She stands absolutely still on the scale, barefoot and unconsciously holding her breath. She moves the weight along the balance beam. Her face falls– the scale shows two pounds more than her last weigh-in.
I see this too often.
If you’ve ever been frustrated over even a tiny slip in the direction of your progress, you are not alone. Frequently, I witness a client’s chagrin over a weight-loss plateau, or a small decline in the amount of weight that they can pick-up.
And while those may not be desirable outcomes, they sure as hell are not bad outcomes.
I know you probably feel like screaming when you’ve been so “good” (passing on the eggnog at a holiday party, piling your plate with vegetables, and nailing all of your workouts without missing even one) and you were losing weight… and then one day the scale reads higher instead of lower.
It’s easy to get caught up in linear thinking, that once something starts in a direction it has to continue that way. I will lift more weight in every workout. My bodyweight will always be the same or dropping. The number of clients I have will always be going up. My income will always be at least as much as it has been in the past, if not more. My clothes will always be the same size, or smaller. My closest friends will always be the same group of people. I will never stop winning.
If it ever does go that way, it’s likely by accident.
Sometimes you may have to stop what you’re doing altogether– or even go backward for a bit– to move forward.
Progress just can’t continue in one direction forever. You can’t make infinite money, you can’t weight zero pounds, and– though we’d like to believe otherwise– no one can really lift “all the weight.”
This has practical implications for both your mindset around progress, and your actions in the gym. From a mindset perspective, each of us must cultivate the self-compassion to view stalling progress as something other than a personal failing. It could be a cue that it is time to mix things up with your workouts or nutrition, or even just a sign that your body needs a break from being constantly pushed to do more.
Even if the plateau turns out to be nothing more than a random blip, just know that slipping from time to time is normal. It will be okay. You weight loss journey does not end when you gain a pound or two.
Just as personal relationships are often bolstered when the people involved get a bit of space from each other, giving yourself a break from training or dieting or competing or any other goal-oriented process can give you the space to find a renewed zest for it when you return.
From a practical standpoint, varying your outcome goal from time to time can be very effective in your workouts, too. Progress can’t continue in one direction forever, but when it stalls you can change direction– and keep progressing on a new route. For instance, if you’ve been trying to add weight to your barbell back squat and it just isn’t getting any heavier, you might want back off the weight (perhaps even significantly) and focus on adding more repetitions at a lighter weight instead. Or you could try some other squat variation entirely, such as front squats, jump squats, or tempo squats.
This method can be useful for weight loss, too. In that case, changing paths might mean shifting from trying to lose pounds to one of the following: adding muscle, losing body fat (regardless of weight), losing inches, or focusing on performance instead of aesthetics for a bit.
And best of all, because your body LOVES variation, you may even see new gains on your original goal when you return to it after taking a break!
Next time you stall out– whether it’s with your fitness, career, relationships, or something else altogether– give yourself a break from the object of your frustration and see if that doesn’t change your feelings… and your results.