Starting at the gym is awesome.
We are motivated and engaged by learning all new movements, feeling muscles in places we didn’t know we had muscles in, and we are seeing great results pretty quickly! Life is good.
As time goes on, we notice these changes start to slow down. Motivation is starting to diminish, our strength or endurance starts to plateau, and we aren’t noticing as much, if any, changes in body composition or the scale.
We haven’t changed anything about our approach… so what’s happening?
The body is a pretty amazing machine. Turning foods into fuel, recovering itself from illness or physical damage, and adapting to it’s environment or stimulus put on it. One of the major priorities our body focuses on is homeostasis, which is our body wants to keep everything the exact same. The body doesn’t like change, so it adapts to almost any type of situation we consistently find ourselves in.
When we start to workout, we are putting a stimulus on our body. That’s why when we first get into it, everything hurts, and it hurts for a long time. However, if we continue to exercise, that muscle pain diminishes as our body becomes more accustomed to the stimulus put on it. This is how we get stronger, is by putting more stimulus onto the body, and having the body adapt accordingly.
So, when we are going from doing little to no activity, or not putting that stimulus on the body, to doing it consistently over time, the body adapts relatively quickly because it’s such a shock to the system. We lose weight fast and we gain strength/muscle quicker as well. That’s why the initial results we see are so amazing, but it’s also why our changes lessen over time.
As we become stronger, and become leaner, the body need more stimulus to make those adjustments, which means we need to change to stimulus. We can change these in a few different ways.
Increasing the frequency of our workouts will raise the amount of stimulus we put on the body and help see better results. This could be as easy as going from working out 3x a week to 4-5 workouts per week, or as hard as trying to fit in 2 workouts a day. Eventually there is only so many times we can workout in a week though while maintaining a regular life schedule.
Alternatively, we can increase our intensity in workouts as well. This is done in numerous different ways, all of which can be effective. We can increase the weight, increase the repetitions, increase the amount of exercises we do, we can decrease rest times, do longer workouts, or increase the eccentric/concentric (lowering and lifting) time of the exercise. This increases the stimulus on the body and can impact the results we see. Again, there is only so far we can go in increasing intensity wise before you are overtraining the body as well (which admittingly takes much more than people think).
Lastly, we can look at the type of training we are doing, and this is the one I want to focus on. Let’s say when we start our fitness journey, we are simply going for a walk 2-3x per week for 20 minutes at a time. If we haven’t done anything before this, then we’ll probably notice some changes as we are going, but gradually we will hit a wall. So, we decide to take up running, and we notice the same bump in changes, but the same plateau as well. Once we’ve hit that wall, we need to look at different types of training, which can mean changing from doing strictly Cardiovascular training to doing Resistance Training. Now that’s a basic example, but to dive a bit deeper we could look at moving from a Bodybuilding style of training to a Powerlifting Style of training, and then to an Olympic lifting routine. These are all different styles of training we can switch to and from when we are seeing a hindrance in the results we are seeing, as the body adapts further and further.
Now this isn’t to say you need to switch every day, week, month or year as we should still be able to continuously see progress long term for different types of training (goal dependent of course). I find people overestimate how much they need to “shock the system” by doing new movements opposed to mastering the basics first (more on that on a later date).
Learning to be okay with maintenance phases is important if we are looking at losing weight and being okay with deload weeks or resetting our lifts if we are powerlifting can help us. Taking that step back can re-motivate ourselves to push more, it can dial us in to make the changes needed to get to the next level, or it can simply keep us at the happy place we are.
Don’t be afraid to change directions with your goals to keep yourself more invested and have fun in the gym again. If you’ve been so focused on your weight and the scale hasn’t moved in awhile, or you’re at a body fat percentage low enough you’re not realistically going to see change, then look at different things to accomplish. Focus on hiking a mountain, running a marathon, lifting your body weight on certain lifts, mastering an Olympic lift, or competing in a spartan race. These are all ways we can get out of these funks.
There is only so far we can take our bodies. Honestly, we need to accept that. Unless we are willing to dedicate our whole life to training and dieting, we will never look like the people you see in the magazines or see on TV. Even if we are able to work as hard, genetics can play a huge role in how far we can go athletically and composition wise. Not to take anything away from Lebron James and his work ethic, but if he was genetically predisposed to only being 5’7 opposed to 6’7 he would probably have never made it to the NBA or been as physically imposing as he is.
Now we are just scratching the surface here. This could honestly be an entire book (and maybe one day ill do just that) but in future posts I will address some more ideas to help break through plateaus.
Don’t get frustrated and don’t quit. Stay consistent, reassess, and move forward.
CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer
RK Athletics – https://linktr.ee/RK_Athletics