Overcoming Weight Loss Plateaus

Walking for Weight Loss: What to Do When You Hit a Plateau

Woman performing squats while walking

Verywell / Ryan Kelly

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You decided to get back into a fitness routine by taking daily walks in your neighborhood. You're enjoying the fresh air, energy boost, mental benefits, and potentially some weight loss. But over time, you have noticed that the consistent drop on the scale is slowing down, or maybe it stopped. What is happening? It sounds like you have reached a weight loss plateau.

What is a Plateau?

A plateau is when your weight loss becomes stagnant. Plateaus are extremely common, especially when a person is new to exercise or dieting. There are rapid results in the beginning, and then all of a sudden, the changes stop. This is a plateau.

Weight loss plateaus will generally happen at some point while trying to lose weight.

Why Do Plateaus Happen?

One reason you may see a plateau is that the body adjusts to the amount of stress you are putting it under. Studies show that when you increase your activity, your body will naturally expend more calories, which will result in weight loss. Once your body becomes accustomed to that amount of activity, your weight loss will begin to slow down.

Plateaus also happen because of changes in our nutrition. Weight loss is achieved through a calorie deficit. With increased activity, comes a higher calorie expenditure. Especially when someone initially changes up their diet to more nourishing choices, the lower calorie diet will produce a weight decrease.

Once a healthier eating pattern becomes a lifestyle choice. The results will begin to slow down.

How To Adjust Your Walking Plan To Overcome A Plateau

Overcoming a plateau is all about effort and intensity. You will need to exert a little more energy than you have been to help you continue to reach your weight loss goals. You can do that in a few ways. All of these adjustments can be measured using a fitness tracker, or using the Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE).

RPE is a tool you can use to assess the intensity of your workouts, rating it on a scale of 6-20 or the Borg Scale, 6 being the lowest.

Increase Your Speed

As you become more accustomed to your walking plan, you can change up the speed to add more of a challenge. An increased pace will result in a higher heart rate response. A higher heart rate will result in a higher calorie burn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the range for moderate-intensity activity while walking is 2.5 to 4 mph. A moderate pace is 2.5 to 3.5 mph, while a brisk pace is 3.5 to 4 mph.

Increase Your Incline or Change Terrain

Whether you're walking on a treadmill or taking it to the streets, hills will up the difficulty of your walks, and you will reap the benefits. Research shows that inclines elicit more muscle activation, and increase the amount of energy you are expending compared to walking on flat terrain.

An extra benefit to walking on an incline is that it improves lower body strength, as it requires more activity in your muscles to perform.

Increase Your Time or Distance

When you begin a walking plan, you might start with a lower time or distance goal, but as your body gets stronger, you will need to add to those goals to see results.

Though you can add either time or distance for an extra challenge, studies have shown that adding distance to your walks may be more beneficial to weight control than the duration of the walk. Setting a distance goal guarantees that you'll get that amount of walking every day. However, with a time goal, the amount of walking you get can vary. For example, if your time goal is 30 minutes, one day you might get 2 miles, but another day it might be 1.75 or 1.5 miles, if you walk slower.

There are many ways to track time and distance, such as wearing a fitness tracker or calculating steps.

Vary Your Walking Workout

Intervals are a great addition to a walking routine, and allow you to work in quick, more intense bursts. Studies show that interval training will provide a higher calorie burn than steady state training, in the same amount of time.

The benefit of interval training is that you can activate Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) due to your higher intensity efforts. EPOC occurs after exercise when your body consumes more oxygen and experiences an increase in metabolism while recovering and bringing itself back to homeostasis. Higher intensity usually results in greater EPOC responses.

Try a walking plan that moves through different paces. For example: start with a low-intensity walk for one minute. Increase to moderate intensity for three minutes. Return to low intensity for one minute. Finish off with 30 seconds of vigorous intensity. Repeat this five times.

Other Adjustments To Make

Coming out of a plateau is not just about what you do during your walks, but it's also about what you do throughout your day, what you eat, and any additional workouts you might do.

Move More During The Day

There are many simple ways we can get more movement during our days. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the end of the parking lot when running errands, set a timer to get up every hour, or walk over to talk to a co-worker at their desk instead of sending an email. Those are just some ideas to get you up and moving through the day.

Evaluate Your Nutrition

Nutrition is always important, particularly when you're looking to lose weight. While factors for weight loss vary from person to person, a calorie deficit generally produces weight loss.

This means you need to be mindful when it comes to your nutrition. While counting calories is an option, researchers have found that "a higher quality diet, with more vegetables and other whole foods, may help people reduce calorie intake without feeling hungry, and may be a more successful long-term weight control approach than counting calories."

Add Resistance Training

To push through a plateau, you can also add a day or two of resistance training to your walking program. Research finds that calorie restriction can lead to the reduction of lean muscle mass. Resistance training will help you maintain the muscle you gain from your walks.

The more muscle you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate is, so keeping your muscle mass while attempting to lose weight is imperative.

Combining resistance training with walking has been shown to reduce cardiovascular disease risk factors.

A Word From Verywell

When you begin a walking program, you may see the weight come off quickly in the beginning. However, over time the results you became accustomed to can slow down, or stop entirely. This plateau can be frustrating and cause you to feel defeated, but there are ways to overcome it.

Using different speeds, inclines, and durations during your walks can pull you out of that slump. You should also assess your daily activities, nutrition, and resistance training program to see if there are any changes you can make.

Weight loss plateaus are not an indication that you should give up, but a chance to rise to new challenges to get you out of your comfort zone to obtain new results.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is Walking a good strategy for weight loss?

    Yes! Walking is great for weight loss. It's perfect for people new or returning to fitness after a hiatus. It's also free and great for your mental wellbeing. You can walk alone, or also enjoy the social aspect of it.

  • How common is it to hit a plateau?

    Plateaus will happen at some point to anyone who is trying to lose weight. Once the body becomes accustomed to your program, a plateau may occur.

  • Should you do more than just walk to lose weight?

    Walking for weight loss is wonderful when paired with resistance training. It will help you to maintain the muscle you are building. It's important to maintain your muscle mass during weight loss to keep your resting metabolic rate higher.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Brittany Hammond
Brittany is a Certified Personal Trainer and freelance wellness writer with work in Livestrong, Verywell Fit, and more.