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8 TIPS TO BREAKING THROUGH FAT PLATEAUS

Here’s the master checklist of the eight most important training and nutrition variables you can adjust each week to break plateaus and keep your progress coming.


1. Eat less. The whole idea is to eat more and burn more for a faster metabolism and better nutrition. Sometimes, however, there’s no way around it: To break a fat-loss plateau, you must reduce your food intake. If you’ve stopped losing body fat, it means you’re no longer in a calorie deficit. Reducing food intake is the ideal choice for reestablishing the deficit if you’ve only recently started the program or if you think you overestimated your initial calorie needs.


However, if your calories are already low or you’ve already cut them to break previous plateaus, cutting calories more can backfire. So cut calories when you have breathing room to do so, but always remember that there are two sides to the equation: You can eat less, burn more, or use a combination of both.


2. Change your macronutrient ratios. Decreasing your carbs (increasing your protein ratio) can often help break a plateau, especially when you’re already lean and you want to get leaner. This change in macronutrient ratios may give a slight metabolic or hormonal advantage over a high-carb diet, especially for endomorphs or carb-intolerant types who have problems with blood sugar and appetite control. A small change in macronutrients won’t make or break your success, but when you have to cut calories, it makes sense to cut the carb calories first while keeping your lean protein, fibrous carb, and healthy fat intake stable.


3. Improve your food quality. Breaking a plateau is mainly an issue of calorie quantity and reestablishing an energy deficit. However, when fat loss slows down, I believe it pays to be stricter about the quality of your food choices. Eat fewer processed foods and more natural foods. It’s always better for your health, and it may help you with your deficit. The trick there is to increase nutrient density while controlling the calorie density. This is much easier to do with natural foods like vegetables and fish compared to man-made foods like pastries or fast-food burgers. You could get away with eating low-quality, highly processed foods and still lose weight as long as you stayed in a calorie deficit, but when your calories are getting lower and lower, it only makes sense to get the highest nutrient density possible from every calorie you eat.


4. Increase the duration of your cardio. Most people average about 30 minutes of cardio training per session for fat loss. If this doesn’t produce the desired results, you can increase your calorie burn by extending your duration incrementally five to ten minutes at a time. Measure the results of each increase on a weekly basis until you find the level where you break the plateau and start dropping fat at the rate you want. For most people, 30 to 45 minutes per session gives excellent results. You can go longer, but after 45 to 60 minutes you usually get a diminished rate of return compared to using other plateau-breaking strategies.


5. Increase the frequency of your cardio. If you’re already doing long workouts, continuing to increase your duration can become impractical. At this point, one option is to increase your frequency. A realistic starting point is a minimum of three days per week of cardio training. To break a plateau or increase the rate of fat loss, incrementally add one day per week until you reach six or seven days per week. Don’t try to keep up daily cardio for months on end or use it as a crutch for poor nutrition. But used as a way to break a fat-loss plateau and reach peak condition, daily cardio can work wonders to get you lean superfast. It’s not a coincidence that so many bodybuilders and fitness models do cardio every day before they step onstage or in front of the camera. Twice-a-day cardio is another advanced strategy some people might use for short periods to break a plateau or to get extremely lean. This is an extreme strategy that’s neither mandatory nor practical for most people who aren’t full-time athletes. But many bodybuilders and figure athletes use double cardio before competitions and swear it’s the one thing that gets them through any plateau and, more importantly, sheds the last few pounds of stubborn fat. High-volume cardio done for prolonged periods while in an aggressive calorie deficit can actually increase metabolic adaptation, so this strategy could backfire if you don’t use it with caution. If you ever advance to double cardio, don’t overdo the duration or intensity at every workout and don’t continue with double cardio sessions for long. This is a peaking or plateau-breaking strategy, not something you do year-round.


6. Increase the intensity of your cardio. The most time-efficient way to break a plateau is to increase the intensity of the cardio you’re already doing. This simply means work harder! Push yourself to burn more calories in the same time you were already spending. Of course, you can increase intensity only so much because eventually you approach the anaerobic threshold. That’s when you push harder and start to lose your breath and have to slow down or stop to recover the oxygen debt before you can continue. But most people who have been doing low or moderate intensity workouts have plenty of room to boost the intensity level. Many people forget that that intensity is not a switch with two settings, high or low; it’s a dial with low, medium, high, and everything in between. Smart physique athletes turn up the dial on intensity as one of the progression variables to accelerate fat loss or break plateaus. This applies to both steady-state and interval training.


7. Add high intensity interval training or sprint work into your cardio program. Interval training can give you a very high calorie burn in a short period of time. As little as 20 to 25 minutes of intervals (counting the warm-up and cooldown) can burn enough calories for some serious fat loss. Interval training also increases your metabolic rate so you keep burning calories after the workout is over. The higher the intensity, the higher the “afterburn” effect. Intense interval training is usually not recommended for beginners, but after several weeks of building up a fitness base, introducing more intense training is the next step. If you’ve hit a plateau, that’s a perfect time to implement it.


8. Change the type of cardio. If you have a favorite type of cardio you really enjoy, by all means, stay with it, and when you’re getting good results, never change for the sake of change. When your progress is starting to flatline, however, a change alone can restimulate your progress and your motivation.


For example, if you’ve been walking, change the type of exercise to stair-climber, elliptical machine, or stationary bicycle. If you’ve been using the elliptical machine, try an intense kickboxing or boot camp class. Try anything your body isn’t used to. Changing your workouts is also a great way to prevent boredom and recharge your enthusiasm while avoiding repetitive overuse injuries.


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About

My name is Steven Goldstein

With over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry, I have worked with clients of all ages and fitness levels. From professional athletes to individuals aiming to lose weight, I have helped countless people achieve their goals and improve their overall health through customized training and nutrition plans.

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Consistency leaves clues

Hundreds of clients of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities have put their health in our hands over the years and achieved truly remarkable results. 

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