Breaking through plateaus

July 31, 2013

Many runners will hit what is not-so-fondly referred to as “the wall” during a long run. But what if the wall isn’t appearing on a single run, but across your running regiment in general? What if you are at a point where you are having trouble making gains, seemingly regardless of how hard you train? This is called a plateau, and it occurs in any form of exercise. Essentially, your body reaches a level at which progress stalls. This can be caused by physical or mental barriers, but is most commonly some combination of the two. 

Injury, illness or a stale training program are major physical causes of a plateau, but mental blocks can be more difficult to identify and fix. You may not even realize that a psychological strain could have a significant impact on your running, but unresolved mental stress can significantly hold you back. Here are some common barriers and how to get back on track.

Whether or not you’re fully aware of it, you might be bored with your usual routine. The most important thing is to assess whether or not this is the case, at which point the solution is very simple – change things up!

Runner’s World suggests a change of scenery to get your mind back in the game. Seeing the same streets everyday can be draining for even the most focused runner. Try switching to another terrain, whether that means hitting the trails or using your home treadmill. If you’re worried about getting bored again, think about alternating a variety of routes and terrain regularly so you’re never doing the same thing for too long.

Overdoing it
Never be afraid to take a break and let your body and mind recover from the constant pounding of a running routine. You can try another type of exercise – think about cross-training or using a recumbent bike for cardio instead.

Furthermore, a week off can prevent what is called overtraining, which can be a physical or mental strain on your performance. Give yourself time to decompress and focus on other aspects of your life, and your performance when you return can significantly benefit.

Partner up
In addition, having a partner is an easy fix for many solo runners. While you may not be able to enjoy a riveting conversation when you’re struggling through a tough run, the notion of camaraderie can not only help improve your performance but also take the focus off the actual mileage. People are driven to keep up with one another, and that can motivate you to press on – maybe even to a new record. A common strategy in many sports is to train with someone who you know is a bit better than you. Through that competition, you can raise your own level of performance without even really noticing.