#296 Breaking Through

Tell a friend

The best measure of a man's honesty isn't his income tax return.
It's the zero adjust on his bathroom scale.

Arthur C. Clarke

5 Ways to Keep the Scale Moving

By Steve Edwards

Working OutNot much is as frustrating during an exercise program as when your results stop progressing. But it happens to everyone; and even if you're training like a cage fighter, it will happen to you, too. When it does, the solution isn't as obvious as you may think. While the logical answer is to kick your workouts up a notch, eat cleaner, or eat less, that might be exactly the opposite of what you should to be doing. Here is an explanation of why your results are bound to plateau and what to do about it when it happens.

What is the dreaded plateau?

It's part of the body's natural process to hit a plateau because it's always trying to regulate itself. Its regulated state is called homeostasis. Your body is a creature of habit, but it doesn't care whether those habits are bad or good. The more you do something to enact change, the more it adapts and tries to limit that change. This can be a good thing because less stress is placed on the body. But it's a bad thing if you're unhealthy because that is the state your body is willing to call homeostasis. If your goals are to change your body, you'll want to keep that adaptive stress high until you're fit and healthy.

Working Out with a TrainerFitness trainers refer to the above-mentioned process as the adaptive phase of training, and any good fitness program is designed around it. The time it takes your body to adapt to something new varies by activity, your fitness level, and the effort you put into the endeavor. This process can take as little as 2 weeks to more than 12 weeks. In general, the fitter you are, the quicker your body adapts to a new workout routine.

To get the most out of an exercise program, you need to break habits from time to time. This is why most training programs are broken up into phases or blocks that generally look something like this:

Foundation phase: building base fitness—the time this takes varies per individual.

Adaptive phase: learning to master the movements or cadence of a new workout program—takes between 1 and 12 weeks.

Growth or Mastery phase: once mastered, your body has a limited time to make accelerated performance gains—generally 1 to 4 weeks.

Recovery phase: when results level off, your body needs to recover from the stresses of hard training—generally 1 to 4 weeks.

Days of the WeekMost athletes train in 4- to 6-week blocks; during this time, they work on one energy system at a time. Each block is broken down into the above-listed phases. As each phase is mastered, the body begins to plateau, which is a signal to begin a recovery phase and move into the next training block.

If you graph the desired results of your exercise program, the line should look like a ski slope (heading up or down depending on your goals) because you're making rapid changes. Once your body gets good (or efficient) at these exercises, they don't cause as much trauma, and you begin to get less effect out of the same program. The "ski slope" begins to level off and starts to resemble a plateau. If this program is continued as such, the line will go completely flat, or even start to dip the other way because of overuse.

P90X®A good exercise program is designed to keep your graph looking like a ski slope by altering what you do regularly. Let's use a comparison of Power 90® and P90X® as an example of how two programs might look. Power 90 is an introductory program and P90X is an advanced program. They both follow similar patterns but the timing of each is different.

Phase I: Foundation phase. Power 90 begins with the I/II workouts. P90X begins with a fit test, meaning that your foundation should be complete prior to beginning the program.

Phase II: Adaptive phase. This is where the biggest changes in the programs occur. Power 90 doesn't change much because it may take an untrained individual up to 12 weeks to adapt. At the P90X level, adaptations are very quick and will happen in 1 to 2 weeks.

Phase III: Mastery or Growth phase. This is the most intense period of training. Once the body adapts to exercise, there is a short window wherein very rapid improvement occurs.

Phase IV: Recovery phase. Exercise intensity is reduced to allow microtrauma to heal. If timed correctly, fitness improves during this phase, until the body is recharged and ready to begin Phase II again. If done for too long, Phase I should be repeated. The recovery phase, which can also be called a transition phase, is a major part of P90X. Power 90, due to the variable adaptive phase, doesn't have a recovery phase built in.

Plateau: occurs when Phase III is extended too long.

