If you feel like you're working harder than ever but not seeing any changes or improvements, you've hit a plateau. Follow our tips to find out why you might have stopped progressing and how to break through it.
What is the meaning of hit a plateau?
When you 'hit a plateau' it means you have stopped progressing. In weight loss terms, this means you have stopped losing weight and are sitting at a constant. In training terms, this means you have stopped improving on your times or weights.
There are lots of reasons why you might hit a plateau, but the worst thing you can do is let it affect you negatively. If you have been trying to lose weight for some time and you stop seeing results, this can be a trigger to ruin your progress by giving up. However, it's important to remember how far you've come and stay strong.
If you've hit a plateau in your training, this means it's time to mix things up and take your training up a gear. Again, there may be several reasons why you have hit a plateau, so just take some time to re-evaluate and always remember your goals.
How do you break a weight loss plateau?
If you've ever tried to lose weight, you'll know that the first few pounds will come off relatively easy, but then weight loss gets harder. Famously, it's the last few pounds that just won't budge and you might find your weight stagnant for quite some time. One of the main reasons we find ourselves at a weight loss plateau is because we don't adapt and change our diet and lifestyle as we lose the weight.
If your starting weight was quite high, all you would need to do is eat a little less and exercise a little more each day and you would lose weight. People with a higher body fat percentage will burn more calories than a slimmer person because their body has to work harder. As you lose the weight and get fitter, the same diet and exercise routine that you were doing before will not be as effective.
The best way to break through a weight loss plateau, therefore, is to adapt and change your diet and workout routine. You will need to increase your calorie expenditure and mix up your training to shock the system. Your body is very good and adapting to stress and so if you continually do the same workout and eat the same food, soon your body will become used to that and stop changing.
Try doing a high intensity workout like this 5 minute punch bag workout which will shock your body into burning more calories. It's also important to workout your full body, so try this full body circuit workout for fat loss. It's also important not to neglect your core, so have a go at this flat stomach abs workout for real results.
What do you do when you hit a fitness plateau?
If you have stopped seeing results at the gym, it is time to mix up your workout routine. If you have a specifical goal, like running a marathon or completing an Ironman, it's best to follow a set training plan. If you have just been winging it until now, find a training plan that works best for you and your goals.
If you are trying to get stronger, there are lots of ways you can break through a plateau and increase the amount you can lift.
Firstly, make sure you are doing accessory lifts. If your goal is to get a PB on the squat, deadlift, or bench press, you won't get there just by doing that lift. Accessory exercises are lifts that complement one of the big lifts by working the supporting and stabilising muscles which will improve your form and help you increase the amount of weight you can lift. For bench press, make sure you're doing dumbbell flyes and press ups. For deadlifts, do plenty of bent over row and lat pull down. For squats, do lunges and single legged leg press.
If you are trying to get faster at running, there are lots of things you can do to improve. For more in depth information, read our article on how to get faster at running.
The bottom line is that you need to make sure you are not stuck in a rut. If you have hit a plateau, it's probably because you have become too comfortable in your routine and need to mix it up. Make sure that you do not give up when you stop seeing results, as it will be the best results that come after you break through the plateau.
Sharron Davies is a British athlete who started her swimming career at the record-breaking young age of 11 years-old. She has represented Great Britain at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games as well as enjoying a media career working for the BBC and appearing on shows such as Dancing On Ice and The Island With Bear Grylls. Sundried had the honour of chatting with Sharron and finding out more about her fascinating life.
You started your competitive swimming career very young. How did it feel being an athlete and competing at such huge events as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games at such a young age?
Swimming used to be a very young sport. It is less so these days at elite level due to lottery funding but in some ways it still is. Swimmers learn early to get into the club system early, like gymnastics. However, swimmers' careers tend to be longer.
I was never daunted, I just enjoyed the experience which was so valuable when in my second Olympics I was aiming for medals. There were less multi-sport events when I was young and they are a unique environment. I’ve since done 11 Olympics: three competing and the rest working for the BBC and they are all different and amazing.
What has been your favourite race/event to date and why?
I always loved the Commonwealth Games. My Olympic career was blighted by East Germans who we now know conclusively were drug-aided. All my silver and bronze medals at world level are behind East Germans who today would be stripped of their medals. At the Commonwealth Games, I felt it was a level playing field and I could win gold. Which I did.
