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Last Updated on November 26, 2020

How to Get Through a Weight Loss Plateau (Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Get Through a Weight Loss Plateau (Step-By-Step Guide)

Experiencing a weight loss plateau is perfectly normal. However, just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating, and it feels like all your hard work has ground to a halt.

Instead of seeing a weight loss plateau as a roadblock, you need to see it as a speed bump that may get in the way from time to time but can still be navigated.

This article will look at what causes these plateaus and how you can get through them the next time they may strike.

What Is a Weight Loss Plateau?

The basics of this plateau are that weight loss or fat loss has stalled after a period of progression. But what is the real reason this has happened, and why does it occur when it does? Weight loss, or fat loss, has seemed to stall, and the first thing to do is to recognize if this is a plateau.

If you weigh yourself daily, you know that there are fluctuations that occur each day. If you are weighing yourself every day, you want to at least be consistent with it. Your true weight will be first thing in the morning after you’ve gone to the bathroom. You want to weigh yourself at the same time and also make sure your scale is calibrated properly. Even a floor that is not perfectly even can give you an inaccurate reading.

It’s important to do this first thing as your weight can fluctuate throughout the day, with people often seeing variations of 3-5 pounds. Since there are these daily changes, you want to take a different approach and look at your weekly averages week after week. This will give you a better snapshot of your progress and tell you if you’ve actually reached a plateau or not.

True weight loss happens over weeks and months, and that’s why tracking is important. You should see a gradual decrease over this longer time period. Healthy and sustained weight loss will be around 1-2 pounds per week. It’s a linear path that will have small up and down spikes over the time period but should still move progressively downward.

When you see that the weight isn’t gradually dropping the way it has been over the past weeks and months, that can be your sign that you’ve hit a true weight loss plateau.

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The Issues With the Scale

A scale gives you some data but doesn’t always show the whole picture. You will not get an idea of true body composition, as a regular scale will not show a balance between lean muscle and body fat. You may have lost 5 pounds of body fat, but gained 5 pounds of muscle, and the number on the scale would stay the same. That body compositional change, however, would show some great physical results.

The body fat loss would help you appear leaner, and the lean muscle gain would also enhance your overall appearance. You could look significantly different while the number on the scale hasn’t changed.

The scale is also not going to reveal issues surrounding water retention or bloating, along with the hormonal fluctuations that can cause these issues. You can still check the scale, but a better indicator of weight loss will be with a tape measure.

When you’ve lost body fat, you will notice your clothes fitting differently, and tracking your body part measurements can be a great way to monitor results. If you are going the tape measure route, measure these main areas:

  • Hips
  • Right thigh, at the midrange point
  • Waist, just below your ribcage and above your belly button
  • Chest, under the armpits
  • Right bicep, unflexed
  • Right calf
  • Neck

You can take measurements on your right and left appendages, but this is a good base of measurement to track progress.

Why Is Your Weight Not Going Down?

This may be because you are doing too much and not getting enough calories at the same time. If you are overdoing it in the gym, it can be like taking a few steps backward. Your workouts shouldn’t be over 75 minutes (30-40 may be all you need), and you want some rest days throughout the week.

If you’re working out every day and exhausting yourself, your body will go into that self-preservation mode, raising stress hormones and, again, making weight loss difficult.

If you are involved in an adequate exercise program (3-4 days per week) and going for a reasonable amount of time, you may need to add in a little more physical activity if you’ve reached a weight loss plateau. This doesn’t have to be overly intense, but some extra cardio may help. This can be an extra 5-10 minutes, or one or two 20-minute walks added on to your weekly amount.

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You also want to make sure you’re eating enough and getting into a bit of a calorie deficit[1] if weight loss has stalled. You need not count every calorie, but it’s a good idea to take a few days to track your nutrition intake so you at least have a good idea of where you’re at.

Many people do not understand how many calories they are taking in each day. Calorie counting is far from a perfect science, but to get a rough ballpark figure, the average woman needs around 2000 calories a day to maintain. An average man will need around 2500 calories.[2]

How many calories should you eat to overcome a weight loss plateau?

     

    If you’re not losing weight, you’ll want to reduce that amount by around 300 calories each day and see how this is going after a week or so[3]. If there has been no change, you might need to drop another 200 calories. You don’t want this to go lower as not enough calories can have a negative effect on your metabolism and will lead to stalled weight loss.

    Is 1000 Calories a Day Too Little?

