Here’s a reference post about plateauing, a word that’s used to mean you’re stuck at a point where you either can’t get the scale to keep moving or your fitness gains have stalled. Everyone hit’s plateaus in their training, at some point, so this information is essential. So much so that I’m kicking off my weight-loss series with it. This should be standard information in your reference arsenal about how to exercise and lose weight.
The article begins with a fairly in depth back story defining a plateau, and overtraining, and why we should train in phases. It was also written for the P90x newsletter, so it focuses on that program, but is applicable to any exercise program. In fact, its principles apply to only dieting, too, but why would you just diet when exercise and diet works so much better? Here’s an excerpt. Clicking on it takes you to the article (you know this by now, right?)
Most sound fitness programs follow a similar plan. This alone does not keep plateaus from occurring. They affect everyone, from couch potato to Olympian, who engages in any exercise program. In fact, the more finely tuned your body is, the harder it is to avoid plateaus, mainly because there’s less margin of error when your body is finely tuned.
- You’ve been training too hard.
- You haven’t been training hard enough.
- You’re not recovering (includes both eating and sleeping too little).
- You’re eating too much (or too little).
For those of you who don’t like to click, I’ll give you the 6 reasons here. I wouldn’t do that normally, because if you’re really interested in changing your body you should be willing to take five minutes to peruse this sucker, but I’d amend this a little bit if it weren’t directed at a P90X audience. I’d move #6 to #1, which is add or subtract calories. The reason is that the P90X nutrition plan is robust, and designed to keep you from underrating (and very common issue as you progress through an exercise program). However, most programs have you under eat by design, where adding calories becomes the first thing to do when plateaus hit (and hopefully even before). We’ll get into the specifics of that more in the next post. For now, here are 6 actions to consider when you’ve hit a plateau.
- Start off. First, you need to ask yourself if you did your program all the way through. With P90X especially, results don’t always come hard and fast. The structure of P90X is designed to create a peak period near the end of the 12-week program. Because the program is so intense, it’s likely you’ll experience small peaks and valleys of improvement/decline over the first couple of months. You’re not plateauing. It’s adaptation to a new program. In fact, chances are you’d get better results early on with an easier program. This is because you’d quickly master that program. What you would lack is the high-end fitness you reach at the end of P90X that your body prepares for during the initial blocks. Those who revamp P90X to improve their results in the first 12 weeks are not allowing the program to do its job.
- Back off. This is the most common scenario; you can’t stop bringin’ it. Backing off doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise—it just means that if you ease up a bit, you’ll likely recover and get stronger. The time frames of the P90X blocks are not set in stone. If you’re finding it suddenly difficult to get through a workout that was easy the week before, you’re probably working out too intensely. You should ease up your intensity and focus on technique and flexibility. When I suspect this is the case, I usually suggest you go straight into a recovery period until you feel normal. When you’re this tired, gauge your workouts so you finish them feeling refreshed rather than knackered. When your energy level returns, you can launch back into your original program even harder than before.
- Turn it up a notch. Or you can try the antithesis of #2, because a plateau may also happen if you’re bored and/or listless. The best way to increase intensity is by adding resistance. Change bands or add weight so you startfailing at a targeted number of reps (depending on your goals) on all of the exercises, which changes the focus of the energy system you’re using. This added intensity will force your body to adapt and turn that improvement curve skyward again. You’ll know if this was the right tactic because you’ll either respond by feeling energized or you’ll hardly be able to finish the workout. If it’s the latter, try step #1 or #6.
- Streamline your diet. Most diets could use a little improvement. If you’ve been giving yourself little rewards for a job well done (a good idea in general), then try some withholding. Eat very cleanly and strictly for a week and see what happens. If you feel better, you’ve found the culprit. If your plateau continues, move to either step #1 or #5.
- Add some morning cardio. Twenty to 40 minutes or more of easy to moderate cardio in the morning on an empty stomach can help get your metabolism steamrolling again. You can train your body to use stored fat more efficiently as fuel, and this is one of the easiest ways to do it. This is a good tactic to try if you’re having trouble streamlining your diet and have an abundance of extra energy.
- Add or subtract calories. Dynamic caloric requirements are a reality of a program as hard as P90X. As you become fitter, your body composition changes, so your calorie requirements change. Adding calories is one of the main ways our customers get themselves off plateaus. Adding 500 calories per day works out to 3,500 per week, which equates to a pound (more or less). But this doesn’t mean you’ll gain or lose a pound. You may simply need the extra energy to keep fueling your now-much-fitter body. Keep in mind that this will only work if you’re eating proper nutrients. If not, try step #4 first, and then try altering the number of calories you’re eating. The best way to add or subtract calories is to zigzag them up or down. Instead of simply adding/subtracting the calories all at once, do it every other day while continuing to follow your current eating pattern. This will not only help your body adjust easier, but you’ll begin to feel how the different amounts of energy you’re consuming affect your performance. Five hundred is not a magic number. If 300 (or 600) feels better, then go with that. Your body will usually tell you what it needs, if you can learn how to read its signals.
As this series progresses, we’ll take each of these solutions on their own, going into a bit more depth as to why they work. Next post, we’ll look at the simplest basics of weight loss: how it works, why it works, and what to do when it gets challenging.