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Breaking Through Plateaus

By Ryan Burgess

When an unhealthy individual finally decides to commit and improve their health and fitness, the initial focus is usually on one area: exercise. They may try to “diet” in the beginning, but most “diets” don’t even last longer than it will take for you to read this article. Before long, old eating habits (the key word being “habits”) come back into the picture, but in most cases, some form of exercise or activity will remain. In the beginning, this is good. Let’s face it folks, our country is so sedentary and inactive, if I could convince every American to walk around the block after dinner, I’d call that a victory. There comes a point, though, when people that are committed to working out hit a wall. Whether you are young athlete that’s trying to lose/gain weight, a parent that is trying to set the healthy example in the house while juggling all of your responsibilities, or a weekend warrior, if you are training, you should have goals. But what happens when your progress to those goals begins to slow down, if not come to a screeching halt? Instead of trying to find even more time to train, getting frustrated and, god forbid, throwing in the towel, I’m going to share with you a few areas that you can address to help you get over the hump.

I have a very quick exercise for you, and I promise you won’t even break a sweat. Draw a big circle on a piece of paper, and cut that circle into 3 pieces. Write “Training” in one piece, “Nutrition” in the second piece, and “Rest” in the third piece. “Training” encompasses all of your physical activity- weight training, cardio, hiking, running, walking, or anything else that you enjoy doing to get your heart rate up. “Nutrition” is every morsel of food you put in your body. Finally, “Rest” is a two-pronged tool. First, it is the literal definition of the word: the relief from work or activity afforded by sleeping, any relief from exertion, a state of quiet and recreation, peace, freedom from trouble, and tranquility. In addition, rest should sometimes be active. This includes massage therapy, ice baths, or any light activity you can do to promote circulation without fatiguing your muscular and nervous systems. The circle on your paper represents an appropriate approach to health and fitness: notice how 66% of that circle is what you are doing AWAY from the gym. That majority of the circle is what I consider “recovery”, and it is where most people can stand to improve if they have reached a training plateau. Remember this: training is where you give your body the potential to grow, nutrition is where you give your body the resources to grow, and recovery is when your body grows. You can lift all the weight in the world and run until you drop, but if you don’t take care of yourself, I guarantee you will break down and not tap your true potential. Below I’m going to give some quick suggestions on how to improve the recovery portion of your training program.

1. Nutrition. My nutrition advice comes from first hand experience with clients and myself, so if you are dealing with any serious health issues, consult with your physician before making any drastic changes to what you are eating. As a whole, we are facing a very odd health problem in our country: despite being over-fed, we are still somehow undernourished. When the majority of your diet consists of highly processed foods, you are heading down a dangerous path, because not only are you putting excess weight on your frame, you’re not giving your body the micronutrients it needs for optimal performance. Trying to make up for that by shoveling supplements down your throat is NOT the answer. If you were able to take politics out of the issue, many food scientists would tell you that will still don’t completely understand how all of the macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in many natural foods work in relationship with one-another; we just know that they have an immeasurable amount of positive health benefits. Here’s my challenge to you: try to eat a vegetable and or a fruit with EVERY single meal. It’s not that hard- Mother Nature did a pretty good job of making these things easy to eat without much preparation. I also wanted to comment on organic food. If something is labeled “Organic”, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the healthiest thing for you to be eating. Just because you can find potato chips and cookies now that fall in this category doesn’t give you the green light to live off of chips and cookies. In terms of produce and animal products, though, I’m a firm believer in examining the source of your food (I thank Michael Pollan for that). This is especially the case for animal products. In terms of choosing grass-fed beef over grain-fed, check out these quick facts: when cattle are raised eating their natural diet in their natural environment, they end up leaner (meaning less overall fat for the consumer) with drastically higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids and Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA), both of which have incredible health benefits (if curious, just Google the health benefits of both, and you’ll find scores of studies explaining how important they are). If you don’t know where exactly to find these kinds of products, check out US Wellness Meats. It is true that the cost is more for these types of products, but so what? If you don’t invest in health now, you will be paying for disease later. Just 10 short years ago we didn’t pay a fraction of the cost of what we now pay for 500+ channel satellite TV and cell phones for everyone in the family, yet we’ve found a way to fit them into the monthly budget. Spending a few extra dollars on healthy food isn’t an expense, it’s an investment.

2. Rest. I could write an entire separate article on the importance of sleep, but all I want to address now is quantity. If you’re a typical American, you’re getting somewhere between 5-6 hours of sleep, when we need to be getting at least 7-8. “But Ryan, it’s sooooo hard! I mean, there’s just so much to do, how could I possibly sleep that much?” Here is a suggestion: figure out what time you have to wake up in the morning (leaving you enough time to eat breakfast of course), and then subtract 8 hours. If you have to get up at 6am, that would be 10pm; 5am, 9pm; and so on. The additional 1-2 hours of sleep that most people are not getting is often consumed by mindless activity such as watching TV. If your shows mean that much to you, buy a DVR and watch them on the weekend. It’s also very important to give yourself a little “mental rest” every single day. You can call it prayer, meditation, or whatever you want, but devoting just a few minutes a day to some personal quiet time will go a very long way.

So there you have it folks. December is typically a month where health & fitness falter, so hopefully I’ve provided you with enough tips to help you thrive during the this Holiday season! 

Ryan Burgess is a Strength & Conditioning Coach and the Director of Football development at Fitness Quest 10. He enjoys working with and training people from all walks of life and lives to motivate, educate, and inspire people to work hard, persevere, follow their heart and pursue their dreams. He believes firmly in the quote “Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart is in it, and live the phrase ‘the sky’s the limit’”.

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