Plateaus suck. We’ve all been through them, some of us break through and others don’t. The sad thing is when someone doesn’t get the knowledge needed to break through a plateau, because many times it forces them to quit and not see the end result they have the potential to reach.
The reason I bring this up is because I get questions about it every single week. Whether it’s a guy who can’t gain weight, someone who can’t lose the last 5-10lbs of belly fat, or someone who’s lifts just aren’t progressing in the gym anymore.
And the answer is always more disappointing then they’re hoping for. And no, it’s not “Dude, just eat more” (<- many times, it is that though…) or “Jump on the treadmill and burn some more calories!” or “Just add to the bar every week, dude” (<- I’d be squatting 1,095lbs by now if that were the case).
So what is the disappointing answer? The disappointing answer is actually a series of questions… Like, “Are you tracking your diet? If so, how many calories are you eating daily? What type of training program are you following? How long have you been doing what you’re doing?”
These can be disappointing or frustrating questions, because either you haven’t done all of those things yet or because you are doing all of those things, yet you’re still not seeing the results. So first things first, if you’re reading this and you feel like you’re in a plateau yet you haven’t successfully completed all of the above – then start doing those, one by one, and you will break through it. I guarantee.
( For those who need to do the above, yet do not know where to start or go – Click Here, I can help you learn, apply and achieve. )
Now, for those of you who have done all that and are still wondering how the hell to get out of that plateau you’re in – I wrote this for you!
What we need to first remember here is that you’re at a plateau. Plateaus only happen when what you’re doing stopped working or when your body has fully adapted to what you’re currently doing. This means we need to change or add things into your program and the healthiest way to do so, is by implementing strategies that AVOID reducing more calories. Unless you’re doing a bikini, physique, or bodybuilding show or have a strict deadline to hit your goal, I suggest doing the below before taking calories away.
7 Not-So-Obvious Ways To Break Plateaus
1.) Increase N.E.A.T. (Non Exercise Activity Thermogenesis)
This is one that may be obvious, yet underrated in my experience. So many people clearly know that movement equals caloric burn, but they forget to focus on increasing their basic day-to-day movement.
Stand at a desk instead of sitting, take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away, morning mobility work, or even adding a 10-30 minute walk on a daily basis. All these things will burn more calories and add up to weekly fat loss.
10,000 steps a day can lead to 3,500 calories burned at the end of the week, which are technically the calories of a pound of fat. So burn 3,500 calories and you could potentially burn a pound of fat – if all goes well and perfect. Now lets say you’re doing 8,000 a day already, that’s great but lets bump it too 13,000 daily. That’s a small extra walk and taking the stairs at work from now on. This will be 5,000 extra a day, possibly an extra ½ lb of fat weekly.
2.) Sleep & Stress
I wanted to put this one next on the list because it directly relates to numero uno. See if we sleep more, our N.E.A.T. will natural increase and we’ll move more without even realizing it. Studies show that people who move or even fidget more frequently throughout the day are leaner and burn more calories. So increasing sleep can help us naturally have more energy and we’ll expend more from movement, fidgeting, communicating, being more energetic, etc.
Sleep will also improve energy and performance in the gym, which clearly will work in your advantage here. Another positive here is that it will help reduce cortisol levels, a stress hormone, and when we reduce this our body will likely burn more calories and build more muscle. Cortisol is great at times, but to have elevated levels all day is not a great thing. So lowering stress hormones through more sleep and implementing things like meditation daily, we can absolutely expect to get leaner and bust through plateaus.
3.) Switch Your Meal Frequency
Let me make this clear before any coach out there tries to rip me apart with science… Meal frequency and timing does not really matter in the grand scheme of things, calories in vs. calories out is what determines weight loss or gain. This is a fact and if you’re not already accomplishing this then you may not need to worry about this, but since you’re reading this… I’m assuming you’re on top of that.
See the thing is, you can “Be in a deficit” and not be losing weight. “But wait… Science, bro. How is that possible?!”
See you could have been in a deficit, but the body adapts and slowly that deficit becomes maintenance and you stop burning calories and losing weight. Now what do you do? Pull more calories out again, to create a new deficit?? Hell no! That’s a very unfavorable decision to make for your body and hormones at this point.
So look at your meal frequency and timing. Maybe you’re eating 2-3 larger meals per day, well I’d have you consider that your muscle protein synthesis could be a lot better by eating 4-5 times per day. This will help you recover and build more, leading to less fat.
