How to Break Through a Workout Plateau

Ever found a workout routine that just clicks? Before you know it, you're getting stronger and burning fat. But then something changes. Despite sticking to your regimen and eating your usual healthy meals, the results stop coming. What gives?

"Your body is a very smart mechanism," explains Julia Falamas, program director and certified trainer at Epic Hybrid Training. "Your workout becomes easier and easier, and then eventually it stops being effective."

The plateau you're facing is common at all fitness levels, but luckily it's easy to fix. If you're totally new to a workout program, stick with it for about 12 weeks. That may sound like a long time, but hear us out.

When people first begin working out, they frequently notice big gains right away (score!). But those adjustments—mastering a particular movement or sequence of exercises—are neurological. In other words, your brain is learning how to best recruit the muscles needed to perform the task, explains Tony Musto, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the University of Miami.

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That learning process can take up to eight weeks depending on how frequently you work out. After that, Musto says, you'll start to see changes in hypertrophy, the technical term for an increase in muscle size, or muscle fiber cross-width.

"But after about 12 to 16 weeks, those adaptations become less significant," he says.

That's when you need to change your routine. As a bonus, doing something new will help keep you safe.

"A big reason to change your workout is injury prevention," says Liz Barnett, head trainer at Uplift Studios. "You don't want to overuse certain muscles by doing the same thing repetitively. You want to try to incorporate strength, mobility, and flexibility."

And let's face it: Doing the same workout over and over can get boring. In addition to switching up your go-to playlist and environment (hey, outdoor workouts!), here are a few more ways to revitalize your routine and continue making fitness gains.

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1. Increase Weight and Decrease Reps

The ACSM recommends one to three sets of eight to 12 reps when it comes to strength training. When that becomes easy, Musto recommends adding a 5 to 10 percent increase in weight and seeing how many reps you can do.

"Maybe you only get to 10 reps at first—use that as your guide," he says. "When you can accomplish 12 reps in good form, it's time to increase the weight again."

On the other hand, Falamas suggests a 20-percent weight increase in the course of three to four weeks.

"Maybe for the first two weeks you increase by 10 percent," she says. "And then by week three or four, you get to 20 percent."

For example, if you're currently bench pressing 60 pounds and doing two sets of 12 reps, increase to about 65 pounds for two to three weeks. (You may only be able to perform two sets of eight to 10 reps. Then reassess: Can you comfortably perform 12 reps with good form? If yes, increase your weight from 65 to about 72 pounds.

More advanced lifters can also try adding and subtracting weight from workout to workout, Musto says. Maybe you add five pounds one day and perform 10 reps, and the next time, you drop the weight and do 12 reps.

More: Should Your Muscles Be Sore After Every Workout?

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Greatist is one of the fastest-growing fitness, health and happiness media start-ups. Check out more health and fitness news, tips, healthy recipes, expert opinion, and fun times at
Greatist is one of the fastest-growing fitness, health and happiness media start-ups. Check out more health and fitness news, tips, healthy recipes, expert opinion, and fun times at

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