Why Am I Plateaued? Training Q&A with Suzanne

You got questions, I’m answering ’em in my new Nirvana Training with Suzanne Q&A feature. You’ll get my perspective on strength training and nutrition for your goals, along with insights into my own training.

To participate in next week’s mailbag, post your question on my Facebook page, ping me on Twitter, or drop me a line!


Q. I’ve been following a popular strength-training plan consistently. Why have I plateaued?

A. When people come to me for help and say they’ve been following a program, I already know why it’s no longer producing results: Cycling through the same workouts/plan over and over only works for so long.

Even when you’ve followed the progressions laid out in books or online programs, there comes a point when you’ve outgrown them and require different ways of stimulating growth.

The same thing can happen when you create your own training routines. Growing as a lifter means that the same methods may not work as well as they did before. At some point, your gains will slow down and adding weight to the bar isn’t possible every single week. Instead, you’ve got to manipulate other variables in a structured fashion, while keeping others (like the exercises) the same.

Instead of changing your entire workout frequently, vary the reps, sets, rest, and tempo. Let your body benefit from the same exercises for at least four to six weeks. Make small changes in your hand position, stance, or equipment (such as cable instead of dumbbells). Use different variations of the same exercises instead of switching them out completely.

Q. I fell out of lifting weights when my son was born. Now I’m heavier than I’ve ever been and not sure how to get back into shape!

A. First, give yourself a break. Having a baby is huge life event and you’ve got to prioritize what’s most important.

That being said, if you’re ready to lose the weight, it’s time for an attitude check: Are you in this for the long haul?

If you lose weight quickly with a shake diet (or whatever), you’ll probably regain it all when you go back to eating normally. That’s why I work on habit changes with my clients for long-term, sustainable weight loss.

My second question for you is: Do you understand that your top priority is your diet and nutrition, not cardio or other exercise?

Yes, activity and strength training play a big role in weight loss and need to become ingrained habits over time. But you won’t lose weight without knowing how much and what you should eat.

Don’t suddenly restrict your calories by extreme amounts – this will only negatively affect your metabolism and isn’t sustainable. Instead, become aware of what you’re eating first, then make gradual changes to the content of your diet. When you start eating clean using small steps, you’ll not only learn how to eat for a healthy weight long term, but you’ll also start losing fat. Then you can gradually reduce calories for consistent weight loss.

Q. What exactly do you mean by “owning it” in the weight room and beyond?  

A. You can lift weights without owning it. You can also own it without lifting weights. But if you’re gonna lift weights, you need to own it – lift with purpose and confidence.

Why? Because when you just go through the motions, you’ll never attain the muscle or strength you desire. When you approach weights with a timid or insecure mindset, you won’t – you can’t – push hard enough to grow. And when you don’t own it in the weight room (or wherever you train), you won’t benefit from killer confidence outside the weight room. And that is simply a terrible missed opportunity.

I’ve had many clients who knew how to lift weights when they came to me. What was missing? Owning it – feeling confident and powerful about how they’re training. Sometimes this means becoming more knowledgeable about the right ways to train, other times it manifests as feeling like you belong in the weight room. The beauty is that this self-empowerment carries over into your job, family, friends, and all other aspects of life. People will notice the difference in you, but most importantly, you will notice the difference.

This Week’s Training

My long-awaited exchange surgery was this week, and I said adios to the horrid tissue expanders once and for all. I’m still on the couch relying on pain meds at this point, wearing a tight compression bra. While this surgery wasn’t nearly as traumatic as my double preventative mastectomy, it still has a punch. And my surgeon had to do “some extra work” on one side that translates into a painful area under my right arm.

So I’m letting myself heal and trying to be patient through this final step in the process (though there could be minor follow-up procedures).

Here’s the routine I was doing at home before surgery and which I hope to resume soon. It incorporates physical therapy to strengthen my upper back/shoulders and stretch my shoulders/pectorals. I’ve also been doing some lower-body work, and last week did this routine at the gym just for mental health purposes.

At-Home Routine

  1. PT-prescribed pectoral and shoulder stretches and mobility work 2x/day:

– Lie face up on foam roller and alternate lifting arms overhead in full flexion
– Use pulleys to assist in shoulder flexion from seated position

  1. PT-prescribed strength exercises 1x/day for 2 sets of 10:

– Band straight-arm lat pulldown
– Band standing rows
– Band internal and external rotation
– Dumbbell YTI 2×10 (1-lb weights)
– Dumbbell bent-over row (3-lb weights)
– Dumbbell rear delt raise (bodyweight or 1-lb weights)

  1. Lower-body strength 1x/day for 2-3 sets of 12-15 reps:

– One-leg glute bridge
– Deadbug without arms
– Bench squat / Bulgarian split squat
– Romanian deadlift
– Seated band abduction
– Standing hip extension
– Single-leg calf raise
I had also just added band bicep curls and tricep pushdowns before my surgery this week.

  1. Walking or hiking for 1.25 to 2.5 miles

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I don’t feel like I’ve lost any fitness per se, but of course I’ve lost strength and muscle after 10 weeks of no heavy lifting. But now that this surgery is done, I’m going to be building back up soon enough. Patience, patience.

By the way, if you know a woman who is having or has had a mastectomy, link her up to this blog! I know a thing or two about how to get through it.

Til next week, see you in nirvana!


This article originally appeared on www.workoutnirvana.com.

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