Fitness Tune-up: How to Overcome Your Fitness Plateau

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If you have been a consistent exerciser for many years, you may have hit the proverbial fitness roadblock at some point in your training. Hitting a fitness plateau can be frustrating, but it is common and completely normal. Read on to learn more about what may be causing your fitness rut and how to overcome it.

The FITT Principle

Genetics plays a role in how each of us responds to exercise training. You can optimize your individual potential by manipulating a few training variables. The FITT Principle can be applied to almost any fitness program. FITT stands for Frequency – Intensity – Time – and Type. Altering any one of these variables can help you push through a fitness plateau.  

  • Frequency refers to the number of days per week you perform a specific type of exercise.
  • Intensity refers to how hard you work during a single exercise session.
  • Time describes the duration of a single exercise session.
  • Type refers to the kind of exercise you do. For example, jogging, swimming and cycling are types of activities that improve cardiorespiratory fitness, while body-weight exercises and weight training are types activities that improve muscular fitness.

Of these four components, intensity has the most profound impact on fitness outcomes. Adding higher intensity intervals to your cardio sessions is an effective way to challenge and improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. You can learn more about HIIT training here. To increase the intensity during a resistance-training session, consider reducing rest time between sets or performing supersets. A superset involves working opposing muscle groups back-to-back with no rest between the exercises. For example, you might perform a set of push-ups immediately followed by a set of bent-over rows.

Recovery

Exercise training is only part of the equation in making progress toward your fitness goals. What you do between training sessions is just as important. If you are looking to make significant gains, it’s important to be intentional about recovery between workouts. Proper recovery helps reduce your risk of exercise-related injuries and provides an opportunity for your body to reset after strenuous exercise. Good sleep hygiene, post-workout fluid replacement and proper sports nutrition are necessary for adequate recovery between workouts. Restorative exercise techniques such as such myofascial release, foam rolling and mobility training may also help enhance recovery. These activities can be integrated into your training regimen a few days a week or for a few minutes after an intense workout to reduce pain, improve circulation and enhance mobility.

Overtraining

A fitness tune-up does not always require more exercise. In some cases, less is more. While most people do not get enough physical activity to improve health, some people may exercise to the point of overtraining. To enhance fitness and performance, you must exercise hard enough to challenge the system or muscle groups being targeted. However, intense high-volume training over the course of several weeks or months can sometimes lead to overtraining syndrome. While it can be difficult to recognize and diagnose, overtraining syndrome is marked by a decrease in performance despite consistent exercise training.

Other signs and symptoms of overtraining include:

  • Undesired weight loss
  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability and lack of appreciation for activities that are normally enjoyable
  • Feelings of depression
  • Early onset of fatigue during exercise

Competitive endurance athletes are at the greatest risk for overtraining syndrome, but recreational exercisers can be impacted, too. Overtraining syndrome should be treated with a reduction in training and in some cases complete rest for weeks or months. A joint consensus statement from the American College of Sports Medicine and the European College of Sports Science provides the following recommendations to reduce the risk of developing overtraining syndrome:

  • Avoid excessive monotony of training.
  • Prioritize optimal nutrition, hydration, and sleep.
  • Be aware of multiple stressors (e.g., work, environmental conditions, interpersonal difficulties) that may add to the stress of physical training.
  • Allow adequate recovery time after illness or injury.

Following a regular exercise program across the lifespan will positively impact your health in numerous ways. If and when you find yourself hitting a fitness plateau, do not be discouraged. Remember to:

  • Apply the FITT principle to your exercise program.
  • Include adequate recovery as part of your training regimen.
  • Avoid overtraining syndrome by recognizing the signs and symptoms.

These strategies will provide a strong foundation for long-term effective and enjoyable exercise.

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