Breaking plateaus - a simple and sane approach.

When we make progress quickly, it feeds our emotions. Then, when there’s a period of waiting or we hit a plateau, we find out how committed we really are and whether we’re going to see things through to the finish or quit.
— Joyce Mercer

Sooner or later, our progression will come to a halt.
It´s at this crucial point we tend to make one out of two rather unfortunate choices:
 

1. We begin to spice up our training with terribly specific and appealing advice that we've managed to uncover in the darkest corners of the internet.

"I have a vitamin B4,23 deficiency and my intrinsic foot musculature is, by guru X´s standards, weak. No wonder why my handstand push up isn´t progressing,"

2. We suspect that all is lost and assume the fetal position.

The main challenge in the health and fitness industry is the persistent belief that just because the mechanisms of the human body are incredibly complex, our solutions need to be equally complicated. The problem with this view is that if there indeed existed a "specific and exact" solution as to how we should physically thrive and progress, then there would be a lot less diversity in the way people actually progressed.

The reason why the mechanisms are so complex is, in the majority of cases, to enable our survival and adaptive capacities, not to disable us from becoming better by demanding "an ultimate solution".
Ironically, all of these superfluous and exotic advices usually end up making us so frustrated, confused and demotivated that we automatically presume we've reached our potential.
Or - they encourage us to search for even more farfetched and potentially harmful solutions.


The Secret 2.0™

I'll probably be physically reprimanded by the fitness industry for revealing this, but here goes:

The thing that "they" do ("they" being the one´s whose progression doesn´t really seem to end), is not to supplement their training or their diets with exotic exercises or superfoods. Rather, they adjust that which influences our bodies to the greatest degree: 

The basics(™).

  • Sleep
    • Are you getting enough shut-eye?
  • Nutrient intake
    • Are you eating enough calories and which macronutrients do those calories consist of?
  • Work load
    • Are you doing enough reps/sets of the exercises you want to progress in, and are you performing them specifically to what you want excel at?
  • Stress
    • Are you getting enough time off, both physically and mentally?

An effective way of identifying a decent coach, trainer or athlete is how they evaluate and adjust the basics. This may sound to "simple" to be true, but therein lies the answer as to why most people in reality haven´t reached their potential - they would rather fall prey to "the next, best thing" than take a good and hard look at the way they primarily spend their days.


Practical applications
 

  • Generally feeling fatigued?
    • Lower your training volume.
      • Reduce the number of sets you do in your workout by 1 or 2 - beginning with the least important exercises. If you´re still feeling fatigued after a week or so, reduce sets in the remaining exercises as well.
    • Prioritize sleep, nutritional intake and de-stress.
      • Nutritional intake: Eat more and/or include more calorie-dense foods in your diet.
      • Sleep: Develop good sleeping habits (reduce the amount of time you spend in front of a screen after/during sunset and respect the fact that your bedroom´s primarily meant for two things)
      • Destress: Meditate, write down three things you´re thankful for each night, reduce/eliminate redundant stressful elements, acknowledge the things you can/can´t control.
         
  • Seldom feeling fatigued during/after your workouts?
    • Increase training volume.
      • Increase the number of sets you do in your workout by 1 or 2 in the exercises you wish to prioritize.
    • Adjust sleep, nutritional intake and de-stress accordingly.
      • Be mindful of how you generally feel (feeling exhausted some days is unfortunately to be expected - a side-effect of life). If you start to feel more fatigued than usual over a longer period of time, follow the advice written above.

Summary

Look at the quote at the top of this article.

It begins by stating: "When we make progress quickly, it feeds our emotions.", which is definitely true. However, it´s just as important to remember that a lack of progression feeds another emotion just as much: Desperation.

Desperation encourages us to do irrational things, especially in situations when we're not in any real danger, which is exactly why reaching a plateau is such a valuable and decisive event: Not due being a test of "willpower", but because it´s a lesson in keeping a cool head, reflecting upon that which matters the most and acting accordingly.

Carpe (and reflect upon) that diem,

Jon