What causes a fitness or weight loss plateau?

Robert DeVito

Simply put - a plateau is an adjustment to even.

When you begin a workout regimen the changes are significant. The body works hard to figure out how to adapt to these “new, unaccustomed” stimuli and you burn significant energy performing the work AND adjusting to the work.

Our body is designed for survival. It is great at conserving and storing energy. This is a disadvantage to those trying to reverse the amount of stored energy that we have. 

  • Bottom line to weigh less: E IN vs. E OUT. If you are trying to lose weight/fat you need to expend more calories than you consume. If you are not losing weight you are not in a deficit.
  • Weight Loss is different than Maintaining Muscle while losing Fat.
  • Working out initially burns a significant amount of extra calories. Your body is an adaptive machine. Make frequent changes to your workout. Workout changes prevent boredom and increase the challenge to your body.
  • Your results slow down after 1-2 months. It is natural.
  • Many will experience a rise in hunger and appetite as a result of initiating a new workout plan. Understanding what you are eating, when you are eating and why you are eating is key.
  • Exercise increases nutritional needs which are difficult to attain from food alone. If you are in a nutrient deficit and a calorie deficit, this can begin to ruin your ‘metabolism’. 
  • Eating Breakfast is under-appreciated and overlooked for Fat Loss.
  • You will not lose 2 pounds of fat overnight, nor will you gain 2 pounds of fat. We all experience temporary and frequent fluctuations. Weigh yourself every week or two for an accurate measure of what’s happening. 
  • Maximize your effort. Get to the gym frequently. A maximal effort as frequently as possible will increase your calorie burn. When you don’t have what it takes to give a maximum effort then show up anyway and move. When you do have that ‘tweaked’ mental state – use it!  Lift heavier, run faster, jump higher, do more repetitions.
  • Strength Training helps to maintain muscle tissue, keeping your metabolism higher, it maintains "tone" and it burns more calories than cardio does.
  • Be sure to use "bang for your buck" exercises that use multiple muscles and motions. Combine movements for greater success. Ex: Squat + Press

Humans are very adaptable species. When you start an exercise program, you may initially lose weight or feel changes in body composition, but if you continue to do the same routine, your body starts to burn fewer calories. It is no longer a challenge because you have adapted to the routine and you are just maintaining. To avoid a plateau, you must keep the body challenged by tricking it with new exercises and routines so your body doesn't know what to expect. One of the best ways to do this is through interval training. This constantly brings the heart rate up and down and keeps you progressing to greater fitness levels and weight loss.

A fantastic element of the human body is its ability to adapt. As the body adapts to a workout routine, it becomes just that, routine. When you hit a plateau frequently you need to change up your workout in order to challenge you body in new and different ways. It is important from a physical and mental standpoint to keep your workout routine evolving, so your body is always being challenged and you continue to see results.

As the saying goes 'Variety is the Spice of Life'. The same can be applied to an individual’s workout program. Our bodies possess the unique ability of adapting to different levels of physical stress. As an outcome of this unique ability, constantly performing the same exercises will result in a fitness plateau. It's imperative that your workout regimen changes periodically in order to prevent a fitness plateau. This problem can be prevented by rotating through multiple phases of the National Academy of Sports Medicine OPT model every 4-6 weeks.

The body is a very efficient tool and when it gets used to an exercise it quits responding with an adaptation and this is called a plateau, so in order to prevent this the Fitness Professional is there to monitor the routines and make sure the exercises are always changing by way of weight, intensity, sets, reps and so on.

There a few causes of fitness or weight loss plateaus, but the first step is to determine if you are really in a plateau.  Sometimes the scale will stop moving, but you are improving body composition.  You might be putting on muscle, your sore muscles might be holding extra water, or a pet might be stepping on the scale with you (yes, that's happened to me!).  These are not true weight loss plateaus.

For real plateaus, take a good look at your food journal, and your exercise log.  If you have lost a bit of weight already, your daily calorie requirements are lower, so eating the same amount of calories won't produce a loss anymore.  Have you gotten complacent with your journaling of food.  Often, folks are great at recording every bite, in the beginning.  Then it becomes routine, and we stop measuring and writing things down.  Little bits sneak into our diet, and we might not even realize we're eating those extra calories.

Another area to look at is your exercise routine.  As you perform various movements (cardio or strength), the body learns to be more efficient at these movements.  That's great in many ways (less injuries, if you are doing things correctly), but it means you are burning less calories to do the same movements.  Change up your exercise program every 6-8 weeks.  Keep your body challenged.  Try something new.

The main reason for a fitness or weight loss plateau is doing the same things over and over again.  When your workout stays the same your body adapts to it and your progress slows.  If you want to constantly see progress you need to change up your program on a regular basis til you reach your goal.  Changing up your program is easy wether it is changing exercises, reps, sets or even tempo.  If you are hitting your plateau you might want to seek out your fitness professional if you don't know what to do. 

