You’ve no doubt heard of the phrase “paralysis by analysis.” If you are the type of person that overanalyzes everything with subcategories of possible outcomes, you are suffering from paralysis by analysis. It renders you immobile and powerless. If you’ve ever listened to or read an advertisement, you might have noticed that you don’t get the option to choose anything. The goal of the advertisement was to make you do one of two things: choose to buy, or discard it. Had the advertisement given you a list of options, you likely would not buy, by default.
So it goes with your fitness goals. If you talk to anyone they’re either switching something in their programming, bulking, cutting, training for this, or training for that. And that’s excellent. Having a goal is a great way to make sure you achieve something. And having too many decisions is a great way to screw up the process.
But what do you do when you stall? You know what I mean. The dreaded plateau. Some might make the argument that maintaining is a pointless endeavor, especially in terms of dieting. The rationale is like that of what I mentioned above. The goal keeps you in focus. But, there is more to your gains that just getting lean or bulking up. And I am reminded of something I heard Alan Aragon once say. He said “Plateaus are just practice for maintenance.”
With that in mind, you do have more options with your fitness should this happen. And they will happen. It’s just a matter of when. And it’s also a matter of on what you will plateau. So let’s look at the options.
Dietary Plateau – A Case for More Variety
When you have been dieting for a while, there comes a point when you stop losing. Usually, if there is an impending goal, you lower the calories until you maintain the desired leanness for which you have sought. You have found your focus. And then you reach it.
One option is to reverse diet out of the caloric deficit so that you don’t binge your way out of it for the next week or two. Instead, you systematically increase the calories until you get to a point of maintenance.
It is at this point you need to realize that there is a life beyond Tupperware. When you climb your way out of that deficit and reach that plateau of maintenance, you have a culinary world at your fingertips. Now that you have more caloric room, you can try out those delightful treats that were off limits during your deficit. Never had Pad Thai? Never made your own quiche? Well, now is the time to fix that.
This is the part of the game where you enjoy life. The calories are still calories. You just have more to work with. So while you won’t be gaining or losing weight, you’re gaining experiences. In my opinion, those experiences and their expansion are part and parcel of living a “fit life.”
Lifting Plateaus – Progressive overload and novelty
If your goal is to increase your max lift in any lift, there will come a time when you stall there, as well. It’s no big deal. It’s part of the process. And unless you have a strength based competition coming up, this will give you the time to explore other options, much like I mentioned with your food choices above.
For many reasons, there’s not much that can compare to lifting. Whether you’re a bodybuilder, or a powerlifter, we all know the benefits of smart resistance training. For most of us it also serves as a great outlet. Personally, lifting is a great way for me to procrastinate while feeling productive at the same time, and nothing can replicate that. Even in terms of sheer physicality, there are some movements you can do with barbells and dumbbells that you can’t mimic with just your body weight, like bicep curls.
However, there is a life outside of iron. Shocking, I know. But it’s true. If you still have to get your lifting in, there’s no reason to panic, either. You can still get in some quality lifting while you’re in mourning for your stalled one rep max.
- Training different lifts—if your squat stalled, you can train a box squat, a cambered bar squat, front squats, or safety bar squats so that you can keep practicing the motor pattern for it.
- You can add more of those elements of progressive overload I talked about before—aside from the obvious choice of adding more volume, intensity, or density, you can focus on your movement quality in a given lift. And honing your technique is never a bad idea.
But this is also a good time to see what the rest of life has to offer. You can go hiking. You can take up a new discipline, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, dancing, or even running (if you’re into that sort of thing).
The over arching point is that much like with food, your movement options are also vast and limitless. And if you veer too far into obsession with one practice or “thing,” you’ll miss out on the rest of the options life has to offer. As a bonus, if you’re still active you can lose body fat, even though the scope of this is to think beyond this myopic scope, even if it’s just for a little while.
This isn’t to sound too preachy, but it’s something my coach Bryan Krahn speaks about often. He does outreach work with his wife and others who provide dental work for children in other countries, like Haiti and Cambodia, and he helps with that. To that end, eschew all thoughts of macros, lifting, and all that and be there for others. It’s a great way to gain perspective about the world, and acquire empathy for our fellow residents. So, to leave it at this and not get too “pious,” it’s a good learning experience so you can broaden your horizons. Help out, if you can.
There you have it. The point of this isn’t to be preachy. I know I have said it before, but I want to reiterate the point. The main point of this is that setbacks don’t have to be as detrimental as we tend to perceive them. We always have something we can do. Something we can improve. Biologically speaking, it is more efficient to focus on the negative aspects of our lives. The reason being is that for all the negatives, we have an exponential amount of positives. And our goal is to focus on those and figure out what we can do. So go and do it.