For many years, I thought that there would be a day when I would “arrive.” I would arrive at the perfect body. I would arrive at the perfect weight. I would be fit, athletic and healthy, and then once that happened, I could get off the treadmill and relax and enjoy my perfect body in my now-perfect life.
I was seeking quick fix fitness and was accustomed to seeing health and fitness practices advertised as: 30-Day Challenges, 15 Days to a New You, or Drop Two Dress Sizes in 28 Days. I didn’t realize that fitness is a life long pursuit, one that requires grit, perseverance, tenacity and strategies for staying motivated for the long term. With my previous mindset, I would often throw in the towel when things got really difficult. However, as every athlete will tell you, like the stages of change (blog post #2), there are also stages of athleticism. To know them is to better understand your athletic journey. This understanding can prevent you from giving up during tough times.
There will be fitness highs, lows and even stages that feel flat-lined, when you may become bored or indifferent. I assure you, this is all part of the process, and I call these stages the Peaks, Valleys and Plateaus of fitness. Enjoying the triumphs, weathering the storms and staying motivated takes knowledge and awareness. Here is a quick overview of three stages that may help you better understand the path to victory:
The Peak (AKA the Ass-Kicking Zone)
In the Kicking-Ass Zone our bodies demonstrate their full potential, and we feel limitless: we can conquer the world, this workout and the next. Peaks are exhilarating. Peaks happen when everything lines up. We are ready—we have a good base of physical conditioning under our belts, and our nutrition is sound. We feel supported—those around us are encouraging us. And we are on an unstoppable path to our attainable goals.
The Valley (AKA a Down Period)
During valleys, you may come to your workout feeling drained before you even begin; your motivation is just not there. This period can feel frustrating, and the negative chatter in your mind may be at an all-time high. You might head out for a run because it’s on your training schedule, but in a valley, each step feels like you are moving through molasses. On this run, you might choose the path that leads to the shortcut rather than the one that pushes you to increase your distance.
You can enter a valley for a number of reasons—for example, because you’ve been working out too much, are bored with your fitness routine or are fighting a cold. Life happens, and in the valley you are being tested. But this isn’t a time to quit; rather, it’s a time to prove your resilience.
The Plateau (AKA a Steady State)
Perhaps you are showing up for your workouts, eating healthy food and getting a good night’s sleep, but your physical fitness has not progressed. You feel frustrated. Welcome to the plateau.
A couple of things are happening during a plateau period. First, your body may no longer be challenged by your fitness routine. You might consider increasing the intensity of your workout or varying the type of activity you do. Second, your body might require a rest and is telling you to hit pause. Training programs often include scheduled recovery weeks, which allow time for your body to re-build and prepare for another push. Plateaus are beneficial for the body—they are a natural response to the demand you place on your body with each workout. Listen to your body’s signals and act accordingly to work through your plateau. After many plateaus, a peak is just around the corner. Don’t quit now!
Understanding that fitness is a life-long pursuit while riding the waves of varying stages can prevent us from quitting. The key is to be kind to yourself and to work within each stage to the best of your ability.
Louise Green founded Body Exchange, a fitness program focused on helping plus-sized women achieve their athletic dreams. Since 2008 Green has coached over a thousand woman, sweating alongside them in their fitness journey. She is the author of Big Fit Girl, a book aimed to challenge the way in which our society thinks about fitness.