Frivolous thoughts “Well, so many were good, it’s time to pamper yourself …” and “Oh, just once,” creep into my head, and we slowly but surely roll back to old – unhealthy – eating habits. So open your favorite calculator and record every calorie consumed again for the next week,
But here’s the terrible news: even if you’re really sticking to your dose (calories), our cunning body is treacherous to lower costs as you lose weight. No, this is not witchcraft, this is science.
You just get smaller and less energy is required to maintain.
Here is the approximate calorie consumption at rest (this is when you don’t even engage in sports, but just sit on the couch all day) of a 35-year-old man in three weight classes:
– 300 pounds (~ 136 kg): 2,600 calories
– 250 pounds (~ 114 kg): 2,300 calories
– 200 pounds (~ 90 kg): 2,000 calories.
So weight loss stops when the calorie intake equals the expenditure. For further weight loss, you need to correct the deficit.
Consider the opposite situation: You are swinging hard to gain muscle mass (and you also fail). Are you consuming enough calories so that your muscles not only rebuild, but grow? Also devote a week or two to experimenting with a surplus, suddenly progress will resume?
2) How is your workout? Actually?
If you have been working on the same program for several weeks or even months, then, probably, the initial fuse is “Forward! Records! Weight!” – disappeared.
Are you missing the last (and most productive) rep, or even the set? Do you get bored and think only about the post-workout feast and TV show at home?
Usually there is no progress simply because the incentive is lost (you stop working hard). So now watch your workouts closely for a couple of weeks, perhaps you just started to be lazy.
3) How is your dream? Actually?
This factor is ignored by many, too many.
We don’t, here are a couple of resources:
20 biohacks to improve sleep (and health) The
Complete Guide to Insomnia
They go in for sports, eat right, but for some reason neglect sleep.
They watch, you know, their serials …
Everyone seems to know how important sleep is: the less we sleep, the more we suffer from stress, the worse the body recovers after intense training and mental work, etc.
Obviously, if you do not get enough sleep, then you will not perform very well in the hall.
Can you honestly say that you have been on a strict diet, exercised hard, and slept well over the past two weeks?
Before you begin to overcome the true plateau, you must exclude the banal lack of sleep, malnourishment (or overeating) and laziness-mother. If they are excluded, and progress is still lost, then it’s time to change something. But first, a little more theory.
Why are we facing a plateau?
To begin with, linear progress cannot continue indefinitely. For a variety of reasons.
1. When you first come to the gym, you learn to squat, starting with an empty bar and adding 2.5 kg per week (by the way, this is how beginners should train). Sooner or later, the native organism reports that it does not have time to develop muscle strength and connective tissue strength at this pace, and you are stuck at some kind of record. Otherwise, everyone would become champions after several years of visiting the gym.
2. The same thing (just the opposite) happens when losing weight. When you start with a weight over a hundred, you can lose a pound and a half a week. If the pace did not change, then at some point you would simply disappear! And here the native organism rescues again, losses can be reduced to half a kilo in two weeks.
3. The cost of a mistake is growing. At the very beginning, when you first tackle iron and a calorie calculator, you can go far on sheer enthusiasm, allowing some methodological and disciplinary flaws. The first achievements will still be impressive. But over time, when you have already advanced enough, you will have to use more mind and will in order to continue to get rid of excess or pump up what you want.
4. Adaptive thermogenesis. Our body wants to store excess fat (“I don’t know when I will need it, but it’s better to save it”), and is actively working in this direction. So after the joyful release of the first kilos, you will face a slowdown in progress – due to the adaptations of our body to a change in the situation (deprivation of its energy reserves).
In short, sooner or later you stop progressing at the pace that was at the very beginning, and this, of course, can be perceived as stagnation.
If you’ve been training for more than a few months, you will need to adjust your expectations a little. Maybe this week you will put an extra pound on the bar. Maybe a pound. Or maybe it will take you a whole month to master these five hundred grams.
This happens to all of us. Even with Batman.
But what if you are doing absolutely everything right, and progress has completely stopped or even regressed? Congratulations! You have managed to advance to a true plateau.
Game example: After the initial period in World of Warcraft, you will no longer gain experience from killing rats – although you can do it all day. To advance further, one must switch to spiders, then to orcs, then to dragons.
When you first started out on your fitness journey, your entire workout could consist of five incredibly hard push-ups. Now you do 50 push-ups to warm up without even breaking a sweat.
Our smart body is constantly adapting and learning to cope with the stress (which the “smart” mind dumps on it), spending fewer resources. And for us, the operation of this wonderful evolutionary mechanism is a grim stagnation.
Is the plateau normal?
I would like to introduce to you the American entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin , who devoted a separate book to this issue, The Dip.
