Whether your ultimate goal is to build muscle, endurance or self confidence, there comes a time in every girl or guy’s fit-venture where they hit the dreaded plateau. Or in other words, that stagnant, super obnoxious lull after a few weeks to a month of continuous progress where absolutely nothing seems to get you closer to your fitness goals. And in this situation, it can be easy to feel seriously deflated and throw in the towel, chalking up your derailment to genetics, fate or some other intangible (and annoying) force.
While we completely understand your frustration, hear us (or rather, these three fitness experts) out. From cutting out certain vices to assessing not just how much you’re eating but what, here are six questions to seriously ask yourself before assuming progress is out of your control. (Hint, hint: it’s definitely not!)
Are you eating late at night?
For personal trainer at HIIT IT! founder Daphnie Yang, having clients approach her complaining that they feel stronger but don’t look any different is a common occurrence—to which she typically has a common question in response: Are you eating after 9 o’clock at night?
“I always tell my clients the same thing: don’t eat anything after 9 p.m.,” she says. “Most Americans don’t eat enough during the day and their largest meal is at night. But if you are using food to fuel your body, why are you fueling with so many calories before you go to sleep?”
Do you actually know what you’re eating?
A couple of bites of chocolate here. A handful of pretzels there. Some wine before bedtime (but how big is that glass?). Just one Oreo in the break room. Or was it three?
If you really want to see results, quit the questioning, says Katie Sullivan, certified trainer and nutritionist. “Take a really hard, honest look at what you are eating and drinking (hello, alcohol!),” she recommends. “Log all of your food and caloric beverages in a nutrition tracking app like MyFitnessPal. Then, use a calculator online or ask a professional to help you figure out how many calories you should be eating to reach your goals based on your height, weight and activity level.”
How varied are your workouts, really?
As humans, our ability to adapt has allowed us to survive on earth. But when it comes to progressing on our fitness goals, that evolutionary benefit can be a problematic, according to Paul Rhan, CEO and founder of Sweat in Chicago.
“If you are used to training hard and taking the same class each day, change it up a bit,” he says. “If you go to the same studio each day, take a day to go try something else. If you do a HIIT workout each week, take a power lifting class or a boxing class. The goal: surprise your body.”
What (not just how much) are you really eating?
Just because you’re meticulously tracking your caloric intake, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily see the results you want, says Sullivan. “Are you eating enough protein? Most women aren’t,” she explains. “Protein is beneficial for body fat loss because it is the most thermogenic of the three macronutrients, which are protein, carbohydrates, and fat. What this means is that you burn more calories by eating those egg whites in your omelet than you do with that bagel, which is mainly carbs, or that spoonful of peanut butter, which is mostly fat.”
Are you resting enough?
While following a continuous fitness regimen is important, it’s equally vital to give your body the rest it deserves. “Take it back to the basics,” recommends Rahn. “Sometimes we over-train our bodies as we get motivated and don’t take enough rest to allow our bodies to recover and reform. Don’t forget to take your rest days. Don’t view them as cheat days either, but days to treat your body with care. Eat nutritious foods or meditate.”
Have you truly congratulated yourself for all your hard work?
According to Rahn, if you’re feeling especially defeated with your progress, it might be a good idea to take a look back at how far you’ve come. “Do you have a before photo you took, or your weight and inch measurements to see where you started?” he says. “While you may have fallen off a bit, you’re still better than when you started. Take a moment to redo those photos and assess what you want to change. Make a game plan for how to achieve your dreams!”