10 Tips to Help Overcome a Weight Loss Plateau

Follow these tips to overcome a training related weight loss plateau

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Many exercise enthusiasts reach the point in their exercise paths when it seems that progress has stalled. When your goal is weight loss, sometimes figuring out how to spur further change can be frustrating and confusing.

The good news is there are things you can do to push through a plateau in a sustainable way. Keep reading for tips to break through and avoid plateaus.

Set Reasonable Goals and Expectations

Logging your progress and setting reasonable goals is essential for avoiding plateaus. Note your progress to know precisely when your weight loss, muscle enhancement, or waist size reduction starts to plateau. This is important because unless you note it or chart it, it's easy to imagine things are better or worse than they are.

Setting solid, sustainable, and realistic goals can help you manage your expectations and see when you may be on track even when it doesn't feel that way. Weight loss is rarely ever linear and can occur in spurts with slow-downs or stops along the way. Knowing how far you've come can help you see the bigger picture.

A reasonable goal and expectation for weight loss will be different for everyone. Be sure that weight loss is an appropriate goal for you by checking with your doctor. A goal of losing about 5% to 10% of your current body weight over the course of your weight loss phase is acceptable and can improve health markers such as blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Promote Muscle Growth

To put on muscle, you need to overload the muscles sufficiently to promote muscle growth. This means exercising all muscle groups at least twice weekly and preferably three times weekly. It's important to note that muscle growth will not occur for most people unless you are eating more than you burn.

If you'd rather focus on losing fat, then you should still train to gain muscle but eat in a deficit. This training style will offset the muscle loss that can occur when losing weight, preserving your metabolically active muscle tissue.

If you find yourself at a plateau after several months of training, try to squeeze in another session, making it 3 or 4 sessions each week if you feel adding the extra training is sustainable. Bear in mind that at this point, you should still be exercising close to failure. You may have adjusted the weight load upward to account for strength gains.

Workout Nutrition Tips

  • If you need a pre-workout snack, consume easy-to-digest foods such as carbs and a small amount of protein 30 to 60 minutes before you work out.
  • Drink a sports drink with carbohydrates if you exercise for more than an hour at high intensity. Protein is not necessary at this time.
  • Within 30 minutes of a solid workout, eat or drink 20 grams of protein with at least the same amount of carbohydrates and more if the training has a long duration and high intensity and includes cardio.
  • Don't skimp on carbohydrates if you train hard for 4 or more days each week. You need it to protect your muscle protein from breakdown and to replace glycogen stores.

Rest and Recover

Every 4 to 6 weeks take an easy week where you do about half your normal training or full training at half the intensity. This provides a 'window' in which the body can replenish itself and build even stronger.

The principle of weight training and muscle building is progressive overload, muscle damage, repair, and new growth. Give this process a chance to occur.

Adding volume can be very taxing and tiring, especially on a calorie deficit. If you find yourself feeling symptoms of overtraining, it is best to reduce your training, take a deload, or consider a break from dieting altogether for a week or two. Diet breaks and deloads help you manage fatigue and reduce the likelihood of plateaus.

Consider Cardio

Some weight trainers and bodybuilders are concerned that aerobic exercise will delay or even inhibit muscle growth. Aerobic exercise is good for your health, burns calories, and can lower stress levels. If you have hit a weight loss plateau, adding cardio could be the boost you need.

Keep it to less than 50 minutes a session at low to moderate intensity, and ensure you fuel properly and allow enough time to recover. Cardio, when it's not too frequent or intense, helps to balance energy, lowers stress, and improves all health outcomes.

Try an Intensity Change

If you're not getting any further after many months, try a change. The body responds to variation in intensity and program. If weight loss is your goal, try a circuit program.

If muscle building and fitness is your goal and you're a bit stale, switch from 3 sets of 12 reps to 4 sets of eight reps, or try pyramid or drop sets where you alter the weights and reps up or down for each set. See the Best Weight Training Guide for details.

Keep in mind that adding intensity is taxing and if you've been eating in a deficit to lose weight, it could be too much for your body. In this case, taking a break from dieting is likely a good idea. Consider eating at maintenance (the number of calories you need to maintain your weight) for a few weeks instead.

Manage Stress

Stress hormones like adrenaline, noradrenaline, and cortisol can play havoc with muscle development and fat loss. Dieting and frequent intense workouts can both exact a stressful toll on the body. Any further stress such as work, relationships, personal issues, and more can all add up to stress overload.

Being stressed produces a catabolic or 'breaking down' internal body environment which leads to muscle degradation, in some cases fat accumulation, and susceptibility to infection. Overtraining can create a similar internal environment. Rest and grow strong.

If your life is very stressful right now, it is likely not the best time to try and lose weight. It may be better to take some time to review where you can cut back on stress, or substitute some of your more intense training with stress-reducing methods like walks or yoga.

A Word From Verywell

While weight loss plateaus related to your training can be frustrating, they can also signify that you need to change your current routine. This could mean adding more volume, cardio sessions, or boosting intensity, but it also may indicate a reduction is best.

Managing stress and fatigue is crucial for long-term success if you train hard and eat in a deficit to lose weight. While this may take longer, it is also more sustainable and healthy in the long run.

10 Sources
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 Rachel MacPherson, BA, CPT
Rachel MacPherson is a health writer, certified personal trainer, and exercise nutrition coach based in Montreal.