You have been eating healthier and exercising and the weight has been gradually coming off, you are burning fat and gaining muscle but now it seems that you have come to a standstill. You are doing everything you were before but those last few lbs are being stubborn and sticking tight. Your body fat % is nearly at your goal but you just can’t seem to get it any lower. If this is how you are feeling at the moment it is because you have reached a plateau. Plateau is not only experienced by those aiming for weight loss it can be something experienced by those wanting to gain muscle as well.
A plateau is where your body has stabilised and making no further progress, the main cause is that your body has got used to what you are doing and adapted to it. The best way to lose those last few lbs or drop that extra bit of body fat, increase muscles size is to change your routine.
When looking at weight loss you also need to keep in mind that at the start of your journey to losing weight you would have been bigger than you are now, it is normal to lose more weight when you are starting out and as time goes by and you become lighter the number of lbs you lose each week will drop. I am sure many of you have seen T.V programme called The Biggest Loser, the contestants lose a high number of lbs in the first week and then they lose less each week after (but still a significant amount), but you need to remember they are working out for hours and hours each day so those numbers lost each week are generally more than the average person.
A healthy and realistic amount of weight to lose is between 1-2lbs per week so after reading the suggestions below you should be back on track to hitting those figures. Here are a few suggestions for jump starting your weight loss and getting you losing those lbs.
How is your diet, has it changed?
Start at the beginning again and look at what you are eating, are you keeping to your calories, are you eating enough protein, carbs etc do you still keep a food diary/journal. It is common for people to stop being so strict about watching what they eat, you see the number going down on the scales so you know what you are doing is working but sometimes we may not realise how much we snack, especially if in front of the tv or computer. If you want to gain muscle it is important to ensure you are eating enough. Keep a journal for the week again and write everything down and see if there is any thing that could be causing the plateau.
Even if you are sticking to your calories you can still plateau, your body will adapt to what you are doing, say for example you reduced your calories and you are exercising more, for a while your body will burn off the extra calories and you will lose weight but after time it will start to fight back and hold on to all the calories you are consuming and store them for future energy. If this is the case then do something different. Try Intermittent Fasting.
Intermittent Fasting (IF)
IF is when you fast for a set amount of time, this could be 24 hrs or 16 hours. If you fast for 24 hours twice a week you will be taking in 30% less calories which will lead to weight loss. This is not a diet and because you are regularly eating on your non fast days and in between the fast days your metabolism wont slow down, this only takes place if your are fasting or restricting your calories for extended periods of time such as days and weeks, because you are only fasting 2 days per week and not on consecutive days this will not happen.
Switching up your exercises will help not only those of you looking at breaking your plateau for losing weight but also those of you who have it a plateau in gaining muscle. You have likely been doing the same routine and it was working up until now. Again your body adapts to the pressures you put it under and as you repeat the same exercises you no longer challenging your body, keeping the muscles guessing is what will give you results. To gain more muscle you need to be overloading your muscles, if you have been doing the same weight, same intensity, same length of exercise and even the same exercises then it is time to change it:
- Add more weight, as you progress you will become stronger and sticking to the same weight will no longer overload your muscles so you need to increase the weight as well. If you increase the weight then you can continue to do the same sets and reps which is determined by your goal ie whether you are working towards endurance, hypertrophy or strength.
- Change the number of your sets, reps, rest time between your sets – these changes will also cause you to change the weight that you are currently doing as when working with weights you want to make sure you are doing the max weight possible for you to perform the number of sets and reps to the point of muscle fatigue. You can also change the way you do your sets and reps by forming a circuit of the exercises you are doing. For example: Do one exercise for the set amount of reps then move to another exercise for 1 set then another and then return to your first exercise for the 2nd set etc.
- Increase intensity – have you been jogging/running at the same speed constantly? Increase the intensity of what you are doing by increasing the pace, increasing the difficulty etc. For example if you are using a treadmill increase the incline if outside then find some hills, if using an elliptical/cross trainer increase the level.
- If you are not already doing intervals then this is a great way to burn off excess weight/fat. Jog for 30 seconds run for 30 seconds then back to jogging for 30 secs and keep doing this. You can also increase the length of time of your intervals if you have been doing 30 seconds do it for 1min etc.
- Change the exercises you have been doing, swap them for alternative ones and also change the order in which you are doing them. This applies to cardio and strength training.
- If you are using machines for the resistance/strength training then stop and use free weights. Free weights will activate even more muscles as you will start to use your core and stabiliser muscles. When you do a movement with a machine it will usually isolate that one muscle group that you are exercising, if you use free weights it will bring other muscles into play. Free weights are where you are going to get the most benefit from your strength training.
You should look at changing your programme every 2 months.
It is not only about your diet and exercise, other factors can cause you to plateau. Stress being one of them and something almost everyone has in their life. When you are stressed your body increases the amount of cortisol being secreted and this can lead to a wide range of effects on the body and has been known to cause weight gain but stress can lead to other things such as eating more, especially foods that aren’t considered so good for you. So if you are feeling stressed try some meditation, read a book. Alternatively you can do some yoga, this will not only help with your stress but also your flexibility and strength and this means better muscle tone.
Don’t over train, your body needs time to recover and recuperate, you should be taking active rest 1-3 days per week. This does not mean you stop everything you just need to reduce the amount you are doing, go for walks work at a more moderate intensity, take a leisurely bike ride or swim.