We've all been there at one point. We start a new training program or maybe just start training again after a layoff, and everything is going well. Progress is continual. You're running longer distances, lifting more weight, completing more and more repetitions. Whatever your goal, you're advancing toward it. Then, progress stops. Week after week, you can't run that extra mile or reach that extra repetition. You've hit a plateau.
While the above isn't the ideal situation in training, it does serve as an indicator that your program needs some change. Most commonly, a plateau occurs for two reasons. Either your body has adapted to your training environment, or you are overtraining. The human body is constantly adapting to everything around it, and exercise is no different. Gaining muscle or losing weight are the body’s means to adapt to the physical stress placed upon it. It’s when the stimulus no longer becomes enough to evoke a response that a plateau occurs.
Overtraining is the physical, behavioral, and/or emotional condition as a result of repeated physical stress placed on the body that exceeds one's ability to recover. Overtraining doesn't necessarily occur from one particular workout, but when that type of situation repeatedly happens, overtraining is likely to be the result. Common symptoms of overtraining include, but aren't limited to: decreased performance, decreased immunity, elevated heart rate, and/or feeling moody, irritated, depressed, and lethargic.
To move past a plateau and continue seeing results, one of the most important things an individual can do is change some of the key aspects of the exercise program he/she is following. If muscle gain is a goal, simply increasing the amount of sets while changing the exercises regularly can be enough to start to see progress again. In weight loss, an increase in intensity of exercise, decreasing calorie consumption, or increasing the amount of time per day/week an individual spends exercising can help. Runners can throw in some high-intensity interval training to allow for an intensity fluctuation. These are very general examples, but can help to provide the idea of variance in a workout program.
Ryne Gioviano, M.S.Ed., NSCA-CPT
Owner of Welligee Personal Training & Lifestyle