How to Get Over a Workout Plateau
How to Get Over a Workout Plateau
Have you ever been on a roll with your workout progress and then all of the sudden it comes to a halt?
Your weights are no longer going up.
You can’t seem to beat your times.
You’ve stopped losing weight
You’ve likely hit a plateau.
Regardless of the benefits you’re seeking, it’s likely that you’ll hit a plateau in your progress within a few weeks or months. This plateau might resemble slowed progress, no progress, or even a slight regression.
Don’t be concerned. Plateaus are expected.
In this article, we discuss what workout plateaus are, when they are likely to happen, and how to overcome them.
What is a Plateau & Have You Hit One?
You might be thinking about how quickly you were able to increase resistance on exercises within your first couple of months and now that isn’t the case- have you hit a plateau?
First things first – Progress isn’t linear.
While your body will generally progress in the direction you’re seeking, progress doesn’t happen consistently in a predictable fashion.
Our pursuit of goals alternates between periods of progress and periods of little to no progress. The latter periods are often referred to as “plateaus.”
Plateaus are a temporary or permanent stalling of progress. They are most commonly associated with weight loss, but they are also seen in other exercise-related benefits. These benefits include gaining strength and muscle.
Are Workout Plateaus Normal? Are Plateaus Bad?
Think of your progress like your driving speed when you’re on a highway. When you enter a highway through the onramp, you are not driving very fast. You rapidly accelerate to reach a desired speed, but then your rate of acceleration decreases to a point where you maintain a normal driving speed.
Your progress works the same way. Your body progresses at a fast rate early on and slows as it reaches its peak.
Plateaus seem like negative events, but they are – in most cases – your body settling into a new “normal” range. Your body is finding a new preferred level of strength and muscle mass.
This is a good thing when considering the levels of strength and muscle that your body maintained before strength training. You may not have reached your desired target (yet), but you are maintaining a new peak.
Types of Plateaus
Plateaus occur in various areas of exercise and fitness results. Depending on the goal you’re seeking, there’s a different timeline for when you can expect to see a plateau.
People consistently gain strength for the first year of a strength training program (Steele et al., 2021). The rate of strength gain is noticeable in the first six months. Around 6-8 months into a strength training program, people start gaining strength at a slower rate. Strength gains plateau between years one and two, and then progress is scattered after that point (Steele, 2021).
This might sound concerning, that most of your strength gains are in the first year of training. However, consider the alternative: losing strength (and muscle…and bone density…and a slowing metabolism).
Strength training is still “doing its job” of reversing the trends of aging…it’s just more focused on maintenance than progress after a certain point. Don’t worry, we’ve got information on how to overcome this plateau… keep reading!
Similar to strength gains, muscle growth should occur consistently and be noticeable for the first six months (Counts et al., 2017). Between six months and one year, the rate of growth slows down. The first plateau for muscle growth is likely expected within that time frame.
Muscle growth should continue after that point, as it’s expected that people still gain muscle in their second and possibly even their third years of training (Counts et al., 2017).
Perhaps the most popularly discussed plateau is the weight loss plateau. When seeking fat loss, people often lose large amounts of weight in the first 8-12 weeks (Sarwan & Rehman, 2021). After 4-6 months, people tend to hit longer plateaus and, in some cases, start regaining weight.
Even in those first 2-3 months, weight loss isn’t constant.
These can happen due to many reasons: metabolism slows, lack of adherence to diet changes, and eating more overall as a result of changes in hunger cravings, among other reasons (Sarwan & Rehman, 2021).
How to Overcome a Plateau
Progress ebbs and flows. Hitting a plateau is inevitable. Remaining at the plateau is within your control, though. How can you overcome a plateau?
Strength and muscle growth plateaus. You may naturally progress past these plateaus. Regardless, if you want to increase your chances of making progress again soon, try one or more of the following approaches:
- Workout changes. If you haven’t increased your weights in a while, add more resistance. As little as 1-2.5 pounds could help. Also, try increasing your workout frequency (Figueiredo, Freitas de Salles, & Trajano, 2017). If you’re training once per week, switch to two sessions a week.
- Protein intake. Eating sufficient protein on a daily basis enhances muscle and strength gains from a strength training routine (Phillips & Loon, 2011). The opposite is true, too: eating too little protein can limit your results. Look at where you can add protein, through real food sources or via supplements. Ideally, people who strength train should eat a minimum grams per day total that equals their body weight multiplied by 0.7. (Example: 200 lb person x 0.7 = 140 grams of protein per day).
- Creatine supplementation. Creatine has a number of benefits, including enhancing strength and muscle growth. Taking at least five grams per day pre- or post-workout helps enhance strength training results (Antonio & Ciccone, 2013).
Weight loss plateau. Weight loss plateaus differ from a plateau in muscle-based measures as weight loss is mostly a matter of nutrition habits. The following are possible solutions (Silvestro & Braun, 2021):
- Keep a food journal. This will provide more self-awareness around eating habits (and potential areas for improvement).
- Strength train. Strength training increases metabolism for up to three days after a workout. If you’re not already strength training, consider adding 1-2 workouts per week.
- Reduce alcohol intake. Not only does alcohol contain calories, but drinking alcohol also leads people to eat more.
Again, progress isn’t linear. Unfortunately, you will not consistently lose weight or gain strength and muscle. The plateaus aren’t necessarily negative, as your body is holding the progress you’ve already made.
To continue to gain strength or muscle, increase the weights you’re lifting, your workout frequency, or add creatine or more protein. For weight loss, increase your workout frequency (if applicable), start a food journal, or decrease your alcohol intake.
Plateaus are inevitable but temporary stopping points.
To work with a trainer to get over a plateau (or begin strength training altogether!), start by booking a FREE introductory workout.
- Antonio, J. & Ciccone, V. (2013). The effect of pre versus post workout supplementation of creatine monohydrate on body composition and strength. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(36).
- Counts, B. R., Buckner, S. L., Mouser, J. G., Dankel, S. J., Jessee, M. B., Mattocks, K. T., & Loenneke, J. P. (2017). Muscle growth: To infinity and beyond?. Muscle & Nerve, 56(6), 1022-1030.
- Figueiredo, V.C., Freitas de Sallas, B., Trajano, G.S. (2017). Volume for muscle hypertrophy and health outcomes: The most effective variable in resistance training. Sports Medicine, 48(3), 499-505.
- Gelman, R., Berg, M., & Ilan, Y. (2022). A Subject-Tailored Variability-Based Platform for Overcoming the Plateau Effect in Sports Training: A Narrative Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(3), 1722.
- Phillips, S.M. & Van Loon, L.J. (2011). Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. Journal of Sports Science, 29(1), S29-38.
- Sarwan, G., & Rehman, A. (2021). Management of weight loss plateau. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.
- Silvestro, S., & Ashley Braun, R. D. Weight loss plateau: why it happens and 7 ways to get past it.
- Steele, J., Fisher, J., Giessing, J., Androulakis-Korakakis, P., Wolf, M., Kroeske, B., & Reuters, R. (2021). Long-term time-course of strength adaptation to minimal dose resistance training: Retrospective longitudinal growth modeling of a large cohort through training records. SportRxiv.