Have you ever gone back to a story you wrote a year ago, maybe five years ago, and cringed because you can now see some of the errors or poor technique you didn’t catch back then? As writers, we’re (hopefully!) constantly learning, growing, and honing our craft. It doesn’t mean things that we wrote in the past are bad. It’s just that we’re not in the same place we were. We’ve changed. Our circumstances have changed. Our perspectives have changed. We’ve experimented with different tools and techniques, been exposed to new advice, and broken ourselves out of various ruts. In my mind, that’s how it should always be. It’s one of the great joys of being a writer—being in a state of constant growth.
As we’ve been doing, let’s look at the same principle from the fitness perspective. Let’s say you’ve established a solid fitness and health plan. You’ve been working out consistently. You’ve seen some weight loss and strength/endurance gains. You’ve been eating well. You’ve stayed accountable in tracking progress. Then one of two things happens:
1. You hit your goals.
2. You hit a plateau.
Hitting your goals is great! You’ve accomplished what you’ve set out to do. But now what? Do you just try to maintain where you’re at forever? Conversely, hitting a plateau can be incredibly frustrating. You’re trying your best, but nothing seems to be helping. You’re just stuck at this weight or can’t get any stronger, no matter what. Just as writing is not a static state, neither is fitness. In the most boiled-down sense, the reason either of these happens to you is because…
Your body adapts.
The human body is quite the fascinating machine. Not only does it self-regulate and self-repair, but it also changes itself over time to meet shifting stress levels, energy expenditures, and physical demands. When you first kick into a fitness plan, often you see more drastic changes because your body isn’t at all used to that level of activity or calorie intake. Over time, though, it adjusts. It shifts to the new normal, which means progress indicators can slow down and eventually disappear altogether. If you keep the same activity levels and eating habits, eventually you’ll achieve a new balance. There are ways to circumvent this, but they require a little self-awareness and willingness to switch up your routine every so often.
- Establish new goals: Once you’ve reached a particular weight or strength threshold, do you just sit there for the rest of your life? I suppose you could, but might I suggest pushing yourself a bit further? This in no way means you can’t be satisfied with all you’ve accomplished so far. Neither does it mean you should never be happy with your fitness until you’re either a beanpole or the Hulk! Weight and strength aren’t the only fitness goals you can shoot for. They’re just the baselines most people think about. Start considering other options. What are other milestones you can aim for? Maybe you want to try for your first 5k…10k…half-marathon or obstacle course race. Maybe you want to switch from cutting weight and now focus on adding muscle. Maybe you take up a sport, get into yoga, or get your black belt in a martial art. These are all great goals that can keep you motivated to move and grow.
- Adjust your plan: Did you realize that as you lose weight, your body starts to require fewer calories to function? Eventually your metabolism lowers enough that you’re no longer in a calorie deficit. It might be time to reevaluate your caloric needs and see if you need to reduce how much you’re eating to resume weight loss. Plus, it might be time to shake-up your workout routine. If you’ve been doing the same exercises over and over, your body can strengthen enough so the regular workouts aren’t requiring as much effort from you as they used to. You could do more of the same (to a degree), increase the intensity of your workout, or change to a whole different routine that your body isn’t used to.
Have you ever struggled with what to do after hitting a fitness or health goal? Or have you ever been discouraged by getting stuck on a weight loss or strength plateau? What did you do to break through to the next level?