    In a word? Yes. Your body needs more than that just to carry out its basic functions of living, and that’s not including you getting up and moving around. Even if you were just to lie on the couch all day, your body will need at least 1200 to 1400 calories just to exist.

    If you are not giving your body sufficient calories, it goes into panic mode. Your metabolism will drop as your body needs to hold on to every precious calorie to sustain itself. When this happens you can kiss weight loss goodbye.

    The other problem is eventually you will snap because you are so hungry and will eat everything in sight. When you flood calories into a body with a slowed metabolism, you can guess what they end up being stored as.

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    Keeping yourself fed with high-quality and nutritious foods will allow your body to run optimally and provide you with energy to be active, burn body fat, and bust through those weight loss plateaus.

    What to Do When You Hit a Weight Loss Plateau

    When you think you’ve hit a weight loss plateau, try doing the following to get back on track.

    Track Your Info

    This is where it’s important to take a step back and have a look at what’s been going on in your life. Tracking your info can be helpful because it gives you some data to observe. You don’t have to be obsessive about it, but recording your workouts, sleep, stress levels and understanding your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) and basic metabolic rate (BMR) will help give you an indicator where the problems may arise.

    Lower Your Stress Levels

    If you’ve noticed you’ve been overly stressed with work and life lately, this may be the culprit. When your body experiences stress, it elevates stress hormones, such as cortisol. When cortisol is constantly elevated, it can slow weight loss to a crawl.

    Stress hormones are released in the body as a way to preserve itself. The body will be more likely to hold on to body fat as it believes some sort of trauma is happening and it needs all the backup fuel it can get. At this point, your body is not interested in burning body fat, or building muscle; it’s interested in preserving things.

    Read this article for more tips on how to reduce stress.

    Get More Rest

    Higher stress may also lead to a lack of sleep, which causes the same issues around a weight loss plateau, and when you add these two together, they compound their negative effects. If you’re seeing this, it means you will have to slow things down a bit.

    Make getting extra sleep a priority, and you may have to back off the workouts for a bit. Even better, taking some time off from the gym can be a great way to let your whole body, central nervous system, and immune system recover.

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    This could be a good time to focus on relaxing, meditation, or yoga. You also want to make sure you’re keeping your diet as clean as possible, as eating things like refined sugar and carbs when stressed can easily lead to weight gain.

    Listen to your body and give it a breather when needed. Doing this will allow it to come back stronger than before.

    Add Variety to Your Workouts

    For workouts, you want to always keep your body guessing. The best workout is the one you haven’t done yet. Your body needs an ever-changing stimulus in order to get more results.

    The good news is this doesn’t have to be a drastic overhaul. If you’re exercising, you just want to make changes to your routine, exercise order, duration, or repetitions.

    At the very least, you want to do at least what you did last workout, plus a little more. If you ran for 30 minutes, go for 32 next time. If you did 10 repetitions of an exercise, go for 11 or 12.

    You can change the order of the exercises you do, perform some cardio before strength training, add in some high-intensity intervals, or shorten your rest periods between sets. The main thing is to give a bit of a shock to your body in order for it to change.

    Final Thoughts

    Weight loss plateaus will happen; it’s just all about being prepared for when they strike. Getting an understanding of why they happen is important to progress past them. What’s also important is realizing how your body works, and what it needs in order for it to respond favorably to exercise and diet.

    A weight-loss plateau can be overcome with changes in activity, addressing lifestyle issues, and keeping the diet as clean as possible. Recognizing when stress has overwhelmed you, sleep is being neglected, and you need a break will go a long way in helping combat weight loss plateaus.

    You also need to be aware of consuming enough calories per day and the issues that come from not nourishing your body properly. Healthy weight loss is all about combining exercise, diet, rest, recovery, and an overall holistic approach for it to happen.

    More About Healthy Weight Loss

    Featured photo credit: Siora Photography via unsplash.com

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    Adnan Munye

    Personal Trainer and Fitness Expert

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    Last Updated on March 3, 2021

    10 Workout Tips for Building Muscle the Right Way

    10 Workout Tips for Building Muscle the Right Way

    Building muscle is one of the best ways to help you feel better about your appearance, but it’s also a great way to improve your physical efficiency, stabilize your bones and joints, and reduce risk of injury in everyday life. However, most people aren’t sure how to go about building muscle in the best way.

    By carefully selecting the time of your workout, the combination of techniques, and the proper post-workout snacks, you can maximize your workout to build strength and muscle. Here are the essential tips you need to know.