Most sound fitness programs follow a similar plan. This alone does not keep plateaus from occurring. They affect everyone who engages in any exercise program, from couch potato to Olympian. In fact, the more finely tuned your body is, the harder it is to avoid plateaus, mainly because there is less margin of error to play with. But even though they are a natural part of the process, it does not mean that you have to give in to them. At some point along your fitness path, you are going to encounter a plateau. Here are 5 tips to help you snap out of it:

  1. Yoga Booty Ballet®Back off. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't exercise; it just means that if you ease up a bit, you'll likely recover and get stronger. Oftentimes your body is overtrained, exhausted, and just in need of a break. If you are finding it suddenly difficult to get through a workout that was easy the week before, this is most likely the case. You should cut down on your intensity and focus on technique and flexibility. It's a perfect time for a recovery-specific workout like Slim Series® Cool It Off!, Tony Horton's Ho' Ala ke Kino, or some easy cardio, yoga, and/or stretching workout. Another option would be to lower your workout weight or pick easier workouts. Gauge this so that you finish workouts feeling refreshed rather than knackered. When your energy level returns, launch back into your original program, or a more difficult one, harder than you did before.

  2. Turn it up a notch. The antithesis of backing off, because a plateau may also happen when you're purely bored and/or listless. The easiest way to increase intensity is by adding resistance. Change bands or add weight so that you start failing at around 6 to 8 reps on all of the exercises, which changes the energy system you're using. This added intensity will force your body to adapt and turn that improvement line skyward again. You'll know if this was the right tactic in one of two workouts because you'll either respond by feeling energized or you'll hardly be able to finish the workout.

  3. Going OnlineStreamline your diet. Most of our diets could always use a little improvement. If you've been giving yourself little rewards for a job well done (a good idea in general), then it's time to stop. Try a super-strict week wherein you do everything perfect. If you don't have a great example—like the P90X diet—scour the Message Boards for help.

  4. Add some morning cardio. Twenty minutes or more of easy- to moderate-level cardio in the morning on an empty stomach can help get your metabolism steamrolling again. You can train your body to more efficiently use stored fat as fuel, and this is one of the easiest ways to do it.

  5. Weighing FoodAdd or subtract 500 calories per day. If everything else seems fine and you're at wits' end, then try this. Your diet might just be miscalculated and you could be under- or overfeeding yourself. This is common, especially as you get fitter, because your body composition changes, which is why adding calories is one of the main ways our members kick themselves off of plateaus. Five hundred calories per day works out to 3,500 per week, which equates to a pound. Keep in mind that this will only work if you are eating proper nutrients. If not, try #3 first, and then try altering the number of calories you're eating.

Related Articles
"Xamining the X"
"Can You Get Fit in 10 Minutes a Day?"
"10 Tiny Changes for Big Weight Loss"
"10 Ways to Put Your Appetite on Cruise Control"

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Steve EdwardsCheck out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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How to Eat, How Not to Eat: Two Book Reviews

By Denis Faye

ReadingEat This Not That! by David Zinczenko (Rodale, $19.95)
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman (Wiley Publishing, $35.00)

It's easy to say that you're going to turn over a new leaf and completely change your eating habits. It's another thing to actually do it. We live in a fast-paced, overly complicated world where restaurant visits happen, convenience foods magically find their way into your freezer, and five minutes is just too long to let your "instant" oatmeal cook.

And that aside, sometimes bad food just tastes good. So despite all the diet advice in the world, we cheat and eat and get fat.

Fortunately, a couple of books have come out lately that offer a more real-world approach to food. Eat This Not That! by David Zinczenko explains how to make at least vaguely acceptable choices, whether you're heading for a fast food joint or the fridge. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman takes a cuisine that's popularly known as "rabbit food and cardboard" and turns it into a smorgasbord of culinary delights that will tempt even the most ferocious carnivore.

Eat This Not That!Zinczenko is also editor in chief of Men's Health, so he knows how to turn well-being lectures into easily digestible tidbits. That's basically what Eat This Not That! is—a series of short, simple, reader-friendly lessons. There's not a thought here that's more than two pages in length, and we're talking small pages. It's the ideal nutrition book for the non-reader.

Small MealThe book is divided into several sections, but the bulk of it discusses restaurant food. Each two-page spread devotes one page to the healthier options at a particular restaurant (McDonald's, Denny's, P.F. Chang's, etc.), and then a facing page discusses the wrong choices to make. That said, the "healthier" choices are rarely "healthy," given that most restaurants aren't in the healthy business. For example, you'll want to avoid the two slices of Ultimate Deep Dish ExtravaganZZa Feast at Domino's, with its 780 calories, 47 grams of fat, and 2,230 milligrams of sodium. That said, the "better option," two slices of Crunchy Thin Crust Feast with 470 calories, 32 grams of fat, and 1,240 milligrams of sodium, isn't exactly health food.

