When you’re on vacation and spot a plateau high atop a straight-sided geographic formation, you’ll probably pull out your camera to capture its beauty.
When you’ve been happy with your exercise routine and reach a plateau in which progress seemingly comes to a standstill, you probably won’t think of it as being in the slightest bit beautiful.
But plateaus happen, and Orangetheory Fitness is here to help you through them. First off, though, it's important to know the difference between hitting a plateau and reaching a maintenance level of behavior change.
Maintenance, the goal for behavior change, can be commonly defined as someone’s ability to maintain consistent behavior for 6 months or more and “happens when a member is working out consistently without seeing drastic changes in fitness,” says Orangetheory research scientist Brittany Masteller, Ph.D. “The person has just reached their genetic predisposition of fitness, which is a good thing for most people.”
Adds Rachelle Reed, Ph.D., senior director of health science and research for Orangetheory: “The stimulus of exercise has to change as your fitness level adapts to the stimulus you put on it. The average person cannot keep getting more and more fit forever, so the goal for many people is to reach an average or above-average level of fitness and then maintain that level of fitness.”
On the other hand, plateaus, which Dr. Masteller calls “stunted progress,” may be attributed to not addressing these basic tenets of fitness:
Recovery. Adequate rest and sleep between workouts are imperative, Dr. Reed says. That means at least one full rest day per week for active individuals. “Getting seven hours or more of sleep every night is important for optimal cognitive function, for effective training sessions and for general well-being.”
Nutrition. Eating well plays a key role in preventing overtraining and/or seeing the results you seek, Dr. Reed says. “Consuming adequate calories, in particular carbohydrates, while participating in a high-intensity exercise program is important for optimal function and performance.”
Hydration. The amount of water you should drink daily depends on several factors, including your activity level, diet, perspiration while exercising and more. To get a baseline for understanding your individual hydration needs, calculate your ideal intake based on your age using a formula provided by WW.
Managing stressors outside of the gym. Feeling stressed about work or other parts of your life may increase your levels of fatigue, Dr. Reed says. She suggests taking an extra rest day or lowering your workout intensity level for one or more classes that particular week. And, she recommends seeking professional help from a licensed practitioner as needed.
Frequency of class attendance. The physical activity guidelines for Americans recommend that all adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity weekly, plus at least two days of resistance training weekly, in order to accrue the many mental and physical benefits linked to regular activity. Dr. Masteller recommends attending 3-4 Orangetheory classes weekly, while also being physically active on your off days.
But too much of a good thing ... isn’t always a good thing. Sometimes you have to step back to move forward.
Orangetheory member Sally Underwood started 2021 strong, intent on reaching her New Year’s goal of 100 Orangetheory workouts by June 1. Initially, her efforts paid off: She had an abundance of energy and looked and felt healthier than ever.
Then something happened. More accurately, nothing happened. Her progress seemed at a standstill. She didn’t feel that effervescence that had carried her for so long.
“Everything was halted,” she said. “But that didn’t make sense in my brain because I was so active, so committed to working out and spending so much time on my health.”
Says Emma McDevitt, Orangetheory coach, social media coordinator and longtime member, “If you continue working at the same level, your body isn’t going to produce the same results because it’s gotten fitter and has adapted to the demands.”
Maybe Underwood was experiencing a plateau, or maybe a maintenance phase. Either way, she needed to do something. She talked to her coach, who suggested changing her routine. She decided to try Lift45, an Orangetheory class devoted to strength training.
“Refocusing on a different aspect of the Orangetheory workout really kick-started my growth,” she says. “Through the InBody scans at the studio, I’ve seen my body fat percentage numbers going down and my muscle composition going up.”
Just as exciting, her motivation has gone up.
“Pushing through, gaining confidence and trust in my body made me more inclined to try new things,” Underwood says. “I joined a kickball team and have met new people.”
Getting through such setbacks, she says, “makes you a happier and healthier person.”
If you’re feeling at a standstill in your workout, here are some tips to help your motivation get moving again.
Talk to your coaches. “Coaches are trained to help provide you with an exercise prescription designed to help you meet your goals,” Dr. Reed says. “They can also talk you through challenges in the studio."
Take a day or two off. “It’s important to take recovery days or, as I like to call them, ‘green days’ — keeping my heart rate in the green or lower zone if I don’t want to skip a day of class, but if I know I need to take a recovery day,” McDevitt says. Sleep, rest and recovery are as important as workouts.
Switch up your routine. If you always start on the treadmill, start on the floor. If you head for the rower first, try doing that part last, Underwood says.
Switch up your outlook. “Look at how far you’ve already come and be proud of the progress you’ve made,” Underwood says. “Then maybe shift your focus slightly to a different aspect of physical fitness, whether it’s lifting, cardio or dietary changes.”
In a nutshell, just keep moving. Keep coming to class. Keep reveling in the beauty of what your body can do — a lifelong journey of plateaus, of maintenance and, mostly, of all-out wonder.