Failure to design your training around two core principles are the biggests causes of hitting a plateau. These two principles are:

The principle of overload: Your training has to be enough of a stressor to cause the body to have to adapt by making changes in body composition, physiology, etc. If your training isn't intense enough, your body will likely be able to complete it with relative efficiency.

The principle of progression: The principle states that your training intensity must progress at a rate that continues to be an overload for your bodies current fitness state. By staying one step ahead of your bodies adaptability, you will continue to see progress toward your fitness goals.

Too many people perform a workout program that they were taught back in highschool or college. They perform the same workouts day in and day out without regard as to whether or not they are appropriate stressors for your body and your fitness goals. Training programs need to be designed based on the individuals current fitness state, health history, fitness goals, fitness needs (flexibility, coordination, etc) and nutritional habits. This program needs to be tweaked, progressed or regressed based on how the body responds to each workout. This will ensure efficient and effective progress towards your goals!

Our bodies are incredible organisms and they are resilient and can adapt to changes put on them. What causes a workout plateau is when your body has adapted to the workout that you are doing. After this point, one will not really see results. It is good to switch up workout regiments every 4-6 weeks because that is how long it usually takes the body to adjust to fitness regiments.

Here are some variables that you can enact if you ever find yourself at that plateau

  1. Change the intensity:  Examples: Try to use heavier weights, do more repetitions, or sets. If running, then try interval training
  2. Time: Example: Decrease the amount of time in between exercises (sets): If you normally take a 60 second rest, try taking a 30 second.
Your body has adjusted to your current program and needs to be challenged. I like to change it up every 6 weeks so the body doesn't know what to expect. Treat your body like an elementary student that needs constant tweaking to grow/improve and you will get past the bumps in the road with success.
A fitness or weight loss plateau is caused by your bodies ability to adapt. Your body needs change to see constant progress. Your fitness routine should be totally changed every 4-6 weeks with slight changes every week like lifting heavier weights or performing more repetitions or sets of the exercises. Change up your cardiorespiratory training by either increasing the tension or incline, walking or running faster or longer. Also try cardio interval training by sprinting for 30 seconds then jogging for one minute, then run or however you choose. The more you vary your cardio work out intensity the better.

Adaptation causes plateaus. Our bodies do their darnedest to make sure we do not fail when we place demands on them. If it does this time, it will quickly adapt so next time it won’t fail.  After a time, if you don’t change up the demands, you will no longer see improvement. You only get what you ask for.  

To avoid plateaus you must change up your workouts regularly using periodization workouts. These types of workouts progress you through the different stages of intensity, volume and work loads in both resistance and cardiovascular training.

Remember, there are 3500 calories in one pound of fat and order to lose one pound of fat per week, your must achieve a caloric deficit of approximately 500 calories a day. Diane Armstrong - Elite Trainer

Fitness or weight loss plateaus are common in exercise programs. The body adapts to specific demands placed upon it. The longer you continue to do the same workouts, the more efficient your body becomes at performing them, which in turn uses less energy. You need to challenge your body by providing variety to your exercise programs. Changing things up every 4-6 weeks should help you avoid the plateau.

I agree with all coaches who posted but unless I missed something I also believe a persons focus and attention can cause a plateau.  I completely agree that the body will adapt but even more the mind will adapt and get bored.  

Most programs keep working and the reason why people will stop or hit plateaus is because mentally they have lost motivation.  When someone loses motivation they tend to also reduce their effort as well.  I fully believe that periodization and your body adapting to things is a major problem but the main reason I have caused for plateaus is a decrease in motivation due to change in thinking or mentality.  Therefore it is important to have a coach to keep the workout routine fresh, I believe it is even more important for a coach to speak into someones life to keep them motivated and believing and thinking right.

The causes of a fitness or weight loss plateau can very from one individual to another based on nutrition, and training limitations, body adaptations. As the body adapts to a training program, and is not adjusted to demand more from the body appropriately the body will plateau. The best ways to overcome this is to meet with a fitness expert to enhance, and challenge your body in new ways to consistent results. 

Plateaus are caused by the body adapting to a certain diet or fitness program. The General rule is to switch up your fitness routine every 4-6 weeks. This is the time that the body typically adapts to a routine and is no longer using maximum energy.

You can add or increase your cardio, add cardio interval training, increase your weight for strength training. You can also add different activities like kick boxing and Yoga to name a couple. You want to confuse your body every 4-6 weeks, this way it cannot adapt to what you are doing.

Also make sure your caloric intake is adjusted and in-line with your routine and your goals.

