6 Ways To Karate Chop Fitness Plateaus

Posted: August 9, 2011 at 4:02 pm

It takes a lot of time and effort to work towards fitness related goals. When things don’t progress how you hope, an overwhelming sense of frustration can set in. I understand and relate all too well. Plateaus used to throw a wrench in my goals time and time and time again. Over the years, I learned more about my body and effective ways to approach plateaus – to either keep them from happening or karate chop them out of the way when they would hit.

I recently received a question via email on whether or not I have had to deal with plateaus when losing the baby weight and what I would do when encountering one. For the purposes of the reader request, this post will focus more intently on weight loss plateaus, but many of the ideas presented can certainly apply to other fitness related goals.

First up – I feel the need to clarify what I deem a plateau. I think a plateau occurs when ZERO changes happen for an extended period of time – in my opinion, close to a month. You may not notice a change on the scale but can definitively fit better into your clothes. Not a plateau. You may only see a half pound loss on the scale each week for a few weeks instead of the pound you were seeing. Not a plateau. I consider a plateau a lack of progress on all counts – ZERO change even after allowing your body the time to catch up with your efforts and make changes.

Now that we have that straightened out we can focus on the ways I avoided plateaus while achieving my Body After Baby progress and the steps I took when I found myself in one.

Have Room To Progress
I never quite understand the notion to nose-dive into a fitness plan with the top intensity, highest level of dietary restriction, or most challenging plan from the beginning. That can only lead to burn out. If you have super human will power and avoid burn out, then your body will eventually adapt as it’s a smart little yoda…and then where do you go?

yoda source

I like to start with the smallest of changes so I can build up habits, remain consistent with them, and have options to tweak the plan as my body grows stronger.

Take A Break
The first thing I will do when facing a plateau is proactively decide to take a break. Counterintuitive, no? But it works. I allow my body to take it easy on workouts for a week. I eat a bit more. I don’t stress over my goals. By the end of my break, I feel rejuvenated and ready to take on my goals with a new, stronger intensity. The stress from eating less, working hard, or just fretting my goals inhibits my body’s progress greatly. So, when I chill out for awhile my body appreciates it and reciprocates with future progress, like it did after my recent vacation.

P1140603

Look Closely at the Little Details
Sometimes the small things we do add up to make a bigger impact than we imagine. We know that our training and eating habits have an impact on progress and will readily look to them when facing stalls. However, we also must consider our other habits. I always take a look at the other details of my health to determine what areas I can improve. Am I drinking enough water? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I active in other ways throughout the day? Am I stressing too much? Am I “regular”? Am I facing some crazy hormones? Those things have key roles and need to be in order for progress to happen.

Track It

It doesn’t need to be drastic (like measuring raisins!). If I want to track to check my habits, I usually resort to a few simple protocols. I measure foods that I can have a heavy hand with when serving (peanut butter or cereal) to make sure I am taking proper serving sizes. I will count calories loosely in my head for a week or two to see if I have any areas I can tweak. I will stay more mindful of extra bites or licks I steal while making M her food or cooking. Nothing excessive, but enough to pick up on habits that may need to change for progress to get back under way.

Add Another Gear
Up. The. Intensity! I don’t believe in adding a ton of extra time to workouts, but I do think we can push ourselves out of our comfort zones to maximize our results and get the ball moving again. When we get in a routine, we can easily start sailing through workouts out of habit. To avoid this, I try to mix up or increase the challenge of my workouts every 6-8 weeks. I will either try something new, add in more intervals, shoot for new distances, vary up my strength training routines, or pull out workouts that I know kick my butt. Work harder and smarter.

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Ride It Out With Positive Thoughts
If all else fails, I go here. If I know I have done all I can to have taken a balanced approach to eating, training, and caring for my health, then I can only accept that and stop expecting so much from my body. I trust that respecting my body will bring it just where it should be and let it happen naturally. I stop stressing. I picture my goals and keep working hard. Surprisingly enough, staying positive and committed ends up bringing the desired results down the line. After all, when reaching this point the only options are to keep chugging away with determination or give up and say forget it. I know one of those choices won’t help me achieve my goal…so why not just dig deep, ride it out, and trust? It can only do good.

