How to Overcome a Fitness Plateau

How to overcome a fitness plateau

In our last blog we focused on those of you starting an exercise program for the first time, or getting back into exercise after a hiatus. But what about those of you who have been consistently exercising through Winter but feel like your progress has stalled? Well, keep reading! Here at Revive we have something for everyone, so this week’s blog has some great tips for overcoming a fitness plateau and getting back on track!

The workout plateau is the bane of almost everyone who works out. Despite consistently exercising and eating right, you’re no longer seeing results. It hardly seems fair, does it? Well, you’ll be happy to know there are physiological reasons why a fitness plateau occurs, which means that there are many ways to get yourself out of it.

It takes as little as 4-6 weeks for your body to adapt to a workout program. This is why it is important to constantly vary your fitness regime to provide your body with new challenges. The fix could be as simple as taking your training outdoors or adding an entirely different style of training. What you do to break your plateau doesn’t need to be overwhelming, it just needs to be enough of a change to challenge you and get you out of your funk!

Top 5 Reasons You Hit a Workout Plateau

1. You do the same workout every day

Plateaus happen when the body begins to adjust to the demands your exercise routine requires of it. Once your body adapts to a fitness routine, you’re not likely to see many benefits until you make adjustments that force your body to move and work in new ways. Depending on your fitness goals, experts suggest that you should change up your exercise routine every 2 to 5 weeks to see maximum results.

2. You’re training too hard

Sometimes, fitness plateaus occur because of over-training. Signs of over-training include muscle and joint pain, fatigue, an overall lack of energy or frequently catching a cold or flu. Strenuous exercise causes your muscle tissue to break down. Your body must have adequate rest in order to rebuild and repair your muscles and achieve optimal results. Without adequate rest, your body is unable to meet the demands and will prioritise maintaining health over exercise gains. Sometimes less is more when in comes to exercise, so be sure to schedule regular rest days into your workout routine.

3. You need to pump up your workout

On the flip side, a workout that isn’t challenging enough will also not produce your desired results. Inject some energy into your workout with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or group circuit classes. These classes can be a valuable departure from your typical workout, keep your mind and body stimulated and target different muscle groups and energy systems to what you may be used to.

4. You’re not keeping tabs of your nutrition

There’s an old adage that says abs are made in the kitchen, although we are talking about more than just abs. Fuelling your body with the nutrition it needs will help you get better results when you’re exercising and keep your body ready for the effort it takes to break through a workout plateau.

5. You don’t get enough sleep

Your sleep schedule is just as important for seeing workout results as your actual fitness plan. Sleep and fitness go hand-in-hand. To keep the hormones that signal hunger under control, it is recommended that you get 7 to 8 hours sleep per night. Poor sleep also means that you’re less likely to have the energy to make it to the gym and your body will definitely not be getting the rest it needs for your muscles to adequately recover.

How to Overcome a Workout Plateau

1. Set new goals

First and foremost, decide what your goals are for training. Are you trying to lose weight? Build muscle? Improve performance? Improve flexibility? If you’re experiencing a plateau, it is very possible that you’ve lost focus of exactly what you’re working towards. Once you have clarified what your goals are, write them down and create a plan of attack. If you’re looking for a new goal, pick something that excites you, whether that is a fun run, a fitness competition or group challenge. If it excites you, you are more likely to stay motivated to work towards your goal.

For more information on goal setting, revisit our blog archives and check this one out…

2. Keep a log – consistently!

Studies have shown that self-monitoring by keeping some type of food and exercise diary is a tried and true method for keeping you on track in any exercising or diet regime.

For cardio, take note of the duration, distance and intensity. For strength training, record the exercise, weight, repetitions, sets and rest periods. The American College of Sports Medicine even suggests noting how you feel right after a session to uncover subtle things that might impact your workout such as how you sleep the previous night, specific aches and pains, timing of your last meal, stress, etc.

Consistency is critical! Review your log weekly for inconsistencies to see how you’re progressing or even what may be holding you back.

3. Work out with a partner

If you find you’re not pushing yourself enough, it could be time to add a little accountability and ask a friend to join you. Workout partners help motivate each other to push harder, run faster and get out those few extra reps. You’re also less likely to skip out on your session if it means letting your training partner down, helping to keep your workouts consistent.

4. Hire a trainer

Enlisting the help of a coach or trainer will provide the same benefits as training with a workout buddy, but will also have the added bonus of their knowledge and expertise. Trainers specialise in creating custom programs for their clients and will know just how to get you through your workout plateau and achieve your goals.

5. Train outdoors

Constantly training indoors can feel monotonous and get boring. If all you have to choose from are the machines in the gym, it is easy to get stuck in a fitness rut. Getting out into the fresh air while working on your health and fitness is a fantastic way to break through a plateau. Think about swimming laps in a pool if it’s hot outside or rugging up and hitting the trails for a hike in the cooler weather. Exercising outside can bring new excitement to your fitness routine.

6. Try new techniques

Add different techniques into your workout program – think supersets, drop sets, circuit training, intervals and HIIT (high-intensity interval training).

Supersets are back-to-back resistance exercises with no rest in between that are great time savers and calorie burners. Drop sets are when you do multiple sets of an exercise in a row without rest and decrease the weight each time. Both can fatigue a muscle group very efficiently while adding a change to your routine.

Circuit training, where you do one set of each exercise in order, often broken up with some form of cardio between sets (such as skipping or burpees) can burn more calories than regular weight training. It is also more time efficient by combining cardio and strength.

Intervals and HIIT training are also good options if you’re bored with your workout or can’t find enough time to be consistent – it can effectively burn calories in a shorter amount of time due to the intensity of the exercise.

7. Add “good” stress

The key to strength training is progressive overload. If you only ever lift 10kg, then you will only be able to lift 10kg. It is important to gradually stress the body to make it stronger. However, this doesn’t simply mean adding more weight. You can play around with the exercises you’re doing and change up the reps, sets and rest periods.

8. Use periodisation

The broad definition of periodisation is systematically varying your workouts, usually with specific goals in mind. Athletes typically use periodisation to avoid injury and ensure they peak in time for competition. An example of periodisation could be doing strength training in 4-week blocks. The first block may focus on muscle growth, followed by a block centring around endurance and so on.


Recovery is one of the keys to seeing great results. If you’ve been pushing yourself hard but you’re not seeing results and are feeling more fatigued than usual, you might be overtraining. In that case, taking a week off to allow your body to fully recover will help you break through that plateau.

In addition, what you do immediately after a workout in terms of eating, rest and recovery (i.e. using a foam roller or stretching) will affect how your body responds to exercise. Refuelling your body properly after big workouts, getting plenty of sleep and releasing tight muscles can all improve your performance and help you break through any exercise plateau.


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