I’m back from vacation, having indulged myself as much as I wanted, and I haven’t worked out since last Tuesday. Wednesday got too busy, Thursday through Sunday I was in Indiana, Monday was too busy, and yesterday I was just too damned lazy. So, back at it today. No weight gain, which considering the sheer amount of food I ate while hanging out with Heather, and the fact that I haven’t moved with intent in a week, is a miracle.
SparkPeople sends periodic e-mails to those members who choose to receive them. They tend to have some good information in them, so I remained on the mailing list. This morning there was an article about plateaus. I’ll summarize the information here; hopefully it will help those of us who are stuck to get un-stuck – now and in the future.
Basically there are three “plateau busting” philosophies that can be applied, depending on the person. They can be used in tandem or individually, depending on which routine needs to be shaken up.
1. Focus on eating the right nutrients at the right time. Make sure you’ve correctly identified your caloric intake vs. the level of activity you perform throughout the day. Some people are more optimistic about how many calories they THINK they’re burning, or how few calories they THINK they’re eating. So, track things for a while to give yourself a reality check. Also, are you eating too FEW calories? Anything less than 1200 calories per day and your body thinks it’s “starving”, so “starvation mode” is kicked in to preserve the body’s resources. That equates to the body hoarding its fat and slowing its metabolism, saving it for the famine it thinks exists.
Eat a wide variety of foods. Sometimes we tend to stick to the same breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, because we know how many calories they are, and it’s easier to just eat the same things rather than figure out new combinations that meet our goals. Your body needs to get its nutrition from many different sources, so try new fruits, vegetables, ethnic cuisines, and sources of protein to shake things up. Also, eating small, frequent meals stabilizes the metabolism and energy levels, which is more efficient for burning calories.
Refuel after a workout. Have a balanced snack within two hours of working out, consisting of slightly more healthy carbs than fat or protein. The body is primed at this time to absorb glycogen into the cells to replace the energy you used during your workout. And of course, hydrate hydrate hydrate – water assists in the muscle building process. Drink water before, during, and after your workout – if you’re really pushing yourself, you may need to go beyond the “8 cups a day” rule.
2. Include adequate rest in your exercise program. Allow 1-2 days of rest between working muscle groups. Strength training causes tiny tears to occur in muscle fibers, which cause that soreness we all feel for a couple of days after lifting weights. Allowing those tears to repair themselves causes them to rebuild as stronger muscles than before. So, if you did upper body strength training on Monday for example, you should wait at least one day, preferably two, before overloading those SAME muscles again (Wednesday or Thursday). You can alternate between muscle groups and still perform strength training daily, but daily strength training of the SAME muscle groups actually causes the muscles to get weaker, which is a common plateau-causing culprit.
Try “active recovery”, or lower-intensity exercise, after a high-intensity workout. Properly cooling down is important for the body to process the buildup of lactic acids that were caused by the workout. So, instead of flopping on the ground and panting after your last set, take a slow walk until you’ve cooled down and the heart rate has returned to normal. Also, follow days of high-intensity exercise with a day of lower-intensity exercise – instead of taking a day off after a particularly intense day at the gym, do some light cardio or low-weight/high-reps strength training.
And, of course, get plenty of sleep! A significant amount of muscle repair occurs while you are sleeping, so if you’re not getting enough sleep you’re not recovering adequately from your workouts, which may be causing your plateau. Make sure your sleep is consistent – there’s no such thing as “catching up” on the weekends, so stick to a schedule that works all week long.
3. Add variety to your workouts. As you repeat the same exercises, your muscles become very efficient and accustomed to what they are doing. Switching things up or doing something radically different during each workout session (strength training AND cardio) is more challenging to your muscles. It’s best to change your workout every time you exercise, but if you’re routine oriented, make sure you at least ENTIRELY change your workout routine every six weeks.
Change the type of exercise you do (replace walking with biking, or elliptical with jogging, switch indoor exercise for outdoor exercise, etc.), and change the duration and intensity of the exercise (45 minutes at medium intensity, 30 minutes at hard intensity, 60 minutes at light intensity, intervals, inclines, sprinting, distance, etc.).
For strength training, change the mode of exercise. If you are using machines, move to free weights. If you are using body weight, try resistance bands. If you are doing free weights, add a stability ball. Also, change the exercises you do – think of alternative exercises for each muscle group. You can also change your level of resistance, number of reps, and how much weight you’re lifting. If you tend to lift light weights at higher reps, try heaver weights at lower reps. Don’t worry about bulking, as TB said in an earlier post, it takes more than heavy weights/low reps to turn into a body builder. Increase your weight periodically – remember, you’re looking to lift to a point of fatigue for every set. So if you’re doing fifty reps with little effort, bump up the weight.
I hope some of these suggestions trigger ideas that will help you guys make the progress you’re looking for!