  • What tactics do you use when facing plateaus in your goals?
  • What is a detail outside of diet and workouts that you have to take care of to feel your best? I think sleep impacts me the most!

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38 Comments to “6 Ways To Karate Chop Fitness Plateaus”
  1. Katie says:

    What good ideas! I am also a big fan of taking a break when my body requests it. Sometimes you lose motivation or can’t make progress for a real reason – you need the rest. :-)

    Also, I just met up with Becca from Love Grown and I mentioned you (I know you love their granola) and she said she met you a few weeks ago. Just had to let you know you were talked about (in a good way!) here in CO!

  2. jobo says:

    I love this approach Tina because it is gradual, and layered. It’s not balls-out to start and then a fizzle (which will happen most times because of burnout as you mention). And at the root of it, it is a life long lifestyle, not moment in time approach. Great stuff!

  3. Lee says:

    Definitely sleep. But also, and I realize this sounds silly, I have to have my eyebrows perfectly groomed. I feel much better about myself when I do.

  4. A new outfit always inspires me (lululemon is an unhealthy obsession of mine), a new class motivates me, and definitely extra sleep gives me pep!

  5. Anna Marie says:

    I keep a journal! It started out as mainly being a place to record what I eat so a food log but it has ended up being where I reflectively discuss all aspects of my life i.e. hopes, dreams and my day to day life. In it I keep tally marks of how many glasses of water I drink a day. That way I can look and see if perhaps that is why I am feeling more sore that day, sleepy or hungrier than usual. I also write about what work outs I have done and make notes of what I thought about the work out. I write about what I eat and how I make it along with my thoughts of the food that I tried. I ask myself first of all if I enjoyed the taste, if it gave me fuel for my work out and did it leave me full. The journaling helps me overcome plateus because it helps me to look back over workouts I have done and allows me to mix it up when I start getting restless with the same ole same routine.

  6. Jess says:

    This is yet ANOTHER awesome FFF post, my dear. So insightful and so real and approachable. And it’s exactly how I’d go about facing a plateau as well. I especially agree with the taking it easy for a week, recouping, reevaluating and then going back at it with a vengeance. Makes a huge difference to feel invigorated and energized again for intense workouts, healthy eats, and good sweatfests!

  7. GREAT tips! I will defintely be using all of these as I look to tone up for my upcoming wedding. I think something that works for me is upping my water consumption. I don’t know if that helps with plateaus but it helps me feel more energized and clean, which in turn helps with workouts and better eating.

  8. Thank you for these tips! They are awesome :) . I’ve never really had any fitness plateaus, but I think part of that reason is that I already do most of the things that you mentioned. I do like the idea of taking a break and considering other habits…sometimes I forget about those!

  9. great tips! The only think that’s ever worked for me in beating plateaus is to change it up! up the intensity, change the workout, change the food (for the better). I think sometimes our bodies need a change to see a change.

  10. Love you g-frand! I hit a maaaajor plateau and now (thank goodness) I am bouncing back. Mwah. Definitely taking these to heart!

  11. I agree with you on the sleep thing – SO important!

    I use a food diary when I feel like I am not making progress – I always eat more than I realize and it’s nice to check in!

  12. Lisa says:

    Weight lifting! I wish I’d tried serious weight lifting in the past when I hit nasty plateaus because they are super frustrating. Weight lifting REALLY helped me bust out of it last time.

    Taking a break or switching things up also helps a lot. I lost some weight when I started seriously cycling.

  13. Great tips, especially the one about taking it easy for a week or two. That can definitely increase motivation and get things going again. Overall though, I think your last tip is the most important — if you’re honestly working your hardest (without overdoing it) then your body will do what it’s meant to do… so just stop stressing about it and enjoy being healthy!

