What To Do When You Hit A Plateau

weight-loss-graph-plateau

Lack of progress is extremely frustrating and demotivating.

There can be a number of reasons why a person trying to make changes to her health, physique, or performance may experience a plateau.

Depending on your goals, you may be over- or underestimating your calories, not choosing the appropriate food sources, or you may not be following your training consistently. All of these are extremely important of course, but what if you are doing those things? What if you’re nailing your nutrition and you’re consistent with getting your exercise in with some serious intensity, and you’re still not seeing results?

In my experience, it’s usually one of two things:

  • You’re not tracking your progress
  • You’re not tracking the correct measures of progress

Tracking is a critical component of making progress over the long-haul.

 

Tracking Your Progress

If you do not track your progress, it can be problematic for several reasons, including:

  • If you’re making small losses/gains consistently over time, and you don’t have any data to refer back to, it’s difficult to see the progress you have already made.

 

  • If you don’t have any information about whether or not what you’re doing is working, you never know when to adjust your nutrition or training.

 

  • If you’re not tracking and acknowledging the small progress milestones, you may mistakenly think you’re not making any progress, and you’ll feel less motivated to continue.

 

But tracking progress is way more than just weighing yourself occasionally. Tracking other measures such as health, lifestyle, and performance markers as well, will really help you identify exactly how you have progressed and are currently progressing.

 

Tracking Measures of Progress

“I want to lose weight.”is a statement I hear all too often from lots of ladies. But I think that what most of these women are really saying is, “I want to lose fat.”  There is a big difference.

When you focus on the scale as your sole indicator of progress, you don’t actually know what you’re losing. You don’t know if you’re losing fat, muscle, bone mass, water. If you want to lose fat, it’s really important that you don’t rely on the scales as your sole measure of progress.

You may have been told at some point to “throw the scale out the window!” If the number on the scale (or even the idea of stepping on the scale) affects your mood and well-being, then I totally agree with that advice. It’s absolutely not necessary to weigh yourself on a regular basis. However,  when combined with other data, it could help provide a more detailed picture of what’s going on in your body.

For example, say that you do weigh yourself two weeks in a row, and also take waist measurements. You notice that your weight is the same, but your waist is actually getting smaller. What does this mean? Well, you’ve most likely lost a little body fat and gained a little muscle! That’s the really cool thing about lean tissue (muscle) compared to fat mass. Five pounds of lean tissue take up significantly less space than five pounds of fat mass.

I know you’ve heard that “muscle weighs more than fat,” right? Well, that doesn’t make any sense, because five pounds is five pounds, whether it’s muscle or fat. However, muscle is more dense than fat, so five pounds of muscle will take up less space than five pounds of body fat, resulting in the same weight but smaller measurements.

There are a few of things you can do to measure physical progress without focusing solely on weight.

 

 Ways To Measure Aesthetic Progress:

Scale/Weight (only if it doesn’t make or ruin your day)

Body Area measurements

Clothing

 

Scale/Weight

How to measure:  Weigh yourself on the same scale, on the same day of the week, at the same time of day (preferably first thing in the morning after emptying your bladder and bowels), wearing the exact same clothing, or no clothing (whichever you choose, be consistent).

Pros:  If you follow the advice above, digital scales are quite accurate measurements of how much your body weighs, and in conjunction with other measures, can be very telling in terms of progress.

Cons:  Scale weight doesn’t give you any indication of what the composition of the weight gained or lost is (water, fat, muscle, bone, etc.). It can also be psychologically difficult for some women to weigh themselves on a regular basis.

Good for:  People who want to lose fat, people who want to gain muscle, people who want both. This can also be valuable for people competing in a weight-class sport.

Recommended frequency: Weekly

 

 Body Area Measurements

How to measure:  Using a soft measuring tape, choose various sites on your body to take a measurement. Make sure you measure yourself on the same day of the week, at the same time of day (preferably first thing in the morning after emptying your bladder and bowels), wearing the exact same clothing or no clothing. Measure in the exact same spot each time, and don’t pull the tape too tight. It should be taut, but should not squeeze you. Also, keep in mind taking more measurements will provide a clearer picture of your progress.

Pros: Measurements can be help you see not only whether you’re losing or gaining, but also what you’re losing or gaining (muscle or fat), especially in conjunction with other measures. For example, if you lose inches around your waist, but gain around your hips/glutes, there’s a good chance that you’re losing fat and gaining muscle.

Cons:  Measuring in the same spot each time can be tough, especially if you’re doing the measurements yourself instead of having someone else do them for you.

Good for:  People who want to lose fat, people who want to gain muscle, people who want both.

Recommended frequency:  Bi-weekly

 

Clothing

How to measure:  Choose a piece of clothing you love and that currently is bit snug on you (jeans and fitted skirts/dresses generally work well). Try it on every 2-4 weeks to see if it fits differently over time.

Pros:  If you’re not great at taking measurements, trying on clothing can give you a good idea of whether you’re getting bigger or smaller, and in what areas. It can also be very motivating to get closer and closer to wearing one of your favourite pieces of clothing and feeling great wearing it.

Cons:  Depending on the clothing you choose, and how your body loses/gains weight, you may find that the clothing isn’t giving you much information. For example, if you choose a skirt that’s snug, and you lose fat in your upper body first, you might be losing fat, but not noticing any changes in how your skirt fits, because you haven’t lost much in your lower body or waist first.

Good for:  People who want to lose fat, people who want to gain muscle, people who want both.

Recommended frequency:  Bi-weekly or monthly

 

Other Measures of Progress

While measuring aesthetic progress can be really fun and motivating, there are several other measures of progress you can track, including health markers, lifestyle markers, and performance markers. Of course, the lists below aren’t exhaustive; they’re just examples of information you might find helpful to you on your health and fitness journey.

 

Health markers:

Blood pressure

Resting heart rate (taken upon waking)

Cholesterol

Tracking health markers can be really motivating on your health journey, especially if they are the reason you started exercising in the first place.

 

Lifestyle markers:

Stress

Energy

Strength

Mood

Sleep

Watching lifestyle markers improve can also be really motivating. They can also give you valuable information about your progress.  For example, if you’ve been losing fat at a steady pace for six weeks, and suddenly, during the past two weeks, you’ve hit a plateau, take a look at your sleep and stress levels.  If your sleep has been poor for the last two weeks, there’s a good chance you’ve found the culprit.  Had you not tracked your sleep, you may have unnecessarily ramped up your workouts or cut calories when really, you just needed a bit more sleep.

 

Performance markers:

Number of Push-ups completed

Number of Squats completed

1-mile run time

Broad jump (furthest horizontal distance you can jump)

Vertical jump (furthest vertical distance you can jump)

It may seem obvious that tracking performance markers is important when performance is your goal, but you’d be shocked at how many people still don’t track it. You can choose any performance markers that are most relevant to your specific goals, but I’ve listed a few above that you might want to track.

As you can see, there are a number of reasons that tracking your progress in different areas is important to making and troubleshooting progress overall. We aren’t recommending that everyone track all of these numbers all the time. That can be daunting, and there are definitely periods in our lives when keeping things simple is the main goal. However, if you’re not making progress, and you want to know why, tracking the correct measures of progress over time is critical.