Nothing is more frustrating on a fitness journey than that dreaded plateau, or worse yet, regression. While very few fitness journeys are ever linear, there might be some things you could adjust to get the most from your routine…and it probably involves changing that routine up a bit. Don’t get scared, I preach “tweaks” not “drastic overhauls”! So, here are 5 reasons you might not be seeing the results you’re after:
1. Need for Increased Intensity
Ok, so you’re finally in a groove. You have committed to waking up early and getting your workout done before your workday, or you have faithfully taken your gym clothes to work and are consistently doing the elliptical for 30 minutes (even though your dead tired) before heading home. All great steps, which deserve to be applauded!!! However, the body adjusts rather quickly to the same challenges repeated over and over again. It’s pretty smart that way.
If you’ve been doing the same exercise routine for 6 weeks or more and your body is not responding the way it did in the beginning, you could try adding any of the following: Duration (add 5-10 minutes onto your workout), Intensity (add some cardio intervals or slightly increase the weights you’ve been lifting), Frequency (workout one more day per week than usual…if you’re at 3 days/week, try 4 days/week). These are great components to adjust IF the issue is under training.
In contrast, if you are hitting your exercise hard 6-7 days per week, giving 100% effort each time, you could be in the overtraining category. The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) defines overtraining as “excessive frequency, volume, or intensity of training, resulting in reduction of performance, which is also caused by a lack of proper rest and recovery.”
Overtraining Syndrome is defined as “a condition in which and athlete or fitness client experiences fatigue, declining performance, and burnout. This is a chronic condition and occurs primarily because of overly aggressive training schedules; more particularly, it is a sequence of training bouts that is abruptly increased, exists for an extended period, or entails high-volume or high-intensity exercise with inadequate recovery and regeneration” (Meeusen et al., 2006, 2013).
This is my personal Achilles heel. I love the feeling of “leaving it all on the gym floor.” And the payoff in the beginning is increased results because the body can respond favorably to acute stress, but once acute stress becomes chronic stress (and exercise is a form of stress on the body), the body will respond with exhaustion, resulting in stress fractures, muscle strains and ligament sprains, joint pain, and even emotional fatigue (Cunanan et al., 2018). Scaling back on duration, intensity and frequency as well as adding in more recovery days or "gentle exercise" days may help to heal the body from overtraining.
3. Increase in Appetite
We can all agree exercise plus proper nutrition are the keys to success for our fitness goals. But, there’s a fine line to consider regarding caloric consumption when adding in exercise to reach your goals. Typically appetite is more easily controlled with a moderate exercise routine. Once intensity increases, sometimes our appetites increase as well. If you are tracking your caloric expenditure with a fitness tracker, be advised that these caloric reads can be off by up to 27% on average! If you are basing your daily caloric needs on your caloric expenditure that could be off so drastically, you can see where that could be an issue.
It is recommended to keep cardiovascular exercise at 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes/week of intense cardio and do only what is necessary in order to keep your goals on track and your appetite in check. Otherwise, a nasty cycle of cardio and hunger will negate any positive results you are trying to attain for fat loss and muscle gain.
4. The Scale is Your Only Measure of Success
I am certainly not anti-scale. It can be a great tool…one tool in a toolbox. It merely provides one source of information. If, by chance, you are suffering from overtraining syndrome the scale could be going upwards due to increased water weight. Overtraining can cause your body to retain water as it struggles to deal with chronic levels of inflammation caused by the stress you're putting on your body during exercise, and from high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
Different foods we eat, fiber, carbohydrates, more or less water than usual, hormones, rest days, HIIT days, etc…each of these factors can affect the scale. I advise using at least 2 – 3 other forms of measurement to track your progress to determine if you are on the right track. My recommendations are: the clothes-fit test, tape measure and progress photos.
5. Age & Hormonal Changes
Age-related muscle loss, called sarcopenia, is a natural part of aging. After age 30, you begin to lose as much as 3% to 5% per decade. Most men will lose about 30% of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Sound depressing? Don’t lose hope!
According to WebMD, although sarcopenia is seen mostly in people who are inactive, the fact that it also occurs in people who stay physically active suggests there are other factors in its development. Researchers believe these include: *reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to start movement, *lower concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor, *a decrease in the ability to turn protein into energy, and *not getting enough calories or protein each day to sustain muscle mass.
Training regimens may need to be adjusted to accommodate injured body parts, aches and pains, or limited mobility. And while exercise capacity may decline over time, someone who exercises will still have a higher capacity than someone who is sedentary. It is worth noting that goals may need to be adjusted to be more performance based to measure progress during this stage.
There are many reasons your workouts might not be working for you anymore. Take a good look at your current plan, frustrations, and fitness goals to determine how you will proceed in order to get out of your current rut. Remember a workout program will only take you so far. Nutrition is key…but, that’s a whole other article. 😉
Keep it moving,