No matter how much we love running or how consistently we train, it is inevitable that we will hit a running plateau at some point during training.
Hitting a running plateau is a frustrating experience.
Despite our best efforts during training, we find ourselves feeling a little stale on each run. It seems that no matter how hard we work, our running progress has plateaued.
There is nothing more discouraging than continuously putting in the work, yet finding yourself unable to make any progress. Regardless of whether you run for fun or are a serious athlete, seeing progress provides key motivation as we work towards accomplishing our goals.
While no two runners are alike, most new runners experience a similar journey as their bodies adapt to the sport. In the beginning, each day feels a little easier, your body shape changes, mental strength improves, and it seems as if you are accomplishing goals right and left.
Each week you run further 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, adding an extra mile feels way more challenging, and despite your best efforts – you just can’t increase your pace.
You are facing the dreaded running plateau.
If your progress suddenly feels as if it’s come to a halt – that doesn’t mean it won’t ever return. Breaking through a running plateau is an obstacle that just about every runner faces.
Learning a few strategies to push past that running plateau and regain momentum is key to surviving this challenging time. When each run feels stale and frustrating, there are a few ways to overcome the lull.
Here are 5 easy ways to break through that running plateau and start achieving your goals.
5 Strategies to Break Through a Running Plateau
Add a rest day or scale back on mileage.
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 are suddenly finding yourself feeling worn out, unmotivated, or needing more effort to complete your easy runs, it might be your body’s way of telling you that it needs a break.
Try swapping one run each week for a cross training or strength training workout to give your body time to recover. Not only will the fewer miles provide more recovery time, but the extra workouts will help you get stronger.
Cutting out a few junk miles each week gives your body some extra time to regain momentum, and helps you focus on making the runs you do have count.
If you’ve scaled back your runs by swapping in cross training and are still facing a running plateau, try making this day a complete rest day. After just a week or two with an extra rest day, your body and mind will likely be itching to get back to some hard, long runs.
Another strategy to bust through that running plateau is to incorporate regular cut back weeks into your training. Every 4 or so weeks, shorten your long run mileage significantly on the weekends (by 20-50%). During the cut back week, focus on recovering and giving your legs a break without actually interrupting your training.
Incorporate some extra strength training.
Taking the time to strengthen muscles throughout your entire body (not just your legs) keeps us strong on the run. Strengthening all of your muscles helps avoid imbalance when running that can lead to pain and various injuries.
Not to mention, strong muscles help us continue to improve each week. When you’ve hit a running plateau, it’s likely because your muscles have adapted to your regular activity and already reached their peak.
Adding in some weekly strength training exercises will increase your power on the runs, helping you gain the strength you need to improve each week.
Narrow your focus.
Whatever the case, you might be spreading your focus too wide and your resources too thin. Trying to improve your speed, gain strength and increase your weekly mileage is a lot for your body to take in at once.
Before your legs have time to recover from that long run, you’re running a speed workout and then hitting it hard at the gym. Runners are known for their ambitious nature, but this can sometimes be the cause of our running plateau.
While I love the motivational power of setting lofty goals, it’s important not to stretch yourself too thin. Maybe now is the time to focus on running long, easy miles while training for your first marathon. Or maybe it’s best to aim for that 5k PR while the weather is still cool.
Make a list of your priorities, schedule and goals to help you narrow your focus for this training season. Remember that there is a season for everything, and just because you can’t train for that PR right now doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.
Setting your focus on one specific goal may be just what you need to break through that running plateau.
Related: 10 Steps to Achieve Any Running Goal
Try out some new workouts.
It won’t take long before you settle into a comfortable running pace for your body. Whenever I head out on a mindless run, I find myself unknowingly settling into the same slow and steady pace.
However, running every single run at the same pace will likely leave you facing a running plateau when it comes to increasing your speed. And while this pace may feel comfortable and easy, incorporating a few different paces into your training may yield better results.
Try incorporating short, bursts of speed, such as fartleks or short intervals. Experiments with Yasso 800s, tempo runs, ladder runs and hill runs. Mixing things up each week is a great way to break through that running plateau and start to see some results.
Every runner is different, so take some time experimenting with different speed workouts, interval lengths and paces to figure out what works best for your body.
Focus on recovery and warm up.
There’s nothing worse that noticing that your legs feel heavy and stale when you’re just a few steps into your run. After you’ve been running for a while, you might start to notice tired, heavy legs on some of your runs.
While heavy legs are common after a long run or tough workout, repeatedly dealing with tired legs on the run can drastically slow down your progress. And before long, you me facing the dreaded running plateau.
Luckily, dull, heavy legs might have nothing to do with your actual time on the run. Instead, they’re like caused by something you are doing (or failing to do) before or after your run.
Once new runners settle into the groove and get comfortable with a regular training plan, it’s easy to fall into the trap of neglecting a warm up and cool down. When training ramps up, it’s tempting to skip the extra five minutes before and after a run to minimize your workout time.
However, failing to warm up and cool down properly during training might lead to heavy, tired legs on each run. Taking even just five minutes to prepare for a run and five minutes to unwind after a run might make all the difference.
If you don’t already have a warm up routine, try incorporating these dynamic warm up exercises before your next run. Once you’re finished, spend some time stretching or foam rolling to help reduce lactic acid.
This dedicated recovery time helps your muscles bounce back quicker, feel fresh on the run, and set you up to push past that running plateau in no time.
Running is one of the most individual sports out there. Whether you run solo or with a group, most runners set out each day to improve their personal best and compete against themselves.
It can be incredibly disheartening when the progress slows, especially when you’re still putting in the work.
If you’re facing a running plateau – take heart. All runners battle slow progress at some point, even elite athletes. Experiencing a running plateau is your body’s way of signaling that something isn’t quite right.
Whether that’s your training plan, mental game, goal setting, or what you’re doing after the run, it’s important to mix things up. Challenge yourself to new workouts, increase your cross training, take a break, or begin stretching on a regular basis.
Remember that there is a season for everything, and this season of slow progress is bound to come to an end eventually. Listen to your body and respond to its signals each and every day – and before long, you might be back on track for your next PR.
More running plateau tips:
- How to Make a Running Comeback After Taking Time Off
- How to Bounce Back After Falling Off the Fitness Bandwagon
- Overtraining in Runners: Signs, Symptoms and How to Recover
- 4 Signs of Running Burnout (and How to Recover)