The fact is that we are faced with a plateau in different areas of our life, not only in the hall or in the kitchen (on the scales). And in order to achieve real success, we need to courageously overcome the lowest point (or “flatness” in the results), until we begin to climb the mountain again.
Here’s how to depict it:
When you just start a new business, then at first you are not overjoyed at your achievements. However, after a few months, the return gets smaller and smaller.
Let’s go back to our healthy lifestyle examples:
1. In the first few weeks of the diet, everything is just fine! Libra delights with readings, clothes become looser, progress is so rapid that it takes your breath away. And then there comes a couple of weeks when you still give your best, but the weight does not change … or grows.
2. If you are engaged in aerobic training, then every run is delightful – until recently, trying to get around the block caused shortness of breath, and now you can easily run as many as three kilometers! After a few months, progress slows down, and suddenly you find that once again, those distances and speeds that, as it seemed, have already been conquered, are difficult to achieve.
3. Have you bought a gym membership? Enjoy your new, wonderful life as an iron man for several months. Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups – in each workout, you can increase working weights or do more repetitions. Except for the last week or two, when you come to the gym and lift less than before. What the heck?!
Disappointed with such a decline / plateau, it’s easy to give up and think to yourself, “I’m a loser.”
But this is not the case.
Everyone faces stagnation when they work hard to achieve success in a wide variety of areas of life.
And if we do not want to give up, abandoning the struggle for a brighter future, then we need to prepare for such situations and understand that it is impossible to achieve victory without failures.
Just as we strain to earn experience points in role-playing games, sometimes we need to strain in life, adjusting training methods, dietary strategy and much, much more … until we get off the ground.
So how do we stay persistent, focused, and motivated during a recession? When nothing seems to be working and all our efforts are a waste of time?
We focus on small victories and find ways to get even a little better.
How to overcome stagnation?
Here are some simple tricks you can use to prove to yourself that you are still progressing (even when faced with a real plateau):
1. Keep a training diary and track each rep.
If you can’t improve results in the usual way, work in the other direction. Let’s say you’ve consistently increased your bench press weight by doing 3 sets of 5 reps. And now for three weeks you have been trampling on 70 kg, unable to squeeze 72.5. Then increase the number of repetitions: 70 x 3x 6; or sets: 70 x 4 x 5.
For more information on training volume, see Greg Knuckles’ article:
Can muscle growth be predicted by knowing the amount of exercise?
When a couple of weeks have passed, go back to 3 sets of 5 reps and see if those overwhelming 72.5 can be won over?
If you’ve always rested 60 seconds between sets, try lounging around as much as 90 and see how this affects your weights / reps.
As long as you improve at least something (increase the number of sets, squeeze a pound more, squeeze additional repetition, etc.), you progress.
So frankly write absolutely everything in your training diary .
2. Work on your technique.
Not everything we can improve is measured in exact numbers. The plateau period (when we have a hard time gaining weight or shortening the run time) is great for improving movement technique, dexterity, coordination, etc.
Personal example: I am now learning to stand on my hands. In the past few months, progress has stalled, and sometimes even rollback occurs (hello plateau!).
Still, I practiced handstand for at least five minutes every day. I knew that regular practice would improve the end result – even if the change for the better didn’t immediately show up.
Faced with stagnation, I focused on eliminating weak links: strengthening my wrists, straining my core, standing on my hands against the wall for as long as possible, and so on.
If at the very beginning I could not stand in a rack without support for more than 10 seconds, then after several months of plateau, when progress resumed, I brought my “record” to 24 second
I still have a long way to go (I want to easily hold the stance for more than a minute), but I have already made sure that even a period of seeming stagnation can be used with benefit, improving the technique, which will certainly help when progress resumes.
3. Throw away the balance (at least remove it temporarily).
All scales lie. When you lose weight, the rate of dropping extra pounds will necessarily decrease – even if you are doing it right. First, there are fewer of you, and the body is more reluctant to part with valuable reserves; water can also be retained, weight floats a little due to hormonal changes, etc.
Therefore, track your progress in other ways:
- Take pictures every two weeks. What difference does it make on the scale if you look better objectively? Feeling Better? Does your clothes fit better? It’s a success.
- Take measurements. Splurge on a measuring tape (sewing centimeter) and check the bulk. Don’t give a damn about this weight as long as your waist decreases and your biceps grows!
- Keep track of your body fat percentage. Our friend Saint , who lost 60 extra pounds (~ 27 kg) and pumped up 6 cubes, faced a period in his fitness transformation when he was gaining weight, but his percentage of fat was decreasing.
If he had only sighed doom on the scales, he would have been sure that he had landed on the ill-fated “plateau”, but a simple caliper helped him to understand that everything was going well.
