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What is an Exercise Plateau and How to Overcome It!

If you’ve been training for any period of time, you may reach a point where you stop seeing progress and growth. This is common and we call this an exercise plateau. These plateaus can be the result of many factors. Keep reading to learn more about how to establish if you are in an exercise plateau and how to move past it and continue making progress towards your health and wellness goals!

For those who train daily, repeat the same exercises regularly without much variation, and those who are not only training daily but intensely training daily, they are more at risk for exercise fatigue. Those are not the only causes of exercise fatigue. Prolonged periods of fatigue can lead to exercise exhaustion which can take a long time to overcome.

Signs of Workout Fatigue

It’s important to understand the signs that you have hit workout fatigue. While workout fatigue does mean that you have made progress prior, if you have not yet reached your goals, it’s time to make some changes. Below are the 7 common signs of workout fatigue.

1) Unable to focus solely on training during sessions or not motivated to train.

Do you find your mind wandering during a workout? Maybe you take that 30 second rest between sets and then all of a sudden you realize it's been 5 minutes. This could be a sign of exercise fatigue. It’s important to remember that working out at times when you can’t concentrate increases your risk of injury. So be aware and make sure you can focus and properly do your exercises!

2) Strength Loss

If you start to notice a trend of strength loss when you train, this is commonly due to fatigue. It may be best to take a few days off to rest and see if that helps!

3) Less Muscle Engagement

If you are training and find it’s increasingly difficult to engage your muscles properly in an exercise, this can also be a sign of fatigue.

4) Generally More Tired

Always tired and wanting to nap? This could mean your body is overworked and under rested.

5) No New Muscle Gain

If it’s been weeks or months and have stopped seeing new increases in strength even with additional weight, this could mean your body is fatigued and in need of change or rest.

6) Changes in Cardio Health

Drastic changes in your heart health can also be a sign of fatigue. If you notice a large increase in your heart rate during exercise or a large decline in heart rate, this is something to note. It can be very helpful to use digital trackers like an apple watch or fitbit to keep track of the way your heart is performing in exercise.

7) Less Hungry

Tired and sore but not feeling hungry even after intense workout sessions? This can be due to too much exercise and overall fatigue.

Enough is Enough. Workout Exhaustion

After a period of time experiencing workout fatigue this could lead to overall workout exhaustion. This is also commonly known as exercise burnout and can be much more difficult to overcome. Exercise fatigue can be resolved with simple recovery tips that I’ve detailed below, but burnout does not have a simple solution. When the body is experiencing exercise burnout, you’ll often feel a constant state of lethargy, loss of appetite, general muscle weakness, and poor mental health. You’ll notice the mind is feeling down and you’ll lose interest in training. This state of exhaustion is what leads so many people to giving up on a fitness journey. The mind begins to say that “Enough is Enough!”

To overcome a true exercise burnout, you may have to take a long break from traditional training and reevaluate your overall training routine upon recovery. Remember that full body exhaustion resulted from an extended period of time of overtraining and under-recovery. Be prepared that you’ll now need an extended period of recovery to make up for cutting corners before. It all catches up with us!

Ways to overcome exhaustion and plateau:

1) Reduce amount of training

While this may seem counterintuitive, if you are intensely training regularly and not giving yourself time to recover, you may need to reduce the days and intensity of training. This will give your body time to fully recover. Remember that when we train we are basically tearing our muscles so they can repair and get larger. If we don’t give those muscles the time to repair and grow they will become weaker and this can lead to overuse injuries.

2) Track Your Exercises

Tracking your activity levels is a great way to evaluate why you are plateauing. You may be training less intensely than you think, taking too long of breaks and not increasing weight as your strength builds. Sometimes our perceived level of training is not the reality of our movement! Also, you may notice you aren’t taking breaks between sets or you’re overtraining certain muscles. By tracking you can also see how your body responds after each specific workout, and this can better help you in future training.

3) Reduce Intensity

Don’t be afraid of reducing intensity and taking some steps back to improve form and reduce impact. If you find you can’t complete full sets of exercises, sometimes you just need to revise your approach and move forward from there.

4) Intensify Training

On the other hand, if you’ve been doing the same types of exercises with the same amount of weight and you’ve reached a plateau, it may be time to pump up the heat. Upping the intensity could mean more sets or reps and/or adding more weight. Remember the body needs to be continually challenged to keep building muscle.

5) Revise Training Style

There are so many different approaches to improving our physical health. Sometimes when we hit a plateau, simply trying a new style of training can be very helpful. The most common issue is for those who are fairly new to the health hustle. They will often focus on cardio exercise like using a treadmill. While they will see progress in the beginning, and perhaps some major weight loss over time, the cardio exercises don’t build muscle or tone in the way most people are striving for. Adding weight training is the key to muscle growth and a generally more toned look.

6) Progressive Overload

Progressive overload is my personal approach to training. In progressive overload you are just adding more weight and more challenge to your training over time. It’s helpful for avoiding plateau and for exercise adherence as it reduces the risk of becoming bored in training, while providing challenge.

7) You May Need a Trainer

Sometimes you may have issues in training that are beyond your scope of exercise knowledge. That’s when it may be a good idea to speak with a personal trainer. They can evaluate your body and strength levels and help you get back on track with personalized workout plans.

8) Look at Your Nutrition

Under-eating can be a huge issue with those training. And if your goal is to continue building strength, you must provide your body with enough fuel to grow and repair those muscles. Under-eating is a huge cause of exercise fatigue and burnout. Feel free to read through my previous blogs where I discuss nutrition and understanding how many calories you need.

9) Water!!

Don’t under-estimate water! Especially with those high-intensity exercises, you have to replenish water. Even if you don’t notice sweating during a workout, you still need to make sure hydration is a part of exercise recovery. Women typically need around 3 liters a day and men need 3.5-4 liters. That’s a lot more water than what most people are currently drinking. Remember your body needs water for so many functions!

10) Sleep!

Your muscles can’t grow and repair if you don’t get enough sleep. 7-9 hours a night are recommended for adults. If you notice a plateau and are only getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night, that could likely be the reason why.

11) Look at Your Overall Goals

Setting realistic goals is incredibly important. When you are deciding on fitness goals, take into consideration where you are starting from, how much time you have and what your standard commitment is going to be. Maybe you already know that training 6 days a week has never worked in the past and workouts longer than 30 minutes often make you want to skip them. Establish a plan that works for your lifestyle. Remember that this is also your personal goal. You should not pick goals and strategies based on others. Everyone has their own unique circumstances and challenges, and their path to reach a goal should reflect that.

Exercise plateau happens to the best of us, but it’s important that we remember it’s not a sign to give up! Health and wellness is not a linear process. It has its ups and downs and we all have to be prepared for small setbacks. We all have to think long term and that we are establishing a routine that is for our future. We can’t wake up today and have reached our goals, but we can make steps today for a healthier version of our future self.

Until next time… and remember fitness is for all!

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