Breaking a plateau

Breaking a plateau

We’ve all reached that point in our training when we hit a wall and further progression seems very distant. Reaching a plateau in your strength levels is a common occurrence for all fitness and sport athletes. In this article we will discuss why your body struggles to overcome these barriers and provide useful tips you can adopt in attempt to unlock your ultimate potential and breaking a plateau.

Why do we hit training Plateaus?

Training maladaptation is a term used to describe a lack or failure in performance improvement. Below is a list of possible reasons for this negative phenomenon:

  • Overtraining
  • Lack of rest/sleep
  • Stress
  • Incorrect diet
  • Illness/Disease
  • Unrealistic goal setting

Many individuals feel that they are able to train every day, week on week with no breaks. However, our bodies are not designed to perform without the required rest that is needed to rebuild the body and allow for the necessary physiological adaptations to take place. These adaptations are caused by a stimulus. This stimulus is a physical stress that enforces a physical demand on the body. The body has a limited capacity to carry out this task until all energy sources are depleted, “fatigued”. During this phase many occurrences are experienced, micro damage to muscle fibres, lactic acid accumulation, inflammation etc. This requires a regeneration phase. A rest phase is imperative for allowing the body to rehydrate, replenish glycogen stores, increased enzyme activity, hormone distribution, muscle protein synthesis and to perform other important physical adaptations necessary to improve performance potential.

During the rest phase, the body begins to adapt to the stressor experience, enforcing a change and causing the body to undergo compensation, and ultimately “supercompensation”. This is a brief period where the body is able to overcome the stimulus and overloads to a higher level, after which it will return back to baseline. An accumulation of stimuli and rest/compensation periods will render a positive increase in performance outcome over a sustained period of time, which is why rest is so important.

Tips to keep in mind when breaking through your barriers:

  • Ensure you have enough good quality sleep (6-7 hours plus depending on age).
  • Try to keep your sleeping routine consistent.
  • Follow a suitable diet which is catered towards your training outcomes.
  • Avoid training when you are ill/sick.
  • Adjust your workloads/intensities as well as training routines to prevent monotonous training.
  • A positive mindset – never underestimate the psychological effects!
  • Set realistic short term and long-term goals.
  • Track your progress (taking all external influencing factors into account; and note them).
  • Always ensure that your basics are covered before trying to advance, you might need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward!
  • Periodize your training (strategically plan your various loads/rest in your training schedule)

Take Home Message 

Remember that to rest is just as important as to train. Resting allows your body to grow and rebuild to overcome those plateaus and to break through those barriers. Be realistic with your training goals and don’t be afraid to bring about changes to your training routines to stimulate a spike in performance. Work hard, plan well and rest efficiently; and unlock your ultimate potential!

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