The Plateau- 15 points to consider

Following up on my interview with Peter Kim of City TV news about Mayor Fords weight loss plateau I would like to expand on the topic of “the plateau”.

Avoiding the plateau

Although I wish I could answer this topic in depth about you or Mayor Ford’s reasons for a plateau, I will instead have to reside to speaking in very general terms as everyone’s circumstances are different and there are far too many variables to consider.  Factors ranging from individuality, training age, training goals, general health status, lifestyle factors, nutritional status,  training intensity, type and frequency are a few of many that all play role in your progress.

As mentioned in the interview, training should be viewed as a stimulus/ response relationship. That is, we need a certain stimulus in order to elicit a specific adaptation.  In this case we are talking about a certain type of exercise to give us a training effect or physiological adaption. For example if the goal was to get stronger, resistance training should be the stimulus or mode of exercise.

Given this relationship we must now add specificity and progressive overload to the equation.

In reference to specificity, this means doing the CORRECT things for the desired outcome.  This is not as obvious as one may think, as I observe very dedicated people doing the wrong things on a very committed and routine basis. (Some example are listed below)

Probably the greatest reason for the plateau is the trainee’s not increasing the stimulus or progressively overloading the workout.  This means the workout routine that worked for you when you first started training is not intense enough to work for you now, or to elicit further adaptations. In short, your body is only going to adapt to the level it is challenged too.

This runs hand in hand with the most common observation I make in the gym, people doing the same routine on an ongoing basis. One way of addressing both of these scenarios is by reverting to a saying that was ingrained to me from one of my mentors Ian Walling, the saying goes, “Don’t do what you’re good at”! It is human nature to gravitate to what you’re good at, but this generally leads to an unbalanced approach.  Furthermore, it’s usually the things you dread doing that are the things you need to do the most and would be the most challenging (an overload).

Given these overarching concepts, here is a list of other potential factors and solutions to the plateau.

  • Over training and/ or not de-loading. Strength training is not a linear process. More is not always better as we can only progress as fast as our body’s ability to recover.  There is an art and science to de-loading, however reducing the amount of sets you do by 40% every three weeks should keep you on track.
  • You’re not structurally balanced.
  • Nutrient deficiency. Yes diet plays a huge role and we do need to take supplements !
  • Lack of sleep and/or stress. Both of these states are accompanied with elevated cortisol levels, and this in turn hinders both fat loss and strength gains.
  • Not training hard enough. If you watch TV while you’re training, this means you! If you need something to wake you up try CrossFit
  • Always training with the same rep range. The rep range is the training parameter your body adapts to the quickest ! Therefore we need to periodically change the rep range. For example, instead of always doing 8-10 reps, try going above or below this range, ie  15-20 for endurance or 3-6 reps for strength.
  • Choose free weights over machines – these are more neurologically demanding therefore a greater overload.
  • Doing too many isolation exercises instead compound lifts. Ttry doing dips instead of triceps push-downs, or doing chin-ups instead of bicep curls.
  • For God’s sake, train your legs!  This is for the guys that wear a tank top with pants in the gym and train upper body 4 times a week. They are also the ones that feel a good burn on the leg extension qualifies as an intense leg routine.  Bottom line,  learn how to do full squats, lunges and safe deadlifts – these offer the greatest neuro-endocrine response! (stimulus to the body)
  • Try different exercises or vary the angle.  Instead of always doing the bench press for chest, try Incline DB Presses.
  • Try using FAT GRIPS to increase upper body strength
  • Doing long steady state cardio instead of  intervals.
  • Not getting proper post workout nutrition within 30 minutes after your workout.
  • Not having the correct diet– Especially if fat loss is the goal.
  • Always doing what you’re good at.  If you always do weights, try yoga.  If you always do “cardio” try intervals or resistance training. Your goal should be to have a diverse fitness capacity.

In summary: Pick the correct tasks, overload them, change them and try new ones.

  1. WayneWayne02-23-2012

    Joey, I enjoy reading your articles as they are not only informative but enjoyable to read (hey there’s some literary skill there!). Regarding Mayor Ford and his weight loss program, one of the most important determinants of his succeess lies in the answer too your question on whether its a maintainable program. I’ve seen two many people starting a fitness/diet regimen that provides a rapid kick start (sometimes not even that) but is totally unsustainable. The outcome is invetiable. If its not a lifestyle change he will lose weight and then balloon back up at some time.

  2. Andrew WoodAndrew Wood02-28-2012

    Great article Joey!! I am definitely going to change my workouts based on: “Don’t do what you’re good at!” I always want to do what I am good at, which limits the diversity of my workouts.



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