Running doesn’t discriminate — it’s a sport for people of all ages, shapes and sizes. Just like any other type of physical training, practice will get you ahead and make you better than the rest. However, because runners often go it alone, it can be easy to cap out and stop making progress. So how do you pinpoint the problem and figure out what can you do about it? Use these expert tips to get past your running plateau today.
See the Signs
The first and most common plateau that a runner will face is boredom. “If you find yourself counting the seconds until your workout is over, you are definitely hitting a mental plateau,” says David Siik, running coach and trainer at Equinox. “If your runs are no longer inspiring you, it’s time to make a change.”
Plateaus can also be accompanied by a struggle to get faster, or a standstill in weight loss if you’re running to shed pounds, he says. When the encouraging results come to a halt, how do you grab the reigns and break through?
Make a Change
“Plateaus happen not always because you are running too much, but often as a consequence of too much of a certain type of running.”
“Plateaus happen not always because you are running too much, but often as a consequence of too much of a certain type of running,” says Siik. Switching variables can help keep your routine fresh and effective. For example, doing hill work will help you build strength, which in turn will make you faster. “Because hills cause you to have to push up to fight gravity as well as forward, you will require a lot of power to do so,” says Siik.
If you’re having trouble holding a pace, Siik recommends doing more endurance training with shorter recoveries, meaning faster pace with less downtime to rest.
Successful runners vary up their training to avoid plateauing and instead peak at just the right time, he says. Keep in mind, not all of those workouts should be running-specific. Sometimes stepping away from the pavement can be just the right medicine. “You can keep some running in your life, but move into a three- to four-week period of swimming and biking, or yoga and strength training,” says Siik. “Then come back, reset, and go after it again.”
When to Worry
If you reach a roadblock with weight loss, building endurance, or hitting a new personal record (PR), it can be frustrating — but it’s extremely common. “I believe plateaus are important. They keep us from pushing too hard, too fast,” says Siik. “Our brilliantly complex bodies need some of these to adapt, adjust and repair before you ask them to go further.” Be careful, though, not to become too complacent in these types of stages for too long, or you may end up struggling when trying to bounce back.
If more than three weeks passes, unattended-to injuries or muscle imbalances may be to blame. “Even a very small one, like a nagging ache from a bad night’s sleep, can cause you to run funny, which can escalate to a problem that prevents you from getting any better,” says Siik. Always address any signs of pain or overuse before you get back to running again.
How to Get Over the Hump
While running may be a cheap sport that’s easy enough for anyone to do — it’s actually a lot more sophisticated than it gets credit for. If you want to keep from plateauing and continue to progress and hit new PRs, it’s important to keep your body in the best shape possible.
Assuming you’re healthy and injury-free, Siik suggests a three-week plan similar to a mini track season. “Take yourself through periods of strength training or hill work interval training, followed by endurance,” he says. “Or try long intervals with tough recoveries, followed by speedwork — Tabata or other sprint training.” Cycling through these will keep you moving in the right direction.
Looking for a routine to get you started? Try this interval treadmill workout from Siik’s Precision Running class at Equinox.
Interval Treadmill Workout
The method works by gradually breaking down a 60-second interval into a 45- and 30-second interval. You’ll do this three times in the workout. As each break down gets faster the corresponding incline gets smaller. It’s important to choose an ending speed based on your estimated best 60-second speed (the fastest you think you can go for 60 seconds on your final interval). Simply start 1.8 mph slower than your ending goal and everything else falls into place. Note, for beginners, SiiK suggests starting at 4.0 mph, and more advanced runners start at 8.0 (intermediate runners can follow the numbers on the graphic below).
You’ll add 0.3 mph to each interval as they get shorter, but the challenge is to start each with the ending speed of the previous 30-second interval. After a few minutes warming up, get started and you’ll be done before you know it.