On the climb to wellness: Surpassing health and fitness plateaus

”The summit is what drives us, but the climb itself is what matters.”

– Conrad Anker

 Wellness is an ever-allusive journey.  The moment that you think you learned about yourself in a way that leads closer to health, something comes up again that gets in the way.  The themes discussed in this blog in total revolve around the notion that we are often our greatest obstacle to our success.  No visit to a doctor, guru, hike in the woods or self-help book is going to bring you to the answer of that which is in you for yourself:  that our reality is what is processed from within us and re-presented to us – it can be adjusted and fine-tuned to support the best in you.

Now to our topic this week of health and fitness plateaus.  During the last post, we discussed the power of determination and reconsidering your original interpretation of what is a failure or misstep.  Branching from this theme, as we are on the path to health and wellness, we may find ourselves facing either an obstacle or stagnation – a plateau.

Maybe for the last few months, you have noticed that some of the positive gains in strength, muscle mass and endurance haven’t progressed past a certain point.  Or maybe your frequent checks on the scale haven’t shown any improvements, even though you feel like you are doing all the right things but for some reason (or many reasons) you are not seeing the progress that you would like.  

To reach a plateau is “to reach a point where progress is no longer possible and stagnation is likely, where advancement can only be achieved by a sudden, difficult and possibly risky leap to the next level.”  Urban dictionary. 

Some questions you may be asking yourself:

  1. Why I cannot lose weight, despite making modifications in the type of food I am eating?
  2. Why I cannot gain muscle and endurance, even though I am showing up at the gym every day?

As the initial quote suggests, maybe the summit or endpoint — a specific fat level or muscle mass or weight is getting in the way with the process — the climb.

No one ever said it was easy — if it were that easy, everyone would be fit.  Nevertheless, there are some ways that can strengthen you on this journey – even when you come into obstacles – and could even allow you to surpass them.

A healthy life can improve not only your lifespan but your healthspan – the amount of healthy years lived. Health is not just what it appears on the outside – the way our body looks. It is an overall optimal functional state – that generates greater energy and force for further growth – greater creativity, resilience from stress and trauma and discipline. Facing the realization of a health plateau can be discouraging and can feed into the narrative of failure and “not being good enough.” It can jeopardize momentum with a feeling of “no matter what I do, I just don’t seem to get the changes that I want.”

Keep the same theme in mind — climbing a mountain.  When you look up to the summit — when I do — I may develop a fear and a question in my mind — am I really ready for this?  When I look down and see how far I have come, I may get a fear about going further — a fear of falling.

A few climbing lessons can help us along the way on our “climb” to health and wellness:

  1. Concentrate with what your body is telling you first – am I eating enough food, am I drinking enough water, am I getting enough rest?  How is my general mood and confidence?
  2. Then concentrate with what is right in front of you and make sure you have at least three points of contact to support you before you reach up- what is my stress level at this time – when I sit down to eat?  Am I taking enough time to nurture myself with hobbies, meditation and exercise.  Let’s call the three points of contact:  peace of mind, nutritious food, good hydration.  Dis-traction, real or perceived, and haste can cause you to lose your foothold.  
  3. Look immediately above you for at least two points of contact – do you have a supportive foothold for your next reach up?  Do you have another option if that next step fails you?
  4. It is best to climb with others.  Sometimes a more trained climber can set up a system of ropes and spurs that can allow you to hook into and prevent you from falling all of the way.  A more advanced climber can help you get up higher.  A team of climbers can provide positive support and direction.  Maybe this expert climber is a personal trainer or a health coach.  Maybe this team is a support group or group training program. 
  5. If you get stuck, regroup and troubleshoot.  You have come so far – or maybe just begun – but you know that giving up is not going to help you.  Remember failure is a state of mind — if you hadn’t tried that, you wouldn’t have gained a greater understanding of the obstacles and had a chance to troubleshoot ways to get around it.

Here are some tips when you encounter a health and wellness plateau.

  1. Manage your stress level.  Funny thing about the modern age is that we are so connected to our phones, emails, messages, social media that it can sometimes insidiously taints our leisure time.  You have to force it away.  Maybe, only check your emails once or twice a day.  Maybe save social media for 20 minutes a day or maybe one hour once a week, or delete the apps.  Work on a hobby or interest a few times a week to improve your skills and manage your stress.  Start the morning with a walk or meditation.  Schedule breaks during work.  Give yourself a few hours to tune out of technology before you sleep.
  2. Get enough sleep.  This enables your body to heal itself and recover from the daily stressors mentally and physically.  If you overworked your neck and back at work — a good rest will usually resolve the pain.  Sufficient sleep is more important than any exercise program.  Again – this is at the same time each night and for the same duration and without an alarm clock disturbing your sleep – wake up when your body tells you it is ready to start the day.  Refer to the sleep post for tips.
  3. Maintain a health diet and keep carb intake to a minimum.  When the body is sleep-deprived or stressed, it will often crave carbohydrates — a subconscious drive to a little dopamine pick-me-up.  Often this may be our blind spot in why we are at a plateau.  Avoid eating out of the cupboards or refrigerator, especially when you are very hungry or stressed.  Slow it down so that you can prepare a healthy meal and address the stress in different ways.
  4. Keep moving through the plateau.  Sometimes, the only way to manage your stress is to work through the plateau – sometimes changing up the routine can create a general feeling of curiosity and re-kindle the momentum to move past this.  Change the amounts of sets and repetitions you perform.  Add new exercises or different machines.  I find that group exercise programs are helpful to add into your fitness regimen.  If you prefer to work one-on-one, find a good trainer. 

Feeling a set-back with a health plateau does not necessarily mean that you can’t achieve your goals.   It is from these experiences that new directions – new ideas are often created.  You are actually further along than if you didn’t take a chance.  You have gained a greater understanding of your challenges on the road to wellness – challenges that you can reshape to become your strengths. Thanks for reading and, if you enjoyed reading this, visit the older posts, sign up for email updates, and pass it on!

“It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves”.    Sir Edmund Percival

Sometimes when we get to a plateau, we may realize that we are at the top of that mountain – and just need to come down, so we can climb a higher mountain…

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