If you’ve trained for a while, you’ve probably hit a wall at some point. That’s the moment when you feel like you can’t make any more progress, and you find yourself at a plateau.
This plateau is accompanied by a drop in motivation and energy and causes a lot of people to take a backward step in their fitness journey.
The good news is, this is a common thing. Everyone plateaus at some point, but it’s not permanent. We’re going to look at how to overcome a plateau and keep your progress on an upward trajectory.
What Might be Causing Your Plateau
Many things can cause someone to hit a plateau, which can be either physical or mental.
Let’s take a look at some common causes.
Pushing Too Hard
You might find you’ve been pushing yourself too hard.
We can only sustain a certain level of intensity for so long. Like a car running on fumes, soon you’re going to run out of gas.
If you’re training multiple hours each day, you’re going to be in this category before long.
Perhaps the intensity of the workouts isn’t the main issue, but you’re not doing enough to recover in between.
By not letting your body recover properly, you’ll find your energy levels and performance drop, and you won’t get the same gains from the work you do in the gym.
Not Eating Enough Protein
Nutrition is another key part of a successful training program.
Protein is vital for a ton of bodily functions. In particular, it’s vital for muscle growth and repair. It’s the fuel your body needs to recover after a hard workout, as well as to get bigger and stronger.
Not Eating Enough Calories
The single biggest nutrition misconception is that calories are bad.
If you’re trying to lose weight or body fat, you want to burn more calories than you take in, sure. But if you cut your calorie intake too low, you won’t have the energy you need to get through workouts.
Food is the fuel that powers your body. Don’t cut your fuel intake too much, whatever your aesthetic goals are. If you’re consistently eating too little, your body won’t have the fuel necessary to perform at the highest level consistently.
Lack of Enthusiasm
Mental plateaus are more common than physical plateaus. We’re often stuck doing the same routine, over and over, day after day. This becomes unexciting after a while, and this is where motivation issues come into play.
That’s the hardest thing about staying consistent in your training long-term: not the physical rigors, but maintaining your enthusiasm over such a long time.
Not Setting Exciting Goals
Goals are powerful, in all walks of life. They can motivate us to reach new heights, but they can also derail us. If you don’t have the right goals, maintaining your mental drive and motivation soon becomes a challenge.
You need goals that excite you. Most of all, you need to keep re-assessing and repositioning the goalposts. Many, if not most plateaus happen when we finally hit a goal, then have nothing to motivate us to keep going.
How to Break Through a Training Plateau
So how can we proceed when we hit a plateau? Here are a few things to look at.
First, Identify the Cause
The first step is to know why you’re plateauing. That makes it much easier to come up with a plan and address the problem.
We’ve covered the most common reasons already. There’s a good chance one of these issues fits you – whether you’re lacking proper nutrition or recovery, or you’ve lost your mental edge and motivation.
Address Key Issues
Depending on the cause, you might have a solution sitting right there in front of you.
If you’ve identified that you’re not getting much protein in your diet, you can work on getting more. The same goes if you realized you were cutting calories too low.
The issue may not be obvious, so it may take a bit of trial and error to figure out. Maybe you try eating more, try lowering your intensity, then try changing up your workout routine, and it turns out the last one is the one that makes the difference.
Set Clear Well-Defined Goals
Most people can benefit from improved goal-setting.
A simple change in this department can make a huge difference to your motivation and energy levels. As well as providing you with motivation, goals give you something concrete to work towards.
Instead of just going to the gym and working out aimlessly, you’re working out in a clear direction, such as hitting a performance or physical benchmark.
Take a step further and
Work With a Trainer and/or Nutritionist
Try taking some of the work off your plate. The mental game is a lot easier if you have another person supporting you and advising you.
This is why personal trainers are so valuable. They can help craft a training plan for you, and push you to keep going when you start hitting walls in your workout.
Nutritionists offer the same value for the diet side of things. They can offer professional expertise as to what fuel your body needs to grow, and to perform at its best.
Get Serious About Recovery
Many plateaus are caused by insufficient recovery. By doing the right things for recovery, you’ll feel less soreness, higher energy levels, and you’ll perform better every time you get in the gym.
Part of recovery is simply time – your body needs enough rest time to repair and recharge the batteries. But you can also do things to help. Sauna and massage in between workouts will speed up the process. Proper nutrition is vital for recovery, and so is sleep. Figure out what you can do to help your body recover better and faster.
Finally, supplements can make a difference, improving your nutrition, and as a result, your energy levels and recovery.
A whey protein isolate shake, for example, is a great way to top up your protein intake, if a lack of protein is the issue. You might want to think about taking creatine, which is a safe, well-studied supplement that has positive effects on energy levels.
There are countless other supplements that can help with performance, recovery, or both, and potentially give you the physical boost you need to push through the plateau.
Combine this with the other techniques mentioned in this post, and you’ve got a strong chance of figuring out the cause of your plateau, and the solution you need to get past it and keep making progress.