How to Overcome The Plateau Effect

How to Overcome The Plateau Effect
January 27, 2023
RxLocal Team

It’s the new year. You have your New Year’s resolutions and will see them to the bitter end. You hit the ground running with that new gym membership.

As we mentioned in a previous blog, it’s statistically difficult to see your New Year's resolutions as the year progresses.

You can only use that sudden burst of motivation for the beginning. As winter turns to spring and then to summer, you’ll need another source of inspiration to get past those hurdles.

Among those hurdles is the plateau effect. Whether starting a new workout routine or another venture, you’re bound to encounter some sources of discouragement.

The plateau effect is the devastating epitome of this concept. It is usually the first threshold new runners or lifters cross before experiencing truly great results.

Here is what you need to know about the plateau effect, why it happens, and how you can overcome it.

What is The Plateau Effect?

The plateau effect is defined as “a phenomenon that lessens the effectiveness of once effective measures over time.” This can apply to several aspects of your life, ranging from the physical to the cerebral.

The general gist of the plateau effect is how your mind and body adjust to whatever it goes through. That 8-minute mile goal might seem impossible now, but you won’t give it a second thought when you’re running a sub-four marathon.

That’s an optimistic perspective on the plateau effect, however. The glass-half-empty view is the athlete (or mathlete) hits a wall in their progress.

Sure, you are leaps and bounds from where you were before. But that next leap, that elusive bound, feels so far away and unattainable.

The plateau effect usually arises when you don’t shake up your routine. For example, athletes need to change their routines so they’re constantly evolving and challenging themselves. Your fitness journey’s destination isn’t a real location, so much as it is a certain state of mind.

There is no finish line to your fitness journey, just a ton of starting lines.

What Causes the Plateau Effect?

We all remember that first run or first exercise routine. We remember the end where we’re huffing and puffing for air as we crawl across the proverbial finish line. We remember our quads being sore for days after our first set of squats.

Now? That runner’s high you used to literally run after feels like a thing of the past. Your weightlifting routine is still intense, but you’re seeing little progress compared to the growth spurt you saw months ago.

As mentioned earlier, the plateau effect comes about when you don’t change your routines enough. Deep down, your mind and body want a challenge (even if it feels impossible to get out of bed in the early morning).

How to Overcome the Plateau Effect

Now you know what the plateau effect is and why it occurs. It’s time to get out of your comfort zone and break through your physical and mental threshold (in a healthy and constructive way, of course).

Physical - Change the Little Things

In a previous blog, we talked about the allure of a neighborhood trail and how it can jumpstart your running routine. And rightfully so: a neighborhood trail is a perfect place to immerse yourself in the mind of a runner as well as the natural outside world.

Trails are a fantastic reprieve from the mechanical comings and goings of office life. But now you’re a certified runner and might even have a couple of races under your belt.

Now the trail isn’t that challenging anymore. That dreaded incline is now a literal walk in the park for you. How can you make a 5K runner into a 10K or even a marathon runner?

The simple solution for runners (and athletes in general) is to change the playing field. This might mean ditching the trail in favor of a nearby traffic, dirt trail, or your gym’s treadmill.

Speaking of which, treadmills are an invaluable tool for runners. You can create your own trail with the steepest inclines at your desired pace.

Sure, you’ll miss the restorative effects of mother nature (unless you install your treadmill in your backyard), but a treadmill could be that welcome change of scenery that takes your running journey to the next level.

For you weightlifters out there, ditch the usual bench press and try out new workout regiments.

To prevent the dreaded plateau effect, workout out those different muscle groups you’ve neglected. Give those hamstrings some love or activate your pectoral muscles in new and exciting ways.

Before you know it, that familiar soreness will come rushing back to you in a painful but welcome way. It’s like seeing an old friend after not seeing each other for years, except you can’t move your arms.

Mental - Change the Playing Field  

Alright, boy genius. Whether you’re a mathematician, writer, illustrator, or self-proclaimed philosopher, experiencing the plateau effect is inevitable. Some call it writer’s block, others call it burnout.

The plateau effect takes many different forms, but the road to overcoming it is remarkably simple: shake things up (no weights or dicey treadmill purchases required).

As a writer or student, you likely have your own system or method to get things done. Perhaps you use the Pomodoro technique or adopt the Stephen King method of write, write, and write.

Routines grow stale, and they might deliver diminishing returns after a while.

Challenge yourself. Perhaps change your approach to studying by writing instead of longhand. Change the location of the work. That favorite coffee shop simply gets too familiar, contributing to the general malaise of the plateau effect.

Check out a new coffee shop in the area or go to your local library. The lack of a challenge or new stakes is what perpetuates the plateau effect.

Self-improvement is an ever-going process where the top of the summit is really just the beginning of another hurdle.

Just like climbing a mountain, that new hurdle requires different equipment and an even sharper state of mind to overcome.


Progress is a fickle thing. Whether it’s reaching a new record mile time or studying more and hitting the keyboard more efficiently, you’re bound to hit some roadblocks.

Hitting a plateau means that yesterday’s peak is today’s starting point. The saying goes “you’re only a success the moment you perform a successful act.”

You reached success. Now you know the uncharted territory like the back of your hand. It’s time to start climbing again.