It happens to everyone. We are plowing through our workouts, seeing great results and then bam! You hit a rut! No more weight loss, no more muscle gain, and probably out of sheer frustration, no more sticking to that healthy diet either... can we say 'hello Mr. Extra Large pizza?'
Don't get too worked up and upset over this however, it is a completely normal process in the fitness journey, you just have to learn the proper steps to take to overcome this setback. Read on to find common causes responsible for halting your progress.
1. Your Diet:
So you've been extremely dedicated and with utter will power have not had a cheat in over a month! Bet you're feeling pretty good about yourself right? Well, hate to tell you but this could be your number one problem!
When we diet for an extended period of time, our body tends to get accustomed to this food pattern and learns to survive and maintain itself on a reduced calorie level.
Basically, you stop losing weight because your metabolism has slowed down. Not to mention, Leptin, a substance that is responsible for regulating hunger and eating patterns could be in full force making your cravings more intense than a 5 year old sitting in front of the tree at Christmas time.
The solution to this problem is to periodically plan a 'refeed' or cheat, whatever you prefer (refeeds generally are thought to minimize fat gain, however the difference would be minor) into your diet plan. So generally, have a set period of time, either 4-6 hours or 1-2 days (depending on how long you have been dieting and how severe your calorie restriction is) where you will eat at an increased calorie level.
This will set your metabolism back on fire and get your body revved up again to start burning fat. Once you return back to your diet, progress should once again resume.
2. Your Macronutrients/Timing:
Another factor that could be off with your diet is the macronutrient profile you are using or the timing of your meals. First off, with regards to timing, are you ensuring you are taking care of pre and post workout nutrition? This is critical to seeing results.
Second of all, if you are generally eating 4 meals a day, you may want to start bumping that up to 6 in order to get that metabolism going a little faster.
Macronutrients, on the other hand, can play a role for some individuals. You may be the type of person who responds better to a diet that is higher protein and fat and lower in carbs. If you have been eating a moderate protein and carb diet, this could be slowing your progress.
Try switching it up and eating slightly more protein and fat rich foods and see what happens. Regardless of what you follow though, carbohydrates are still vital in your post workout meal so do not mess with that.
3. The Dreaded Cardio Bunny Syndrome:
Has cardio become second nature to you? Wake up first thing in the morning and do an hour of cardio on an empty stomach. Come home from work later that day and do another half an hour. If this sounds like your situation, you are likely overdoing it.
Just as with diet, if you are doing an inordinate amount of cardio every day your body will adjust to this and will slowly become more efficient at it, stop burning as many calories during the activity and you will stop losing any weight.
Additionally, this much cardio is likely reducing your rate of recovery, thus making your lifting sessions less than stellar and even possibly reducing the amount of lean muscle tissue you posses (endurance cardio tends to have a catabolic effect).
To get out of this dreaded situation, try reducing your cardio down to at least one session daily, if not only 3 or 4 sessions a week. Do at least 2 sessions that consist of HIIT sprints and another 2 that are more moderate to easy paced.
This will help to ensure maximum recovery and the HIIT should kick your fat burning up a notch due to a process created called EPOC (excess post exercise oxygen consumption). Not to mention you will not have to spend every waking free second you have trying to keep up to the treadmill belt.
4. You Haven't Changed Your Workout Plan In Over 3 Months:
Been going to the gym daily but always doing the same workouts? Big Problem. Again, the body is scientifically formulated to adapt to stressors placed on it. When the stressors never change, it sees no reason to change, thus you are stagnant.
Not only should you be changing either the reps/sets or exercises on a weekly basis, it's a good idea to completely overhaul your workout every 3 months to ensure maximum progress. It doesn't have to be major changes, possibly throw in a lighter week where you will do a lighter weight but with higher reps, or simply switch the order of the exercises you are doing around.
Anything to keep your body guessing. As an added bonus, chances are you will have become quite bored of your workouts doing the same thing everyday and motivation may be waning. Varying it up a little will help keep making it to the gym daily a top priority.
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5. Rest Is A Foreign Word To You:
Quite possibly the most common reason for halted progress is lack of rest. Overtraining is something that is rampant in the fitness world, after all, the majority of us think if some is good, more is better. It's how we were brought up.
With workouts however, this is not necessarily true. If you aren't allowing your body proper rest and a chance to repair itself you will not grow back any stronger for your next workout and consequentially, will not be able to tolerate an increased workload. Not only should you be taking at least one day off a week, every few months you should take an entire week or weeks off.
So if you are not seeing the results you desire, don't be so quick to blame yourself. You could easily be making one of these mistakes that everyone has been guilty of at one point or another. Instead of completely losing focus and giving up, assess your training and nutritional program and see where the problem might be.
I guarantee, at least 75% of the time, the reason you are plateauing is because of one of these factors. If not, then it may be time to invest in a good personal trainer who can put you back on the right track to realizing your goals.