Many of us workout in order to create positive outcomes. It can be about body composition, performance, heart health, energy, you name it. But at what point does all of the hard training and ‘eating right’ seem to stop working?
This is called a plateau. If you have been working out for long enough, you know exactly what I am talking about.
Everything feels heavier than it should. You feel drained physically and mentally. It gets to a point where you don’t even want to train because of how bad its been. It’s time to take a step back and analyze why you hit this plateau in the first place.
5 Reasons why everything seems to stop working:
1.How often do you train each body part?
Depending on your goals, each body part needs to be stimulated a certain amount of times (frequency). Training them too often, however, will not allow them to recover and repair themselves fully in order to be broken down again in the next session. Your performance suffers because these muscles are under-recovering and cannot perform to their maximum capacity.
On the flip side of that. Maybe squatting once a week is not enough for you. You have been stuck with the same weight on the bar for over 4 weeks now and can’t seem to get over that hump. Try adding in another squat session in another 3 days. The more frequently (to a point) you can stimulate these muscles, but allowing time for recovery, will double the amount of metabolic damage being done. This means more strength and muscle growth!
2. How often do you train each body part to failure?
Speaking of under-recovering and muscles not repairing themselves. Always taking your muscles to failure is a one-way ticket to plateauing! When you train your muscles to failure, you completely damage the tissue (which is good), but for muscle to growth there needs to be a recovery period where the tissue repairs itself.
This is where training to failure becomes a problem. Too often I see people grunting and breathing through their final rep of EACH exercise of EACH workout, EVERY week! We cannot take our muscles to complete failure every single time we train. Stimulate your muscles, eat, and rest so that they recover and can do it again.
3. Do you have designated rest days or rest weeks?
As you continue to accumulate volume through your training, the body begins to develop more and more fatigue. Through life stress on top of gym stress, mental fatigue can develop as well. There gets to a point with all of this fatigue where performance really suffers. You either plateau or even decrease your workload unintentionally and continue to feel terrible because there seems to be no end in sight.
You have a few choices here. One of them is to take the week off and don’t step foot in the gym. Sounds crazy right? Hear me out though. When you take this week off, it allows your body to rest, repair and recover itself from all of the previous grueling workouts it has gone through. Will you lose your gains? NO. Will you go stir crazy? Well, that I can’t answer in full confidence. If you feel like without some time in the gym you are going to bore yourself silly, try the deload approach.
The deload approach means that you can still go to the gym, on one condition; you cannot do the same volume or intensity that you would normally do! This means you should be using 40-60% of what you normally lift, and maybe scale the reps down by a couple on each set. It doesn’t sound the most appealing, believe me, but you can use this week to become even more form conscious and really focus on every rep.
4. What is your calorie intake like?
As you know, the food (and drink) you ingest becomes fuel for your body to operate. If you are continuing to train super hard, with minimal rest, and too little calories, your body will have no fuel left for those workouts. This doesn’t mean you have to count your calories, but it is good to know how much you are putting into your body for all the work you are trying to accomplish. If you’re rested and don’t train your muscles to failure but you still aren’t progressing, maybe it’s time to take a look at your calories.
Try eating a little more at each meal leading up to your workout and see if that helps. If you prefer to workout on an empty stomach, ensure that you have a decent sized dinner the night before. If you are in a caloric deficit and trying to lose body fat, it may be time to audit your calories and take a mini diet break for a week or two. This will help you regain some energy without necessarily gaining fat back during this break.
5. How is your sleep?
Chalk this one up in the recovery column (see a trend here?). Sleep , or lack thereof, is one of the most underrated aspects of fitness and health. Everyone generally discusses how much and what they eat, how hard they train, and new feats of strength. One thing that does not come up in conversation much, at least in my experience, is how much sleep the individual is getting each night.
While there are general guidelines that suggest 8 hours of sleep per night, for many people this is extremely tough to keep consistent. I like to suggest a minimum of 7 hours on nights before an intense training session and minimum of 6 for other days. Of course I would love it if all of my clients slept 8-9 hours per night, but it is tough to expect such lengthy slumber with how busy we are today. Purchasing an alarm clock that is not your phone will also help rid of any blue light or any radio transmitters in the bedroom which should allow for a deeper and more consistent sleep night after night.
If you continue on with your training and you feel drained, weak, groggy, and just downright tired, go through these 5 points and see where you can be better.
Take it one point at a time. Critically analyze each area. Be honest with yourself, and think in terms of longevity, for we want our physical abilities to last as long as possible.