Monday, April 25, 2011

Plateau breaker #1: Change up your routine.Variety is the key to success in an exercise program, says Cory Bank, Ph.D., a peak performance coach and professor of psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

“If you do the same workout at the same time, place and intensity, your body is going to adjust to it,” Bank says. “You’ll still be experiencing benefits and getting fit, but you won’t see the same level of improvement you did in the beginning.”

The burn-out can be psychological too, he says. Not only will you get bored with the same old moves, you’ll experience less of a boost from the “feel-good” chemicals – serotonin and endorphinsIt’s like seeing your favorite movie over and over again,” says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist with the San Diego-based American Council on Exercise (ACE). “After a while, it loses its appeal.”

To stay motivated, change your workout routine, the time of day and place you exercise – any variables you can control, suggests Bank.

If you’ve been working out alone, try a class, he suggests. Or find new exercise routines on DVDs or YouTube.

Plateau breaker #2: Move with the seasons.Changing your workout plan according to the weather can help you with getting in shape. It keeps your routine from getting stale and kick-starts your results too.

Alter your program every 8-12 weeks, or when weather conditions change, McCall suggests.

Hike in the spring, bike in the summer, ski in the winter – or find other seasonal activities you enjoy, he says. If you walk or run on a treadmill, go outside and get a whole new workout.

But give your body 2-4 weeks to adapt.

“Running on a treadmill, which absorbs more shock when you land, is vastly different from running on the ground,” McCall says.

To avoid sore or strained muscles when switching gears, start off by doing half your usual workout, and increase reps and times from there.

Plateau breaker #3: Make routines playful.To avoid boredom when getting in shape, try workouts that make you react to other people or objects – like a competitive sport or exercise class, McCall says. They stimulate more motor development than regular exercise.
In tennis, you’re watching the ball so you can return it. And in a group exercise class, you have to react to the instructor’s commands, McCall explains.

If you prefer exercising alone, buy a reaction ball, a lumpy rubber ball designed to bounce in different directions when you drop it. Chasing it around can give you a great, ever-changing workout. (You can find these balls at sporting goods stores and online for under $10.)

Even a full-body video game – such as those for the Wii or Xbox Kinect – can help, although this type of exercise alone won’t take the place of an entire workout program. 

Plateau breaker #4: Add random intervals.Interval training – alternating strenuous exercise with more moderate rest periods – has been shown to burn more fat, build more muscle and boost metabolism more than other types of exercise.

You can get even better results with a method called fartlek training (fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”), in which you vary your walking, running or cycling routine at random.

“If you’re walking by yourself or with a partner, pick out an object like a mailbox and jog or run to it, then return to your regular pace,” McCall suggests. Repeat this by targeting various objects along your route.

When biking or running, race up a hill or sprint to an intersection or stop sign. If you’re with a partner, take turns shouting out the next interval to maintain an element of surprise.

Your body will have a hard time adjusting to the unpredictable activity, so you’ll gain endurance and power more quickly, McCall says.

Plateau breaker #5: Learn a new skill. Local colleges, activity clubs and sporting-goods stores frequently offer instruction on activities you may not have tried, like rock climbing and kayaking. These give you mental stimulation and new goals while getting fit, Taylor says.
Plus, these group activities “offer social interaction and an opportunity to be around other active people,” he adds.

One organization he recommends is Team in Training, where you work toward an athletic event while raising money for cancer causes.

By adding elements of adventure and discovery, you can make exercise about more than just getting in shape, Taylor says.

Plateau breaker #6: Slow down.
It may sound counterintuitive, but lowering the intensity of an exercise program can give you a jump-start when results start to slow, Bank says.

If you have an established routine, take a “taper week” – cut the distance or duration of your workout by half, he suggests. “When you return to your full workout, you’ll see results again.”

This works particularly well if you’ve been training too hard, Bank says. “The longer you’ve been working out, the more important the recovery time.”

Plateau breaker #7: Set multiple goals.Create different objectives for each part of your fitness plan to avoid total routine burn-out, Bank says.

In other words, set separate goals for nutrition, diet, flexibility and strength.

Flexibility goals could include stretching for 10 minutes after each workout. Strength goals might mean doing a certain number of push-ups or weight-lifting reps with a certain amount of weight. A dietary goal might be replacing junk food with five servings of fresh veggies or fruits a day.

Even if your progress wanes in one area, your success in others will keep you from getting discouraged by the slowdown, Bank says.
But make sure your goals are attainable – or break up your ultimate dream into smaller, more reachable steps. For example, instead of saying, “I’ll run a marathon in six months,” focus on running a few blocks, then a mile, then five miles.

Being able to stick to your objectives keeps you from getting frustrated, a 2005 study by the American College of Sports Medicine found.

Plateau breaker #8: Adjust your thinking.An optimistic attitude toward fitness is just as important as the details of an exercise program, Bank says. “If you feel it’s too inconvenient, expensive or time-consuming, you won’t stick with it.”

Instead, focus on the positive aspects of getting fit – what you want and can reasonably expect to achieve: I want more energy; I want to cut down on my diabetes medication; or I want to look good for bathing-suit season.

“This aligns your attitude and behavior, making it less likely you’ll fall off the wagon,” Bank says.

Plateau breaker #9: Bribe yourself.Eventually, getting in shape will become its own reward – but until then, it may help to treat yourself in other ways, Bank says.

“Motivate yourself with rewards – or have someone else reward you – for good behavior,” he suggests.

You could buy yourself a new book when you lose 5 pounds, or go see a movie when you’ve worked out three times a week for two weeks.

Pretty soon – when you notice new strength and stamina, the pounds start disappearing and you begin to enjoy a more active lifestyle – you’ll have all the benefits you need.


  1. This is a great post. I have been worried this week that I might be hitting a plateau so I needed this info, thanks!!

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