Does your exercise routine feel like it’s stuck in a rut? Are you no longer seeing progress? Chances are you’re in the middle of an exercise plateau. Relax – it’s common and relatively easy to get back on the right track.
The human body is a magnificent thing. Our body adapts to the stresses we put on them. As we place demand on our muscles and our cardiovascular system, they adapt. Once they adapt, they’re no longer “stressed,” so we need to place more stress on them to further progress.
At the onset of a physical activity program, there’s going to be some initial changes (weight loss is one common example), but a plateau will occur once adaptation takes place. Our body is used to its new self, so it’s not dropping weight as it did initially. Generally speaking, adaptation happens in a 4-6 week window.
If we continue to put the same stresses on our body (weight, sets, reps, speed or distance), our body is bound to adapt. We are now stronger, lighter, in better shape than where we started but we’ve also hit a plateau. Think of it as a new baseline – something to push us to work harder!
So – how do you break through the plateau? It’s as easy as FITT. This fitness acronym stands for frequency, intensity, time and type. Changing one or all four of these modifiers can have a dramatic impact on your current fitness routine. Here are some simple ways to utilize the FITT principle:
1. Frequency – adding one extra day of strength or cardio can do wonders for your fitness. Even if it’s just 30 more minutes of brisk walking, the increased activity will get you fitter faster.
2. Intensity – Consider bumping up the weight you’re using by 5% or changing one day of strength to a circuit training workout. Briefly, this means moving from one exercise to the next with little rest. Your heart rate will be elevated throughout the strength session, which is an added bonus to your workout!
3. Time – don’t want to change your routine too much? That’s fine – just make it last a little bit longer. Bump your treadmill workouts up by 5 minutes each week and watch your fitness grow. Add an extra set to all your resistance training exercises and see strength and endurance gains in a matter of weeks.
4. Type – we’re creatures of habit and, like I mentioned above, our bodies adapt. If you’re a fan of resistance machines, try switching to free weights or body weight. Cardio fiends that flock to the elliptical can try a treadmill or stepper to challenge the body while still elevating heart rate.
A few tips before you change your routine: rest is important. Give yourself 48 hours between strength and cardio sessions. If you run on a Monday, do some resistance training or balance/flexibility on Tuesday before another cardio session again on Wednesday. It’s also a good idea to take a full day of rest once a week with no purposeful exercise. It benefits our body and mind, as it can serve as a reset button and give you the motivation to start back at it.
The following resources are excellent guides: