“I work out five days a week, eat healthy and still can’t lose weight/gain muscle.”
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a version of this over the past 12 years, I could pay for my kids’ college tuition.
I get it. You think you’re doing everything right, but nothing changes; at least you don’t think you’re changing. When we first start a new fitness class or improve our eating habits, change happens quickly. But rapid change doesn’t last forever, When it stalls, or even backtracks, we get frustrated.
If you’re hitting a fitness plateau or find yourself taking a few steps backwards, there may be a few simple things you’re doing or not doing that are derailing your fitness progress.
1. Sloppy form. I have a mantra: "It’s not 'what' you lift, but 'how' you lift that matters.” The goal of strength training isn’t to move weight around; it’s to target a specific muscle group to make it stronger. If your goal is to strengthen your biceps, but while you’re lifting the bar you’re moving your back and elbows, your biceps aren’t benefitting and you’ll likely wind up injured. Form matters! Stop lifting with your ego and lift with your muscle. Not sure if you’re doing it right? Ask questions. A good trainer or fitness instructor can help. Make sure your source is certified and knowledgable.
2. Getting into a rut. I love to run. But I don’t do it every day. In fact, depending on the time of year, sometimes I don’t run much at all. Doing the same thing every day is the quickest way to get in a rut mentally and physically. Shake things up. Use new muscles. You don’t have to change your routine every day, but vary your workouts. Shameless plug for fitness classes — I keep a strength class the same for a month, then switch it up. New moves, new muscles, fresh perspectives.
3. Focusing solely on calorie intake/outtake. Calories are important, but they aren’t everything. Despite what many think, not all calories are created equally. Counting calories is a great start to getting healthy, but as we learn and grow, so does our understanding of how nutrients affect us. Our bodies are unique. So are our nutritional requirements. If there was an eating plan that truly was one-size-fits-all, we’d all be on it. Of course, that isn’t true. If you’re hitting a plateau, take a closer look at what you’re eating, not just how much. If you’re not already keeping a food log, start now. Don’t just record how much you ate, but how you felt after. Don’t know where to start? Hire a nutritionist or health professional. You’re worth the investment.
4. Eating “fake” healthy foods. In college, my friends and I would gather every Thursday night, make a full pan of fat-free brownies each, dish up a bowl of low-calorie ice cream and pig out while watching “Friends” and “ER.” Breakfast was a fat-free bagel. A snack was a fat-free peppermint pattie. Veggie straws and banana chips were our fruits and vegetables of choice. Because they were fat-free and low-calorie, we thought we were eating healthy. Beware of packaging claims. Avocados and almonds may have fat and be higher in calories, but they’re definitely healthier than my old Snackwell diet.
5. Neglecting strength training. I love cardio. I love to dance, run, bike and elliptical. These activities burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time, but remember, it’s not all about calories. Strength training is what truly changed the shape of my body. It’s increased my bone density, given me more energy and revved up my metabolism. Consistent strength training has helped me recover from accidents and surgeries. It is the cornerstone of my fitness regime, and it should be yours, too.
Everyone hits a fitness plateau at some point. But you don’t have to stay there. Be honest. Take a hard look at the little things you’re doing that may be pushing you off course. A few small corrections and you’ll be back on track in no time.
Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour and VASA Fitness instructor and marathoner. You can follow her fitness and running adventures at www.kiminthegym.com.