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Are you stuck in a training rut? Here's how to get back on track


Almost everyone that's ever tried to improve themselves through fitness hits a rut.

Almost everyone that's ever tried to improve themselves through fitness hits a rut.

Almost everyone that's ever tried to improve themselves through fitness hits a rut.

Are you stuck in a rut with your training? Sick of your boring routine or not getting the results you were before? Well, you're not alone.

Almost everyone that's ever tried to improve themselves through fitness has hit a point like this.

Whether it's because you've been running the same route or distance every day, week in week out, or you have that stubborn extra body fat you just can't seem to shift, I'll explain today how to get out of that rut.

As with most biological systems, our bodies don't follow very rigid rules. However, everyone follows a similar pattern. Here's a look at two principles I employ to help my clients keep progressing through plateaus.

General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS)

The General Adaptation Syndrome is a model devised by endocrinologist Hans Seyle, comprised of three elements or phases that describe the body's response to any stress, including exercise.

The alarm stage is where the body reacts to the initial stress of exercise by releasing stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in order to increase heart rate and mobilise blood sugar.

The resistance stage, or adaptation stage, occurs if the stress continues. Here the body makes adjustments in its structures or enzyme levels to adapt to the specific stress being experienced. Whatever the type of training, the type of protein synthesised during recovery will be specific to that training.

Finally, the exhaustion stage is where long-term stress is not removed or inadequate recovery time is taken. The body runs out of energy reserves and stress takes its toll on mental, physical, and emotional health.

Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands (SAID)

This principle follows on from GAS and does exactly what it says on the tin. If you place mechanical stress on bones by shock or impact, this will set in motion simple physiological processes that will thicken and harden the bones in the area of stress. For example, the place where your heel bone strikes the ground will be very hard and dense if you're a runner.

The same thing happens with tendons and ligaments, which thicken and strengthen in response to stresses. Stress to muscles will cause them to grow bigger, and so on.


The training you do must have a specific goal, you have to train more than your last session (whether it's higher intensity or longer duration) and you have to recover well. Let's look a bit deeper.

Specific Goals

What is your current goal? Because if it's something very vague like 'get fit' or 'lose weight' you'll only get so far, and it's usually not very far at all. The more specific your goals are the more measurable they are, and what gets measured gets managed.

If you're just starting out training, your body will adapt to exercise in a very general way and you can get away with being less specific. If, however, you've been training a while and have hit a plateau, it's time to break it down to specific goals.

For someone looking to improve 10km run time you have to ask questions like where is my performance lacking, is it my average speed or speed over the last 2km?

Is it aerobic capacity or anaerobic that's holding me back? Once you identify the problem you can assess where you are, train for a four-week block to improve and then re-assess to see if you've been successful.

Similarly, to change how your body looks you'll need to ask some important questions to get specific with your approach.

Are you trying to lose weight or fat? There's a huge difference to both your health and how you look. Your muscle tissue is where you burn food for energy, the more you have the more energy your body requires.

So many people I see put the cart before the horse with fat loss, concentrating on low calorie dieting and cardio training in an effort to get a calorie deficit. While this approach will cause weight loss it often doesn't lead to significant changes in body fat percentage. Even worse, it often leads to a decrease in muscle tissue. So you end up looking the same (or worse), and in a position where it's easier to gain fat on the same or less food intake, but you're lighter.

Shift your priority to gaining and maintaining lean muscle tissue, you'll look better and have a healthier metabolism.

Progress and Recovery

If your training progress has stalled there are usually two reasons. The GAS principle above underlies both:

1 There is not enough stress to elicit an adaptive response

2 You're under recovered

The first highlights another important training principle: progressive overload.

This principle holds that training stimulus must progressively overload the body to force adaptation.

If you've been doing the same training for too long, most likely your body has adapted to that level of stimulus.

On the other side of the equation you've most likely reached the exhaustive stage and your body isn't recovering and super-compensating enough to get better. It's time to change your training.

If you've been running, cycle - if you've been cycling, run. It's important not to swing wildly from one type of training to another, keep it relatively similar.

Have fun with your training, try something new.

Check out my brand new website at paulkeelypt.ie for more information