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How to Break A Weight Loss Plateau

weight, body fat, fitness, personal training

Are you having trouble losing weight?  Have you been losing body weight and/or fat, but now you cannot anymore?  Are you bored with doing the same workout over and over?  This is called a plateau and it happens all the time.  This is a big reason why people who have done great in the past and then they fall off the wagon.

Last year was a grind mentally and physically during my year long journey to reach my goal.  I get asked all the time if it was easy since I am a personal trainer.  My answer to that was no, it was not easy in the beginning.  I was so stubborn into doing the same things that I have been most of my adult life and it took me a while to accept that I needed to change.  For the 1st couple of months I would be up and down, this was driving me crazy and I needed to change! Once I decided to make a change, it took some time but over time I was seeing results happening at a fast rate and it helped me reach my ultimate goal!

What is a Plateau?

Plateau’s can happen to anybody.  You can be doing all the right things, but your body just does not respond appropriately.  Plateaus are not all about not being able to lose body fat or weight.  It can also occur with weight lifting.  For example, you have been throwing around some super heavy weights for months and then all of a sudden you can not lift half the weight for 2 weeks.  Hate to tell you, you have hit a plateau!  Plateau’s are not always a bad thing.  If you can spot that you are plateauing, then you can change some things around instead of wasting your time!

4 Tips on How to Overcome Plateau’s

1. Mix Up Your Nutrition

Are you a creature of habit?  Do you eat the same things every day?  This is a big problem that I have seen in others and with myself!  Just like working out,  your body gets used to things when we do it over and over.  In order to overcome a plateau, try adding a variety of different foods to your body.  For my people who are low carb and/or fat dieters,  introducing more of one or both can shock the body and improve your results.  

For my calorie counters,  this is very important and it has helped out tremendously in the past.  Instead of eating the same amount of calories, try a 3-day split where for example:

  1. Day 1 is a 2,000 calorie day
  2. Day 2 is a 1,750 calorie day
  3. Day 3 is a 1,500 calorie day
  4. Repeat

It can be very hard to sustain a low-calorie diet.  It is a mental battle, but does it have to be?  On the plus side, when you are starting to get hungry on day 3, battle through it because the next day you can eat more.  Confuse your body and help out your mental state by mixing up your nutrition!

2. Mix Up Your Workout Schedule

Do you have a plan when you go to the gym?  Having a designed a program can help you stay consistent and on top of your workouts.  Some people can get away with performing the same muscle groups on the same day and be perfectly fine.  For most, changing the muscle groups around can help confuse the body and help it grow.

If you are relatively new to weight training,  training every muscle group 3 times a week can be a solid spark to getting you back on track.  What has worked well for people is performing 3 full body workouts using 3-4 sets on each muscle group.

If you have been working out for a year and more, training each muscle group 2 times a week is plenty to shock the body.  The schedule could involve a 3 days of lifting (2 muscle groups a day) and a day off or a 2 days on, 1 day off (upper body day 1, lower body day 2).

3. Change Your Workout Routine

Have you ever been to the gym and you see people doing the same workouts every day?  They have been lifting there for the last 5 years and still look the same!  These are your gym rats, who maybe had great success with their routine, but they are not willing to change their workouts.  There is nothing wrong with having your core group of exercises, but over time you will waste time and get bored of doing 3 sets of 10 of the same exercises.  When you are designing your program, changing the reps, sets, volume and strategies every 4-6 weeks can help out tremendously with your results.

There are different types of strategies that you can use to shock your body:

High Volume:

  1. This can be 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps.
  2. 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  3. Drop Sets: Performing an exercise using 15, 12, 10, 8, 6 reps consecutively with little rest in between each set.
  4. Tabata: Performing 5-10 sets of 20 seconds working with a 10-second break

High Intensity:

  1. 5×5:  These sets involve performing 5 reps of a heavy weight that are very challenging.
  2. Max Sets:  Perform 1 rep at the heaviest weight that you can safely perform.
  3. Negative sets:  You will need a partner, grab a weight that you can perform 3 to 5 reps. During the eccentric phase of the lift (lengthening of the muscle), lower the weight as slowly as you physically can and repeat.

Circuit Training

  1. Perform 3-6 exercises in a row for a number of reps at each station with no rest.

4. Take a Break

In the past, I used to hate taking days off of working out.  It used to drive me crazy!  There were phases where I would be lifting weights every single day.  You would think that more is better. That is so not true, it is all about the quality of reps over the quantity.  This does not mean that you can not do a couple workouts a week of high rep exercises.  

Rest is just as important as lifting weights.  We do not build muscle during the times that we are lifting weights, we are building muscle during our resting period.  If you are one of those people who has to lift weights every single day, then you are not pushing yourself enough.  Some people who only lift one muscle group a day are the people who lift every single day.

Some examples of workout schedules can make sure you hit every muscle group 2-3 times a week and make sure you get the appropriate amount of rest can be:

2 days on, 1 day off:

Day 1: Quadriceps, Chest, Shoulders, Triceps or (Upper Body)

Day 2: Hamstrings, Back, Biceps, Abs or (Lower Body)

Day 3: Off

Day 4: Repeat

You can also start this plan with a day off in between each workout to help your body adapt to a new program.

3 days on, 1 day off:

Day 1: Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
Day 2: Back, Biceps, Abs

Day 3: Legs

Day 4: Off

Day 5: Repeat

Having a weight loss or weight training plateau is not completely a bad thing.  If you can spot right away that you are stuck and not seeing improvements, then you can fix it.  The problem if you do not spot it, then you are ultimately wasting your time.  Try mixing up a couple of tips every month so your body does not plateau!

Written by Chris Barber, CPT