How to break out of a fat loss plateau
When it comes to following an exercise and nutrition program there’s nothing more disheartening than putting in the hard work and not seeing results. You may feel like you’ve hit a plateau or fear that your program just isn’t working. Hitting a plateau may be an indication that you need to work harder, or that your body has adapted to your training program, if you’ve been following it for at least a few months. Here are some tips to break out of a plateau and stay motivated to achieve your full fitness potential.
1- Make sure you REALLY are in a plateau to begin with. Seeing changes in your body occurs at a very slow and gradual pace. Before assuming that your program isn’t working, make sure that you’ve given it enough time for the results to be visible. Ensure that you’re following your diet to the letter and not skipping any of your workouts. If you’ve been extremely conscientious, the next step is to introduce some changes.
2- Increase the duration, intensity and frequency of your cardio. If you are doing less than 60 minutes of cardio then start increasing your exercise by 10 minutes each session, until you’re doing a full hour. For example, if you usually do 20 minutes of cardio, increase that to 30 minutes each time. If you still don’t see any changes, try 40 minutes the week after and gradually build up until you reach an hour. Another strategy is to increase the intensity of your cardio program and make your workout more challenging, so that you’re burning more calories in the same amount of time.
You can also increase the frequency of your cardio. Most people start by doing at least three sessions a week. However, you can increase that number until you hit six or seven cardio sessions weekly. As bodybuilder and fat loss expert Tom Venuto points out, doing daily cardio can work wonders for becoming extremely lean or breaking out of a plateau. Once you reach your goal, you can return to moderate sessions of cardio a few times a week.
3- Introduce interval training. A useful strategy for breaking out of a plateau is to start doing interval cardio training. This includes pushing yourself to your limit (reaching a heart rate zone of 85-100%) for a short period of time, then slowing down and recovering before repeating the intense burst for a number of rounds. The benefits of interval training are endless - it burns a high number of calories in a short period of time and, even better, you’ll continue to burn calories after your workout. If you’re doing steady state cardio, then this new technique will definitely sky-rocket the fat burning process. Click here to learn how to incorporate this into your program.
4- Change your weightlifting program. Assuming you already know the benefits of weight-lifting and why it’s essential to any fat loss program, make sure that you vary your program and make regular changes every four to twelve weeks. If you don’t change it up, your body can easily adapt to your program and stop improving. Another advantage of variation is that it keeps workouts interesting and stimulating. Challenge yourself to lift heavier weights, progress steadily and gain strength. Tell yourself before every workout that you are going to work harder than your last session, because it doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
5- Change your cardio program. As explained, the body adapts easily to any repetitive form of exercise, which is why variation is essential. If you’ve been running on the treadmill as your form of cardio, switch to another method - or even try taking an exercise class.
6- Tweak your diet. Sometimes a few changes in your diet can retrigger fat loss. Make sure you haven’t overestimated your caloric intake and that you’re really in a deficit (burning more than you’re eating). The next step is to make better food choices. Restrict junk food to once a week or eliminate cheat meals altogether (on a temporary basis as you break out of a plateau or get extremely lean). Some bodybuilders and fitness models exclude cheat meals from their diets for up to 6 weeks before a competition. Make sure EVERYTHING in your diet consists of natural and unprocessed wholefoods. You can also tweak your macronutrients - eat more protein and fats and reduce carbohydrate intake. Eating less carbs and more protein will automatically promote fat loss. To learn more about manipulating your diet, visit the nutrition page. It’s important to note that it is better to increase physical activity before reducing your caloric intake. Cutting back on calories will slow down your metabolism, whereas doing more exercise will crank it up. Eating more in conjunction with increased exercise will give your metabolism a double boost. One of my favorite quotes by Tom Venuto states that “it is better to burn the fat than to starve the fat.”
7- If all else fails, do cardio twice a day. This might sound insane, but when performed for a short period of time, double cardio will break any plateau and get you extremely fit, quickly. Tom Venuto stresses that this is a strategy that many bodybuilders and fitness models use to reach extremely low levels of body fat before competitions. I incorporated double cardio into my routine during the last eight weeks before my competition and got into the best shape of my life!
8- Take a break. If you’ve been training for more than a few weeks or a few months, your body may be suffering from overtraining syndrome. Take a step back in order to take two steps forward. Choose between one and two weeks holiday from the gym and eat at maintenance levels. This doesn’t mean you should overeat or indulge in lots of junk food, but keep on eating wisely without adhering to a caloric deficit. Once you’ve given your body a break and boosted up your metabolism with more food, you can return to your program and break the plateau.