I hear it all the time. "But I'm doing everything I can, and I just can't seem to lose these last 5 to 10 pounds!" In fact, many of my celebrity clients originally came to me trying to break out of their own workout plateau, when they needed to lose those last pounds – got to love award season here in Hollywood!
Reaching a plateau occurs for many different reasons. What I see most commonly is an individual who has been cutting calories too low and exercising the exact same workout for several weeks, but is no longer seeing the results they did in the beginning. Sound familiar? If so, chances are your body has hit a weight-loss plateau. So let's see if we can shake things up – both in the kitchen and the gym.
Before we get started, ask yourself honestly about your diet – maybe you're getting too few calories or you're mindlessly eating too much – and your workout routine. Same exact workout every time? No challenge, your body is always achy or it's just boring?
Now, consider these steps:
1. Have you cut down on strength training? Do not eliminate weight training from your regimen! I can't stress this enough. It's a vital component of a well-rounded fitness program. The more muscle you add to your body, the better your body is able to burn calories, even when it's resting. Strength training is something every single one of my clients always incorporates into their training program.
2. Are you focusing too much on the number on the scale? A scale only measures total body weight – fat, muscle, bones and organs. It doesn't tell you a thing about body composition, which is a far better measure of overall health and fitness.
3. Are you confused about fat and muscle? A pound of muscle and a pound of fat both weigh … a pound. The difference is that muscle is a lot more compact and takes up less space than fat. A 130-pound woman who is fit and has a low body fat percentage is going to look slimmer and leaner compared to a 130-pound woman who has a high body fat percentage and not much muscle. But they both weigh 130 pounds. Make sense?
4. If you have hit a plateau, that's a sign you need to change up your exercise routine. Over time the body will adapt to an exercise regimen, and you'll stop seeing additional benefits. You need to be tricking your body and "confusing" your muscles on a regular basis in order for them to get stronger and continue burning fat and calories. I switch up my clients' workouts all the time – hardly ever doing the same routine. Fortunately, it's easy to get out of a rut.
My top tips to switch up your workouts:
• Change your cardio. Go for at least one day per week of "HIIT" – High Intensity Interval Training. All that means is that you're exercising at a moderate pace for a minute or two, then cranking up the intensity for 20 to 60 seconds, to the point where you're really huffing and puffing, then come back down and recover for a minute or two. Repeat several times until you've done at least 20 minutes – and the beauty of HIIT is that you only need about 20 minutes to burn serious calories and strengthen your cardiovascular system. Do this once, or better yet, twice per week, alternating these tough sessions with longer, more moderate cardio sessions. Long, easy cardio is a waste of precious time and can lead to overuse injury; plus, it makes it easy to hit a plateau. That's why it's a good idea to try high intensity.
• Change your weight training. Many people, especially women, make the mistake of thinking that lifting light weights with a lot of reps is the way to go, but in fact, you should be lifting all manner of weights – high weights to failure, moderate weights with moderate reps and if you want to do light weights with high reps, try to do a compound move (like combining squats with bicep curls, or lunges with shoulder presses) so you also get your heart rate up. Don't be afraid to lift heavier. People are often surprised at how much weight I can lift, yet I look like "Monica the Trainer" and not "Monica the Terminator." My point is that I lift heavy, yet I look small. So try to up the weights when you're lifting, and you'll see your body change. I recommend weight training at least once a week. Safely lift the heaviest weights you can until your muscles give out – and make sure you have good form or have a spotter to help you so you don't injure yourself.
5. Are you overtraining? You'd be surprised at how many people are overworking their bodies, thinking they'll lose more weight and become faster. Not the case. A great example is Olympic athletes. They incorporate a workout routine planned around several rest days. Our bodies need to recuperate and if the body doesn't come out of continual practice, the system doesn't have the time to catch up and start patching everything back up. Plus, your muscles grow on rest days, not when you're working out. I highly recommend at least one rest day a week; depending on what you're training for, aim for two. You'll be thrilled at how much better you look and feel, and that plateau may soon be gone.
It's important to note that this is tricky to understand. For example, working out can cause serious muscle fatigue, but this is actually what you want to most degrees. You see, when you "feel the burn" you're causing your muscles to get stronger. Just make sure you don't overdo it – give your heavy-lifted muscles at least 36 hours of rest so they can recover (again, because muscle building occurs during recovery, not during exercise). And make sure you're getting enough calories and always strive to meet your minimum net calories per day to lose a pound a week. Going too low can backfire bigtime. Remember, we're striving to build a fast metabolism that is a fuel-burning machine. This is why I can eat so many of my "Moni Treats."
Exercise burns more calories, so make sure you're "eating back" those calories. Starving yourself is totally counterproductive to weight loss and muscle building. I have seen this and continue to see this all the time. Short cuts and quick fixes never last, trust me.
Bonus tips: Try to stop stressing so much about what the scale is telling you (or your BMI). Judge how you're doing by how your clothes fit, what your body measurements are and by how you feel. Consider getting a body composition test at your gym, which will give you a better sense of where you are. Make sure you are indeed actually drinking enough water and that you're getting enough protein.
As always: Eat well. Stay fit. Feel Great. See you on your next workout!
Hungry for more? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, concerns and feedback.
Monica Nelson, or "Moni" to her friends and clients, is a personal trainer, healthy foods chef, accomplished athlete, model and well-respected health and fitness expert. She works with celebrities and has been featured in publications such as SHAPE and Fitness. She's been a competitive snowboarder and is a true fitness fanatic. Moni's motto in life is "EAT WELL.STAY FIT. FEEL GREAT." Another one of her greatest passions and talents is cooking and baking. She runs a healthy recipe blog where she has created more than 350 healthy and decadent meals to enjoy. You can connect with Moni on Facebook and follow @monimealfitness on Twitter and Instagram. Grab a recipe or two at www.monimeals.com then head over for a workout and get her latest tips at www.monicanelsonfitness.com. Moni lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband, who is also a trainer, and their incredible English bulldog Eddie.