It’s the start of 2019. I’ve found a new fitness class I love. I’m going all the time and I’m killing it. My body is changing. Know the feeling? It’s a great one.
Now it’s late February. I’m still going to that class. My form has improved, I know the moves, and I feel like I’m still killing it, but my body isn’t changing as much anymore. Know the feeling? It sucks.
“Your form is so good!” my barre instructors tell me after every class. So, if my form is so good, why have I stopped seeing results? Have I plateaued? Is that a thing? Is this the body shape I’ll forever be? Can I get a refund?!
While fitness plateaus may feel real, it turns out they may not — from a scientific view — really be a thing. If I wasn’t seeing the physical results in my body that I was seeing in the beginning, it’s likely I was losing motivation, cutting corners in my workout, or just getting complacent in class, without realizing it.
Before we delve further into this topic, we should acknowledge the key players in the results-driven game: sleep, stress, and nutrition.
Study after study has shown that your body can’t perform at its highest when you’re running low on sleep or when you’re totally stressed out. The old saying “abs aren’t made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen” still rings true, too.
But let’s say you’re getting at least eight hours of sleep, have a healthy grasp on how to manage stress, and you’re eating right. (Honestly? Congratulations. DM me your tips.)
But how do you keep seeing results? I began to investigate what I could be doing wrong in my current routine. I looked at the science and talked with fitness gurus and nutritionists. We were able to pinpoint some changes I could immediately implement into my current routine to keep the results coming.
There’s a common belief that “switching it up” can be the best way to see physical results in your body, but that’s not always the case. There have been times when I would go to a bootcamp class one day, a boxing class the next, and then be so sore that I would just stop working out altogether.
“I don’t think that you can get into the deep muscles and understand the workout unless you’re going consistently,” says Jennifer Williams, founder of Pop Physique.
Instead, committing to three to four days per week and making them count — more on that later — is more important.
Kate Davies, founder of YO-BK Hot Yoga and Pilates, adds that choosing a workout class that is multi-level helps ensure that you’ll keep seeing changes.
“Going to classes with all types of people of different shapes and sizes is awesome because it becomes more of a celebration of the human body. You have people at different levels, and with a good teacher, you can push yourself even if you’ve been doing the same thing for two years.”
Doing the same thing for two years? And my body will keep changing?
“I’ve seen people come for 5 nights a week for 3 years and they are still seeing physical results. That’s really exciting,” says Davies.
So, stick with a class you love, and take the pressure off to “switch it up.” But how do you stay mentally engaged and keep pushing yourself every time?
If it’s in my planner, I’m going. But I’m often guilty of deciding to catch a workout class at the last minute because I’m not sure of when I’m going to feel like working out.
Williams reminded me that booking your spot ahead of time not only logistically makes sense, but helps you position yourself to get more out of it.
“You’re saying this is a priority. It’s non-negotiable. I’m going to go on these days and I’m going to work my job and the rest of my life around this.”
You know those superstars in class who just kill it every time? If you’re a fitness class regular, you know who I’m talking about. They’re typically in the front row, focused, and always giving it their all.
Davies suggests positioning yourself close to them. “Find people who are motivational to set your mat next to. We have some students who go all out and if you’re set up next to them, you’re going to try harder no matter what.”
Williams adds, “Take everyone’s corrections. Be really present of the whole room.”
After all, it’s a class, not a one-on-one, so if a teacher is challenging the person next to you to sit one inch lower in chair pose, take on that challenge as well.
After hearing instructors say “engage your core” for the hundredth time, it’s easy to dismiss it, but listening with the eagerness of a beginner can keep you from feeling complacent during class.
“There’s always more lift in your body, and there’s always more tuck. You can always pull your abs in deeper,” says Williams.
I know, talking to people isn’t always on the top of our lists! But creating social connections with the teacher and the people around you will help you feel more accountable to show up and push yourself in each class.
When I feel anonymous in a class, I tend to “check out” or come out of poses when I start to feel the burn, but if the teacher knows my name, you better believe I’m not coming out of plank!
Not all bodies are created equal. If a workout is marketing that you can burn 1,000 calories a class, that doesn’t mean you’re going to. It’s hard to state the amount of calories a workout will burn for everyone.
Sarah Harris, dietitian and founder of Simpletic Nutrition, points out that every teacher and every class is different.
“You might be estimating a 300 to 400 calorie burn, but you may only be burning 150.”
And if I’m overestimating the calories I’m burning in my morning workout, I’m probably also overestimating the calories I should consume after class.
Harris advises: “A postworkout meal should be in the same calorie level — maybe 100 to 200 calories over, if you wanted to splurge — as you would normally try to aim for with a meal if you hadn’t worked out.”
Again, this is assuming you’re already following a healthy diet and sleeping well and managing your stress — remember how we talked about that earlier?
I’ve only recently come to the realization that if I hate a workout, I don’t have to do it! There are so many different fitness options and classes, there’s no need to spend time doing something I hate.
I love cycling, I love barre, I love yoga, I love dancing. I hate running on a treadmill, so I’m no longer going to pay money torturing myself with treadmill classes. There are a million other ways to get that cardio in.
“I think a lot of people really force themselves into whatever is trending now, whether it’s boxing or yoga, and they just flat-out don’t like it,” says Davies.
“The fun factor is really important. The more you can take the mental conversation out of your workout and really find something that’s fun, the more you’re going to see results and the more you’re going to want to go.”
Davies reminded me not to be so hard on myself in class and instead, to celebrate the small victories along the way.
I showed up for my class early! Victory!
I finished that set of mountain climbers! Victory!
I have great form! Victory!
If my form is “so good,” that’s evidence that I’ve been carving out time for my health, showing up and paying attention during class, and spending at least an hour away from my cell phone (victory!) while I work on making my body stronger.
“We’re always looking for one ‘before’ picture and one ‘after’ picture, but most of the time we spend is in the in-between,” says Williams. “You want to feel good every day, you don’t want to just wait for your “after.”
By acknowledging the results that I can’t necessarily see in a mirror, I’m empowered to look at my current routine and implement these doable changes to strengthen my body and bring out the confident, strong woman that I know I already am.
E.J. Johnson is a Brooklyn-based comedy writer and performance artist. If you like pictures of pink sparkly things, you can follow her on Instagram.