Three Ways to Use a Fitness (or Life) Plateau to Your Advantage

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If you’ve been training hard in the fitness center, or dojo, or in your home gym, but are noticing your gains (size, strength, endurance, ability, etc) are not increasing, or even worse, are steadily decreasing, it may be time to take a step back. Many factors could be interfering with your progress and while a couple of frustrating or meh workouts do not equate to a plateau, if the meh-ness is consistent and extends over a period of weeks or months, then its time to do something about it. While the answer is seldom a single, simple issue that is easily and quickly corrected, consider the following three ways to use a plateau to your advantage. And though the focus of this entry is fitness, you can easily apply the same principles to any area of your life.

1. Rest

pair of red and white low top sneakers

No, really, get some. Some of us hardly ever take time off from training and as a result, if we never learn to rest and recharge on a regular basis, we’ll never reach the levels we only dream about. So, use this plateau to put your feet up, chill-out, and rest. Easier said than done, huh? Yeah, but with a little practice, you’ll get into the groove.

Try it. Take a couple of days, or ten, off from your workout and try one or more of the following mentally / physically / emotionally renewing activities:

  • Sit in a comfy chair and read that book you purchased last year
  • Write a story or catch up on emails
  • Take a unique class with friends or family and learn something new
  • Go to the woods, or near a lake or stream, and listen to nature
  • Declutter that closet (you know the one…)
  • Go fishing
  • Play games with your kids
  • Plant a garden
  • Just chill

I’ve found that when I rest as needed, I am stronger and move so much better, and enjoy the workout at a deeper level when I resume training. The time off is definitely worth it.

2. Reassess

Use this time to reassess the basics because if one or more of the basics is askew, eventually your fitness gains will begin to stagnate or begin to reverse. You know the basics, or what I called your base in a previous post:

  • Proper nutrition
  • Adequate hydration via mineral-rich water
  • Restorative sleep
  • Stress-management skills

Your base should be examined and shored up often, especially given the strangeness of our current times. Without a doubt, 2020 did a real wrecking job on pretty much everyone’s base, so take the time and make sure yours is strong enough to support the goals you’ve set and for the journey that lies ahead. Ask yourself the following questions while seeking to understand how improving the integrity of your base could help lift you off of the plateau.

  • Am I fueling and refueling with good, natural foods rich in the nutrients my body needs for repair, renewal, and growth? What dietary changes could I benefit from?
  • Am I drinking enough water, while avoiding too much? Should I add minerals or an electrolyte powder to my water throughout the day or even during and after I workout?
  • Do I feel refreshed when I wake up in the morning? Do I struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep, or to get up and stay up? What are some ways I can improve my sleep?
  • Am I coping with the little, daily stressors, as well as the big ones, or is my nervous system constantly running on high?

3. Replace

woman in black sportswear lifting a barbell

Temporarily replacing your current workout with a totally different type of exercise could be the thing that helps you leave the plateau behind. The idea to surprise or shock or jump-start your system with a movement or exercise modality that is challenging in a new and different way. For instance, if you lift weights on a regular basis, but have hit a plateau, you might replace your normal workout routine with a yoga or a Pilates class. For more ideas, check out this short list of alternative exercise systems:

The list goes on and on. Even if you already cross-train, consider replacing your primary and secondary exercise system with at least one alternative exercise system.

Fitness, and life plateaus, can be frustrating, but if we learn to view them as an opportunity for additional exploration and growth, a plateau can become a scenic step up to the next-level of you!


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