I’m a climber. Not in the traditional sense though. I don’t own the fancy, grippy shoes or do finger-tip pull ups or anything like that. I’m just a guy that keeps trying to get higher (or better) no matter what situation he’s in. Now, if you’re an actual rock climber, I’d say reaching a plateau is probably a good thing. You’ve been crawling and scrambling and sweating your butt off climbing on up and you’ve finally reached an area where you can actually sit down and have a rest without (as much) risk of falling to your death. But if it’s not rocks you’re climbing and the battle is more along the lines of losing weight/inches than I can assure you a plateau is just about the least fun you’re ever gonna have.
I guess when it comes to the culture of fitness “plateaus” are fairly common. I have no idea of the scientific or even physiological reasons behind them (Chris tried to explain but my eyes glazed over after a few seconds).
[Chris here…let me step in for a moment and see if I can answer the question regarding plateaus and help generate a better result for Jarrod and anyone who has experienced a plateau.]
Weight Loss Plateaus Aren’t All Bad
First of all it is important to recognize that a plateau isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Seriously think about it this way. If you’ve reached a plateau then that means you must have ascended to some level of accomplishment with your training but the results didn’t continue. But that’s the difference between a plateau where you achieve a result and simply getting started on a training program that ellicits no results whatsover. Big difference.
The second reason a plateau may not be a bad idea is because it is feedback from your body that is has gotten used to the stimulus. This may be a training stimulus or a nutritional one but either way the adaptation that had been happening is no longer happening because the system know recognizes the signals and knows what is coming. And that’s a major feature of the human body which is to maintain biological balance or homeostasis.
In another way you could also consider a plateau beneficial as it may help prevent repetitive strain. If performing the same activity repeatedly stops generating a result some will alter the activity and therefore not put as much stress on a particular area of the body than if the plateau were ignored and we continued to press on as before.
Alright so know that we know some of the reasons plateaus exist what can be done? Well I like to keep things simple and in that case I think we need to revert to basic laws of thermodynamics and apply our efforts in the right direction.
Energy Imbalance Leads to Plateau
One of the basic laws of thermodynamics is that energy can’t be created or destroyed. Whatever energy I take in must be be balanced off i.e. burned, through physical activity.
Now while we are different in many ways this is one feature that unites us. For some the energy seems to come in more easily and for others the ability to burn energy is a constant struggle. There is no denying that this balance can be quite different for two different people. However the laws of physics are suspended for no one. Energy cannot be created or destroyed. It simply moves through different forms. And when we break it right down the left side of the equation has only one input which is food intake.
This is where it gets simple.
Break a Plateau with Quantity and Quality
Simple in that the only way we can accumulate caloric energy is through ingestion. Period. The other side of the equation can be more involved as we can burn calories in a variety of ways including the nature of our occupation and our physical fitness. Now to add one condition to this would be that the quality of the food matters. Any five year old could tell you eating cotton candy not a healthy choice as compared to broccoli, spinach, chicken, fish or any of a number of other vegetables, proteins or fats. Yet there are still some who will believe that if they less than a certain number of calories in a day they will lose weight. The quality and number of calories both matter and cannot be separated and still expected to lead to weight loss.
So what about the exercise? If there is enough interest in this topic I go cover the exercise end of the equation in a future blog. But the simple answer is that exercise is usually not the result of weight gain or being stuck at a plateau. Instead it has to do with nutrition.
And here’s how you overcome it, if this is your weaklink.
ID Your Weak Link To Break a Plateau
Is your nutrition as good as could be? Are you eating the best quality foods you can? If you ever get food through a window, eat cereal, drink juice, enjoy baking than your nutrition could be improved.
Do you journal your nutrition? This is an essential step and often omitted by those at a plateau. There is no way you can expect to have the best results if we aren’t willing to track what we are doing. Do you think the best businesses in the world don’t track everything they do? Heck Walmart knows what flavour of poptarts are going to sell out when the next hurricane hits the Florida coast. And this involves predicting the behaviour of strangers at some point in the future. Imagine how valuable tracking your own information would be predicting your own health and results?
Is it cheat meals? Journalling will pick up on this if it is. If you snack do you know exactly which days you do? Do you know exactly what you have? Do you know how much you have? Do you know what type of activity you did on the day you have a cheat meal? And here’s the clincher…if your cheat was a sweet snack (i.e. sugar) do you know how much fat you consumed on that day as well? Unless you are journalling there is absolute no way to know the answer to these.
Do you know what the obstacles are to your success? When do you fail? How do you fail? When you are journalling your nutrition you’ll start to see trends that occur. Maybe it’s after slowpitch that you always have 3 beer, natchos and a few wings. Or perhaps it’s family dinners and gatherings that you can’t control what is being prepared and don’t want to be rude so you simply indulge as well.
Once you know your obstacles you can begin to put contingencies in place. For example, maybe at slow pitch you always drive so you have a quick opt out for not having a beer when you join everyone. Or perhaps you stop by the bar and get a jug of water for yourself so your glass is always full. Maybe you have a quick protein shake, some nuts or another healthy snack before joining everyone inside so you are less likely to be tempted to chow down. If it’s a family dinner that you know consists of many of the foods you are trying to avoid then offer to bring something. You will win on two counts for your offer to help plus you will be able to control the quality of food you eat when gathering.
I’ll wrap this up with the following points.
1. No one is excluded from the laws of thermodynamics. If weight gain is occurring or a plateau has been reach then we need to look at the inputs.
2. You need to journal your nutrition. This is not an option. It is only as much of an option as achieving your goal is an option. If you are serious about achieving your goal than you must maintain a journal.
3. Identify the weak links in your nutrition.
4. For the next month put all your attention towards that weak link.
Do so and I guarantee you will break past your weight loss plateau and enjoy the rewards of your efforts.