How did it feel being awarded an MBE for your services to swimming?
My MBE was a long time coming due to Mrs Thatcher not awarding any after the 1980 summer Moscow Olympics. However, it was a great honour and I loved taking my parents to Buckingham Palace; they were a huge support for me.
What was it like being a contestant on Dancing On Ice? Was it easier for you to pick up ice skating as someone who is already athletic or was it still tough?
Dancing On Ice was both great and horrid. Judge Jason Gardener was a nasty piece of work and his criticism was way past acceptable. It became very personal and it was hard for my kids going to school the next day. That's what I hate about reality television; others getting famous for being rude or outrageous. But learning to skate and working with my partner Pavel Aubrecht was wonderful. Since then I’ve done The Island with Bear Grylls and that was seriously hardcore!
Please tell us about the charities for whom you are a patron.
I work with many charities that are related to either sport, children, para-sport or nature. My soapbox issue is fitter children and marine conservation, looking after our seas, and reducing waste. We need to look after our world better. It’s shameful what we as humans are doing to it.
How do you maintain your fitness and health now that you are retired from professional swimming?
I’ve actually retired twice. Once at 19 because I needed a break to be normal, but to maintain my American University scholarship I had to swim. I just needed 6 months off from training 6 hours a day, but no one did that in the 1980s so I retired and worked in television instead.
Unfortunately, I was banned from competing as a professional swimmer for receiving £40 for appearing on a television quiz show and so I missed the 1984 LA Olympics. I came back after 8 years out once trust funds were introduced to swimming and competed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Competing at three Olympics across three decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s) is probably quite unusual.
When you retire, you have to completely retrain your eating habits as you can eat a lot of calories during a 6-hour training day! That’s not easy. These days I train about 4 times a week in the gym, but I also like to cycle. A typical training routine for me includes thirty minutes of cardio, 15 minutes of core work, and 15 minutes of weights. I’ve added in heavy weights once a week to reduce muscle wastage which increases once over the age of 50.
Do you follow a specific nutrition regime? If so, what/when do you eat?
I’m pretty good with food and I eat reasonably healthy. I put nothing on the banned list and eat everything in moderation. I don’t drink much alcohol, I have never smoked, and I try to look after my skin. Dieting is not great for the body; eating sensible, balanced food with regular exercise is always best. There is no magic formula and no shortcut sadly. A very good tip is not to eat late at night and use a smaller plate to achieve portion control.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Inspirational people for me are all those that apply themselves, stay grounded, honest and fair. I admire great musicians, artist, architects, writers, sportsmen and women but behind every successful person there is usually a great support team who don’t get so much attention. My dad was my coach, my mum and brothers gave up a lot for me to swim and my swimming colleagues were all part of my team.
What advice do you wish you were given when you first started out?
When you start out you need to think of the long game and the fact there will be real highs and lows. Everything is a lesson and sport reflects life. It’s not about talent - though that certainly helps - it’s about perseverance, planning and application. Remember: if it was easy to be a great athlete, everyone would do it!
What advice would you give other young athletes embarking upon the world of competitive swimming?
Swimming has come a long way. The training and hours are no different to my time, but the support our British athletes get these days is second to none in the whole world. We as a nation should be so proud of our achievements. Per capita, we have been the world's most successful Olympic nation for the last ten years.
Swimming gave me a great pair of shoulders and a great work ethic, you just have to remember your hair conditioner and body lotion!
Want to swim faster, develop a stronger core, and look really cool? You need to be able to rock a handstand!
I am not a believer in quick fixes. That goes for getting strong, getting fast, getting flexible, getting ripped. Living my life by the ‘if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is’ motto has helped me avoid many scams and provided me with much needed reality. However, I believe that my challenge of mastering the handstand will help me to develop core strength, develop shoulder strength, and my final goal is to be able to do handstand push-ups. All this, and I have a goal of 2 months.
4 sets of 1-minute with the palms of my hands between 90cm and 1m away from the wall. By set 4 my body is shaking, my arms are shaking, and my core is screaming out. I was expecting to feel a lot more light-headed but it felt fine. Getting into position was pretty easy, walking up the wall and I didn’t feel off balance.
For day two I did the same but with my hands closer to the wall. I felt the same pains but at least I know I'm getting stronger!
