How to Overcome the Plateau Effect to Gain Muscle

What does spaghetti sauce have to do with overcoming the plateau effect of working out? Malcolm Gladwell, author of the Tipping Point, talks about a man that understood the importance of variety that led to an additional $600 million dollars in the spaghetti sauce industry.

Just like Howard Moskowitz we first have to realize that there is no perfect fitness program, there are perfect fitness program(s).  You have to find the create the arsenal of nutrition and fitness that can fit into your lifestyles that produces the body you want.  This means starting with a fitness program and meal plan that works, but it doesn’t stop there.  You have to branch out and add other layers to it.  This means mixing it up from time to time and searching for new ways to do the right eating and exercise.

In order to make those changes you have to clear body composition goals that you can revisit often to see if the changes you make are creating a positive or negative impact. You have to be meticulous, especially at first.  Create charts to help measure progress.

If you explore enough types of foods and exercises, you can create an arsenal of options to choose from.  As you test these results you will get an idea of which foods and exercises to keep, and which to drop.  There are no setbacks, only feedback.

How Do You Know if You Hit the Plateau Effect?

So how do you know if you have a plateau effect impacting your exercise?  The best way to overcome the plateau effect is by first figuring out if that is really the problem.  Measuring your body fat percentage is the best way to see if you are hitting a fat or muscle plateau effect.  Once you figured out your body fat percentage vs. your lean mass, then it is important to follow up at least monthly, but preferably weekly.  This will give you an idea of how much fat you are losing or muscle you are gaining.  You should only focus on one area at a time, because it is rather hard to do both at once.  Often when trying to do both, you end up doing neither.  This is why you see people hit the wall with a fat/weight loss plateau or muscle gaining plateau.

Whatever direction you are going, a realistic goal is to either gain .5% muscle weekly or lose .5% fat weekly.  If you are doing any less, then you are not necessarily hitting a plateau effect.  A plateau effect is when you have several weeks of progress and then while not changing your regimine, the progress comes to a halt and you don’t lose any more fat or gain any more muscle.  There are several times it has happened to me. It can be devastating after working out for a while and figuring out that  my body is plateauing.

If you have three weeks of success and then you change your eating habits or workout habits, then that doesn’t necessarily mean you hit the plateau effect.  Consistency in working out is key, but how you work out and what you eat can make all the difference.  So first and foremost be patient because often the best way to overcome the plateau effect is being consistent in working out.

Exercise Variety to Conquer the Plateau

If you feel like you have been consistent for several months, but have seen little results then what should you do if you actually hit the muscle plateau?  There are two major changes that can be made for your fitness routine to gain muscle quick and overcome a workout plateau.  Either you can increase the amount of exercise or alter the type of exercising you are doing.  Variety is key on how to overcome the plateau effect.

Often it can be that you have gone too far the other way and you are overworked.  Just like zig-zagging on your daily calories and sometimes going over your allotted caloric amount, also you can do a similar thing with your exercise.  There is nothing wrong with taking a day off or several days off to let your body regenerate.  Remember that exercise means you are constantly breaking down your muscles.

Even athletes need rest and plenty of sleep.  I know an MVP baseball player, Joe Mauer, that says he tries to sleep in until noon for days when they have evening games so he can keep his body as healthy as possible.  He is 27.  Some athletes will go into ice baths or use floaties to walk around in pools.  Great athletes have been taught to respect their bodies’ limitations.  You should do the same with yours.

One of the smartest ways to help fight a plateau effect you can make is to make shifts in your workout training monthly or at least every couple of months.  Exercise programs created by fitness training companies like Beachbody have full 90 day cycle programs that shift every thirty days to counteract the natural plateau that happens in your body.

As I mentioned before it might require an extra 10-15 minutes of cardio exercise.   15 minutes additional exercise daily adds up over the course of the year.  That is an additional 91 hours a year if you worked out every day.  That is almost 4 additional days of pure exercise.  Often that additional time is when you have the ability to burn more calories with a higher heart rate.  The potential is mind boggling.

If you have added more days or longer periods of cardio, another option is to look at more intense activities or different types of activities.

Sometimes I will take my cardio up a notch and move from a program like CrossFit, P90X to a program like Insanity.  It is higher impact for a shorter workout.  Or you can attempt to do variations of the three during the course of the week to see how your body reacts.

I may also do more yoga and move away from doing as much weightlifting or mix in more incline walking or jogging compared to level running.  This process is just as much an art as a science.  Look for ways to get your creative juices flowing. You should have an arsenal of foods and exercises at your fingertips to choose from.  Create that buffet of health.

Nutrition Variety

The same shifting should be done with your diet.  As your body wears down, there is nothing wrong with adding several more servings of healthy carbs to provide energy or shifting back to a higher protein diet after an extended balanced protein/carb diet.  These are all key attributes to learning the best way to gain muscle for your specific body type.

With nutrition you have to figure out ways to become stricter.  This doesn’t mean that you eat less necessarily.  Stick to your daily caloric needs.

Most often it means changing the types of food you are eating or eating the same amount of calories, but breaking it up into smaller meals that show up more often through out of the course of the day (Eat every 3 hours instead of 5-6).  Try to eat less sugar or white flour.

The important thing is that you make this enjoyable.  The pleateau effect means that you hit the next step, not the next hurdle.  Don’t get too down that you quit.  Enjoy the journey.

Excitement plays a vital role in your success.  If you can keep yourself motivated, then each meal and fitness movement will count that much more.

Remember there is no perfect fitness program, there are perfect program(s).

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