Only in Tennessee can we truly appreciate the beautiful rolling hills and plateaus the landscape has to offer! In an automobile, these are easy to maneuver - as part of our fitness regime, however, not so much. How do we prevent ourselves from slowing down to the point of stopping? Let's first define what a plateau is.
If you are exercising the same distance, same speed, same mode of activity for a long period of time, your body will adapt to this level of physical stress. The body will no longer recognize this as a level of stress, and therefore, no further improvement will be achieved. This is the plateau, and you have reached it. Take in the view, but don't stop there and set up camp. If you are not sure if you have reached a fitness plateau, here is a simple way to know: if you find yourself growing more frustrated with the lack of results despite your continued effort, or if you have already quit your exercise program because of it, you have plateaued.
One way to prevent a plateau or kick-start yourself again after you have plateaued is to integrate variation into your routine. Your exercise program consists of duration of each exercise session, frequency per week of exercise sessions, and intensity or how hard your exercise session is. Changing up any one of these components allows for variation and will therefore lead to further achievements. For example, if you have been walking four days a week for two to three months or longer, for the same distance and at the same speed, you may want to change one of those factors. Add one day so that you are walking five days a week. Or, if you have been walking for 30 minutes, try walking for 45 minutes at least one of those days per week. Or, perhaps you can walk faster for part of your session.
Sometimes alternating between light and heavy exercise can result in improvements; however, it is recommended that increasing distance before intensity is safer. If you are on a medication such as a beta blocker, please see your physician before increasing your exercise regime. Using your heartrate as a guide is also not recommended if you are on a beta blocker. Go by how you feel or use the Borg Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale (RPE), which can be found on www.myfitscript.com's 'Library' tab.
Another strategy to manage or avoid plateauing is to find a friend or partner to exercise with. If you belong to a fitness facility and have never tried a group exercise class, it might be time to try one at least once per week. Breaking up the boredom in your exercise routine might be just the thing to keep you going as well.
Whatever it is you are doing to keep yourself fit, keep doing it. But change it up every several weeks. Remember, it's your move!
Corley Roberts, ACSM EP-C, MHA, CPHQ, is an Exercise Physiologist, published author, public speaker, health care professional and founder and CEO of MyFitScript. MyFitScript has been featured on Medscape Inc., CBS Healthwatch, Business and Health Magazine and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Visit www.myfitscript.com for exercise education and programs, or contact Corley at firstname.lastname@example.org.