9 Steps to Eliminating a Plateau

Frustrated with your progress? Do you pump iron week after week, only to see the same physique time and time again? You may have hit a plateau.
Are you frustrated with your progress at the gym? Do you pump iron week after week, only to see the same physique time and time again? Do you feel discouraged and disheartened by your progress? You may just have hit a plateau!

PlateauThe human body is incredibly effective at adapting to change. This applies to all types of scenarios and situations, working out is no different. Following the same routine for a prolonged period of time will have nothing but toxic consequences to one's mind, spirit and progress.

A plateau is literally the end result of a fitness rut that no one is immune to. The best way to get over a plateau is to look for signs of one. The most obvious of these signs is the inability to progress at one's goals, regardless of whether its weight loss, weight gain, muscle growth or strength gains. Another sign is fatigue and low motivation. Both of these symptoms go hand in hand, as they are psychological responses by our body. They are a direct result of our inability to progress and to a lesser extent, are caused by over training.

There are several ways to prevent and get over a plateau. The following will provide you with 9 simple steps to do just that!

#1) Rest! Rest! Rest!

If you have reached a plateau or think you have it is important to rest. Taking a week to ten days off from the gym can work wonders. You will come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. This is especially important for those individuals who feel tired and unmotivated. Remember, don't just plant your butt in front of the couch and eat wedges – go for walks, spend time with family, do some yoga etc. This is called active resting and relaxation. Use this additional free time to do relaxing, enjoyable and constructive activities. It is important to take short breaks from working out, when one has been consistently training for 3 to 4months. These breaks should last about a week and will assist in preventing a plateau.

#2) Eating Habits:

As you increase your physical activity your body's caloric requirements will rise. This will probably be accompanied by an increase in one's metabolism. 3 square meals a day will not cut it. Even if you’re eating 5 to 7meals/day you have to examine the nutritional value of these foods. If you find that you are hungry in between meals or throughout the day, you are seeing a clear sign of inadequate food consumption. It is also important to make sure that you are meeting your daily protein requirements. If you are looking to pack on some heavy muscle, a rule of thumb is to eat about 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Remember to eat moderately sized meals, every 2 to 3 hours throughout the day.

#3) Change the Routine

Many people are skeptical about changing their routine. It is a norm to be hesitant of change, especially when things have gone so well in the past. The body is a beautiful object that adapts easily to the stresses it is exposed to. This is the main reason why it is important to modify one's routine every now and then. Changing the routine doesn't mean starting from scratch. All you have to do is take out one exercise, for a particular workout and replace it with another. You should also change the order in which you perform exercises. These two changes, though small, will shock the body and promote greater muscle growth.

A great way to prevent gains from diminishing is to systematically change one's routine at certain fixed intervals. Changing one's routine every 4 to 6 weeks is a great way to prevent the halting of one's progress.

#4) Stay F.I.T.

It is important to not only modify the exercises one does, but also change how one exercises. F.I.T. stands for frequency, intensity and time. These words are golden when it comes to breaking out of a plateau. They can be used to modify one's cardio and resistance training program. Lets run through them quickly:

Frequency: It is important to increase or decrease how often you workout.

Intensity: You should try and increase or decrease the level at which you train.

Time: You should also change the length of time you train for.

#5) Sleep Enough!

Working out and eating a healthy diet are very important when it comes to staying fit and building muscle, but there not your only concern. Your body regenerates and repairs muscle tissue the fastest when your sleeping. It is therefore important to get an ample amount of sleep every night. The average adult should strive for 7 to 8 hours of sleep to ensure that the body is properly rested. The amount of sleep you get has a direct effect on your energy levels as well as how you train. This is very important when it comes to building muscle, so sleep enough!

#6) Keep Workouts Under an Hour

The goal of weight training is to train your muscles to stimulate growth, not murder them. When we put intense pressure on our muscles for prolonged periods of time, our bodies go into a state of catabolism (muscle breakdown). This will usually begin to happen if weight training is done for more than an hour and a half. Consistently working-out for more than an hour will result in over-training. This will lead to the weakening of one's muscles. Studies have shown that the growth assisting hormones the body releases, peak within 30mins of exercise and decline shortly after. Always keep workouts under an hour and if you must, never train more than an hour and fifteen minutes!

#7) Challenge Yourself!

Overloading our muscles results in growth and strength. It is therefore important to assess our ability to challenge ourselves. When we are working out, we must pay attention to the number of reps we perform per set, for a given exercise. If you are able to do 7 to 8 reps on the last set of a specific exercise, you are lifting too light. If you are able to get less than 4 reps, you are lifting too heavy. You must consistently increase weight whenever possible, but strive for 4 to 6 reps on the last set of an exercise.

#8) Don't Over Do It!

The only time our muscles grow is when they rest. It is important to have ample rest before working the same muscle group again. If you did an intense workout you should leave a gap of 7 days before you work that muscle group again. If your muscles are not well rested, they will become overworked and you will become weaker as a result.

#9) When Building Muscle, Don't Go All Out on the Cardio!

When we are training our muscles, we should be doing just that – training them. A common mistake people make when trying to build muscle is to burn fat at the same time. This unfortunately does not work. Keep your cardio limited to 20 to 30mins per session and limit yourself to 3 to 4 sessions per week. Cardio sessions that are too long will negatively affect the body's muscle building abilities. Studies have also shown that prolonged cardio sessions reduce testosterone production.

