So you've hit a training or weight loss plateau the size of … well, actual plateau, right?
Don't be afraid, our step-by-step guide will get you back on track! (Also, the worst Bruce Lee quote you have ever read).
Whether you got stuck on your weight loss journey, strength training, or any other fitness benchmark, today we're going to tell you exactly how to keep moving forward by sharing the exact tools we use with our coaching Customers use.
A nerd fitness coach can design a program for you to get ahead! Find out more here.
Don't lose morale. Together we have it!
I know how demoralizing plateaus can be, especially when it comes to strength training and weight loss – they can be a total momentum killer!
That's why we created our newest app, Nerd Fitness Journey! When you wake up in the morning you will know the next step in achieving your goals.
You can try it here for free to make this plateau a thing of the past:
What is a plateau?
A plateau occurs when you block progress while continuing to do "the right things," usually including eating right, exercising properly, getting adequate rest, and so on.
Our bodies are constantly losing weight and getting stuck at a certain number. Or we move from building muscle and strengthening to a week or two where we can't seem to lift anything heavier.
We call this point "The Plateau" in our training and we don't like to hang on to it.
As we learned in a previous article on happiness, people (especially nerds) are happier when we progress.
When we work hard for something and don't see any progress, we become unhappy.
How do I know if I've reached a plateau?
I get a lot of emails from people telling me they are stuck on a plateau.
They talk about how they ate properly, exercised, and got enough rest and they don't seem to be making any progress!
They toss their hands in the air, freak out, get discouraged and give up, or quickly move on to the next plan they hope will work.
When someone comes up to me and says they have reached a plateau, my first answer is always:
“Have you really reached a plateau? REALLY?"
In the vast majority of cases, plateaus are just problems with focus, pursuit, and discipline in disguise. Before you think you've hit a plateau, consider the following:
1) WHAT IS YOUR DIET … REALLY? Often times we think we are busy until we find that after a few weeks of eating well, we slack off. "Oh, I was good, just this once …" and "Hmmm, sure why not" become more commonplace as we start to go back to old habits. Track your calories for the next week and check your numbers.
And even if you eat the right amounts, there are: When you lose weight, your metabolism slows down. This is not black magic sabotage, it is a science.
There are just LESS of you that your body needs to take care of.
Here is the estimated daily calorie burn at rest ("sitting on your ass all day") of a 35 year old male nerd with 3 very different weights:
- 300 lbs: 2,600 calories.
- 250 lbs: 2,300 calories.
- 200 lbs: 2,000 calories.
You may have hit a plateau just because you hit a balance between calorie expenditure and calorie expenditure! Which means what you need to adjust your caloric intake to keep losing weight.
When trying to collect, are you eating ENOUGH calories to promote muscle growth? Rededicate yourself for two weeks, track your meals and see if progress speeds up again!
2) HOW ARE YOUR WORKOUTS … REALLY? If you are weeks or months into a training plan, I bet the initial shine of “NEW! PROGRESS! WIN! "has worn out.
Did you skip that last rep, cut out an exercise here or there, get bored and want to go home?
I know, when I hit a plateau in the gym, it's generally because I wasn't trying as hard as I was before. Carefully track your training for two weeks and see if these changes get you back on track.
3) HOW DO YOU SLEEP? … REALLY? This is one that most people forgo. They exercise, they eat right, but for some reason they have lost their sleep.
We all know that sleep is important. Lack of sleep leads to increased stress, less time for our bodies to rebuild muscles, recover from strenuous activities, and more.
I know if I haven't slept well, my gym performance will suffer the next day.
Can you honestly say that you had two weeks of good sleep, good nutrition, and good exercise?
In many cases, we think we're stuck and need a drastic change or adjustment to get progress back on track. Well, there are definitely cases where we get stuck or stalled and then things have to change.
Before we cover the dreaded plateau, however, there are a few things we should be clear about.
Why do I plateau?
At the beginning, linear progress cannot be continued indefinitely:
- If you learn to crouch and just start with the bar, If you add 5 pounds per week (this is how you should learn to squat!) You will eventually reach a point where your body cannot build strength / muscle fast enough to continuously add 5 pounds per week. If it worked that way, in three years everyone would be squatting 1,000 pounds.