    1. Work out at the Right Time of Day

    The time of day when you choose to work out can make all the difference when it comes to working out to your maximum potential. Anthony Hackney, a professor in the department of exercise and sport science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, says that working out in the morning is best for weight loss due to the body’s hormonal composition at that time. If you really want to lose fat, exercise on an empty stomach[1].

    Now, if your goal is to build muscle, you’ll want to eat something first. This means that an afternoon or evening workout can serve you better as your body will have the necessary nutrients to perform well during a workout.

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    Ultimately, the best time to work out is the time of day that fits into your schedule. Not everyone has the luxury of working out in the morning or right after work. If you’re able to stick to a schedule, it will help you on your journey to building muscle.

    If you need help just getting started and finding motivation to get to the gym, check out Lifehack’s Ultimate Worksheet for Instant Motivation Boost.

    2. Weights Before Cardio

    If your goal is to lose weight or build muscle mass, strength training should come first, according to researchers. Furthermore, studies have shown that “Moderate- to high-intensity endurance training decreases the efficacy of strength training.” Therefore, if you’re going to train for a marathon, do so after you lift weights.[2]

    3. Eat Often (and More)

    Keep your energy up and give your body plenty of fuel for building muscle by eating small meals every three hours or so. Make sure to eat plenty of protein, ideally the equivalent amount of protein in grams as your current body weight in pounds. For example, a 150-pound man would aim to take in 150 grams of protein per day.

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    When trying to build muscle, aim to eat 250 to 500 calories more than you normally would, but don’t go too far beyond that. Your body may store the extra calories as body fat if it doesn’t use them during or after the workout.

    4. Eat a Snack After You Work out

    After a workout, your body will need a good dose of protein and amino acids in order to aid in muscle growth and recovery. This is essential to building muscle, as without the recovery, you can open yourself up to muscle strain and injury.

    You should aim to eat this high-protein snack within about 60 minutes of ending your workout. This will help the muscles absorb the nutrients when they need them. Try yogurt, cottage cheese, chocolate milk, nuts, or a protein shake as a great post-workout snack.

    5. Stay Hydrated

    The last thing you need complicating your workout is a cramp or fatigue, so drinking water before, during, and after your workout for best results. This will also aid in the recovery process as the muscles will use water to heal.

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    6. Never Skip the Warm up or Cool Down

    Stretching prevents muscle strain, helps blood more easily reach the joints and muscles, and can help lower cholesterol when done as part of a yoga or Pilates routine. Muscles also need to realign themselves after an intense workout, which a few minutes of stretching can help to accomplish.

    7. Combine Compound and Isolate Movements

    While isolating certain muscles is important, you need to alternate compound motions as well, which will target multiple muscle groups at once. Compound workouts are good for beginners and for toning certain parts of the body. They’ll also burn more calories and increase your mobility.

    Compound movements include squats, deadlifts, and pull-ups. These target several muscles groups at once. If you find that one muscle group is weaker than the rest, you can incorporate isolate movements to build it up.

    8. Gradually Increase Your Weights

    Increase the weight you’re lifting on each exercise by about 5 percent each week. If you bench-pressed 100 pounds this week, for example, then next week you should try doing 105 pounds. This gradual increase will yield the best muscle building results without overly straining your body.

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    9. Budget the Correct Amount of Time for Your Workout

    Studies have found that working out a muscle group two times a week is the best way to start building muscle more quickly. You will certainly see some results by only working a muscle group once a week, but try twice to give yourself a boost.

    Also, you don’t need to spend two hours in the gym each time you go. 20 to 30 minutes of weight lifting and strength training will help you see results and increase your muscle mass. If you go to the gym for an hour, try varying your workout a bit in order to avoid overworking a certain muscle group.

    10. Look in the Mirror

    Try to do all of your weight lifting in front of a mirror. That way, you can correct your posture and make sure you are fully extending your muscles. Correct form means means maximized results.

    This will likely feel strange at first, especially if you feel self conscious at the gym. However, know that this is normal and what many seasoned weight lifters do to ensure proper form.

    The Bottom Line

    Building muscle is a worthy goal to have as it will ultimately improve your everyday life from the ground up. You’ll find that everyday tasks become easier and that you have more energy for both your workouts and personal life. Use the tips above to start building muscle today.

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    Featured photo credit: Alora Griffiths via unsplash.com

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