There are few things in the world more frustrating than working your butt off and not seeing results. I’ve certainly been there and spent a ton of time scrambling to figure out what I could do differently.
We’d all like to believe that if you’re putting in solid, consistent effort in the gym and in the kitchen, it will continue to pay off and get you closer to your goals. But sadly, the reality is that it’s really not that simple.
There are so many reasons why you might find yourself hitting a plateau. Here are some of the most common reasons that I see and how to make each of them less of a factor for you.
1. You don’t recover.
No days off sounds hardcore but mostly it’s a recipe for disaster. Hard effort during physical activity is stressful. Add that to the stress of daily life and your nervous system is constantly being hit with a cocktail of stress hormones. Without adequate recovery involving a conscious reduction in the volume of stress applied to your nervous system, soon your body and mind become overloaded with stress — even when that stress comes from “good” stressors like workouts. In the presence of chronic stress: (a) weight loss is inhibited; (b) your muscles cannot repair themselves and get stronger; and (c) mentally things go south. And let’s face it, if you get hurt or burn yourself out, you definitely won’t reach your goals or feel motivated to try.
2. You don’t fuel properly.
Without adequate fueling, you’ll be too tired and lethargic to workout. It’s science, folks. You have to put enough high-quality fuel into the system so that you have enough juice to really push in your workouts. If your goal is to lose weight, you need a calorie deficit (this is also science) — but it’s a Catch-22. If your deficit is too big (which happens when people are in a hurry to lose weight), your body clicks into conservation mode, zapping your energy and slowing your progress. Your best bet is to go with a smaller calorie deficit over a longer period of time so you have enough energy to keep your intensity level up in your workouts. On the other hand, if your goal is to get stronger and perform better, you need to eat more so that your body has a calorie surplus to work with. This is not a license to eat everything in sight though. Proper fueling is not just about quantity but also about quantity. You have to be smart about what you eat so that it actually goes toward fueling your life.
3. You don’t get enough sleep.
If you really want to set yourself up to succeed at anything in life, do yourself a favor and remove the barriers to sleep. People always roll their eyes at me on this one but it’s huge. Sleep really doesn’t get its proper due when talking about reaching goals. The bottom line is if you’re not getting enough sleep, you cannot expect to have the energy to do the things you need to do to reach your goals. Don’t set yourself up for failure by short-changing yourself in the sleep department. Prioritize sleep.
4. You don’t warm up.
Without a proper warm-up, it becomes challenging to push the intensity, hit PRs, or even come close. Instead, your workouts feel awful from the first minute, your body feels heavy and stiff, and your breathing is erratic and labored. It’s critical that you prepare yourself by systematically bringing all systems online first so that you’re in a position to handle the intensity that’s necessary for improvement. Do a warm-up that’s specific to the work you’re about to do so that you’re primed and ready for success.
5. You really only chase calorie burn.
For many people, choosing workouts purely based on how many calories they burn means doing more cardio than strength training. It sounds reasonable but there are a couple of big issues with this. First, during your cardio sweat sesh, you aren’t just burning through stored fat — you’re also burning muscle, which ultimately lowers your metabolism. So if your goal is to lose fat, you have to think bigger picture than just calorie burn alone. Second, the more cardio you do, the more efficient you become at it, which means your body burns fewer calories doing the same amount of work. On the other hand, strength training adaptation is a much slower process and preserves lean muscle mass for optimal metabolism. Remember this: just because you’re sweating doesn’t mean it’s working and just because you’re burning calories doesn’t mean you’re getting closer to reaching your goal. Also? Getting obsessive about calories just SUCKS.
Be honest: How have you been standing in your own way? —Alison