Fitness

How to beat a fitness plateau

By: Katherine Vankoughnet

©iStockphoto.com/esolla Author: Canadian Living Credits: ©iStockphoto.com/esolla

Fitness

How to beat a fitness plateau

By: Katherine Vankoughnet
Whether you've noticed a flatline in your fitness gains or you're simply bored of the same old treadmill, the dreaded fitness plateau is a common problem that even the strongest gym rat encounters. So how do you break through it?

 
"In order to see results, you need a stimulus that challenges your cardiovascular system or causes damage to muscles," explains Nanci Guest, a Toronto-based dietitian and certified personal trainer. "It's important to keep up the challenge and there's an infinite amount of ways to do that."



Avoid a strict routine

"Muscles do adapt," says Guest. "For the same reasons you don't want to eat the same foods every day, you need variety in your diet and you also need variety in your workouts."
 
People tend to stick with what they know, using the same weights for the same amount of reps or running the same distance, not because they've hit their max, but because it's what they're used to. In order to keep your muscles stimulated, alternate between heavier and lighter weights, number of exercises and order of exercises – or do a different type of activity or sport altogether.



Push yourself

"Exercise should always be to fatigue or failure," explains Guest. "No matter what you're doing, you always want that last rep or final push to be really difficult."
 
For example, in a 12-rep set of bicep curls, the first 10 reps are calorie burning reps, but it's the last two reps that create change in the body. Always do as many reps as you can, because if you stop too soon your body hasn't really struggled and you won't get the results you're looking for.



Cover all your bases

"It's important to find something you love and that you'll stick to, but cross-training is also very important for achieving optimal fitness," says Guest.
 
Devoting all of your time for fitness to one physical activity can invite and prolong a fitness plateau. If you're a running enthusiast, you might be neglecting your upper-body strength. Similarly, yoga devotees might have limited aerobic capacities. As much as you love one activity, make sure you're challenging your whole body from a fitness perspective for best results.
 
"The three most important components of fitness are strength training, aerobics and flexibility," says Guest. "If you're not flexible, you're not going to get the most out of your strength training and you'll risk injury."

Watch what you eat

After torching hundreds of calories in a cycling class, you're less likely to feel guilty about having an afternoon cookie... or five. In an instant, all that hard work goes out the window. The truth is that exercising regularly doesn't give you a license to eat. If you've stopped seeing results from your workouts, your sneaky snacks could be the culprit. Keep a food diary for a few days to see if you're truly as healthy of an eater as you think you are.



Fuel properly

"Your muscles start a repair process the minute you stop exercising. You need to nourish those muscles and really think about the recovery as far as nutrition goes, so that your body can handle the next workout," explains Guest.
 
Consider what you are eating before your workout, as well. You expend more energy by having a small amount of fuel as it allows you to work harder. If you don't consume a snack because you're watching calories, not only will you not be able to push as hard, you will burn muscle protein instead of fat, causing you to binge later in the day.



Try something new

Reviving our love of fitness often simply requires a new challenge – something to stave off the boredom.
 
"It's always the fear of the unknown that prevents people from trying something new," says Guest, "but everyone starts out as a beginner."
 
There are hundreds of different classes and activities to try, so the possibilities for breaking out of your rut are endless. Join a sports team, take up a seasonal activity or buddy up for support.
 
"If you find yoga really intimidating but you've always wanted to do it, join up with a friend," suggests Guest. "Even if they drop out, it's someone to get you into those first few classes and get you feeling more comfortable."


Know your stuff

There's a lot of misinformation and conflicting opinions regarding nutrition and fitness, and it's entirely possible that you're doing exactly the wrong thing with respect to your fitness goals. Guest offers the example of people who do oblique work and crunches hoping to sculpt a narrower waistline or leaner stomach, when in reality, what they're doing is bulking up their midsections.
 
Do your research, employ a healthy amount of scepticism and talk to qualified professionals such as personal trainers and dietitians when reassessing your workout routine or eating habits.
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How to beat a fitness plateau

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