  14. Great post. I dont use a food diary really, but I know people that do and it has worked for them :)

  15. Those are GREAT tips! I mix up my workouts alot since I get bored pretty easily, but it’s good to know that it’s helpful :)

  16. Great tips Tina!! I like to vary my workouts. It helps to avoid boredom and I find that not only do I plateau, but sometimes I start to focus one part of my body while neglecting another part (I love working out my lower body and my upper body is much weaker because of that!) This way I can make sure every part of my body is getting some TLC!!

  17. Sarah says:

    Love all these tips! I’m a fan to ease into situations especially when making huge changes. But sometimes I do better if I jump in full force or I’ll keep making excuses not to make the changes.

  18. Love love this post and all these tips! In my past, whenever I faced a plateau, I would always think more exercise and less food was the answer – when really, it just hindered my progress and made me plateau even more. I realized that when I respect my body and give it the nourishment and rest it needs, my body responds positively and I break through my plateau.

    In fact this past month where I had to cut back on exercise to help get pregnant, I admit I was afraid I’d gain weight, but I actually ended up losing a couple pounds! Granted that wasn’t the goal and I’m still well within a healthy weight range, it just goes to show that rest can do wonders for the body!

  19. Thanks for the tips. While I’m not really “trying” to lose any weight, I have definitely gained some in the last few months. I think it’s medical related though (thyroid) and have had my medication changed so maybe things will change. Until then, I’m not going to sweat it and will take some of your advice!

  20. Lauren says:

    Wow, great post girl. I love the tip about taking a break. I never really thought about it that way but it makes so much sense. You’ll not only give your mind a break from the stress but you’ll be starting fresh all over.

  21. Usually when I plateau I take a break – the scale usually changes dramatically then!

  22. Amy says:

    Great post! This is something I counsel people on everyday in my job and the most important thing is that people relax a little. If they have been putting in the hard work, getting them to focus on the fact that they have been doing the best thing for their body and to just let it catch up can be the first step. Great advice as always Tina :)

  23. I’ve just started measuring my food again– it really keeps me accountable and helps me realize how much I can overeat!

  24. There are so many factors that go into weight loss, and breaking plateaus is a huge part of it. Definitely changing things up and paying attention to the little details is huge!

  25. I really like your tips! Whenever it seems that I have hit a plateau, I try something new, something different, like adding a new form of workout. Or I increase the intensity of what I’m already doing. Recently, I’ve been struggling with my running speed. Somehow I just can’t get faster. So I’ve decided to add some tough speed work and tempo runs to my routine.
    I know, sometimes you just need a little patience, but I’m naturally a very impatient person, so that’s quite hard for me.

  26. This is a great article with a realistic approach to plateaus. When I’ve hit one in my progress, I try to make sure I track more closely and accurately. I tend to, like most, over estimate calories burned and under track calories eaten. I like that you said taking a step back – because I tend to be one who does dive head-first into workout and eating plans, and then get burned out. It was good to read that it’s ok to take a little break.

  27. Brittany says:

    such good tips! I have wittnessed upping the intensity & taking a break myself. Once I switch it up and use different weights it works and sometimes i’ll take a day or two off and actually lose weight.

  28. I always have to keep my stress under control. I won’t mentally feel stressed, but my body for some reason will feel stressed!
    I always try to increase the intensity of my workouts if I hit plateus, or add in new moves I’ve never done. :)
    Good tips!!

  29. Very informative post :) Thanks! Also wanted to say that even though I have been a very horrible blog-commenter, I still love your blog and you :)

  30. Back in February, I hit a major plateau as I tried to lose weight for my April wedding. I was extremely diligent but the scale just wouldn’t budge. Then one weekend in March (after 5 weeks at the plateau), I ate a bit more than usual and got 10 hours straight of sleep two days in a row. I lost 4 lbs that week and about 1/2 lb each week leading up to the wedding. The body is amazing and will react well if you treat it well.

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