The book also features more general guidelines for holiday meals, trips to the ballpark, and other special occasions, as well as more general menu guides for eateries such as sushi restaurants, BBQ joints, and tapas bars.

It also offers suggestions on a wide array of prepackaged foods that you'll find at the grocery store. Finally, Zinczenko discusses the merits of whole foods, like fruits and veggies, but I doubt that this book's target audience is terribly interested in the benefits of spinach.

How to Cook Everything VegetarianConversely, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian talks about spinach until the free-range, organic dairy cows come home. But frankly, author Bittman doesn't care if it's healthy or not. He just wants to make it delicious. The book is filled with refined flour and dairy and, gasp, even frying. But it's also filled with hundreds of ways to prepare veggies that most people have written off as "icky." There's nothing icky about Bittman's Kale Pie, Potato and Leek Soup, or Okra Stew with Tomatoes.

I can genuinely say that if you're not willing to try these recipes, it's sad for you. This isn't a cookbook written by hippies or greenies or peaceniks who pretend to know what decadent food tastes like. Bittman has won both the James Beard and Julia Child-IACP cookbook awards. If he serves broccoli, it's going to be rocking broccoli.

Bean SaladThis may not be the tome for those who want to wear size negative two jeans or get their body fat into the single digits, but the simple fact is that the lion's share of the ingredients in this book are whole, real foods. If you created 90 percent of your meals using this book, even if you threw a little lean meat in there, it would be difficult not to be healthy.

Zinczenko's book desperately tries to transform heart-attack foods into something not so cardiac-arrest inducing. Conversely, Bittman's book takes the most wholesome foods on earth and makes them a little naughty. Ironically, even though Bittman wears the devil horns in this situation, the choices offered in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian are far, far healthier.

Related Articles:
"7 Nutrition Books for the Holidays"
"Burger Buddies: Fast Food Nation's Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser"
"5 Ways to Make Over Your Veggies"
"Takeout Tips and Traps"

Denis Faye If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your Frozen Food IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

March is National Frozen Food Month and March 6 is National Frozen Food Day. We hope you haven't waited until the last minute to send cards!

  1. Frozen CornWhat were the first frozen vegetables sold? Spinach and peas. American inventor (and taxidermist—that guy loved to preserve!) Clarence Birdseye noticed while ice fishing in Canada that the fish he caught froze quickly on the thick ice, and when thawed later, the fish still tasted good. He applied this notion of "flash-freezing" to fruits and vegetables and found that, like the fish, the veggies retained little cellular damage when frozen quickly. He introduced frozen peas and spinach for sale in 1930. The rest is history. Birds Eye is still a popular frozen food brand today.

  2. What country consumes the most frozen food per capita? Norway, which consumes 78 pounds of frozen food per capita every year. That's 6 pounds more than its closest competitor, Denmark. The U.S. is barely in the top 10 with 36 pounds.

  3. Freezer Full of Frozen Dinners How long will a freezer full of food stay frozen if the power goes out? If a freezer is chock-full and unopened, the food will stay frozen for 2 to 4 days. So if the power goes out, you should plan on drinking your cocktail hour beverages neat, lest you open the freezer for ice and ruin all of your stored food. If the freezer is half full, you have about 24 hours before food begins to thaw. So, no peeking!

  4. Is frozen food less nutritious than fresh food? No. In fact, it may be much healthier because most fruits and vegetables are frozen within 6 hours of harvest, whereas the fresh food in your produce section may be on the road for days. However, it's good to remember that freezing doesn't prevent decay, it merely slows it. The longer the food stays in your freezer, the less nutritional value it will have. It's a good idea to check the expiration dates on prepackaged foods and write the date of freezing on packages of food you freeze yourself. Depending on the type of food, you should probably consider pitching it if it's been around for longer than 6 months.

  5. Frozen DinnerHow many frozen dinners are purchased in the U.S. each year? Two billion frozen dinners are bought by Americans every year. No one can say if they're actually eaten or just taking up space in the communal Beachbody freezer by thoughtless coworkers (eat that Lean Cuisine Chicken Parmesan already—it's been months!), but it's a far cry from 1955, the year Swanson introduced the TV dinner and sold a mere 70 million dinners, which was considered a huge marketing success at the time.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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