With These Seven Strategies You’ll Win The Battle Of The Plateau

Seven Strategies That Will Put The Word Progress Back In Your Vocabulary

We’ve all been there.  We started taking a fitness class, or have successfully completed the couch to 5K program.  We’re losing weight, our clothes fit better and we feel great.  But then it all stops working for us; seemingly for no reason.

But there is a reason.  Our body has adjusted to the fitness class, the 3 mile run or whatever it is we’ve been doing that has us looking and feeling better.  What once seemed hard has become easy. The dreaded plateau has arrived and we’re stuck in the middle of it.  The plateau may be inevitable but it doesn’t have to be permanent.  We just need to find ways to re-challenge ourselves so that we can get out of the ditch and moving again. Here are seven strategies that will get you back on track.

1. Interval Training Using Speed Drills– Whether you’re walking or running, you can add speed intervals to your normal workout.   If you’re on a treadmill or outdoors you can mix things up in a variety of ways. To get started try incorporating speed drills every 60 seconds. Move along at your usual a pace for one minute, then walk or run fast enough that you’re out of your comfort zone – by that I mean pleasantly out of breath – for 15 seconds.  Repeat six times.  After you’re comfortable with the 15 second intervals, try to increase the speed drills to 30 seconds in length.

Tip – If you’re outdoors and don’t have a stop watch to track the intervals, pick a point that it should take you just a few second to get to, such as a stop sign or a bush, and run as fast as you can until you get there.  Slow down for about a minute and then pour it on until you get to the next sign or tree.

 2.  Interval Training Using Hill Climbs– Treadmills can be pre-set to take you through a series of incline intervals which makes hill climb interval training easy to set up.  Outdoors, find a hill and run or walk up it at a steady but sustainable pace, then turn around and go back to your starting point.  Repeat for a series of six to eight times.

Tip – Last summer I participated in a series of training runs that was offered through our local running club. The runs took place in a state park that had some nice hills for us to train on.  Our coach had us count the number of steps it took us to run up and back down the hill at our normal pace. Then she had us run up and back down again with a goal of increasing our foot turnover by at least 10.  In other words, go the same distance, but turn your feet over faster – as opposed to lengthening your stride – which will increase your speed without leaving you at risk for injury.

3.  Cardio-Strength Circuit Training – This program consists of three minutes of cardio, followed by three minute strength-training segments.  You can use a weighted bar or ball, a set of dumbbells or your own body weight to create the strength circuit.  A treadmill, jump rope, or jogging in place with jumping jack segments will work for the cardio part.

Some examples of strength moves would be squats, front, back and lateral lunges and dead lifts followed by shoulder presses, bicep curls, upper back flies, and tricep kick backs.  Push up, tricep dips, sit ups and planks are good body-weight exercises that can be incorporated.  Jillian Michael’s Banish Fat, Boost Metabolism workout is a good example of a cardio-strength training circuit.

  • Cardio-Strength Circuits Using Speed Drills –  for an even better calorie burn, throw some speed drills into the cardio portion of your circuits.

4.  Increased Duration Cardio Sets – You won’t want to do the speed drills every day.  On the days you’re not doing speed intervals, increase your steady state cardio workout by 15 minutes.  If your typical workout is a 30 minute walk or run on a treadmill or outdoors, increase it to 45 minutes once or twice a week. In the gym you can move from the treadmill to the bike or elliptical to put the extra time in and get some cross-training done.

Tip – When we reach a plateau, not only do we have to work harder, we have to stay at it longer. While it may not seem like much, adding two 15-minutes sessions for a total of 30 minutes a week to our normal workout can burn enough extra calories to push us over the hill.

5.  Add Strength Training – If you’re only doing cardio work you need to add some weight lifting to your weekly routine.  Increasing muscle mass is one of the best ways to keep your metabolism at its peak and it will give you that firm, toned looked that cardio alone won’t deliver.

Start with a plan to incorporate 15 minutes of strength training three times a week focusing primarily on large muscle groups:  Chest, back, quadriceps, hamstring, abs and glutes.  This is easy to get done if you belong to a gym.  If you’re working out at home you’ll need some dumbbells and a weighted bar.  I’ve found the best place to find pictures of strength exercises is at About.exercise.com.

6.  Re-evaluate Your Diet –The truth is you may be burning enough calories in your workouts, but you’ve become complacent about your diet.  Maybe you feel like you’ve reached a plateau when in fact you’re allowing extra calories to sneak into your day and they’re preventing further weight loss.

Start running your food through one of the calorie counter phone apps again to see if they’re in line with where they need to be for you to continue to lose that pound a week or maintain your weight where it is.  Combine this with one of the above tips and you’ll be on your way to reaching your goals again.

7.  Yoga–  One reason you maybe be stuck is because you’re overtraining, not stretching adequately after the workout and are mentally burnt out.  Yoga can help with all of these while increasing your strength, posture and mental sharpness.  Some signs that you’re overtraining include excessive fatigue, insomnia, and an increase in fat stores even though your workouts are adequate. 

Doing a yoga workout at least once a week in place of one of your other programs will help your muscles recover, get your attention back to center and put your body through a much needed series of holding stretches that will help you feel and look better.

If you haven’t done yoga before I think you’ll like Kathy Smith’s Yoga Sculpt DVD that I wrote about here.  You might also like Rodney Yee’s A.M. Yoga For Your Week which has five 20-minute workouts.  You can purchase Rodney Yee’s DVDs at Amazon or watch at Gaiam TV.

Don’t Wait To Be Inspired. 

Whether you’re bored, frustrated or just plain fatigued, don’t let a weight-loss or exercise plateau discourage you.  Plateaus are common and it’s a mistake to allow them to be an excuse for giving up. Mixing up your workouts by going faster, farther or finding something completely different to do is the key to making sure you continue to reap the benefits of all of the hard work you’ve already done. Don’t wait for inspiration to hit you.  Go after it with a club.  Try a couple – or all – of these suggestions.  You’ll move beyond the plateau and get your mojo back.



  1. Thanks Karen! Needed this article! Fell off training wagon but getting back on! Look forward to our run next week!