Conquer Fitness Plateaus with Periodization

It’s July, but somehow you’ve still kept up your New Year’s fitness goal. You’ve made a habit out of exercise–it’s now as routine as brushing your teeth. The half marathon you signed up for finally feels possible. You feel and look better. You’ve stayed motivated through winter training. But as your body adapts to your daily workout, progress has stalled. You’re afraid fitness gains may have come to a halt.

Most of us are creatures of habit. Our tendency towards repetition can keep us consistent, which is great for getting us moving everyday. But doing the same workout can result in a plateau, and putting in the work seeing results can be discouraging.

So how do we avoid plateaus in fitness while also retaining consistency? Through variety and periodization.

Changing It Up

Human adaptations towards efficiency is key to survival, but also causes fitness gains to level off when the body is put through a repetitive exercise regiment.

In their book, Exercise Physiology for Health, Fitness and Performance, Sharon Plowman and Denise Smith explain how doing the same workout under the same conditions over and over result in a plateau in performance. The human body craves efficiency and adapts to workloads to expend the least amount of energy possible. When you do the same workout every day, it doesn’t register as stress for the body. The action burns less calories and triggers fewer adaptations towards fitness.

But while your body has gotten efficient at one movement, it hasn’t yet mastered all forms of exercise. You can introduce variety into your fitness regimen simply by addressing weaknesses. If you’re maxed out in the deadlift but huff and puff trying to run a mile, add some cardio or endurance based weight-lifting to your exercise program. Chances are, you’ll quickly be able to add five pounds to your previously stagnant personal best, while also improving overall fitness.

Introducing Training Phases

Elite athletes and amateur fitness enthusiasts have embraced periodization, a method of varying workout regimens. Periodization is considered to be the most effective means of avoiding a fitness plateau. Michael Jett and Jessica Gibb in “Strategies to Prevent a Plateau in your Health and Fitness Gains” describes periodization as a manipulation of training variables such as type of activity, intensity, duration and regularity. By adding 30 minutes to your usual workout, or adding high-intensity intervals to your training session, you are shocking your body, resulting in adaptations similar to the ones experienced during the first few weeks of a new exercise program.

Elite athletes use periodization to break up training into phases, allowing them to peak during a performance and continue progressing consistently. Periodization phases include one with high volume and low intensity, which enhances endurance, and a phase of high intensity and low volume to increase speed or power. The phases of periodization are transferable to any fitness program to avoid doing one form of exercise over and over and thus, avoiding plateau.