We’ve all been through it. You’re super pumped about a new workout that’s difficult enough for you to enjoy, but not so difficult that you want to give up every time you do it, and you think you’ve found your go-to exercise. But over time, the workout starts getting easier and/or you stop seeing results, and you may be wondering why. The reason is because you’ve hit a workout plateau, which is not only normal when your fitness routine goes on autopilot, but also expected. Here’s what causes a workout plateau, and more importantly, how to overcome one.
What Is a Workout Plateau?
Basically, a workout plateau is when your body gets used to a certain workout routine. "If you’re consistently doing the same workout, you will stop seeing results as the body needs variety to challenge it to a new plateau," says fitness expert Christine Bullock. "The body can adjust to repetition and the workout will no longer challenge it."
But it’s not just repetition that can cause a workout plateau. “If you overtrain, you might find yourself in a plateau as well,” adds Emma Lovewell, a Peloton instructor. “Your body needs time to repair in between workouts. When you overtrain, you might stop seeing results because your muscles need that rest time to repair and build.”
Meet the Expert
- Fitness expert Christine Bullock is the creator of Evolution 20, Super Shred and Body Reborn Fitness Series, as well as Kayo Body Care. She is also a Byrdie Review Board member.
- Emma Lovewell has spent much of her career in fitness and wellness as a professional dancer, dance coach, fitness model, personal trainer, and Pilates instructor. She is currently a Peloton instructor.
How Will You Know if You’re Experiencing a Workout Plateau?
Plateaus can happen to anyone, regardless of what physical shape they're in. Think of the first time you try a new HIIT or cardio workout and the results you feel and see. Now do that exact same workout for a month or so—repetition is great for memorization, but not necessarily workout effectiveness as both your brain and body are likely to get bored. “If you continue to do the same workouts, I believe you will always hit a plateau,” says Bullock.
If you think you’re experiencing a workout plateau, look out for some common symptoms. “You will stop seeing improvement toward your goals, typically holding onto weight or even gaining weight. You will also notice you may not recover as quickly,” says Bullock. Lovewell agrees, saying fatigue, loss of strength, and the inability to gain muscle—especially if you haven’t changed up your workout in awhile or taken a rest day—could all be signs of a workout plateau.
And don’t forget that plateaus can also have mental effects. You may just feel bored or unmotivated by your workouts.
What Are Some Things You Can Do to Break Out of a Workout Plateau?
The good news is that workout plateaus can be overcome, if that’s your goal, and in more than one way. “There are many causes to a plateau, [and] also many tips to break it,” says Bullock. Here are a few options:
Try something new.
Variety is the spice of life, and that applies to fitness as well. “Try a type of movement or workout that you haven't tried before, or in awhile. If you only run, try taking a Pilates class. If you only do cycling, try some strength training. Your body acclimates easily and needs to be shocked every once in a while so it doesn't get too comfortable,” suggests Lovewell. You can also go from fast twitch movements (like strength training) to slow twitch movements (like cardio), says Bullock.
Keep your mind fit as well.
Try to manage stress levels and increase recovery time, says Bullock. Believe it or not, switching up your workouts can also help you mentally: “It's good for your brain to try a new type of movement and work in different planes of motion and new kinds of coordination,” says Lovewell. And remember to go easy on yourself. Some days you just might not be able or want to work out as hard, and that’s perfectly okay.
Check your nutrition.
Being healthy is just as much about what you put into your body as how you move it. Fuel up properly before and after workouts; Bullock suggests to also cutting back on bad carbohydrates and sugars. (Note: Not all sugars and carbs are bad, and some are important for fueling our bodies and recovery. Consult with a registered dietitian for healthy pre- and post-workout snack and meal ideas.)
Call a friend.
It’s much easier to skip out on a workout if it’s just you vs. you and a friend. This applies even if you’re both doing virtual workouts in your respective homes. Have a friend or a few hold you accountable and vice versa. “Community is always helpful when you're looking for support and accountability in a workout,” says Lovewell.