- You will encounter the same problems with weight loss. For example, it's easier for you to lose 3 pounds a week when you're at 300 pounds than it is easier for you to lose 3 pounds a week when you're 150 pounds. There are more of you that you "lose" when you are taller and thus progress will be easier. If you could lose 2-3 pounds a week forever every week, eventually you'd go away, and we don't want that. Weight loss can slow to 1 pound every other week.
- Your error rate will be smaller. If you have a higher body fat percentage or are just starting out, you can make great progress quickly as MORE of you to lose or MORE gains to be made quickly. As you progress, you cannot make great progress without increasing your efforts.
- Adaptive thermogenesis. Our bodies want to maintain the extra body fat we have (“I don't know when I need this, better save”) and are actively working together to maintain it – so even after a few pounds it will stay that way Be a challenge to keep moving forward. It's a topic that is covered in the "Why Can't I Lose Weight?" If you have stalled on your weight loss journey, this could be the problem as your body adapts to the body fat you lose.
Your progress at a constant pace will definitely slow down, which can feel like a plateau.
If you've been exercising for more than a few months, you may need to adjust your expectations slightly. Maybe you can only add 2.5 pounds to the bar this week. Or 1 pound. Perhaps your muscle gain is creeping up to 1 pound a month.
It happens to all of us.
If your progress is COMPLETELY stalled, or you are actually regressing AND doing the right things, then congratulations!
You may have reached a plateau.
As in games like World of Warcraft, at some point you will run out of experience killing rats – you could spend all day doing it, but because you have reached a certain level they no longer offer you value.
It's time to focus on attacking spiders, then orcs, and then dragons.
When you started, maybe just 5 pushups felt like a full workout. Now you can do 50 pushups to warm up and not break a sweat.
Our body is constantly adapting and learning to cope with the pressures we put on it, seeking the path of least resistance.
Back to our game analogy:
If something is worth doing, there will most likely be a grind, and that's why I need to talk to you about The Dip.
No, not any type of weight training, although these are good for jumping plateau as well!
You can learn more about how we at Nerd Fitness help plateau-free workouts by downloading our free Strength Training 101 eBook by signing up in the box below:
Download our comprehensive guide
- Everything you need to know to get strong.
- Exercise routines for body weight AND strength training.
- How to find the right gym and train properly in one.
Is a plateau normal? (The dip)
Let me introduce you to Seth Godin, the author of The Dip.
We have all reached plateaus in our lives and strive for health and happiness. To be successful at the task at hand, we need to drag our way through that low (or flat point) until we can climb out and continue the progress.
Here is a visualization of the immersion:
The first time you start something new, you can progress quickly and everything rocks because you see big changes.
However, after a few months, the reward you get from your efforts will decrease and it will seem like you are slowing down quickly:
- Everything is great in the first few weeks of weight loss! The scales are moving, your clothes are loosening up, progress is exciting because it comes so quickly. Then you may have a few weeks of really exerting yourself and the scale still blocks or increases.
- When building a new running habit, every new run is exhilarating – They quickly go from wheezing and coughing after two blocks to a full mile! A few months later this progress slows down and you have problems with the same distances and speeds despite doing the right things.
- When lifting weights, the first few months can be life changing. Squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, pushups. Every workout at the gym is an opportunity to make massive progress compared to the previous time, with the exception of a week or two when you step in and have to lift less than before! What gives!?
When we hit that low point where our hard work doesn't seem to be rewarded, it's easy to give up and say, "I'm a failure."
Is not it.
We'll all go through a slump when it comes to making progress on things that are important to us.
If we are to REALLY be successful, we need to anticipate and plan the arrival of the dip so that it doesn't completely derail us.
Much like working out experience points in an RPG, sometimes we have to work out the exercises in life, training, diet, and more … until we can hit that sweet spot for progress again.
How do we stay engaged, focused and motivated? by the dip?
How do we get on the plateau when we think our hard work is a waste of time?
We focus on small wins and find a way to get a little bit better.
What should I do if I hit a plateau? (Setting personal records)
In order for us to crawl out of a jump or off a plateau, we have to find a way every day to make a small profit.
Think of these little gains as "one light for you in dark places when all other lights go out".
The longer we have trained, the older we get and / or the more advanced we are in our training, the more likely we will hit plateaus and the more necessary it will be to get small wins and prepare for dips and strength through them.
