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  • Writer's pictureDoug Joachim

7 Reasons You've Plateaued

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

“If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there. You must go beyond them.” -Bruce Lee

exercise plateau

There are plenty of reasons your training goals have stalled. Some of them are obvious and easy to fix; others may take a little more effort. It is common and normal for you to plateau in your workouts. Imagine if you could continually make linear gains forever. I've been working out since I was 13 years old. If I never plateaued, I'd be lifting 3000lbs with one hand and be twice the size of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Our bodies have limits and so does our training. Here is a list of 7 reasons you may have plateaued in the gym or with your fitness goals.

1. CONSISTENCY - This is the number one reason many people don't make progress in the gym. Your body needs consistent stimulus to make physiological adaptations. Working out willy nilly is not training; it is just working out. If you want to produce results, you will need to develop a strong habit of working out regularly with a planned-out program. It is not that hard to start something; the challenge is to keep it going. It is OK to miss a workout now and again but to reap the greatest benefits, you must make it part of your lifestyle. For most people, some form of fitness needs to be incorporated daily.

2. RECOVERY - You are not giving yourself enough time to recovery in between bouts of training. A good rule of thumb is to give yourself 36-48 hours of active rest between strenuous weight-lifting workouts of the same muscle group. It is vitally important that you also get adequate sleep (7-9 hrs for most people) every night to ensure proper recovery. Studies suggest too little recovery can lead to overtraining syndrome. It is crucial to remember that the bulk of adaptation from training happens during the recovery process. Recovery allows the body to replenish energy stores and repair damaged tissues. Without sufficient time to repair and replenish, the body will continue to break down from intensive exercise. With the proper periodization program, you can workout almost every day. However, many people find a benefit in taking one day off per week - or spend that time doing do low-intensity mobility work.

3. DIET - Junk in, junk out. The easiest way to undo your training is to eat a crappy diet. You can't outrun a bad diet. It is OK to have a cheat meal or snack every once in a while, but you will make the mountain that much harder to climb if you often eat badly. It is really easy to unravel a good program with a bad diet. What you regularly eat plays a more important role in body composition and weight management than how much or what type of exercise you do. It is also essential to understand the role macronutrients have on your training goals. Lots of athletes stall because their 'macros' are off. Diet tends to be a doing problem, not a knowing problem. The most significant factor in diet mishaps can usually be tied back to one's environment. Having easy access to yummy food is a sure way to derail progress. Do not bring food, you tend to overeat into your house.

4. OVERTRAINING - This is mainly for the overly enthusiastic Type-A personalities. Training too much and too long can seriously put a cramp in your progress. Plus, it may lead to injury, sleeplessness, irritability, muscle aches and decreased immunity. It is vital to take enough time off in between workouts to recover. Furthermore, it is important to progress through a program slowly. For example, it is not a good idea for a non-runner to get up one morning to attempt to run a marathon. We all know someone who is a compulsive exercise fiend. Plan your workouts: Have hard and easy days with an eye toward recovery.

5. NO PLAN OF ACTION - I would wager most people in the gym do not have an actionable plan that follows a progression. Setting up and documenting a periodized workout plan will help you make progress and avoid pitfalls. Depending on your goals, you can set up weekly, monthly and even yearly programs to follow. If you want to progress, it is necessary to record and then build on your workout regimes. Without a proper program, you are just working out instead of training. A competent personal trainer can help you with a periodized program.

6. DOING THE WRONG EXERCISES - Too many people spend way too much time at the gym doing piddly little exercises that give you no bang for your buck. If you find that most of your workout consists of foam rolling, corrective exercises, balance tricks, warming up, etc., you will not advance. Multijoint compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, pullups, bench press, lunges, rows, etc., are fantastic for most people. These exercises are metabolically and mechanically hard to perform; however, they have the most significant return on investment. Spend the majority of time on the fundamentals. Add some spice now and again, but it behooves you to focus on the basics.

7. UNFOCUSED WORKOUTS- The data show that most breakthroughs are made by working hard (close to failure). If you are phoning it in, expect to get a busy signal. Walking through a workout is unproductive. Yes, it is better than not doing anything, but don't expect to gain momentum and make headway. Focusing on your exercises will increase the neural engagement of the working muscles. Sleepwalking through a workout is not an efficient use of time. Plan your workout and even visualize what you will be doing before you get to the gym. This will prime your psyche and allow you to push your body to new limits. Focus is the key to faster success.

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