When you decided to make fitness a priority, you were pumped. For the first few weeks or even months, things were cooking. You were feeling great, looking slimmer, and totally on your way toward a fitter you. And then… stagnation. But don't let that plateau discourage you! As cheesy as it sounds, this is actually a great opportunity to reassess and reset your plan. Here's what you might be doing wrong, and how to fix it ASAP.
—Amy Roberts, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer
You're doing too much of the same thing.
It's awesome to find your fitness passion, whether it's indoor cycling, Zumba, barre classes, or running. But if that's all you do, you're going to get very good at it…and then any body changes you were making will drop off. Luckily, there's an easy fix: Try something new! And be specific about it—if your goal is more muscle tone, add some strength workouts. Or if you want to improve your flexibility, give yoga a go. "If you want what you don't have, you have to do what you don't already do," says Tampa-based personal trainer Aimee Nicotera.
You're not challenging yourself enough.
More and more, studies are showing that the intensity of a workout matters more than its duration when it comes to weight loss. As mentioned above, your body adapts quickly to the same routine, and this includes marathon steady-state sessions on the elliptical or long even-keeled runs in the park. Instead, try mixing it up with a different form of cardio, running intervals, or high-intensity interval training. The same intensity concern also goes for strength workouts done with too-light weights—in order to tone muscles, you have to lift heavy. There's one caveat here, though; not every lifting session should be to your max potential. By alternating workouts between light, medium, and heavy days, you'll get the best toning results.
You're overeating for your calorie burn.
It's a common oops. Your heart rate monitor says you burned 800 calories in your boot camp class, so there's no harm in stopping by the smoothie shop afterward. The fact is, calorie burn, even on that fancy watch, is often overestimated. Beyond that, you need to keep yourself at a calorie deficit if your goal is weight loss (even if you're looking to "tone up," you still want to aim for this deficit, because body fat is often what's keeping your muscles from showing through). Make a more conscious effort to clean up your diet and watch your portions, and remember that liquid calories count. One trick to keep you mindful of your nutrition: Eat every meal and snack sitting down, savoring each bite. People often forget calories consumed on the go.
You're overtired or overstressed.
Working out and eating well are only two parts of the equation. If you're not sleeping enough or you're really feeling the pressure at work, your body isn't going to adapt as well to the positive influence of exercise. Sleep is essential for muscles to heal after a tough sweat session, and stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, training your body to retain fat. Try to get a minimum of seven hours of sleep by treating bedtime as an unbreakable appointment, and look for ways to manage stress whenever you can.
You sit around too much when you're not at the gym.
I'm sure you've heard about "sitting disease" and how it's worse for us than any number of evils (smoking, eating fast food, drinking—pick your poison). And it's so much harder to avoid, given that so many jobs require hours at a desk. Getting in regular workouts is an excellent first line of defense, but research shows that people who are more active—not just at the gym, but in life—are thinner and fitter. So if you notice you're on your butt for hours at a time, it's time to start some new habits. Get up to go talk to coworkers in person, pace (or at least stand) when you're on phone calls, get in a walk to get your lunch, take the stairs, opt for a standing desk… Bottom line: Spend more time on your feet.
You're too hard on yourself!
Another thought to consider: Perhaps it's not your results but your expectations that are a little off. So many people have a set idea of what they think the scale should say, that they only see disappointment when it's not going down at the pace they want. Or they get so focused on one "problem area" that they ignore other positive progress. Bodies lose weight and shift composition at different paces, and (unfortunately) you can't get your upper arms to tone up independent of the rest of you. Revel in the other victories you might be ignoring. Have you been sleeping better since you started working out? Is bounding up the stairs or lugging in the groceries that much easier? Have you taken time to notice that your favorite jeans are fitting a little better? Do you just feel better than you did before beginning your routine? Yep, I thought so.