Here's how you can make your own small wins and prove to yourself that you can still make progress in the dip:
1) TRACK EVERY SET, REP AND WORKOUT. In SOME WAYS, find a way to be better today than you were yesterday, and prove to yourself that you are still making progress – even if it is in a different way than you were making before.
If you get stuck on the bench press on 3 sets of 5 reps of 150 pounds and haven't been able to climb to 155 pounds in a few weeks, try 3 sets of 6 reps of 150 pounds.
Or 4 sets of 5 reps of 150 pounds.
Then, in a few weeks, come back to 3 sets of 5 reps of 155 and see if you can do that.
If you wait 60 seconds between sets, instead wait 90 seconds and raise a different amount
As long as SOMETHING has progressed in any way – your overall weight has been increased, the time between sets reduced, an extra rep, or an additional pound increased – it will prove to you that you have made progress. Remember, progress makes us happy.
2) Collect small prizes. Optimus Prime doesn't transform with a single movement. It's a combination of hundreds of thousands of tiny movements that happen quickly.
We're Transformers (especially Joe) and our little changes add up too.
It's those tiny, little victories that can push us over the edge. Enough small victories and we can reach that turning point, the end of the slump where progress will resume.
Find a way to make a tiny profit every day that shows you are getting better / faster / stronger.
Here's an example: I've been working on handstand balance for probably 18 months. In the last few months my progress has stagnated and on some days even went the other way round (helloooo dip!).
I kept working on building the handstand habit for five minutes a day (hard hat challenge to win!). There was no progress, but I knew that my continued dedicated practice was adding up in ways that were not readily apparent.
I was “stalled” and focused on making tiny gains: increasing the flexibility of my wrists, staying on the wall for as long as possible, practicing my kick-ups, toning my core, etc.
Although I have never been able to balance more than 10 seconds at any point in the past, I stepped into a handstand without touching the wall (something else that had never happened before) and held my handstand for 24 seconds!
I still have some way to go before I do perfectly vertical handstands for more than 60 seconds, but months spent practicing the dip workout paid off.
I made it through the plateau and my progress has continued rapidly after months of fighting. Those months of struggle were tiny little victories in various ways that added up until I hit the tipping point where progress exploded.
3) Track other metrics than the scale. The scale can lie. The scale will definitely slow down even as you progress in healthier ways, simply due to the fact that you have less weight to lose than before! You may also be dealing with extra water weight, gas, menstruation, or anything in between.
So keep track of other things! Here's what you can do to keep yourself motivated while pleating:
- Take photos every two weeks. Who cares if the scales don't move? Do you look better do you feel better? Do your clothes fit better? This is progress.
- Take measurements. Spend $ 5 on a tape measure (or one of them) and measure the key body parts. Perhaps the scales won't move, but you've taken half an inch from your waist. Or maybe you added an inch to your arms.
- Track your body fat percentage. A simple caliper is enough to show trends. Do you remember saint His weight increased, but his body fat percentage decreased. If he had just followed the scales, he might have panicked during his "dip". Fortunately, he was keeping track of more metrics and used that momentum to catapult himself to victory.
The aim is to consistently prove to us that we are one step closer to our goal.
This is exactly the system we used in building the Nerd Fitness Journey.
As you work through the app, not only will you complete fun missions, but you'll also see tasks evolve towards your bigger goal. You can't get stuck or get frustrated. Just sign up and work on the next adventure.
If you want, you can sign up for a free trial here:
5 tips and tricks for overcoming a plateau
The above is just the beginning. This will also help you make progress and get out of this crisis:
1) Shock your workout. Our bodies crave efficiency and love to be as lazy as possible, but we really live on chaos. So bring some chaos into your system!
Note: This is NOT the same as "muscle confusion" (a made-up marketing term for selling DVDs). We're still progressing, lifting more, and doing the same exercises – we only throw in variations occasionally to stimulate progress.
Doing the exact same thing over and over again will make your body more efficient in this activity.
In fact, after doing the same often enough, your body can learn and adapt so that it burns fewer calories to carry out the process. So mix it up!
- If you're trying to run a faster 5K? Mix in a day with sprints, not just simple runs.
- Are you trying to increase your deadlift? Instead of doing just 1 rep, do a higher volume day or do the deadlift twice a week.
- Do you want to squat better? Squats with higher frequency. NF lead trainer Staci completed an advanced Smolov Squat program for 13 weeks (warning: not for beginners). Your body can adapt and overcompensate by getting stronger.
