When Your Workout Stops Working: Breaking Through Your Weight Loss Plateau

Last Update: March 9, 2020

One of the most cruel rites of passage occurs when kids hit college. For the first time in their lives, their teenage metabolisms fail them—a semester of drinking beer and pulling all nighters, suddenly, results in the “freshman fifteen.” Just then, they discover the elliptical machine, and it seems like an answer to all of their prayers. 

But after an initial period of weight loss, the elliptical routine stops working. As a few pounds begin to hang on, elliptical-worshippers  everywhere wanna know, “What gives?” Breaking through a weight loss plateau can be really frustrating—but it’s not impossible. In fact, it might be even easier than you might think. Check out our top four tips to make your workouts start working for you.

You gotta change it up.

The gym can be an intimidating place: monolithic equipment, sweaty people, terrifying trainers. So it’s natural that when gym-goers get into a routine that’s comfortable—treadmill warm-up, free weights, abs—they stick to it. While this approach may yield some results at first, after a while the body gets smart and adapts. So that workout that was so hard three months ago feels way easier, because your body has figured out how to perfect those movements.

That’s great! And that means it’s time to change up the workout. Challenging muscles to perform differently is the easiest way to change them. So if you’re a runner, hop off the treadmill and head to a Crossfit box to learn some new lifts. Crossfitters, head to a spin class to get some sustained cardio in. And yogis? Try some HIIT. It should be challenging and it might make you step out of your comfort zone, but eventually you’ll master this aspect of your workout, too!

You’re overestimating your burn.

Listen up: machines lie. Unless you’re wearing a heart rate monitor that’s specifically calibrated to your height and weight, there’s no way of knowing that you actually burned 1,000 calories on that stair master. Typically, the guesstimate on the machine is hundreds of calories over what you’ve actually burned through in your workout.

So if you’re chowing down on a huge smoothie bowl topped with granola and peanut butter because your treadmill says you scorched hundreds of calories in your morning workout, it might be time to rethink your method—or invest in a heart rate monitor that can accurately tell you what’s happening during your sweat sessions.

Stop doing crunches. For real.

If you’re working towards a six-pack simply by doing sit-ups, we’ve got some bad news: that ain’t gonna do much to get a washboard stomach. Muscles aren’t pimples. You can’t spot-treat your body with targeted exercises and expect to see changes.

The good news? Full body exercise will help shape and tone every aspect of beautiful ol’ you. Losing body fat overall will help make muscle definition easier to see, so those hard earned abs can finally shine through. Of course, you can always do exercises to target specific muscles to gain more strength in those areas, or to rehab an injury, but doing the same leg lifts everyday isn’t going to help eliminate cellulite on the backs of your legs.

You have workout ADHD.

Workout classes are having a serious moment—with their high-paced energy, intensity, and fun atmospheres, it’s no wonder that many millennials are trading in a gym membership for a class-based workout regimen. But hitting the boutique gym scene can get pricey, and if students are trying a different workout every day of the week, there’s a chance they won’t see results.

Think about it this way: If someone was trying to learn how to play an instrument, they’d get much better at it if they practiced twice a week as opposed to once a week. That’s because they retain information better with two sessions a week, get to practice what they learn, and can build on the skills that they picked up in the session before. The same thing happens to the body; the change in muscle tone and body fat comes as the body adapts to the workout. Instead of doing six different types of workouts, try alternating between two that you really love. Allow your body to get really good at what you’re doing—we’re talking expert-level! Promise, when you dedicate yourself to getting really good at something, you’ll see massive changes in the way your body looks and feels.

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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