Over the past few weeks, my email inbox and social media pages have been fielding numerous questions from readers about health, fitness, nutrition and medical exercise. I’ve decided that I will be working my way through them as best I can and presenting the answers in Fitness Solutions.
Over the years, I’ve found that when a question is asked by one person, it was probably thought of by many more who weren’t able to ask it. I hope you find value in the Q&A we’re starting today.
Q: Reader Jennifer Longaphy asked, “what would you recommend I do to push through a ‘plateau’ in regards to weight loss and muscle gain?”
A: First of all, I would suggest making a plan to avoid the plateau in the first place. When you feel stuck, it’s important to remember exactly why your body has stopped changing.
The body changes and gets stronger, leaner and fitter when a new demand is placed upon it that it must adapt to. This adaptation manifests in increased muscle tone, enhanced fat burning and improved performance. I refer to these demands as new stimuli. A stimulus that your body must adapt to could be something like a new exercise program, a change in equipment, an increase in training volume, more or less frequency or a change in duration and intensity. In other words, the demand can be anything that your body isn’t used to.
My favourite way to ensure that your body is in this adaptation phase is to create a training schedule that changes over time. An example of this would be to spend four weeks doing a specific exercise program and then changing for four weeks before spending a final four weeks with a third routine. Assuming that you were using adequate intensity and providing a new challenge to the body each time your routine changes, you would avoid the dreaded plateau as your body adapts to new stimuli every four weeks.
After the 12-week training cycle, you would go back to the beginning and start over again, albeit at a higher level since you would now be stronger, fitter and leaner. Assuming one week for active recovery, this cycle can be repeated four times in one year.
Since your question was about weight loss, I would suggest that you also adjust your eating throughout the 12-week training cycle.
To do this, you would start with four weeks of tracking calories and macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) using an app like My Fitness Pal. Once you have accurate nutrition information, you would spend the next four weeks adjusting your food intake in an effort to get as close to “perfect” as possible, based on the reports that you are able to generate with your food tracking app.
For most people this would mean decreasing calories to achieve 1-2 lb. of weight loss per week. During this period, I’ve also found that “manipulating” carbohydrate intake one or two days per week can also be extremely valuable. Manipulating carbohydrates means that you would eliminate (or minimize) all starchy carbohydrate foods, to the best of your ability, on chosen days.
For the final four weeks, you might find value in eliminating starchy carbohydrates on three nonconsecutive days each week. This helps to create a hormonal environment within your body that enhances fat burning. Please note that if you are managing a medical issue that involves metabolism and/or blood sugar irregularities, you should seek approval from your physician before making drastic changes to your diet.
To sum up, the best way to get past a plateau is to avoid it in the first place. If you are exercising and eating in an effort to change your body, then your workouts and nutrition must be progressive and change over time. If they don’t, you will find yourself stuck at some point in your journey.