How To Overcome A Workout Rut

I hear it all the time. “But I’m doing everything I can, and I just can’t seem to lose these last 5 to 10 pounds!” In fact, many of my celebrity clients originally came to me trying to break out of their own workout plateau, when they needed to lose those last pounds – got to love award season here in Hollywood!

Reaching a plateau occurs for many different reasons. What I see most commonly is an individual who has been cutting calories too low and exercising the exact same workout for several weeks, but is no longer seeing the results they did in the beginning. Sound familiar? If so, chances are your body has hit a weight-loss plateau[1]. So let’s see if we can shake things up – both in the kitchen and the gym.

Before we get started, ask yourself honestly about your diet – maybe you’re getting too few calories or you’re mindlessly eating too much – and your workout routine. Same exact workout every time? No challenge, your body is always achy or it’s just boring?

Now, consider these steps:

1. Have you cut down on strength training? Do not eliminate weight training from your regimen! I can’t stress this enough. It’s a vital component of a well-rounded fitness program. The more muscle you add to your body, the better your body is able to burn calories, even when it’s resting. Strength training is something every single one of my clients always incorporates into their training program.

[Read: Why You Can’t Rely on Willpower For Long-Term Results[2].]

2. Are you focusing too much on the number on the scale? A scale only measures total body weight – fat, muscle, bones and organs. It doesn’t tell you a thing about body composition, which is a far better measure of overall health and fitness.

3. Are you confused about fat and muscle? A pound of muscle and a pound of fat both weigh … a pound. The difference is that muscle is a lot more compact and takes up less space than fat. A 130-pound woman who is fit and has a low body fat percentage is going to look slimmer and leaner compared to a 130-pound woman who has a high body fat percentage and not much muscle. But they both weigh 130 pounds. Make sense?

4. If you have hit a plateau, that’s a sign you need to change up your exercise routine. Over time the body will adapt to an exercise regimen, and you’ll stop seeing additional benefits. You need to be tricking your body and “confusing” your muscles on a regular basis in order for them to get stronger and continue burning fat and calories[3]. I switch up my clients’ workouts all the time – hardly ever doing the same routine. Fortunately, it’s easy to get out of a rut.

My top tips to switch up your workouts:

— Change your cardio. Go for at least one day per week of “HIIT” – High Intensity Interval Training[4]. All that means is that you’re exercising at a moderate pace for a minute or two, then cranking up the intensity for 20 to 60 seconds, to the point where you’re really huffing and puffing, then come back down and recover for a minute or two. Repeat several times until you’ve done at least 20 minutes – and the beauty of HIIT is that you only need about 20 minutes to burn serious calories and strengthen your cardiovascular system. Do this once, or better yet, twice per week, alternating these tough sessions with longer, more moderate cardio sessions. Long, easy cardio is a waste of precious time and can lead to overuse injury; plus, it makes it easy to hit a plateau. That’s why it’s a good idea to try high intensity.

— Change your weight training. Many people, especially women, make the mistake of thinking that lifting light weights with a lot of reps is the way to go, but in fact, you should be lifting all manner of weights – high weights to failure, moderate weights with moderate reps and if you want to do light weights with high reps, try to do a compound move (like combining squats with bicep curls, or lunges with shoulder presses) so you also get your heart rate up. Don’t be afraid to lift heavier. People are often surprised at how much weight I can lift, yet I look like “Monica the Trainer” and not “Monica the Terminator.” My point is that I lift heavy, yet I look small. So try to up the weights when you’re lifting, and you’ll see your body change. I recommend weight training at least once a week. Safely lift the heaviest weights you can until your muscles give out – and make sure you have good form or have a spotter to help you so you don’t injure yourself.

[Read: Are You Tough Enough to Complete a Tough Mudder?[5]]

5. Are you overtraining? You’d be surprised at how many people are overworking their bodies, thinking they’ll lose more weight and become faster. Not the case. A great example is Olympic athletes. They incorporate a workout routine planned around several rest days. Our bodies need to recuperate and if the body doesn’t come out of continual practice, the system doesn’t have the time to catch up and start patching everything back up. Plus, your muscles grow on rest days, not when you’re working out. I highly recommend at least one rest day a week; depending on what you’re training for, aim for two. You’ll be thrilled at how much better you look and feel, and that plateau may soon be gone.

It’s important to note that this is tricky to understand. For example, working out can cause serious muscle fatigue, but this is actually what you want to most degrees. You see, when you “feel the burn” you’re causing your muscles to get stronger. Just make sure you don’t overdo it – give your heavy-lifted muscles at least 36 hours of rest so they can recover (again, because muscle building occurs during recovery, not during exercise). And make sure you’re getting enough calories and always strive to meet your minimum net calories per day to lose a pound a week. Going too low can backfire bigtime. Remember, we’re striving to build a fast metabolism that is a fuel-burning machine. This is why I can eat so many of my “Moni Treats.”

Exercise burns more calories, so make sure you’re “eating back” those calories. Starving yourself is totally counterproductive to weight loss and muscle building. I have seen this and continue to see this all the time. Short cuts and quick fixes never last, trust me.

[Read: How To Listen To Your Body And Actually Get Answers[6].]

