We’ve all experienced it: that initial burst of progress any time we’re starting something new, then, what seems like a lifetime of being stuck at the same level.
Plateaus happen to everyone. No matter what level you’re starting at, you will experience a plateau at some point. While plateaus are never fun, they’re a normal, albeit frustrating, part of getting better at anything. When you reach a plateau, it’s helpful to acknowledge it, then reevaluate where you are in your journey.
Why does fitness plateau?
When you first start working out, you usually feel results straight away, especially if you weren’t previously active. However, as time passes and your body adjusts to exercising you may notice the results become less obvious. People don’t always know how to change their current training style or increase the intensity to keep getting noticeable results. It’s easy to become comfortable with a particular routine once you get an exercise habit in place.
The body is incredibly resilient, and this means that it adapts to the physical demands of training. As your body adapts, exercises that were once challenging become easier. This is why you can hit a fitness plateau even when you are doing everything right!
What should I do when I hit a plateau?
What you do when you reach a workout plateau will depend on what your goals are.
For some, a plateau isn’t a problem. If you are happy with your current level of fitness, keep going with your current exercise routine to maintain fitness! However, if you are frustrated with a lack of progress, don’t despair. There are actions you can take to overcome this fitness plateau.
Training Too Much or Too Little Can Cause Plateaus
Next time you realize you’ve plateaued, first ask yourself whether you need to adjust your training level or frequency. Not training intensely or frequently enough can cause plateaus, as can overtraining. Finding a balance between consistently working hard and getting enough rest to let your body recover is something only you can determine. Learn to listen to your body and understand the signals of when you should push harder or give yourself a break. Signs that you are overtraining include muscle and joint pain, fatigue or low energy levels. You may find that you get sick more easily. These symptoms are unsurprisingly often described as a fitness hangover.
Be honest with yourself: Have you been challenging yourself consistently, or are there areas where you could push harder? You don’t have to go all-out in training every single day, but make sure you’re spending at least a couple of workouts a week working above your comfort level.
If you’ve been training hard lately, try taking a few days off and doing something completely unrelated. If your goal is to hold a freestanding handstand, but your last few training sessions just left you feeling frustrated, go on a hike, surf, or take a flexibility or dance class instead.
The purpose here is to let all your hard work sink in while your mind is occupied doing something else. More often than not, you’ll find you come back from these mini-breaks feeling refreshed, getting past that previous point of frustration with ease.
It’s also important to pay attention to what you do between your workouts. You can stop making progress if you don’t get enough rest, drink enough water or eat healthy food to support your training.
Trust the Process
We often forget that getting better at something doesn’t mean making constant progress. Instead, the path to long-term progress or mastery involves sporadic breakthroughs followed by long periods of plateaus.
Just like we need to accept that struggle is part of the process, we need to realize that plateaus aren’t something to fear — they are part of the process of growth.
If you’ve reached a plateau, it may be that your current plateau is exactly where you need to be right now so that you can further internalize your recent progress. This is why learning to trust the process is so important. And beyond trusting the process, learning to love the process itself is essential.
When you embrace the long term journey of achieving your goals, you can actually begin to enjoy the ups and downs rather than focus only on the outcome.
It’s part of the journey to learn when a plateau is the right place to be and when it’s time to push beyond it. After all, if you want to make progress, you can’t stay on a plateau forever.
As Bruce Lee once said, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”