You are consistently training hard and eating healthy - but suddenly you see your progress has flattened out. Maybe you stopped gaining muscle, can’t lift more weight or hit a wall with your running PB. Welcome to the training plateau, a setback nearly every athlete has experienced at some point. But before you let frustration set in and knock down your motivation, learn why plateaus happen and how to avoid them going forward.
How do you hit a plateau?
The human body is a master adaptor. That means that if you are sticking to the same workout routine for an extended period, the body becomes accustomed to the physical stress to the point it isn’t “growing” anymore. Hitting a plateau means you have stopped making progress toward reaching your goal, regardless of whether it is muscle gain, improved strength or increased endurance.
Get your performance mojo back
So, your performance has stagnated - now what? To avoid another plateau, you need to consistently and strategically change your training plan. It is a holistic approach that consists of adding variety to the type of training and levels of intensity. Think of it as pushing your body out of its comfort zone so that it has to adapt to new challenges.
Why you need to train in cycles
In order to ramp up your development, try splitting your year into 3 or 4 training journeys or blocks, each one with a different focus, like strength or cardio, and divided up into stages. This introduces variety in volume and intensity into your workouts with numerous benefits. The biggest reward is that it triggers development by giving your body a new set of stimuli (e.g., movement and resistance) to react to. Done right, training in cycles also builds in recovery so you don’t succumb to OTS (overtraining syndrome) or get injuries. Finally, it makes sure you improve in a predictable, measurable way - you set your goals and can observe the progress.
The importance of mixing up training zones
Closely aligned with training cycles is intensity. Training in different intensity zones, determined as a percentage of your maximum heart rate, stresses your body in different ways, causing it to adapt physically. Light intensity activities, for example, improve recovery and endurance, while high intensity workouts train speed and stamina.
Everyone has their preferences when it comes to the kinds of exercise they do, but if you want to avoid training plateaus, you need to challenge your body with variety. Stay open-minded. Set new goals and try training comprehensively with cycles, different journeys and varied intensity zones. And be patient. Don’t give up right away if you don’t like a training method or don’t believe it’s right for you. Give your body time to adjust to being tested, and it will reward you by hitting one goal after the other.