Plateau: a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.
As I mentioned in a previous article, the body is a fantastic thing! It’s amazing what our body does, and what it can do. My brother’s first job out of school was as a mail deliverer. This is when mail was delivered door to door, by the mail deliver walking door to do. No super mail boxes. The first week killed my brother. Totally exhausted, legs so sore it was a major effort to get up each day to do his mail route. Over the first month or two, he lost some weight, and his legs became much stronger as his activity level was higher, and, very demanding. Then, about the third or fourth month in, the weight came back on, slowly. The body was no longer sore after each day of delivering the mail. He plateaued. The body finally adapted to the increase in activity, the increase in load to the legs. This activity level, or load on the body became the norm.
Just like the body will adapt to the level of inactivity (muscle atrophy), the body will also adapt to the increased level of activity. It has to. That’s what it does. Basically, the stimulus that impacted my brother’s body that he lost weight, gained strength was no longer sufficient to continue doing these things.
When working out, if the stimulus is not sufficient, or there is too much recovery time between workouts, there will not be any noticeable change because the body will not have to compensate. Too much stimulus or not enough recovery time between training sessions, a decrease in performance can occur. If stimulus is sufficient, and recovery time between workouts is the correct amount, your body will have to adapt, and you will see improvements in performance.
Getting the most out of your time
Let’s take running as an example. You’re training for a half marathon. Most people will think that the training should be comprised of running at a low intensity over a long time as this is an endurance event, building up distance gradually of course. Sure, you will run that half marathon, probably finish, but you could of performed better, and felt better that day you ran the race. Just because you are running an endurance event does not mean you train at only endurance levels. Your training sessions should be made up of HIITS (High Intense Interval Training), running at a mid to high level intensity, Tabata intervals. This type of training will help prevent the body from adapting. Think of it as shocking the body, in a good way! Your aerobic, anaerobic thresholds will increase, and your body will grow stronger, sooner because it had to adapt.
So, will you do it?
Nobody wants to plateau but it happens. Being aware of your performance when you work out, and keeping track of your progress are great ways to prevent plateauing. Keep a journal and write down the details of your workout. The exercise, the weight you used, the number of sets and reps.
Educating yourself about fitness and training, or getting a personal trainer are also ways to prevent plateauing. Personal trainers are trained to deal with this issue, and have the tools to help you. Changing your program frequently will also help prevent the body from adapting to a program and leveling off.
It’s up to you. It can become easy to do the same workout every time you go to the gym, or wherever. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable. I am fortunate enough that every Saturday morning, I get to train with a few likeminded people for 90 minutes of intense cardio, striking, bag work, and grappling. I say a few because there seems to be only a few of us who will put up with being pushed to the limits every Saturday. We are human. Doing things outside of our comfort zone can be tough. And training to your limits you need to go outside of your comfort zone. But, the payoff is huge.
Just like my brother’s body that adapted and ceased to make any performance gains, if you don’t change things up every so often, if you don’t push yourself and challenge yourself, you most likely will plateau, and this usually is the start of the end for some people. Train hard, train smart.
Yours in health,