- Do you want to improve your upper body strength / size? I am currently doing a PLP program along with my regular workouts. Starting with a total of 10 reps of pull-ups, lunges, and push-ups and adding one rep every day for 50 days.
2) Adjust your diet. Your body can also become very efficient on calories (not to mention the oft-mentioned but controversial theory of "starvation mode") and sometimes struggle to make progress.
As we pointed out in "Why Can't I Lose Weight?", When you've lost a decent amount of weight, your body now burns significantly fewer calories every day (you need to adjust less! This means you need to adjust your calorie intake !
So first I would track your intake and determine how many calories you should be eating.
ONLY after that I would recommend the following:
Consider eating OVER one day a week, along with days of intermittent fasting. Let your body guess and see if this puts your system back into weight loss mode.
Adjust your macronutrient breakdown. Keep your protein intake high and adjust your carbohydrates and fats. Some people feel better or worse with high or low fat, high carbohydrate, or low carbohydrate content.
And remember, thermodynamics still rule everything: weight loss requires calorie deficits.
3) CALM! I've heard it say, “There's no such thing as“ overtraining, just underrecovery. ”Are you getting enough sleep, too?
Maybe you are a new parent trying to keep up your old exercise routine of 2 hours of sleep a night.
Or work stressed you like crazy and it made you eat like crap.
Rest is such an important part of a healthy lifestyle that it needs to be given priority too. In the Essentialism book, this is referred to as “protecting the asset”.
You are the asset.
If you're trying to do too much, or if you're trapped on a plateau, take a week off, focus on sleep and rest, and come back refreshed.
4) Customize your goals. Maybe your body needs a new dragon to kill it.
Here, too, nature loves chaos. If your focus is solely on weight loss, you may feel like you have stalled. So shift your focus. Work on handstands. Or run faster.
Or do your first pull-up. Pick a new skill!
Try something different. Give your body a chance to recover, then come back to it.
If you focus solely on the scale and it fails, it can be depressing. So put the scales away for a month and instead focus on the process of getting stronger and eating better. Stop stressing out and remember to enjoy the game you are playing.
5) Accept that we are having bad weeks. We are complex machines.
Sometimes shit happens.
We only have bad weeks and cannot lift enough or we put on weight when we expected to lose weight. It doesn't make you a bad person, it doesn't make you a failure, it makes you a person.
On days when you're feeling great, EXPRESS yourself harder. On days when you feel crappy, cut down on heavy lifting and focus on more reps or better techniques.
The greatest predictor of success in our lives is grit (which can be developed). Grit is what you need to get through those slow weeks. In these dips we find out who is really committed. I know it is you and you know it is you.
Remember, look for signs of progress to spot that "light" at the end of the tunnel.
If you're stuck on a plateau doing strength training, consider partnering with one of our Yodas as part of the 1-on-1 online training program at Nerd Fitness! No guilt, no shame. Just someone to hold you accountable, competent guidance from someone who knows you, and the assurance that you are doing the right thing!
How did you break your plateau?
“If you always set boundaries for everything you do, physically or anything else, it will affect your work and your life. There are no borders. There are only plateaus and you are not allowed to stay there. You have to go beyond them. “-Bruce Lee
Hopefully I've covered everything you need to know about plateaus. What's this? You were expecting a lame joke about plateaus somewhere?
You know me too well. Okay how about this:
Did you know that a plateau is the ultimate form of flattery?
Thanks, I've been here all week.
I want to hear your story:
- Have you successfully broken a plateau? Leave a comment on how you got out of there.
- Are you just stuck? If so, what is ONE SPECIFIC advice you can take from today's article to apply to who you are go to do this afternoon?
Let's hear it! I am curious how I can help.
PS: We know this stuff can be intimidating to start with. If you want to take it to the next level:
- 1-to-1 online coaching: A Team NF coach will get to know you better than you do and will develop an exercise program and nutritional strategy that will suit your busy life, body type and goals.
- Nerd Fitness Journey: A fun app that shows you the way to overcome a plateau. Sign up for a free trial below:
Photo sources: JD Hancock: Heroes, Gato-Gato-Gato: Mountains, Chris J Bowley: Box, Seeveeaar: Success, Stefan Baudy: Question, Stefano Corso, Paradox of Life, Sergio Bertoli: Bruce Lee