Dig Out Of a Fitness Rut

It's a cruel joke.  Once you finally make time to exercise regularly and you stick with it for a few months, you hit the dreaded plateau and progress stops.  If you're really dedicated, you'll keep at it and reap the rewards of continued weight loss and improved health.  If you're easily distracted, which includes the majority of Americans; you'll give up and say that exercise doesn't work.

Many people do well with their exercise routine as long as they are seeing results. When the results slow down or stop, it's easy to get discouraged and give up.  The frustration is understandable.  Why continue the exertion with no progress?  Chase Gary, exercise specialist with Dynamic Dimensions says the reward will return if we keep at it.  "Whatever you consistently expose your body to will become the new norm, because our bodies are amazingly adaptable.  If the same activity is done over and over, then the body will respond by making itself comfortable. It learns how to efficiently perform an activity," Gary said.

The concept is similar to people who perform the same routine task at work. It's easy to zone out and not pay close attention, but if you suddenly are given a new duty, the concentration level goes up.  You are now challenged.  It's the same with the body. Give it a new challenge and watch the progress.

If you have excess weight, and were consistently losing a pound or two each week, and are now stuck at the same weight for a few weeks, it's time to move on to a new level of fitness.  "Changing your routine doesn't mean suddenly jumping to a level that you're not prepared for, it just means adjusting the frequency, duration or intensity," said Gary. "The point is not to punish your body, just challenge it differently."

Mix it up by considering the following:

  • § During every other workout, do something different. If you usually briskly walk or jog on a treadmill for 20 minutes, and then do 10 minutes of weights, try doing the treadmill for the whole 30 minutes. Or, use the stationary bike or elliptical machine instead of the treadmill. Take a different group fitness class. If you're a diligent step class person, try a kickboxing-type class.
  • § Kick it up a notch. For five or ten minutes during your normal routine, rev up your level a few notches, and try heavier weights, a faster speed or more repetitions than normal. If you're working at the lower end of your target heart rate zone, aim for the higher end. Specify various days of the week as low, moderate or high-intensity days.
  • § Focus on changing the frequency, duration or intensity. Just one of the three will give your body a new challenge. By exercising more often, or for a longer length of time, or at a higher level, you can push through the sluggish resistance. It doesn't need to be all three; just changing one aspect should bring results.
  • § Add strength training. If you don't already include weights in your workout, try it. It will boost your resting metabolism, which makes the body burn more calories.

"It's a good idea to change up your routine every four to six weeks to continue challenging your body," advised Gary.  "The key is to consistently exercise and not give up.  Bodies are constantly adjusting. Even if you don't see any progress on the scale, your body is adapting to the change in your fitness routine.  If you keep at it, you'll continue to tone up and lose any excess weight."

The next time you're puzzled why nothing has changed, ask yourself if you've changed your routine. If the answer is no, then that could be the problem.  If your routine is getting stale, freshen it up with variety.