Fears About Getting in Shape – How To Break a Fitness Plateau


As a bike racer, I’ve had one too many races where I’m struggling and straining only to discover that my brakes were rubbing the whole time. Riding with the brakes on is exhausting and frustrating. No matter how hard you work it seems like you should be getting more out of each pedal stroke.

In much the same way, we may find that we are riding the “get in shape” bike with the brake on. Even though we are working and doing it all correctly, it feels like we should be getting further than we really are. Much of the reason for this is fear.

Many of the myths (and truths) about getting in shape can instill a sense of fear in the individual and thus limit their potential. Here is a set of fears that used to hold me back for years until I had the courage to fight against them and see what I was really made of.

Exercise Fear #1 – Exercising More Will Cause Overtraining
The ideas of overtraining and over doing it are abound. These days, it’s more common to learn that it’s not good to workout for more than 45 minutes or some other time limit. The idea is that once you exercise past a certain time limit, the hormones in the body shift and everything starts breaking down like a run down old car.

It’s important to first consider that these hormone levels don’t change due to a time clock. They change due to stress. For some people, that stress level can come at 45 minutes, for others it’s after an hour. I knew one guy who talked on his cell phone so much at the gym that he could probably be there all day and hardly put much stress on his system.

The ability to handle stress is the primary reason why exercise works. If the stress is too much, bad things happen. But if it’s too little, nothing happens including the results we seek.

There are a number of factors that can cause a dose of physical stress to be too much including sleep, diet and other stresses in life like work and relationships. The duration of a workout is just one piece of the puzzle for how much stress the body can withstand before that stress becomes unhealthy. Like all puzzle pieces, it’s not possible to be able to see the whole picture, so feel free to play around with workout duration. Adding an extra 10-15 minutes could really help you kick things into gear.

Exercise Fear #2 – Using Higher Workout Intensity
fat-loss-help-squatsSome people are afraid to crank up the intensity of their workouts. Some have good reason to be cautious because of injury or a condition that is being supervised by a doctor.

But for the rest of us, there can be a lot of fear about running faster or adding some weight to the bar. It could be that we are afraid we won’t be able to handle the stress, or maybe because we don’t want to build too much muscle.

Whatever the reason, chances are we can all handle just a little bit more intensity (from time to time). I have yet to see someone lifting a weight for 15 reps, jump up to the next level and hardly move the bar. The same can go for cardio. Increasing the resistance or upping the pace a little probably won’t make your heart explode or make you pass out.

What it might do however is help you take the next step and help you discover that you really can handle more than you believe you can. So go ahead and take that next little step if you’re feeling like you’re stuck.

Exercise Fear #3 – Cutting Back On How Much You Eat
Some people looking to lose weight run into the paradox where if they eat too much they gain weight, but at the same time they risk “crashing” their metabolism if they eat too little.

I used to fall under this fear and went into a mild panic attack if I went more than a few hours without eating. While eating too little can reduce the metabolism to some degree, rest assured that the “crash” isn’t nearly as drastic as we tend to believe. Plus the shift takes time to happen, in some cases a few weeks to a month.

Unless you’re constantly eating extremely low calories for weeks at a time, there’s little need to worry. Your metabolism isn’t going anywhere because of a few skipped meals or if you go below 2,000 calories for a few days. Skipping a meal once in a while won’t bring the sky down upon our heads, especially if you don’t have much of an appetite. And no, you’re not going to lose loads of muscle because of a light lunch. So feel free to hack away at the calories in the diet and see what happens.

Exercise Fear #4 – Keeping Things The Same & Avoiding Anything New
We all fall into the trap of believing that our single method of exercising is best. I once fell into the “lift heavy and lift slow low reps” club. I heard about programs where lighter weights were used, or about folks who lifted with explosive movements. I figured they didn’t know any better and that I was doing it all the best way possible. Because of my ignorance, I spent many years at plateaus.

I didn’t begin to break the plateau until I started to play around with lifting fast, or lifting lighter weight for higher reps. The only thing is I then fell into thinking that lifting fast with lighter weight was best and once again I fell into a plateau.

While having a focus is fine, it’s important to always remember that the human body was designed for a wide variety of activities that can be done a variety of ways. When we fall into the trap of thinking that there is a best way to lift, or there is a single best way to do cardio, we drastically limit the range of adaptation that’s possible. Not only that, but we limit the depth at which we can improve.

I’ve seen it many times when those who lift heavy, get stronger by doing some lighter training and those who lift light also get stronger with heavier training. A mix is certainly most advantageous, but if we are afraid to venture to the other side of how things are done we will be forever limited in how much we can improve.

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About Author

Matt Schifferle

My name is Matt Schifferle and I'm an A.C.E. Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Level 1 coach, underground strength coach and I'm a 5th degree black belt in Taekwon-Do. I specialize in outdoor and playground based underground and CrossFit style bootcamps. See my profile page for more information!

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