If you’ve been benching the same weight for months and feel like you’re still not ready to move up, you might be tempted to ditch the exercise entirely and do something different. Instead, all you may need is to make a small adjustment—like a change in your grip or stance. You never know when a “micro change” could make all the difference to get things going again.
This is where it really pays to have someone looking at your form. That used to mean being onhand… I spoke with a high level coach recently about how the technology has revolutionized her ability to provide feedback to clients because she can now have them upload footage for her to review on her time. I remember how self conscious I felt being in front of large mirrors, but once I got over the anxiety I found them to be an excellent tool.
A new gym-goer finds an exercise routine, sticks with it, and the pounds start coming off at a regular clip—until something changes. Not the person; they’re still exercising as hard as ever, sometimes harder, but the weight loss has stopped. What happened?
Weight loss is 80% diet 20% exercise. You could lift and run all you want, but if your diet is poor and you are eating at a calorie surplus everyday – you will not lose weight. At the same time if you eat at a calorie deficit but do zero weight training you will lose weight but also look horrible because you will have little to no muscle definition. The key is to constantly be eating at a deficit while weight training.
It isn’t easy getting fit. There’s a lot to learn: Your workout itself, whether the number of reps you do matters, and then there’s all the gym and exercise lingo you’ve never heard before. Say no more. We understand, and we’ve put together this primer to help.
Keep in mind that fitness jargon is endless, so this list isn’t comprehensive. It is made up of many terms that you may have heard before but didn’t understand, or heard a trainer toss around.
By the time you need to think about adding more weight or the number of reps, you’ve figured out that your body has adapted to what those in fitness circles call your current “training stimulus”—in other words, you’ve made progress! Unfortunately, as you know, the journey to strength isn’t a nonstop flight to funky town.
Start out with low reps (but also low weights as well) for a month to focus on technique. I have found that sometimes with high reps, fatigue sets in and form breaks down… People tend to brute force the weight up instead. After the initial learning month, I agree that working on higher reps is safer for most people, but there comes a point that weight must be increased for more stimulus and adaptation.
At the end of the day it really is the long-term view that your coach or trainer is providing. Are they managing your total training volume vs. recovery appropriately? A good trainer will have a road map laid out for progress. This is a good question to ask about when vetting a trainer or coach!
So you’ve been hitting the gym, taking classes, or doing bodyweight workouts for a while now, and suddenly you’re not seeing any more changes in your body. Your muscles aren’t growing, and a lot of the moves you’ve been doing seem easy now.
The likely culprit: You’ve hit a plateau because you’re not lifting enough weight. Maybe you grab the three-pound weights you use in barre class to do curls while weight training, when you could easily lift 10-pounders. Or maybe you’ve been going to strength training classes for six weeks, but you’re still picking up the same dumbbells.
Best to first limit the weight by form (inability to maintain good form means you need to decrease weight/reps and fix the form). Then, given you have a spotter for more dangerous movements – every set is completed for failure (such that your last rep is the last possible with good form – this takes time and training to assess). The target number of reps in each set is dependent on training goals (strength, power, hypertrophy, endurance), and when the completed reps exceed the target reps, it’s an indication to increase load (ergo the weight).
The fitness plateau is like puberty. Nobody likes going through it, and marketing companies love making money off you to help you get out of it. Plateaus suck for real, and while they’re a necessary evil to make you more badass, they’re not always easy to banish. Here’s what you can do.
I don’t think I plateaued so much as made gains based on the plan I was on. It was only ever going to get me so far, and now I have a better idea of what I was doing (including eating). Some things you just have to learn for yourself.
Most people lose a little bit of weight, hit a plateau, then immediately give up when things aren’t going as quickly as they were before. Most people gain that weight back and then some. This whole phenomenon of quitting when things are going more slowly is a bit like hitting traffic on your way home from work, and abandoning your car on the side of the road because you’re not driving as fast as you wanted. Or getting a flat tire and slashing the other three.
There’s a mantra in Zen: “the obstacles are the path.”
Whenever you get down about a plateau, get on the scale and look at the number. Grab enough weight to get the scale to say what it said when you started. It always puts things in perspective. I’ve covered dealing with a weight loss stall previously.