As the Biggest Winner fitness and weight-loss competition nears its final weeks, the contestants are seeing results in the mirror and on the scale. But what happens when the numbers stop moving? Overcoming the dreaded “fitness plateau” is one of the most frustrating parts of a weight loss program. What do you do when the numbers on the scale are not budging?
For answers, we turned to Washington Health System Wilfred R. Cameron Wellness Center Fitness Manager Joanie Barr and fitness supervisor Chad Tokarski. Why do our bodies plateau when trying to lose weight?
“There are a multitude of factors which could play a role,” says Barr. “The focus should be on muscle confusion. We must switch our workouts up every so often.”
But exercise isn’t the only factor, adds Tokarski, as what foods you are putting into your body plays a vital role. “We focus on the necessary foods which help us to fuel our bodies,” he says. “A major component is getting the necessary calorie intake for the duration and intensity of our workouts. People also need to be very mindful of getting enough of the right foods. Getting enough is equally as important as getting too much.” Rest is also an important part of the process, as our bodies need enough recovery time from workouts plus adequate sleep and proper nutrition.
Since the Biggest Winner contest includes a final weigh-in, that number is important. But, in the grand scheme of things, how important is the number on the scale for overall health?
“We need to break away from worrying about the number on the scale,” advises Barr. “The important thing to gauge is how you feel, inches lost, how your clothes fit. When you start obsessing about the number on the scale, you start seeing less results and become mentally defeated.” She says to not let that happen, remember that tomorrow is always a new day. “Remind yourself you will have off days; life happens,” she adds. “It’s not if you fall, it’s how you rise the next day.”
Once you stop beating yourself up over hitting a plateau, it’s time to take action and get your body’s internal engine working again. That can be accomplished by changing up your fitness routine.
“Our exercise physiologist would take the time to reassess your current workout routine,” says Tokarski. “This could mean effectively increasing cardiovascular so you are working harder, teaching you to learn how to monitor your own heart rate so you are in your fat-burning zone and effectively increasing your strength training routine so you are lifting enough.”
Barr says dietitians also play a role here, possibly adjusting food intake to “further cut your daily calories (provided this doesn’t put you below 1,200), teaching you to fuel your body with proper nutrition pre- and post-workout, are you getting a healthy balance of all food groups.” She also encourages a good sleep pattern to aid in recovery from exercise.
Another tool in overcoming a weight or fitness plateau is to keep moving and change it up by using the FITT Principle.
“Understanding the FITT principle helps you create a workout plan to be most effective in reaching your fitness goals,” explains Barr. “FITT stands for Frequency, Intensity, Time and Type of exercise. These are the four elements you need to think about to create workouts to fit your goals and fitness level.”
To explain: Frequency means how often you exercise, so you could add additional workouts each week if you hit a plateau in weight loss. Intensity means how hard you exercise. If you’re walking on the treadmill, you can try upping the speed or going faster or at an incline for short bursts of time. Time refers to how long your workout lasts. If you currently walk 20 or 30 minutes per workout, try adding some time to that. Finally, type of exercise means whether you’re doing a cardiovascular workout such as a kickboxing class, running or walking, or doing resistance training with weight machines or strength exercises such as squats and push-ups. Changing up the types of exercise can help you overcome a plateau as well as make your workouts more fun so that they don’t get boring. Mixed training is a great way to try this by combining resistance and cardio exercise in one session.
The trainers coaching the Biggest Winner teams make sure to vary the contestants’ exercise routines to accomplish this. “Our Biggest Winner participants and coaches meet four times a week for seven weeks, an hour per session, to ensure effective workouts are being obtained,” says Tokarski. “Each group ends up bonding over these seven weeks and becomes a family. Our groups hold each other accountable and really motivate each other to reach their individual goals.”