A fitness plateau is when you continue to train hard and watch your diet but do not see any progress. Instead, your body seemingly remains the same.
Plateaus are a natural part of the training experience and everyone will go through them – often more than once! In this post, we will explain some of the most common causes of stalled progress and give you some tips on how to kickstart yours.
Why am I not getting bigger?
When you started lifting weights at home or going to the gym, you probably noticed a significant change in your body not long after starting. So how come it doesn’t keep going and why aren’t those muscles the size of the Rock’s now?
Here are some quick tips to avoid the endless loop of training but not actually getting any bigger.
- You need to eat more to gain more – if you’re serious about putting on muscle, it’s going to be hard to do without some extra research and work into getting your diet right. Your workout could be the best in the world, but without the right balance of carbs, proteins and fats, you won’t get the continued growth you need. Check out how many calories athletes or bodybuilders eat – you might be shocked.
- You’re doing too much cardio – A good sweaty workout makes you feel great and can shift those extra pounds. But it can also interfere with increasing the size of your muscles. If you’re constantly on the treadmill, it won’t matter how hard you go on the weights, you could be hampering the growth.
- You’re not training for hypertrophy – Another reason you might have stopped getting bigger is the way you’re lifting weights isn’t helping grow your body. There’s a lot to lifting weights, from how heavy you go, to the reps, to the exercises, the number of sets, the intensity and much more.
- You’re not getting ‘that feeling’ in your muscles when you train – Here’s a huge hint that’s backed up by science. Get a ‘pump’ on each time you train a muscle. If you’re not getting that feeling of growth each time you train a muscle, you might be maintaining your size, rather than pushing into new territory.
- You need more sleep – Who’d have thought doing as little as possible could help your muscles grow? Getting sleep is absolutely essential to growing your muscles as a big part of hypertrophy it is allowing muscles time to repair. Top athletes take sleep very seriously and you should too. A sleep tracker can help track how much and even the quality of your sleep.
Stalled weight loss
If your goal is to slim down, a sustainable amount of weight loss is about one to two pounds per week, depending on your physique. Any more than this is unlikely to be fat loss and could instead be water weight unless you are following a very extreme diet. Generally speaking, after the initial few weeks of a weight loss programme, the body will settle into a steady pace of loss. Sometimes, however, it stalls.
Most people can handle not losing weight for one week if they know that they have been true to plan, but when the scale will not budge for weeks on end it can be very disheartening.
As we have explained before, judging fat loss by the number on the scale can be imprecise. You might even have lost fat, but something else could be obscuring a numeric result. If you are combining diet with exercise (as you should be!) your body composition might be changing to have a higher level of lean muscle.
This weighs twice as much as fat. Measure your body using a tape measure to see if your overall body shape has changed, even if the scale says that you are the same.
Another common cause of a suborn scale is water retention, which can itself be caused by a variety of factors. Excess salt in your diet, a change in season, hormonal fluctuations, and insufficient water intake can all cause your body to hold onto fluid. Water retention can also cause bloating and so may distort your measurements. To treat it, drink extra water and cut down on salt, caffeine, and alcohol.
If none of this helps, then examine your diet. Are you logging all your food? Even the small bites and nibbles? Are you logging your vegetables? Some people skip this because vegetables are generally so low in calories that they do not make a huge difference, but really you should be counting everything.
It might be the case that you need to revise your calorie expenditure information. Smaller bodies require less energy, so your daily calorie usage may have gone down since you last calculated your needs. If so, your food plan is outdated and you need to cut your calories to hit your target deficit.
- Home Body Composition Scale Guide
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Stalled strength progress
Stalled strength progress is generally easier to explain than stalled weight loss because there is a much more precise measure – you either can or cannot perform an exercise. There is no false progress or hidden progress.
First, remember that muscle growth requires the muscles to be put under stress during exercise. This can be by lifting a heavier weight or performing more reps in a set. The strain causes micro-tears in the muscle fibre, which the body will then repair leading to stronger muscles.
If your regular training is no longer garnering results, your first port of call should be to check your weights. As you get stronger, your body will be less ‘stressed’ by your usual routine and so you will get less of a benefit from it.
If you can comfortably perform 3 sets of 10 reps, then you need to up your weights. This applies to all forms of strength training, even squats and core work. You will get better results from increasing the intensity of your sets than you would from performing an un-challenging move for a higher number of sets.
It is also important to look at your diet and lifestyle. Consider whether you are nourishing your body properly. Your body needs time to rest and repair itself. After all, muscle progress necessarily incurs stress and damage to your body that needs to be healed.
Give yourself some proper downtime to allow it to do its job. Also, be mindful of how many sessions you do a week. Prolonged plateaus are a common symptom of burnout, especially if you roll back on your ability. Sometimes the most effective way of seeing progress is by sitting back and doing nothing a couple of times a week – yes, really!
The body is not a machine
Finally, if you are feeling frustrated with your lack of progress in spite of your effort and our advice, you should remember that your body is not a machine. It does not follow any hard and fast rules about weight loss or muscle gain.
Sometimes you will go through a dry patch and then, all of a sudden, everything will change and you will be back on a roll. Enjoy it when it happens and do not stress about it in the meantime.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
- NCBI – Is an Energy Surplus Required to Maximize Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy Associated With Resistance Training
- NCBI – Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy after Aerobic Exercise Training
- Verywell Fit – How to Break Through Strength Training Plateaus
- Reddit – Training for Hypertrophy – Basic Physiology, Intensity, Reps, Sets, Rest and Isolation Exercises
- ISSA – Building Muscle Simplified: Not as Complicated as you Think