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The Endurance Sports Training Plateau Breaker

By Gaelle Abecassis | Oct 2, 2023

Everyone hits a fitness and strength training plateau. You know you hit yours when you stop climbing your benchmark hill quicker or your 50-yard swim splits stop dropping. You feel like you can’t get any better as an athlete. Frustration sets in, and your athletic goals look suddenly impossible to reach. But it’s not all bad. A plateau signals that your body has become hyper-efficient and optimized to complete whatever workout you’re doing. Consider it a backhanded biological compliment. 

A 2022 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Health & Public Health found that endurance athletes will generally hit a plateau after the first four weeks of training. The study further states that athletes only reached 75 percent of their capacity at the plateau. Put another way, you think you’re stuck at completing 15 pushups successfully, and you swear you can’t do anymore. Science says you have five more reps in you.

Most athletes first try a simple solution. They do even more of the same in a misguided effort to break through. They run seven miles instead of five. Bike 30 miles instead of 25, or do more barbell squat reps with the same weight on the bar. Science shows this only makes you better at running or biking at the same speed or lifting the same weight. The real solution is variability and change. Throw your body a curveball, and force it to adapt — and grow — all over again. Here’s how.

Check Your Data

In many cases, training plateaus because effort and intensity start to wane. For example, if your workouts have transitioned from “work” to enjoyable runs or rides, you have a problem. It's time to push yourself outside of your comfort zone again if you want to improve performance. Your data will tell the tale: Has your average heart rate during training dropped even though you go your usual pace? Are you following the same route(s) for every workout to the point that your body isn’t challenged anymore? Congrats on making your workout easy, but that’s not the point. Easy won't make you better.

Time to change things up and choose new routes that include some hills that leave you breathing hard. Instead of running at the same pace, split your runs between slower, longer jogs and shorter, faster sprints. Progress comes from increasing your intensity. Humango’s AI-powered training app does just that. It will spot a change in your threshold power based on your workout data and adjust the intensity of the workouts accordingly. All you have to do is keep at it.

Additional Plateau Busters

Nutrition plays a valuable role in overcoming a performance flatline. Check to see if your weight has changed thanks to your new baseline fitness. If it has, adjust your food intake to match your new optimized body. You should see performance improve.

Take an extra day or two off. The human body needs recovery time — especially sleep — to build muscle and neural pathways that lead to better performance. When you’re doing nothing, your body has the time and energy to adapt to your workouts and grow stronger. 

Add a dynamic warm-up to your daily workout. Go through a full-body range-of-motion routine to loosen up your joints and muscles and then a short, easy cardio session long enough to break a sweat. Priming your cardiovascular system and muscles for work should pave the way for a better, next-level workout. 10-15 minutes is all it takes.

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Posted by Gaelle Abecassis