On day four my palms are 70cm away from the wall; 1 foot closer than a few days ago. I'm now up to sets of 5 for 1-minute each and I am resting for 4 minutes between. The last 2 sets were very tough: my shaky arms were just screaming out for the minute to end. Oh, and the dismount (I’m guessing that’s what coming down off the wall is officially called) needs some work. A kind of splat at the base of the wall doesn’t feel very elegant.
Feeling fresh after the weekend, I got my palms to 60cm from the wall. Woah, feels a bit steep! But OK. Mixing this up with some press-ups and a few sit-ups, the minute timer on my phone could not come sooner by the third set.
A couple of days into week two and my palms are now just 50cm away from the wall. It seems a little easier to hold the minute today and my feet feel light against the wall. Feels to me like the beginning of a handstand!
After about 1 month my palms are more or less 30cm away from the wall. Mind over matter “I won’t fall over. I won’t fall over”. It is certainly a workout on the wrists from the lack of flexibility.Now in the second month (end of week 1) I have now dropped my rest intervals down to 3 minutes between each minute of handstand-planking against the wall. Repeating for 5 sets. Not sure when that slipped in but it has! (I am sure I started at 4). I am also only doing this week days. So I am feeling stronger and now I think ready to take the leap of faith into the second stage whatever that may be.
As a swimmer, your arm strength is paramount to your performance. Try this arm strength training session by our friends at Swimovate to really see results.
If you've followed any type of marathon or half marathon training plan, you will no doubt have seen that you should be doing 'cross training' throughout the week as well as running. But what exactly is it? Which type is best? And how is it beneficial for runners? We answer all these questions and more.
What is cross training?
When most people hear the phrase 'cross training', they immediately think of the cross trainer (or elliptical) at the gym, but this isn't quite the case. Cross training for runners is simply any other type of training that can supplement and benefit your running training. A triathlete naturally does cross training by swimming, cycling, and running all together as part of their training, but runners can get stuck in a rut of just running. It's hugely important to do cross-training, read on to find out why.
Read more: 10 Tips To Survive Your First Marathon
Cross training benefits
So why should runners be doing cross training? Research has found that runners who do cross training such as strength training at a gym are less likely to get running injuries, are more likely to have a higher VO2 max, and are able to perform better. Of course it's perfectly logical that having stronger muscles would mean you are stronger in your running and will be able to get more power out of your training session.
Depending on the training plan you are following, you may find that cross training replaces some rest days. An intermediate marathon or half marathon training plan will often have you training 6 days a week, with 5 of those for running, 2 or 3 for cross training, and one for rest.
Read more: Cross Training Workout For Runners
Is yoga cross training?
Yoga is certainly a type of cross training, although it may not hold all of the benefits of other sports such as swimming, cycling, and strength training. Yoga has many benefits, such as lowering blood pressure, increasing flexibility, and improving posture and balance. All of these are things that would be beneficial to runners, and therefore doing yoga once a week as part of your training should help you to improve your running performance.
Read more: Yoga For Runners
Is cycling good cross training for running?
Cycling is possibly one of the best types of cross-training for running as it targets the legs and core and therefore will strengthen the key muscle groups used when running. Not only this, as it is an aerobic exercise, you will be improving your fitness but it is a low impact activity so will give your joints a chance to rest.
A great way to train for the last part of a half marathon or marathon when you are running on empty and struggling to keep going is to do a brick workout. This is a type of workout employed by triathletes and duathletes whereby you go for a run straight after a bike ride. It gets your legs used to running when tired and is a great way for runners to practice keeping going when fatigued and running low on energy.
What is the best type of cross training?
Swimming is a great way to cross-train as it is zero impact and so will give your joints a chance to recover from pounding the pavements while working your muscles hard. Not only this, it works your muscles in a completely different way to activities like gym workouts and cycling and so will give you a great full-body workout. On top of this, the breath control needed for swimming could help to put you in good habits with your running.
This is usually the most popular choice for runners as it is proven to be hugely beneficial to performance, physiology, and fitness. Lifting weights and working on your main muscle groups like core, back, and legs will have a significant impact on your running and will also help to improve the way you look.
Skipping is an activity you may not have thought about for cross-training, but it can be hugely beneficial. Skipping works your calf muscles as well as testing the flexibility in your ankle joint, and this translates well to running as they can be areas that are neglected in other parts of training.