The main reason the body comes to plateaus during dieting or exercise (besides consciously or unconsciously not following the plan) is that you become more fit when you lose weight AND your body uses fewer calories to perform the same work. This forces you to have to perform more work or eat fewer calories to continue to lose weight. This is because you are simply moving more efficiently and you carry less weight throughout the day. Another reason people hit a plateau is they have unknowingly reduced total daily activities, despite the fact that they exercise regularly. Remember, we burn the vast majority of calories while performing daily activities, not during a one-hour workout. Also, a person may, through change in employment or other lifestyle alterations, simply start to move less throughout the day. Therefore, exercise does not offset the decrease in daily calorie burn. And finally this: during very low calorie diets or at any time following significant weight loss, one often binges as the body attempts to recover lost pounds. And it only takes one “binge” to wipe out a week’s worth of accurate dieting. Most people can’t believe this because they worked hard to consume the proper amounts for seven or 10 straight days, so the one binge is either underestimated, forgotten, or they never grasped the fact that every calorie counts. Therefore any time weight or body fat is stable for at least one week, you need to eat less, move more or a combination of the two regardless of what you read or hear from others. The easiest way to accomplish this is to increase your daily activities such as standing, pacing or walking instead of sitting.
A plateau is caused by an adaptation to your food intake, daily activity and exercise routine. Therefore, you must make the proper adjustments in order to resume progress. If you’re following the Move It and Lose It program, be sure to update your weight or body fat when the system prompts you for a Progress Check – you will get feedback about how to adjust your program.
The causes of a fitness plateau are usually due to the body adapting to the exercise regimen. Muscle confusion is a key part in keeping those muscles from adapting to the same workout all the time. Try to mix up your workouts go to some different classes like kickboxing, kettlebell. This will increase your metabolism and wake up the muscles you never thought you had. Another thing to keep in mind for weight loss is excess post exercise oxygen consumption(epoc) The harder you train the more fat you will burn at rest.Think of this analogy, the car you just parked in your driveway the engine is hot now go out a half hour later and it's still warm this is basically how epoc works. Watch your caloric intake remember calories in calories out. Get with a Nasm certified trainer and they will walk you through and help you reach your goals.
Quite often we get caught up in doing the same exercises over and over again for a long period of time. What happens with this scenario, is that you are working the same muscles in the same pattern. At first, your body is new to the activity and responds well to it. Over time, your body becomes accustomed to the workout you are doing and doesn't respond. You are overusing these muscles and over time you may even get injured. It is best to change your workouts around every 4-6weeks so your body is introduced to new workouts and is working the muscles in different ways. This way the body is constantly stimulated in new ways and is less likely to get used to the workout so you won't experience a fitness or weight loss plateau.

After 4-6 weeks the body will adapt to an exercise routine.  If you continue the same routine beyond 4-6 weeks you will maintain your current level of fitness with no improvements. Altering your exercise program at least every 4 to 6 weeks will help you continue making progress.  For example, with a resistance training program vary the exercise types and/or the number of sets/reps.  For a cardio program, change the intensity level.  For example, if you train at a steady rate say Zone 1 (65-75% Heart Rate), add interval training (Zone 1 for 5 minutes, Zone 2 for 1 minute, etc) to your routine.  When starting a weight loss program you would have determined the amount of calories required to maintain your current weight.  The next step is to reduce those calories.  This can be done in two ways.  One is to restrict the number calories taken in (food) and the second is to increase the number of calories burned (exercise).  As an example, let’s say you require 2500 calories a day to maintain your current weight.  You decide to eat 250 calories less and burn an extra 250 calories a day.  500 calories a day equals one pound of weight loss a week (3500 calories=1 pound).  After 10 weeks you have lost 10 pounds.  Your body now requires fewer calories to maintain its current weight.  If you keep the 2500-500 calorie program you will hit that plateau.  Adjust the maintenance calorie count down to account for your new weight and this should get you moving in the right direction again.


You stop seeing results when you stop challenging your body. The important thing is not to give it up, but change it up!  The body is very adaptable and when it becomes efficient in performing a movement it doesn't have to exert as much energy and thus you don't burn as many calories. And that means your weight loss will come to a halt.
Research shows that you should "spice up your routine" every six to eight weeks to avoid the plateaus. It can be simple changes such as adding interval training to your steady state training, using free weights instead of machines, or changing your strength training tempo to slow training.  Or you may just need time off (2-3 days) to recharge and come back with renewed vigor.  


A plateau will occur when your body adapts to what you have been asking it to do. Plateaus are very common, but they can be avoided. Your body is a very complex and adaptive machine. It will work very hard once a new stress or stimulus is placed on it (this stress will be in the form of exercise). If the exercise is never changed, then your body will adapt to the demands and your results will level off. The key to avoiding a plateau is through periodization. Periodization occurs when you set up an exercise program which has small phases or stages which progress overtime. Another factor which may need to be considered is that once you lose weight, your metabolic rate will also decrease (there is less body to maintain) and you may need to readjust your caloric intake. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you take in. If you are burning fewer calories during your body's resting state, then you will need to consumer fewer calories to continue to lose weight.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.