Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Plateau Busters

***First, have you signed up for the Fox Cities Marathon/Half Marathon Entry Giveaway?  If not, go here to sign up!  I draw a winner at noon tomorrow (August 8)!***

Today for the August Healthy Living / Fitness Blogger Writing Challenge for The Fitness Cheerleader, we are talking about plateaus, and how do you bust through them.

Plateaus had to be one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around when I first started running.  I mean, if you are like me, and you started running - ahem - later in life, then you know that when you first start, running is a heady experience.  The progress comes fast and easy.  After all, if you go from sitting on the couch to even just managing to run a block, that's phenomenal!  The first time you struggle through a mile?  Cause for wild celebration.  And, it just gets better from there.

There comes a time in every runner's life, however, when that first plateau is reached, when you feel your progress just stagnates.  Perhaps you just can't seem to get past the two or three mile mark without walking.  Maybe your hope for getting faster looks like it is going nowhere.  Maybe a particular ache or pain just won't quit.

For me, hitting one of these roadblocks was always a cause for huge concern; I wanted to just throw in the towel, declare myself the most unnatural, unlikely runner in the world, and take up permanent residence on the couch most centrally located in front of the TV.  The problem was - and still is - that I usually don't see a plateau for what it is.  (I've always been one to leap to the most dramatic conclusion.)   Luckily for me, my Hubby - who is also a runner - is often the first to recognize that I have reached a plateau and then talk me down off the ledge called "Frustration" or its partner "Quitting."

So, how do I interpret plateaus?  I take them to mean that my body has just gotten used to a certain routine.  It's not being challenged enough to make further adaptations - to get stronger.  So, the cure?  Mix things up, of course.  Time for a bit of confusion.  Time to wake the body up, get it thinking again.  And, that means doing something different from the norm.

For me, that might mean running trails or hills instead of the same road over and over again.  Maybe I will throw in some speedwork or run with a group I don't usually run with.  Maybe it means doing a run/walk for a while just to mix it up.  Or, it could mean that I add in some cross-training, start using some different muscles.

I am sure there are a million options.  I've even heard some people say that running at a different time of day makes a difference.  If you always run in the morning, try an evening run.  Or, do both!  Throw in a day where you split your mileage and run twice.  You can play games with your running - run some fartleks - pick mailboxes on the street and decide to sprint from this one to that, and then jog or walk between the next two, sprint, walk,....Just do something different from the norm.

Plateaus can mean that running is not so fun anymore, so anything you can do to make it fun again is bound to help.

Of course, the best thing you can do to beat plateaus, I find, is to avoid them in the first place.  I don't know if there is any science to back this up, but I find that if I put my running in three-week cycles, I seem to avoid the plateau, burnout, complacency that comes from doing the same routine over and over again.  For me, that might mean something like this:

Week 1
Row 6k
Run 6 miles with a few intervals thrown in
Row 6k
Run 6 miles
10 miles trails
Week 2
Row 6k
Run with group – 6 miles
Row 6k
Run 6 miles with hill repeats
11 miles trails
Week 3
Row 4k
Run with group – 4 miles
Row 4k
Run 4 miles
6 miles trails

If I can keep things mixed up a bit, and I have some time built into the schedule to give my body a bit of a rest, then I don't get burned out so badly.  Things are different enough to keep me challenged and interested.  After all, if I don't like a workout today, there is always something different on the horizon to look forward to.

How do you get around those inevitable plateaus?

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