Lets say you’re eating 6-7 times per day, maybe that’s causing stress because you’re always worrying about food and you’re never fully satiated – lower the dose to 3 times. Maybe your workout meals aren’t very structured, try timing the meals around the training a little better and placing the majority of carbs around that time – you’ll have a better insulin response and probably absorb nutrients better. This could also get us talking about digestion of food as well, maybe the big meals are too heavy and your body cannot handle it as well as smaller meals…
There’s a million ways I could go about this and the key is change. Try something new in your routine.
4.) HIIT Finishers
Before adding cardio, this should be your go to solution. This will take 5-10 minutes at the end of a few workouts per week and can burn WAY more calories than an hour of cardio, not too mention the effect this has on your metabolic rate is highly beneficial.
Try adding some Kettlebell Swings, Wind Bike Sprints, Battle Ropes, Prowler Pushes, Sled Drags, or Shuttle Sprints at the end of training. Should be only for 10-30 seconds of intense bouts, followed by 40-90 seconds of rest. Repeat that for anywhere between 5-10 rounds, start at the lower end and increase as needed.
This was a game changer for me personally and I can honestly say I neglected this for a long time. But the truth is, without great movement bearing your own bodyweight… What makes you think you can squat with 200lbs well??
Consider this – If you can add a full inch on the range of motion in your hips, during a squat, split squat, deadlift, goodmorning, etc.… don’t you think you may be able to lift a little more efficiently? A little heavier maybe? Maybe build a little more muscle?
The answer is yes, my friend. So it’s simple as that, all of the above in turns burns more calories, burns more fat, and builds a more muscular body. Period. In fact, I would venture to say that your sprinting, Kettlebell swings, and all the HIIT stuff I discussed above it going to be WAY more effective afterwards as well. Mobility isn’t the most fun, trust me I’m not a raving fan of the activity, but it just simply works so well… So just do it.
6.) Eat More Calories!
This one got you a little more attentive, didn’t it?? Yeah, anyone who hears this will immediately get a little more excited about the plateau they’re in. But there is a catch…
See many times people get into a plateau because they’ve down regulated their metabolism and other hormones that help us build muscle and lose fat. Then they get frustrated, and like I discussed above, they drop more calories to try and lose more weight. This is a viscous cycle that I see too often with people trying to lose fat.
So in these cases, we can break the plateau by eating more – but it will take a little longer. In most cases, we cannot just add calories and see the weight loss happen right away. Sometimes, in rare cases, there are what we call “hyper-responders” and they will indeed get the influx of calories and immediately start seeing the result.
But in most cases, you actually have to put a pause on weight loss and focus on health. We need to slowly bring calories up week by week until we hit a healthier calorie intake. We do this slowly because that allows us to maintain weight while increasing calories, this is a slow and hard process so it is not as fun as it sounds. But after we reach a healthy caloric intake, we can then stop bringing calories up and the results should show by your body slowly shedding the weight off.
( If you feel like you may be in this category and are worried your metabolism or hormonal balance is the reason you’re stuck, most likely due to repeating calorie restricted diets in your past, Click Here for a Free Coaching Call where we can lay out the steps to fixing your metabolism – No signing up needed here. )
Lastly, we’re going to talk about periodization. I saved this for last, because beginners to the weight room really do not need to worry about this. But if you’ve been training for over a year or two, I would suggest considering this final step.
In short, this means you’re going through different periods of intensity, volume, and what your focus is throughout the year. You can focus on strength, then hypertrophy, and then power, and rotate them every 4-6 weeks. You can also undulate your periodization by focusing on all three throughout the week splitting them up between your workouts.
The point here is you cannot focus on the same thing forever. Ever see that guy in the gym that does the same things, the same reps, and the same weights, week after week after week…? Yeah, he knows nothing about periodization and unfortunately he’s not going to get any results because his body adapted to the program he’s doing and is not going to improve any longer. We need to change, progress, adapt, and then change again.
Because periodization is such a long discussion with so many variables, I’m not going to get into it – so check out my article breaking it down => Right Here, if you want more info on how to improve your training out a bit.
At the end of the day, you need a program and the program needs to contain a periodization plan. Most don’t know how to do this, don’t know what it is, or are too lazy to really learn how too do it (I don’t blame you, it’s my job – that’s different!).
So with all the strategies I’ve left you with here, I’m going to leave you with one last thing – an Opportunity to work with me. If you feel like you are subjected to one of the categories above and don’t truly know how to address the issue, or you simply want someone with experience to come in and tailor everything specifically for you, then fill out the application below and get on a free call with me to discuss your goals and how we can reach them together.