A plateau is never an enjoyable experience. It can be frustrating and emotionally draining. By paying closer attention to our bodies and the things we do, we can limit or eliminate the potential for hitting a plateau. We all face challenges in this world, working out is no different. By staying motivated, listening to our bodies and consistently pushing ourselves harder, we can accomplish anything!

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About The Author
Doug is an ex-competitive bodybuilder with over 20 years fitness experience, specifically diet & nutrition, weight management and training techniques.

12 Comments+ Post Comment

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Posted Thu, 09/04/2014 - 02:31
Jerry Collins

Okay, so for the last month or more you have made no progress. Try this:
In your notebook or computer spread sheet list weights at 5 pound intervals like this, but depending on your strength for each particular exercise.
Start at the bottom where you can do say 10 or 12 reps max, and mark the number of reps on the chart.
In your next training session after 2 or more days, add 5 pounds and do as many reps as you can. Post it in your chart.
Next session add another 5 pounds, max out and chart it.
Continue on up to the top of your chart until you hit zero.
Then drop down to the bottom of your chart, and start over again. This time you should be able to do at least one more rep.
Keep working your way up your chart again until you hit zero and again start back down at the bottom.
With each weight lifting session, you should be able to add another number to the right in you triangle.
This will keep you excited as you can see improvement with each training session.
This will also keep your muscles from getting used to one weight, and failing to improve.
Wt. Reps: EXAMPLE:
100 0
95 1
90 2
85 3
80 4
75 5
70 6
65 7
60 8 9 etc. ...
55 9 10
50 10 11

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Posted Sun, 02/23/2014 - 08:51
Aaron Richardson

Here a question, where it says "keep workouts under and hour"

I train back n triceps usually i train back for an hour and then triceps for 30-45mins depending on how busy the gym is ect.

But it says keep workouts under an hour, is this for entire workout or for a muscle group? so i can train back for an hour then perhaps have 10 mins rest and train triceps for 45 mins and that ok?
Or does it mean my entire workout has to be under an hour because i doubt id be able to do that.

Any answers i would greatly appreciate it.

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Posted Tue, 09/24/2013 - 08:05
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Posted Wed, 02/27/2013 - 00:16

62 yr old woman. Workout 6 day a week for 6 months. At first saw trainer 2x per week. Dropped to 1 x per week this month. 30-45 cardio and 20-30 min core and light weights less cardio when I workout with trainer . Increased cardio intensity per recommendation of trainer. Lost 14 lbs. Have gained 4 back and increased body fat. Muscles are fatigued. Appetite increased. Am tired. Sleep 5-7 hrs per night. Workout a 5 a.m. Trainer feels I will be more successful working out with her 2x week. Its too expensive and I don't think its the answer. Is this a plateau and will a woman my age benefit from these suggestions? Need help. I am ready to give up. If I gain weight working out I'm afraid of what would happen if I quit

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Posted Mon, 02/25/2013 - 23:28

Im a runner at the same time i workout after i run. does it affect my muscle growth? i usually run 1:30mins a day after that i go to gym directly. any suggestions? food intake tips? and etc..

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Posted Wed, 05/01/2013 - 23:29
Nick Johnson

Doing cardio before strength building exercises has been proven to reduce the bodies growth hormone. That in turn means muscle loss because when you break down your muscle during lifting it will not be rebuilt by growth hormone. Do your run after you have lifted, and replenished your glucose by eating or drinking simple sugar. Make sure you eat complex carbs and protein in the morning for energy. After lifting and running, drink whey protein so your muscle doesn't use protein for energy. Whey is a faster protein and helps the body not use it's own muscle cells after a workout. If you take creatine do it after lifting and before running. It will help with endurance during your run. Slow protein like casein from milk and meats that contain fat for meals after your workout and run. Fatty breakfast will slow you down. Fat saturation in the blood lowers blood oxygen. Hopefully this helps.

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Posted Sat, 12/24/2011 - 13:20


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Posted Sat, 08/20/2011 - 18:44

Thank you, the information you provided seems do able. I've been frustrated for a few weeks, after losing 30 pounds with Zumba, Just Dance and walking, I'm now officially in a rut.
I wish I had read this information before attempting to train for a 5k...shin-splits. I suppose from over-working my muscles. Thursday my body just sort of gave out after doing back to back classes. I'm going to take a week off to see if that helps.

Thank you again,


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Posted Sat, 07/30/2011 - 21:30

Thank you very much for this info, it was very helpful! I can see it's time to take a break since I have all the sympthoms and start again with a new routine.

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Posted Tue, 06/14/2011 - 13:49
Ju Rodriguez

Playing basketball after working out would be considered too much cardio and diminish muscle growth??

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Posted Tue, 04/26/2011 - 04:07
Joe alvin

If you start with a good routine, that last no more than two weeks before evaluating your progress, you won't have to worry about hitting a plateau. Make sure you get a good 10 to 15 minutes stretching time followed by a good workout–stick to your set program. At anytime when you feel like you cannot go on, take about 20 minutes break and stretch your muscles slow. At the end, you will feel like new and ready to continue with your workout. Set short- and-long time goals and use them to pace yourself. Expect more that you can physically attain will lead to a false impression that you have hit the plateau, thus frustrating your workout. Most important, take time to understand your body, and design your workout program with this in mind and you will do just fine.

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Posted Sat, 03/12/2011 - 13:53

Thanks for the info, big help!