JUDD JONES: Breaking fitness plateaus

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One of the most frustrating aspects of physical training, endurance training and weight loss is hitting plateaus. It is one of the more common obstacles to body composition, conditioning and physical fitness progress. We need to break this down into two areas. A physical fitness plateau can happen to runners, swimmers, cyclists, weight lifters and body builders. The second area involves diets and dieting where plateaus are so common, it adds to the very high percentages of failed diet plans.

Let’s start by looking at physical training plateaus. What does it mean when you hit a training plateau?

In simple terms, your body has reached a point it no longer responds to your workout regimen or intensity of training. What makes hitting a plateau so frustrating is the cause and effect are highly variable. Plateaus can be caused by factors such as training too much or not training enough, changing up your workouts too often or by being too repetitive in your workout regimen.

One example of a nutrition-caused plateau happens with strength training and bodybuilders. This happens as an athlete increases their body mass to a point where they fail to provide enough of the necessary macronutrient protein to support muscle development. Frequently this means they have increased caloric intake with carbohydrates, but lack required levels of protein and fat to support healthy muscle recovery and building.

Hitting an endurance plateau for runners or cyclists differs greatly from strength building or body building plateaus. Performance plateaus in this category can translate a bit differently. Elite runners will tell you all runners will plateau after a while and getting around this is not always about training harder. For example, running is one activity the body adapts to quickly since most people have a relatively consistent motion and pace they maintain during training. Training harder by running more miles will not necessarily break through a tough plateau, but will require you to take a more strategic path in areas like high-intensity sprints, leg and core strengthening, even adding vertical walk/jog regimens. Nutrition can also play a key role with endurance plateaus that are tied to carb loading. In recent years, elite runners have figured out that shifting to fat burning over carb loading can be a game-changer when faced with a fueling plateau.

No matter which type of physical fitness plateau you may experience, it always means a loss of momentum with effort and progress. Take these setbacks head-on and look at every aspect of your training regimen, how you schedule your routine and always consider your nutrition. Often the only way to break out of a plateau is to make extreme changes in ways that may not be obvious. Working with an experienced trainer can be a big help, they often know how to shift your workouts and nutrition to get you over the hump of a plateau.

Keep in mind that when it comes to physical-fitness plateaus, you need to always change up your schedule, exercise types and duration of training or workout. Manage your macronutrients by keeping carbs, protein and fats in proper balance, giving you the building blocks for repair, recovery and muscle development. Increasing and decreasing repetitions, resistance and time in your workouts will challenge your body enough to maintain growth and progress.

One of the more difficult challenges is overcoming a weight loss plateau. Dieting and losing weight is a simple concept, yet one that is very hard to get traction with. One of the primary reasons diets fail, beyond the fact that most of us lack discipline on what we eat, is hitting a plateau with our weight. Weight loss is a complex set of biological processes within our body. The calories in, calories out mind-set which many diet programs have is flawed. Our bodies deal with many more factors beyond calorie intake —such as stress, hormone changes and metabolic rate.

As you attempt to lose weight, the type of macronutrients you consume and in what balance becomes a key aspect to avoiding a weight-loss plateau. In order to continue to lose weight when you start dieting, you have to reduce carbohydrates that easily convert to stored fat. If you overdo protein consumption, it can also create problems. Many dieters place too much emphasis on food restriction as the sole method for the body to lose weight. You need to move. Sedentary behavior, no matter how you restrict your food consumption, will lead to a weight-loss plateau. This is not saying you need to become a gym rat and run 3 miles a day to see results. You also should not focus too much on increasing your metabolism as a method to force weight loss.

In fact, overdoing physical activity can create a plateau, so finding your way to weight loss is a delicate balance. Reducing caloric intake to fit your activity levels with good nutrition and lowering your carb intake is the first step. Then establishing a mix of walking and low-impact exercise is your second step. You have to take into consideration the same factors for physical-fitness plateaus by changing up your exercise routine regularly. Another aspect to work on is to increase your muscle mass, which can help you avoid a weight-loss plateau.

As mentioned before, an experienced personal trainer can help you design workout and fitness regimens that will avoid or overcome a plateau with very specific strategies. A lot of times, it takes help from health care and fitness professionals to work around difficult plateaus that can come up during training, conditioning and dieting.

• • •

Judd Jones is a director for The Hagadone Corporation in Coeur d’Alene.

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