We’ve all experienced it: that initial burst of progress any time we’re starting something new, then, what seems like a lifetime of being stuck at the same level.
Plateaus happen to everyone. No matter what level you’re starting at, you will experience a plateau at some point. While plateaus are never fun, they’re a normal, albeit frustrating, part of getting better at anything.
When you reach a plateau, it’s helpful to acknowledge it, then reevaluate where you are in your journey.
Here are a few things to consider:
Training Too Much or Too Little Can Cause Plateaus
Next time you realize you’ve plateaued, first ask yourself whether you need to adjust your training level or frequency. Not training intensely or frequently enough can cause plateaus, as can overtraining.
Finding a balance between consistently working hard and getting enough rest to let your body recover is something only you can determine.
Learn to listen to your body and understand the signals of when you should push harder or give yourself a break.
Be honest with yourself: Have you been challenging yourself consistently, or are there areas where you could push harder? You don’t have to go all-out in training every single day, but make sure you’re spending at least a couple of workouts a week working above your comfort level.
If you’ve been training hard lately, try taking a few days off and doing something completely unrelated. If your goal is to hold a freestanding handstand, but your last few training sessions just left you feeling frustrated, go on a hike, surf, or take a flexibility or dance class instead.
The purpose here is to let all your hard work sink in while your mind is occupied doing something else. More often than not, you’ll find you come back from these mini-breaks feeling refreshed, getting past that previous point of frustration with ease.
Seek Additional Knowledge or Outside Help
If you’re experiencing a plateau, consider the possibility that you’ve reached the highest level you’re capable of getting to on your own right now and you need outside help to push past it.
I’ve experienced this countless times in my own fitness journey — from learning to box, to increasing my handstand skills, even to upping my push-up max reps. After feeling frustrated on my own for way too long, I eventually realize I’ve reached the limits of my knowledge and need to either increase my knowledge or seek outside help to continue making progress.
Luckily in the age of the internet, there are so many ways to do find additional knowledge or outside help.
The first and easiest is a simple Google or YouTube search. For example, a search for “increase push-up max” gives you pages and pages of results you can click through and determine which is the best fit.
From there, books are a good place to start. Books one of the cheapest, greatest sources of knowledge ever; many experts spend years putting all of their knowledge and wisdom into a book.
When I set out to write The 12-Minute Athlete, I condensed everything I’d learned up until that point in my fitness journey into the book. The end result is a go-to resource for HIIT training tips and bodyweight progressions.
Of course, nothing can completely replace working one-on-one or in a small group capacity with a highly skilled coach or teacher. Working with various coaches has been one of the highlights of my adult life so far; I’ve learned so much and have gotten so much better at learning and teaching in the process. If you have the opportunity to work with a coach, I highly recommend it.
It’s also helpful to remember that what works for one person won’t work for everyone. So keep experimenting, finding new resources, and working with different people until you find the right fit.
Trust the Process
We often forget that getting better at something doesn’t mean making constant progress. Instead, the path to long-term progress or mastery involves sporadic breakthroughs followed by long periods of plateaus.
Just like we need to accept that struggle is part of the process, we need to realize that plateaus aren’t something to fear — they are part of the process of growth.
If you’ve reached a plateau, it may be that your current plateau is exactly where you need to be right now so that you can further internalize your recent progress.
This is why learning to trust the process is so important. And beyond trusting the process, learning to love the process itself is essential.
When you embrace the long term journey of achieving your goals, you can actually begin to enjoy the ups and downs rather than focus only on the outcome.
It’s part of the journey to learn when a plateau is the right place to be and when it’s time to push beyond it. After all, if you want to make progress, you can’t stay on a plateau forever.
As Bruce Lee once said, “There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”