You’ve been working hard for months now, trying to get your paces right where you want them. Yet, lately, you can’t seem to make progress, no matter how hard you try. It’s frustrating and confounding, and you don’t know how to break through. Unfortunately, you’ve probably hit a workout plateau.

A workout plateau can happen in running and/or your strength training. Coaches will tell you these roadblocks usually reveal themselves after about three or four weeks of stagnation. In running, this might mean you just aren’t seeing progress in training, whether that’s in your track splits or your mileage gains.

In strength training, it could mean that you’re not able to lift a heavier weight in a squat or other exercise, or you’re not seeing changes in body composition, even when you had a steady six months of progress.

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The important thing to know is that workout plateaus don’t last forever—with a little drilling down, you can find the cause and then, the fix. Here’s how to overcome your workout plateau so you can bring out your best performances.

If you’ve reached a running plateau…

Feeling like you’ve hit a plateau in running can take on several forms, depending on your outlook. “It can feel like you’ve stagnated physically, like you’re unmotivated, or like you’re stuck in no-man’s land,” says Jessica Hofheimer, certified running coach at North Carolina-based Pace of Me, and coach for Another Mother Runner. “It means different things to different people. But whatever your goal, it feels like you’re not moving toward it anymore.”

Hofheimer cautions, however, that running progress doesn’t happen overnight, and sometimes, you’re not truly hitting a plateau. “You don’t do a hard workout one day and see results the next week,” she says. “It takes consistency over time.”

If, however, you’ve been training consistently for months and hit a wall, then take the time to evaluate what might be causing your workout plateau and then figure out how to address it. Here’s where to start:

Check your rest

It’s tempting to skip your rest days, but don’t. Take them regularly, says Hofheimer, so that your body can recover. Also, follow a plan with variation, which ensures you are alternating your hard days with easy days. How easy is easy? “An easy run shouldn’t be harder than a four on a scale of one to 10,” Hofheimer explains. “And be honest with yourself when it comes to that easy pace.”

This applies to your sleep schedule, too. If you’re skimping on your shut-eye, you’re skimping on your body’s ability to repair muscle damage from your hard runs. Aim for an average of seven to nine hours each night. If you’re struggling to get a solid night’s sleep, look for ways to improve your sleep routine, like a consistent bedtime, a break from screens before bed, and making your bedroom a peaceful environment.

Assess your stress

As Hofheimer reminds us, stress is stress is stress, and your body can’t distinguish one type from the other—whether that’s mental stress from a job or physical stress from your run. If you’re going through a tough time at work or with your family, maybe it’s a season to dial back on your running, saving the dedicated, programmed training for another time.

“Plateaus aren’t a necessary part of training,” says Hofheimer. “But sometimes we’ll hit them. We can’t push all the time and if you must force running, maybe you need a break to refresh and break through.”

Look in your ‘fridge

Good nutrition that optimizes recovery is essential when you’re in training. Aim to get enough carbohydrates to fuel your runs—think simple, easy-to-digest foods like bagels, a banana with nut butter, or even a sports drink.

Once you’ve returned from your run, grab something to help your muscles recover. Think protein- and healthy fat-rich foods like yogurt, avocado toast, eggs, or even a bowl of oatmeal with nut butter. Postworkout and heavy training periods are not the time to skimp on calories. You need the nutrients to repair muscle damage.

Research backs up the importance of a solid nutrition plan for optimizing performance, calling for a personalized plan that works for your running, along with your digestive health. One scientific review published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health looked particularly at nutritional intervention for women during their menstrual cycle, finding that hydration, micronutrient, and phytochemical interventions can improve athletic performance, based on measurements like aerobic capacity, anaerobic power, and strength. It also found nutrition intervention could help ease exercise-induced damage, like muscle soreness or signs of dehydration.

Talk with a doc

If you’ve tried all of the above, you might want to go the extra mile to figure out what’s going on. Hofheimer suggests “taking a look under the hood,” if you’ve been feeling more tired than usual for a period of time. “Have your bloodwork done and make sure there’s not a health issue going on, like low iron levels,” she recommends.


If you’re reached a plateau in your strength training…

Strength training is the essential backend work all runners should be doing to keep their bodies better prepared for the stress of the sport. And if you’re doing it right, you’re incorporating a routine that helps you continually progress in the amount of weight you lift, perpetually challenging your body. But it’s also easy to hit a strength workout plateau every now and again.

Meghan Weiser, D.P.T., a certified strength and conditioning specialist at the Maryland-based Recharge Modern Health & Fitness, says there are several possibilities for a strength-training plateau. But first, she says, “Before you define it as a plateau, determine if there are areas where you can improve.” These steps will get you on track:

Progress your loads accordingly

In strength training—as with running—you want to continually challenge your body. That means that as time goes on, you should gradually increase the weights, reps, or sets that you’re lifting, and/or the frequency of your strength sessions. This is called progressive overload and it’s key to avoiding or overcoming a workout plateau (in weight training and running).

This is where a trained strength coach can come in handy, as they can write a proper program for you to follow—one that continues to progress—and consult with you if trouble arises.

Take recovery days and weeks

Much like a running program, a good strength program will build in occasional weeks where you step back in training before pushing on to the next level. These “deload” weeks will involve dropping down in the amount of weight you lift, cutting back on frequency, or both. This gives your muscles a chance to repair and prepare for the next jump up. Plan to take a de-load week about every four to six weeks.

Also, similar to running, strength training requires adequate rest at night, and days off, says Weiser. Aim for that same good night’s sleep, with seven to nine hours as your goal for shut-eye. If your body is super sore from your strength session, take that as a sign you need a rest day, too.

Examine your weekly workouts

New activity is fun, and cross-training has many benefits for runners. But if you’ve recently added in new physical pursuits—a hike or two per week, for example—that might be enough to impact your strength training potential. Be intentional with your new activities, adding them in slowly and in short durations to make sure you’re not over-stressing your muscles. If you think you are, dial back until your body feels refreshed.

Eat to build muscle

Even more than running, the idea behind strength training is to inflict a bit of microscopic damage to your muscles. When the repair work begins, your muscles get bigger and stronger. Skimp on adequate calories or nutrient-dense foods—especially protein—and you’re selling yourself short, not giving your muscles what they need to make those gains.

Eat a little extra protein, healthy fats, and whole grains/healthy carbs to keep your muscles out of the tired zone.

Research published in Nutrition Reviews shows the importance of meeting protein needs, in particular, when it comes to maintaining or increasing lean body mass.

Know there will be ups and downs

Weiser points out that progress is not always linear, and it doesn’t always come in big increments. “If you’re deadlifting 150 pounds for a few weeks and then move up to 155 pounds, that’s still progress,” she says. “With any activity, there are going to be weeks when it sucks, and you feel weak and that’s just how it goes. It doesn’t mean you’re stuck in that place forever.”

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