What Should You Do When You Hit an Exercise Plateau?

You’ve heard the term. It’s when, despite your best efforts, to improve your [insert exercise – in my case, biking, walking and yoga], you don’t get any better. It’s frustrating. You may want to take an extended break, or even quit. No one would blame you if you did. All that effort seemingly gone up in smoke. I’m no sports psychologist, though I certainly touch on it since it is a big part of the point of this blog is to try to inspire other older, overweight or just less active folks to try doing more. So let’s examine this whole plateau notion, shall we? Well, not in whole, just a few parts. As always, consult a medical professional before doing anything risky for you.

Popular advice says to rest, or change things up by doing different things within your sport, increase the intensity, or do another activity entirely. Those are sound suggestions, and by all means, try them out if you want. I certainly should follow my own advice on rest, but I’m on this whole stupid quest to have a “bike every day for a year” streak. And there are subtle variations that I make in all my activities. If there were a poster for not achieving many noticeable results despite huge expenditures of time and energy, I’d be your boy, or rather, dude.

For example, I’ve been yoga for almost six and a half years. At first I mostly did it at home, but I did go to some classes for a while. Nowadays I can’t stop even if I wanted to. My usual routine is very gentle, slow, and deep stretching. Often it comes after a bike ride at the end of a long day, sometimes involving a yoga nap. Lately I’ve been doing better about getting my asana on the yoga mat fairly quickly after I get done with my bike ride, or at least before dinner, even if it is late. Hey, don’t judge, I don’t have a job or any reason to get up at the butt crack of dawn. While early birds may get the worm, they can have mine. Have you ever tasted worm? Disgusting, so I’m told.

Even the subtle difference of stretching with breath and awareness earlier in the evening, when I have more energy, has helped me to do more standing poses. This may lead to better balance, slightly more arm strength, and improved posture, due to the sorts of poses I do. Over the long term, it may not produce huge changes, but it can’t hurt. So I’m over a little hump, but probably still on a plateau.

I would like to return to an earlier in the day practice, but then I’d lose the winding down, post-biking benefits. I’ve accepted the realization that I will probably not be seeing big gains in my yoga without taking a more challenging class at some point or watching videos like Yoga With Adriene. But I’m open to that idea. For now I just focus on getting it done, and on the small, marginal gain of doing it a little bit earlier in the day.

My bicycling is at a similar stalemate for two main reasons. There’s the aforementioned daily riding, which started out as a challenge to myself. Biking daily means I’m not getting in the longer, hillier or faster rides. And now it has become about partially due to the pandemic. I don’t want to have a mechanical and get stranded out on some country road and have to ask a friend to pick me up. Worse would be having a crash and requiring a trip to hospital. So my speed and elevation are less than previous years.

Two other main factors are at play: the bike and my age. Sookie the Fuji (RIP) was about 21 pounds with 27 gears. Sophie the Fairdale is 28 pounds with 9 gears. The difference is noticeable. As for years alive on the planet, we’re all aging, and that can (but doesn’t have to) mean slowing down. But it happens. As one ages, it’s inevitable that muscle decreases as does general energy and strength. Someday I’ll hopefully get a new bike. As for a new me, that seems unlikely without major upgrades in affordable technology.

As for my daily walking and dietary changes, those are also two things that do not have clear results. If I’m not losing weight, as a fathlete, why bother to continue? I gave up processed, refined grains (pizza, bread, cookies, cake, donuts, white rice, etc.) almost 30 months ago, and that hasn’t affected my weight one whit. Walking also has done fuck-all for me as far as I can tell. I had to stop swimming only six weeks into a gym membership. Thanks, CV-19! This article The Dreaded Diet Plateau on Medium has a number of good ideas.

Internally, I suspect my blood sugar levels, bone density, cholesterol and other health markers are better. But these are not things I can put in a YouTube video or become an Instagram star with amazing before/after pictures. So why keep it all up at significant amount of time and effort? Well, from a sports psychology view, motivation is key, regardless of numbers and data. What’s the point of biking x number of miles per day – week – month – year when there’s a pandemic? Well, we still need to exercise, maybe now more than ever. Perspective can help one realize that progress — not results — is what matters in the long-term.

I’ll continue to strive to do better, of course. But as a middle-aged fathlete who can’t afford a personal trainer, chef, masseuse and so on, I’m OK with the journey. I’m not so focused on the destination that I’m forgetting to enjoy the ride. If your journey has you similarly biking (or running, swimming, or whatever) along on a plateau, like me, here’s A Dude Abikes’ advice. Think of it as a plat-ohhhhhhh! And be sure to enjoy the view.

You put in the work and got yourself up there. Take a look around, look at how far you’ve come. Celebrate that. It won’t last forever, there will be peaks and valleys, even small ones you may not notice. An object in motion tends to stay in motion. So keep doing that. I sure intend to as long as I can. Perhaps someday our paths will cross in real life and we’ll see each other out there. Until then, stay frosty, or toasty, depending on your geographic position.

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4 thoughts on “What Should You Do When You Hit an Exercise Plateau?

  1. I don’t put much stock in plateaus per se, when I go through what your calling a plateau, it’s just me not feeling like doing something. I am doing a lot more riding during this “fake pandemic.” Brandon has been telling me about the people staying safe in Austin and also about those that are doing some crazy shit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The reasons for not feeling like doing something vary from person to person. Overtraining, fatigue, etc.

      Less traffic from people not being allowed to work or go many places makes biking easier since it’s an approved exercise.

      Nit sure what you mean by “fake.” 100,000 dead in the US alone. Nothing fake about that.

      Thanks to GOP governors and president ignoring health advice well have many more cases. But even Dr. Fauci said indefinite lockdowns are bad for health. Like too much mask time.

      Life goes on but it sucks and will for a long time.


  2. So many plateaus over the years…they don’t last forever. And yes, age DOES have a bearing on speed. Whether it be due to physiological changes, motivation, or hormonal/biochemical, I have noticed a marked decrease in my speed over the last few years. And I couldn’t care less. Life IS a journey, not a sprint.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re right. There’s nothing wrong with a plateau. The views are great. In the therapy world, the word “plateau” is used by insurers as an excuse to stop paying. A plateau doesn’t have to be an end, as you well know. It can just be a little break; maybe even a false summit.

    Liked by 3 people

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