Tuesday 2 December 2014

Road to Workout - 5: Plateaus

   A plateau is something you're pretty much guaranteed to encounter, especially when you first start out. A plateau is a period of time when, despite eating well and exercising appropriately, you're not losing any weight. This was an awful experience for me, and it happened several times, but once you know why it's happening and what you can do to fix it, you'll realise it's no problem at all. Many people don't understand plateaus and that's where the real trouble is, and can result in people simply giving up.

So what is a plateau?
   A plateau is when your body stops changing and you lose less and less weight even if you're still exercising. It generally occurs after around 4 to 6 weeks of consistant, unchanging activity, such as following the same routine every day or every other day. Because the activity is unchanging and consistant your body gradually adapts to the stresses the workout is putting on it in order to complete the movements with less and less effort. Like a weight lifter lifting heavy weights with far greater ease than you or I would - their body has adapted to complete such movements with such weights.
   The more challenging a workout the more stress it puts on your body, and the more stress put on your body the greater the impact and effect of that workout. But while the results of a workout after three to four weeks of use are evident and even incredible, after a few more weeks there may well not be any further improvement. This is because your body has gotten used to it and is having less trouble with it.
   The thing is, as off-putting as this can be, you have to realise that it's completely normal. You get better at things with practise, and as far as your body is concerned, that's what you're doing. The more times you perform a movement, your body improves at doing it.

Okay, so how can I avoid a plateau?
   This is easier than you might think: just change something.
   If you're lifting weights, you'll need a heavier weight to challenge yourself with, be it a dumbell, kettlebell, barbell.
   If you're using a workout DVD, buy a new one.
   If you're doing circuit training, either jumble up your circuit, increase the reps, add in a few new moves to replace the easiest ones, or put together an entire new circuit.
   Changing how you eat can also help, though this is likely to have less impact than changing your workout, but you also have to make sure that you're getting enough calories and subsequently energy to complete your workout and get through your day without distraction. It could be that perhaps you're taking in too many calories, or not taking in enough. Speaking to a dietician or fitness trainer can help in this area.
   Make sure you drink enough water, too. Water only helps you lose weight in terms of keeping your body well-hydrated and working properly, but it does help, and it is necessary. Always keep a bottle of water at hand.

But my workout is so effective! Will I still encounter a plateau?
   Just as learning to play a violin, it might take longer for your body to adjust to it and be able to do what you're asking it to without trouble, but if you don't change things up, you will encounter it, regardless of how good your initial results are. If you were to change things up, or move onto a completely different workout, you could return to the effective one a month or two later and find results there again, though you may need to make a few adjustments - heavier weights, more circuits, extra moves and so on, but it will yield results again because you may well be rusty at it.
   The more often you do a workout, the quicker a plateau will occur because your body has more chance to adjust. So doing the same workout every day will see a plateau occur sooner than every other day - but that doesn't mean that working out every other day will take twice as long to induce a plateau. It's quite complicated, but all you need to know about that is this: everyone's body is different, and it will take different amounts of time for different individuals following the same routines and diets to encounter a plateau. As long as you continue to challenge yourself, you can avoid plateaus, or break through them with ease.

How do you avoid plateaus?
   It's exactly because of plateaus that I made this year's new year's resolution: to try something new every month. Initially it was a 2-week diet which was too vague and short to make any difference. The second month was raspberry ketone, a supplement which supposedly aids weightloss, but I found no difference. It was only from March onwards that I focused exclusively on changing my workouts on a monthly basis, and since I started doing that I found consistant results - of course the degree of those results varies from workout to workout depending on their nature and intensity. And its because of this success that I'll be continuing this process in 2015, as well, revisiting some of the most effective workouts from this year scattered amongst new ones.
   This resolution has not only helped me to completely avoid plateaus, but it's also kept me interested in exercising because I've done all kinds of things, including yoga, kickboxing, irish dancing, even the basics of Shaolin kung fu! Every month is different, and that keeps the enjoyment.

Plateaus happen when your body adjusts to the stresses put on it during a workout. The more often you do a workout the quicker your body adjusts, and it stops being a challenge. To avoid or break through a plateau, modify or change your workout. Heavier weights, more circuits, new movements, even a completely new workout altogether. This will renew the stress upon your body and allow you to continue losing weight and increase your stamina.

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