Redefining fitness plateau


Fitness plateau can be defined as the state or a period where there is a little to no lost nor improvements achieved on a given fitness goal. In our modern society, we’ve been brainwashed to think that plateauing in fitness is automatically a bad thing and we need to address it by either eating less or exercising more or to constantly add weights on the bar or even having to “change things up a bit”. I know that we all like to see consistent inch/size/weight loss or a consistent strength/ hypertrophy gains. There’s nothing wrong with assessing our eating/ training or changing things up, but given that some people consistently lose/ gain doing simple techniques and modifications, if something is still working, just keep doing it consistently. There’s an old time saying “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” which also applies in the context of diet and training stuff. It’s almost everyday that new fitness marketing stuff are coming out and each one of these campaign have their own “revolutionary” program that promises to breakthrough the dreaded plateaus. From that concept, it created a false perception to many people that plateauing in our fitness goal must be avoided at all cost. It even made some people believe that we can confuse our muscles to create a stimulus for further muscle gains(hypertrophy goal) but the truth is, we can never confuse a muscle because it doesn’t have a mind on it’s own. Sure, the “muscle confusion” concept must have worked to some people that you may know of but it worked for them not because they were able to confused their muscles to prevent plateauing but there are other reasons why it worked for them such as but not limited to: muscle memory, newbie gains and through diet & training consistency. Feel free to google search the first two factors that I have mentioned if you’re not familiar with the terminologies but in my observation, the biggest factor why that “muscle confusion” works to some people is because of the latter reason that I cited above which was the diet and training consistency. People loves variety; it’s the spice of life as they say. So, to some people who have gotten results from confusing their muscles, it’s actually a result of their compliance to their diet and training because the muscle confusion theory program actually consists of different types of training in one program in order to get rid of that boredom effect many people experience from doing the same training program over and over again.

Many people fail to meet their fitness goal in the long-term as a result of lack of adherence to their diet or training or both. Just like what I mentioned in this blog:, fitness is a marathon, not a sprint which basically means that acquiring long-lasting fitness results may take some time to achieve whether it’s fat loss or muscle mass/ strength gain. While there are some effective means of achieving fast fitness results, these approaches normally works/ can only be done temporarily. Anyway, backpedalling to the fitness plateau, fitness plateau both applies to diet and training. We are living in an environment where we embrace everything that gives us instant results. This is the same reason why many of us would rather settle for a diet pill, liposuction and other quick-fix method rather than putting some time in and some effort to make our fitness goal work. Fitness plateau got such a bad reputation to the point that everyone must condone it’s importance.

Yes you read that right. Fitness plateau can also be important in the right context of application. Why so? Because in every fitness goal, be it fat loss, strength or muscle mass gain, everyone’s goal must be to reach a plateau. Let me explain, fitness plateau is the ultimate adaptation of any given stimulus to the body. Training wise, when we plateau, we experience less muscle soreness after a workout as a result of an effective adaptation to the workout. Just because we are not experiencing the “soreness factor” anymore doesn’t mean that our workout isn’t effective. It is still effective but it’s effect on us is the adaptation from the external stimulus. To some people, muscle soreness is the gauge they use to measure the efficacy of their workout. This is not always true because muscle soreness is a result of DOMS(Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). DOMS is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the exercise. After such exercise, the muscle “adapts” rapidly to prevent muscle damage, and thereby soreness, if the exercise is repeated. Muscle soreness usually occurs when you make your muscles do something that they just aren’t used to doing. You know, like when some sort of change is made. Although it can be alarming for new exercisers, delayed onset muscle soreness is a normal response to unusual exertion and is part of an “adaptation” process that leads to greater stamina and strength as the muscles recover and build hypertrophy. In other words, when we experience a plateau from our training, our body is simply preparing us for further stimulus that’s why we become stronger in our lifts and potentially build more mass as a result of progressive overload and/ or fatigue. Your workouts aren’t any more or less effective, your body just got a lot better at adapting to and recovering from the stress exercise is placing on it.

In the context of dieting be it fat loss(hypocaloric), maintenance or bulking phase(hypercaloric) plateauing should still be incorporated because reaching a diet adaptation will allow us to adapt to our new body weight/ body composition. The human body is designed for survival. From evolutionary perspective, the reason why it’s harder to lose more weight once we are already lean or we already lost significant amount of weight, it is our body’s defense mechanism to ensure our survival aside from the fact that lower total body weight requires less energy(calories) to maintain. When our calorie intake and/ or stored energy supply(adipose tissue/ body fat stores) are already low, it enables us to stay alive even during famine. In that context, that is the importance of plateauing because our ancestors remained alive during famine because their bodies plateaued at lower calorie intake because food supply during that time are scarce and aren’t easily accessible.

In our modern world, foods are now easily accessible and our existence doesn’t depend on survival adaptation anymore but to look good or to improve our health instead. The importance of plateauing ourselves to our diet plan is also for adaptation purposes. The reason why successful dieters can adhere to their diet plan is because they have experienced plateau in their diet therefore resulting on adaptation after a new desired body weight has been established for a certain period of time. This phenomena is known as the settling-point theory. Settling-point theory refers to the idea that weight tends to drift around the level at which the constellation of factors that determine food consumption and energy expenditure achieve an equilibrium. Although, there is no evidence that our body favors lower body weight(or set point), anecdotally speaking, in my own experience, it can be done through plateauing at a certain body weight for a long period of time.

Next time somebody tells you that you should do this and you shouldn’t do that to avoid fitness plateau, tell them that plateau is not necessarily a bad thing. It just depends on the context of scenario and application.

  1. November 15th, 2011

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