Have you been burning fat lately? Well, I have some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news first:
- Bad News: After a few weeks of consistent fat loss, you’ll probably hit a plateau.
- Good News: You can conquer that plateau if you respond in the right way.
I hit a plateau during my first 12 week cut in 2008 between weeks four and six. After steadily losing 1.5 pounds per week for the first month, my fat loss stalled during those next two weeks.
I panicked and doubled the amount of cardio I was doing each day to try and break through. The only thing that accomplished was pushing me dangerously close to burnout.
I learned a valuable lesson from that experience: Trust the science of fat loss and trust your body when facing a plateau. Overreacting only makes thing worse.
In this piece, we’re going to examine four scientific reasons you shouldn’t panic when facing a plateau and explore three strategies for dealing with it effectively.
4 Reasons Not To Panic Over You Fat Loss Plateau
Fat loss plateaus suck…there’s no way around it, but panicking in this case is useless. There are completely valid, scientific reasons for your plateau, such as:
Reason #1: Fat Loss is Not Linear
Your weekly fat loss will fluctuate over time, but on average, you’re going to lose 1 to 1.5 pounds per week on a fat-burning program until you hit single-digit body fat.
That said, you must remember that fat loss is not linear.
If you plotted your weight loss on a graph, it would be a zig-zag, not a straight line.
Even if you’re 100% compliant with your diet and your lifts, you won’t lose 1 to 1.5 pounds every week. Some weeks will be more, some weeks less.
That’s just the way human body operates.
Reason #2: Water Retention Affects Fat Loss
Your fat cells also play by their own rules when it comes to fat loss.
On an aggressive fat-burning program, your body breaks down triglycerides that are stored in your fat cells for energy. Certain fat cells don’t shrink right away when they’re burned off.
Sometimes those stubborn fat cells fill with water first and don’t shrink until much later.
The result of this delayed shrinkage is a temporary plateau in fat loss.
Since hydration is essential to proper fitness, water retention often leads to plateaus.
Reason #3: Not Tracking Your Lifts Leads to Plateaus
If you’re not tracking your lifts, you’re just asking to hit a plateau. Here’s why:
If you’re in the dark on how much weight you lifted or how many reps you did last week, then your workouts this week will suffer and your progress will stall out.
Progress in the gym directly leads to a lower number on the scale.
You can’t have one without the other, which means you must track every lift.
Sometimes all it takes to break through a plateau is a little extra effort on a lift where your progress has stalled out. But without the data, you can’t employ that strategy.
Reason #4: Your Body Clings to Fat the More Your Lose
The human body is smart.
When you hit low levels of body fat, your body clings to that fat as a survival mechanism.
Don’t be dismayed if you hit a wall at 10% body fat and feel as if you can’t get over it.
Shedding the last bit of body fat to get into single digits is the most challenging part of this whole journey, which is why a lot of people will never achieve it.
When you’re eating less and losing fat, your body’s goes through adaptive thermogenesis, which is a fancy way of saying your metabolism slows down.
Adaptive thermogenesis is the reason the last 10 pounds are harder to lose than the first 10.
Your body is fighting against you to preserve your stored fat, but there are strategies you can use to get over the hump and finally achieve single-digit body fat.
3 Strategies To Crushing Your Plateau
Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. While fat loss plateaus are unavoidable, they are very manageable—if you react correctly.
Strategy #1: Inspect Your Diet
The first thing you need to do when facing a plateau is check your diet.
When people start seeing results near the finish line – they’ve lost body fat, look lean, can see some upper abs – they’re more likely to slack off on their diet.
It’s human nature to reward ourselves when we feel like we’ve done good work.
Unfortunately, people get so lax on their diet that a temporary reward becomes outright cheating, which leads to self-sabotage and the reversal of their hard-won results.
As you get closer to your target, you need to be stricter on your diet. The only way your fat loss will continue is if you remain committed and disciplined.
For 90% of the people facing a plateau, home-stretch laziness is the issue.
Don’t let this become your reality. I promise: Success is sweeter than any cheat meal.
Be honest with yourself and attack your diet harder than ever as you approach your goal.
Strategy #2: Employ Strategic Cardio
If your diet is in order and you’re making progress on all your lifts, yet you still find yourself stuck, a second strategy I’d recommend strategic cardio.
I’ve preached against cardio on this blog before, but employing it strategically can help the small minority of people who need an extra boost to break through their plateau.
The key is successfully integrating cardio into your lifting schedule to burn straight body fat.
Start with one of these two options (NOT BOTH) to see what works best:
- On rest days, mix in 30 minutes of high intensity interval training (HIIT) cardio before your first meal.
- On workout days, do 30 minutes of HIIT cardio right after you lift.
After a few weeks of strategic cardio, you should break through your plateau. If not, you can try one final advanced strategy to kickstart your progress.
Strategy #3: Regroup to Come Back Stronger
A final strategy I recommend is called “The Regroup.”
Operating on a caloric deficit for a prolonged period of time is physically and psychologically draining, and after four to six weeks, your willpower might be worn down.
The Regroup uses a cheat meal to reset your metabolism.
I borrowed this idea from bodybuilders who eat clean all week and have one cheat day where they go nuts. Since we’re not bodybuilders, I advocate a more sensible approach.
You should enjoy a nice dinner without worrying about meal tracking. Hit the buffet if you want and go nuts eating whatever foods your heart desires. (No booze though.)
You’re using this meal as a time to reset your body and your mind.
Physiologically, a cheat meal tricks your body into thinking you’re back up to a high-calorie budget, which then kick-starts fat burning again.
The most important point to remember after The Regroup is this: You must jump right back onto the program the next day in order to break through the plateau!