Have you been feeling stuck? Have you been working through the same workout or cardio program for years and are not sure why you don’t see the same results you once did? These are common questions and can be a common frustration when people are trying to stay healthy and lose weight. When we are first motivated to get healthy and start exercising more we will find a routine that works for us. But, over time we will start to see diminishing returns on our exercise investment.
When we first start that new workout routine, we are throwing our body out of our comfort zone. This is what we want. At first, we aren’t sure if we can finish the workout and sometimes we won’t be able to. If you haven’t run for years and all of a sudden try to run a mile, you might not be able to run the whole time. But as you continue, you may notice that your runs are becoming easier. You can run a little further each time until one day, you cross that mile mark in stride. This is great! That is your body adapting to stress.
Unfortunate your body will eventually fully adapt to the stress of running a mile. At that point, a mile run will no longer stress the body. Here’s another way to think about it that I bet a lot of people can relate to this week.
Why is Weight loss like Tanning?
Let’s say it’s been a long and cold winter, you can imagine that, right? Finally, after what feels like years of cold and cloudy weather, the sun starts to poke its head through the clouds and the weather starts to warm. It’s a nice sunny day and you can’t wait to get outside. You put on your favorite summer outfit and head outside to soak up as much sun as possible. Well after the first day, you may have overdone it.
There you are the next day, afraid to get into the shower because your skin feels like a piece of extra crispy chicken. Luckily, over time your burn slowly turns into a bit of a tan and you start to feel better. Then we head outside again. This time we don’t get quite as burnt as that first time. Your body has adapted to that initial stress and is better able to handle your time outside.
Now, if you decided at the beginning of the summer that you were going to sit in the sun for 1 hour each day, eventually your skin will adapt to that hour of sunlight. There will come a day when you will not get any darker, even if you keep spending that hour in the sun. Your body has fully adapted to the stress of 1 hour in the sun. If you wanted to continue to get darker and work on your tan, you will need to increase your sun exposure, or increase the stress on your skin.
“What does this have to do with me getting in shape?” When we first start a new workout, we are exposing our body to a new type or level of stress. After that first workout, you probably feel sore in places you didn’t know you could be sore. Think of that as your “workout sunburn”. Once our body recovers and we feel better, we workout again. This time we don’t feel quite as sore. Then after a few weeks or months, we don’t feel sore from that workout anymore. Just as your body will adapt to the stress of extended sun exposure, your body will eventually adapt to your workout. This is when people say they have “Hit a Plateau”.
While it sounds cliche “Hitting a plateau” can absolutely happen. If you stay with the same workout month after month, you will eventually reach a point where your body will not change anymore. That could be in the form of stalled weight loss or muscle gain. But how do we avoid the dreaded plateau? We need to change our routine.
Shaking things up
Lucky for everyone, changing things up doesn’t mean just working out longer. In many cases, that may actually put you further from your goals. A better course of action is to change your workouts. If you are used to an hour on the elliptical three times per week, why not try a new piece of cardio equipment? If you enjoy moving heavy objects but have been stuck in the 3 sets of 8 world, why not try a 5×5 workout? Here are a few other suggestions:
- Add a yoga or mobility class
- Change the time of day you exercise.
- Move from Low-intensity steady state cardio to HIIT cardio
- Increase resistance or incline on a bike or treadmill
- Try a new class, or a class you haven’t been to in a while
- Consult with a Certified Trainer
This week I challenge you to change your routine. Step outside your comfort zone. Even if you don’t feel like you’re stuck, having a change of pace can be good for you. We love to repeat things that we’re good at. I challenge you to try something that you know you are not good at. Take a step outside your comfort zone. In all honesty, you probably won’t enjoy it at first. But, forcing yourself into a new routine can help you break through to a new level of fitness or weight loss.