5 tips to overcome plateaus
All of the above is just the beginning. Here’s something else to help you resume moving forward and upward as you overcome the sad downturn:
1) Add a “shocking” shake-up to your workouts.
Our bodies strive for maximum efficiency and stability (that is, laziness), but for development we still need a little chaos.
Note: This is not about the idea of ”shock the muscles” with the help of which the fitness gloss every month (or every week) sells a “better” program. We progress by practicing certain movements (and increasing the load), but sometimes it is helpful to make some changes for additional stimulation.
When we repeat the same thing for a long time, the body learns to do it in the most efficient way, that is, it adapts and spends less energy. In order to induce new adaptations, an unusual stimulus must be given.
- Do you run long distances? Try to shake things up by adding one sprint workout per week.
- Looking to maximize your deadlift? Instead of struggling with the limit weight every time, try to include volume training (do more sets / reps, lowering the weights, of course).
- Looking to improve your squatting technique? Squat more often while trying different exercise options.
10 squat options: which one is best for you?
- Are you dreaming of pumping up the top? Try a home air defense program in addition to your iron workout. This is a 50-day challenge:
You do circles of three exercises (pull-ups, lunges, push-ups), each with the same number of reps. You can start with just 10, but you have to add one repetition every day. Here’s what it can do:
2) Adjust your diet.
A smart body strives for maximum efficiency in nutrition (accumulation and expenditure of energy), which is why we are faced with stagnation in losing weight.
Once you’ve lost a significant number of extra pounds, your body reduces your daily calorie expenditure. This means that you need to set a new standard.
Another article on the topic:
8 reasons why you do not lose weight even on a calorie deficit
Therefore, first, pull out the calculator again to determine the new calorie intake for the new (by weight) yourself.
Only after it doesn’t work I recommend the following:
Try to include one day of overeating per week . What if you manage to outwit the smart body, convincing him that there will be no starvation, you can not cling to the last fat on the waist?
And More Tips:
Cheat Meals and Refeeds: How to Use Relief for Weight Loss
Of course, it should be remembered that in order to lose weight, the total calorie intake per week must remain in short supply, the heartless nature must not be fooled.
You can also play with the macronutrient fractions. Leaving protein at the same level, vary the amount of fat and carbohydrates. Someone is more suitable a diet with a higher fat and low – carbohydrates, someone is better on the contrary.
3) Intensify rest.
I said at the beginning that the lack of recovery slows down progress anyway. If, for example, you have recently had a child, then you simply cannot cope with the previous loads, sleeping as much as two hours every night.
Or, for example, at work, a blockage and crazy stress that you began to seize, which clearly does not contribute to the diet.
Most Overlooked Cause of Stagnation is Stress
In general, if you feel like rest is not enough, take a week off (in terms of fitness) and focus on perfect recovery: sleep vigorously and relax intensely. When you return to the iron, rested and refreshed, working weights can also be renewed.
4) Think about new goals.
Perhaps you have been chopping the orcs for too long, it’s time to look for the dragon.
Sometimes we get stuck just because it gets too boring. If your whole life revolved around a diet, but you are at a dead end, then shift your attention to something else. Try to run a hundred meters in the minimum amount of time. Or cross. Work on the same handstand.
Or do your first pull-up.
Pick a new skill that you want to master. Let it be something completely different from everything that you have done before.
Give your body (and mind) an opportunity to take a break and rest, and then return to the main task again.
When faced with a plateau on your diet, stop staring at the scales bitterly – they will drive you into depression. Lock them up in a closet for a month and focus on strength training and the tastiest (and healthiest) meals. Relax and enjoy the process.
5) Understand and accept that everyone has bad days (and weeks).
Our body is a very complex machine. Sometimes you do everything perfectly, but you still get a weak (or even negative) result. Do not put on weight on the bar or increase your own weight when you seem to expect to lose weight.
Because of this, you do not become a loser or a bad person. You are just a human being.
On the days when everything is going well, work harder. On lousy days, reduce the load, do not increase the weight, but do more reps or work on your technique.
I have written an entire article about how the most important quality for achieving long-term goals is persistence. And it can be pumped up.
We haven’t translated it yet, but we have other helpful articles by Steve: The
Ultimate Guide to Achieving Anything
Instruction: How to Get Into Healthy Habits Without Extra Efforts
So, it is the dedication and passion with which you were heading towards your final super goal that will help you break through stagnant weeks when the results are not at all pleasing. Only a plateau can show how dedicated you are to your cause.
Set some small, intermediate goals during this period to confirm to yourself that in reality you are progressing, and not marking time or rolling back. When your body is ready for a new breakthrough, it will happen.