No matter how much we love running, or how hard we train, we will inevitably hit a running plateau at some point. Despite our best efforts during training, we find ourselves feeling a little stale on each run. We head out the door for our regular weekday miles, and run the same pace or the same distance over and over again. While we are still maintaining fitness, improvements seem to be few and far between.
There is nothing more discouraging than putting in the same amount of work, and suddenly finding yourself making no progress. Progress seems to be the name of the game in the fitness world, and without it staying in shape seems to be almost pointless.
While there is definitely something to be said about getting to the “fitness maintenance” stage, this point in the fitness journey seems to be a lot less satisfying than the beginning stages. In the beginning, you find yourself shedding pounds like crazy, noticing phenomenal physical and mental improvements, and cutting time off your miles like it’s nobody’s business. Each week you run farther than you ever thought possible, and you just can’t wait to see what happens next.
Until suddenly, not much happens. You keep running, but the weight isn’t coming off as quickly, running farther seems way more challenging, and despite your best efforts, you just can’t increase your pace.
This point in a fitness journey is something that we all look forward to, but upon arrival it feels incredibly discouraging. Despite what your mind and body are telling you, though, there actually is a way to continue improving, even when you’ve been running for years.
You’ve hit that dreaded running plateau, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay there. Here are 5 easy ways to break through that running plateau and start achieving your goals.
How to Break Through a Running Plateau
Take a break, or add in some cut back weeks.
It seems a little contradictory, right? You’re trying to get faster, stronger, or run farther – and now you’re hearing that in order to do so you need to run less? Sometimes, yes. If you have been increasing your mileage and suddenly finding yourself feeling worn out, unmotivated, or needing more effort to complete your regular runs, you might actually need to cut back. Swapping out one run a week for cross training or strength training will help you get stronger, so those missed miles are being put to good use. Cutting out a few junk miles each week gives your body some extra time to recover, and allows you to really focus on making the runs you do have count. Or, try incorporating a cut back week into your training. Every 4 or so weeks, shorten your long run significantly on the weekends (by 20-50%). This week, focus on recovering and giving your legs a break, so next week you feel fresh and rested.
Add some strength training.
If you find yourself stuck at one speed, unable to get faster, or facing a wall when trying to add a few extra miles to your weekly long run, your body might just not be strong enough. Having a strong body benefits us exponentially on the run, even with those muscles that aren’t in our legs. Your core and arms help power you up hills and keep you strong on tempo runs. Legs, glutes and hips power you through each and every mile. While you may be working those quads with some squats each day, spend some time focusing on the muscles that often get neglected on the run. Adding in some weekly strength training will increase your power on those runs.
Narrow your focus.
Have you been trying to increase your mileage and get faster? That might be too much to focus on right now. While I absolutely believe that shooting for the stars is always best, sometimes we need to do one thing at a time. Maybe you pick a shorter race where you aim for a PR, and then focus on increasing your distance for a marathon or half marathon afterwards. Take some time to think through your goals, and pick a realistic time of year to focus on each of them.
Try out some new speed workouts.
It didn’t take me long to realize that my body will run one slow, steady pace on every run – no matter the distance. My legs are programmed to set out at the same pace each day, which is great for long runs, but not so much for intervals. When I finally decided to spend some time increasing my speed, I was disappointed to find that my pace didn’t increase much on my tempo runs. It took a great deal of experimentation before I found a workout that actually gave me results. If you’re trying to increase your speed with weekly tempo runs and find yourself stuck in a running plateau, try an interval workout instead. Running 400s had a game-changing impact on my speed, and there are so many other options out there too. Try Yasso 800s, a Fartlek run, tempo runs, hill runs or running the straights and jogging the curves on the track. There are so many options – and just because one thing works for another runner doesn’t mean it will work for you. Dedicate some time to finding the option that your body responds to best.
Focus on recovery and warm up.
Are you feeling stale and dull during your runs? It could have nothing to do with your actual running, and everything to do with what you are doing before and after. What you do before and after your run has just as much of an effect as what you do during. If you don’t have a cool down routine, try adding some stretches or foam rolling in the 10 minutes immediately following your run. If nutrition is your weak spot, take a few days to really analyze the kinds of foods you are eating before and after your runs. Are you fueling with enough calories and the right kind of fuel? Or maybe adding a few glasses of water each day will do the trick. It may take a few weeks to get it right, but once you do the impact will be huge.
My favorite thing about running is that it allows me the opportunity to improve each and every week. Seeing progress is what keeps me coming back for more. Setting goals that seem like a huge stretch and finally accomplishing them is a feeling like no other. Running is one of the greatest tools for increasing self confidence and pride, so it’s easy to get discouraged when suddenly that feels impossible. A running plateau can feel like a huge let down, but it doesn’t have to. Powering through your running plateau will give you that much more of which to be proud.