I have been training people and trainers professionally for over 20 years.I have seen and trained it all…weight loss goals, muscle gain goals, special populations, beginners, injury rehab, men, women, children...but one category of clients is EASILY the most difficult.These are the type A hardcore fitness clients.They already workout like maniacs, are super consistent and eat on a strict regimen.You’re probably thinking that these people would be awesome clients but you would be severely mistaken.You see most of these “hardcore” clients hire me because their bodies have stopped responding to their normal routines and diets.They are in a situation where their usual solutions to plateau (more and harder workouts and less calories) stop working or they are in a position where its not feasible to add more exercise or eat less food. They are difficult to train because the answer to their dilemma is their worst enemy.These people need to workout LESS and EAT MORE if they want their bodies to progress.
I’ve encountered this situation many times but one time in particular pops up vividly.Years ago I trained an experience bikini competitor.Sharon (named changed for obvious reasons) came to me after her body started acting like it didn’t belong to her anymore.She had done 8 bikini competitions over the course of 2 years almost winning a pro card in the process.While prepping for her 9th show her body stopped getting leaner.It literally STOPPED and would not budge regardless of what she did.In fact she even started noticing fat gain!! This was despite doing 90-120 minutes of cardio EVERYDAY on top of 60 minutes of resistance training and a very low calorie diet that consisted of broccoli, lean chicken and tilapia.Her frustration was incredible…so much so that when she came to me she was in tears.“Sal I don’t know what the heck is going on! I can’t exercise more and I cant eat less and i’m afraid that if I do I will gain tons of weight.What do I do??”
Her case was extreme but it was classic and typical for someone in her condition and with her dieting and training experience. Her metabolism had adapted and slowed down BIG time. Her hormones as well. In order to “fix” her body we had to back out slowly. If she wanted her body to be able to “get in shape” she had to do the unthinkable…cut exercise way down and start eating more. Less extreme cases are much more common but just as frustrating.
The human body is an amazing marvel of evolution and biology.It literally is an adaptation machine.Everything you do to your body causes it to change and respond to “optimize” to its environment.In Sharon’s case her body was under constant stress from training and it was underfed.Her body adapted over time to be “comfortable” in this state. It lowered its calorie burning process while at rest and while at activity.
If you train too hard for too long you will notice some of the following side effects:
- Low appetite
- Poor sleep patterns (hard to wake up, hard to go to sleep or stay asleep)
- Cold intolerance
- Digestive issues
- Low sex drive
- Daily fatigue
- Reliance on stimulants like caffeine
The good news is if you are in this state of being you can reverse out of it.The following are tips you can implement TODAY to get your body back to its old self.
Get more and/or better sleep
Sleep is the most recovering thing you can do for yourself.There is literally nothing that you can do that will heal your body, bring hormones back into balance and recover like getting good quality sleep.Although many of us need more sleep (7-9 hours is ideal for most) QUALITY is just as important. I give my clients the following sleep routine and it has produced great success:
- Turn off all electronics one hour before bed.The blue light from electronics reduces your brain's ability to produce melatonin and it keeps cortisol elevated.
- Sip on warm chamomile tea.Chamomile is a very safe and mild sedative and is even recommended to children in some European countries.
- Belly breathe or meditate for 3 minutes before bed.Belly breathing helps bring a parasympathetic response in the body which is necessary for quality sleep.
- Lift weights with basic straight sets and compound lifts
Basically, stop trying to burn tons of calories. Instead try to build muscle like a powerlifter or beginning bodybuilder. Building muscle requires that the body balance our hormones and it “speeds up” the metabolism. Take a slow pace and rest in between sets and DON’T lift to failure. Train the whole body 2-3 times a week. For a more detailed plan check out MAPS Anabolic.
Reduce and Then Stop Cardio
Cardio can be very healthy but under the context of a “damaged metabolism” it only reinforces that the body needs to be efficient with calories.In these situations cardio slows the metabolism.Slowly reduce it and eventually eliminate it.
That is it. Those basic steps will make a huge impact on your body.One more thing…give it TIME.It can take a while before the body thinks it can let its guard down.In extreme cases like Sharon's it can take up to a year.Stay consistent and be patient…once things come back to normal it will be “easy’ to get in shape again.