Pushing through the “plateau effect”
It is so gratifying measuring your success after beginning a diet and exercise program. The results that come at the onset are motivating and fuel you to continue. People begin to notice improvements in your physique and your clothes begin to fit differently. However, after a period of consistent improvement, your rate of progress begins to slow down or stop completely. This slowing or stopping of fitness gains is referred to as the “plateau effect”. In order to get your fitness gains back on track, you need some information and to make some changes in your “up till now productive” routine.
Lets start with the word “routine”; for our purposes, it means to do the same or similar thing at the same time and place. I will use the following spinning class schedule as an example: for the past four months you have been taking coach Spinshoe’s 60 minute, high intensity spin class ,religiously, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5pm. To reiterate, same class, same instructor, same days, same time. Congratulations on your persistence (or OCD). Unfortunately for you, there is a process that occurs with religiously following a routine, it is called “adaptation”. This means that you get use to doing what was once challenging (you “get in shape”), and what was once challenging is no longer challenging. The net result of this occurring is that your fitness improvements slow down or stop.
In order to avoid the “plateau effect” you need to systematically change up your routine. Having a “routine” is good, you simply cannot stay on the same one too long. Plan on sticking to one routine for 6 to 8 weeks, this should allow ample time for improvement without hitting a plateau. After 6 to 8 weeks, significantly change your routine. Referring back to the aforementioned spin class schedule, a significant change might be to take a 90 minute, low to moderate intensity spin class on Monday and Friday and try a circuit training weight class on Wednesday (or on Wednesday and Saturday-I recommend resistance training at least two times a week in order to optimize improvements). You will notice that you do not have to completely stop doing your old activity, but you do have to change “how” you are doing it; you are changing from a high intensity class to a low to moderate intensity class (that is 30 minutes longer too!). Stick to this “new” routine for 6 to 8 weeks, then move on to another “significantly” different routine.
You do not need to keep coming up with “significantly different” routines indefinitely (but you may enjoy this creative aspect of the “art and science” of fitness- I know I do!). Try to find 4 to 6 different routines that you enjoy and that work for you, then cycle through them; staying on each routine for about 6 to 8 weeks. You may find it motivating and useful to keep a fitness log or journal and try to beat the “personal best’ that you achieved the last time you cycled through a specific routine. Good luck and keep improving!