Bonus tips: Try to stop stressing so much about what the scale is telling you (or your BMI). Judge how you’re doing by how your clothes fit, what your body measurements are and by how you feel. Consider getting a body composition test at your gym, which will give you a better sense of where you are. Make sure you are indeed actually drinking enough water and that you’re getting enough protein.

Are you in a workout rut? I would love to hear from you! What tips have you learned to break through it? What are you still struggling with? Find me on Facebook[7], Twitter[8] and Instagram[9].

As always: Eat well. Stay fit. Feel Great. See you on your next workout!

[Read: Should You Try the Heel Hop Workout?[10]]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns and feedback.

Monica Nelson, or “Moni” to her friends and clients, is a personal trainer, healthy foods chef, accomplished athlete, model and well-respected health and fitness expert. She works with celebrities and has been featured in publications such as SHAPE and Fitness. She’s been a competitive snowboarder and is a true fitness fanatic. Moni’s motto in life is “EAT WELL.STAY FIT. FEEL GREAT.” Another one of her greatest passions and talents is cooking and baking. She runs a healthy recipe blog where she has created more than 350 healthy and decadent meals to enjoy. You can connect with Moni on Facebook[11] and follow @monimealfitness on Twitter and Instagram. Grab a recipe or two at www.monimeals.com[12] then head over for a workout and get her latest tips at www.monicanelsonfitness.com[13]. Moni lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband, who is also a trainer, and their incredible English bulldog Eddie.


  1. ^ weight-loss plateau (health.usnews.com)
  2. ^ Why You Can’t Rely on Willpower For Long-Term Results (health.usnews.com)
  3. ^ burning fat and calories (health.usnews.com)
  4. ^ High Intensity Interval Training (health.usnews.com)
  5. ^ Are You Tough Enough to Complete a Tough Mudder? (health.usnews.com)
  6. ^ How To Listen To Your Body And Actually Get Answers (health.usnews.com)
  7. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  8. ^ Twitter (www.twitter.com)
  9. ^ Instagram (instagram.com)
  10. ^ Should You Try the Heel Hop Workout? (health.usnews.com)
  11. ^ Facebook (www.facebook.com)
  12. ^ www.monimeals.com (www.monimeals.com)
  13. ^ www.monicanelsonfitness.com (www.monicanelsonfitness.com)

Original Story Here


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  1. Reply

    Is There An Online Site That Gives Free Workout Tips? I’m looking for a site that gives free workout tips and tips on getting abs. I don’t need a so-called “quick trick” that will supposedly get me a six-pack in 2 days. I just want tips on how to work out and what to eat to get in shape.

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      If you want to stay in shape, you need to adopt healthy eating habits and make exercise a part of your daily life.

      How to start?

      Choose exercises you enjoy according to your fitness level. Aerobics exercises move the muscles fairly continuously and strengthen the heart and lungs. Examples of such activities are brisk walking, jogging, aerobic dancing, swimming, badminton, cycling and football.

      If you have not exercised for a long time or just started, start slowly and increase gradually over a period of 3 to 6 weeks.

      For those who are above 35 years old, overweight, or have medical problems, you need to check with a medical doctor before you embark on an exercise programme.

      Frequency or How often?

      Exercise for at least 20 minutes, 3 times a week or more

      Intensity and duration?

      Do exercise until you perspire and breathe deeply without getting breathless. You should be able to talk or whistle while exercising.

      Do warm up and stretch for at least 5 minutes before exercise. Also not to forget to cool down and stretch after exercise.

    • XP
    • August 31, 2013

    Can I Have Some Good Workout Tips? Hey could I get some good workout tips. I’m medium built but i want to be lean and fit. I also want to tone and shape my legs a lot. Please tell me if you have any good tips!

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      Yes,visit the following sites for fitness.You may not need a full-fledged diet right now, but you can still incorporate some slim-down strategies into your daily life.

      Eat breakfast. Studies show that eating breakfast is associated with keeping weight off once you’ve lost it.

      Fill up on low-cal foods. Start every meal with the items on your plate that are lowest in calories. By the time you get to the other foods, you won’t be so hungry, possibly decreasing your total intake.

      Begin with soup. Starting lunch or dinner with a broth-based, vegetable-filled soup will curb hunger so you’ll be less tempted to eat higher-calorie foods.

      Arrive fashionably late. Without as much time near the buffet table at parties, you’ll eat less.

      Divide your lunch. Afternoon snacker? Cut your lunch in half: have part at mealtime and the other half later in the afternoon.

      Swap mustard for mayo. A tablespoon of mayonnaise has 100 calories, compared with 10 calories for a tablespoon of yellow mustard.

      Duration of Exercise
      You may not be exercising long enough. The rule of thumb is cardio for 30 minutes, three times per week. If you really want to reach your goal, try five 45-minute cardio workouts per week. That sounds like a lot of exercise, but remember this is in order to meet your goal, not necessarily maintain it.

  2. Reply

    Can You Give Me Some Workout Tips On Buns? I have a big butt and I don’t know how to lose the waight. Can someone help me out? Can you name some workout tips that might work for me?

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      Squats….work a treat, trust me!

  3. Reply

    Can You Give Me Some Workout Tips On Buns? I have a big butt and I don’t know how to lose the waight. Can someone help me out? Can you name some workout tips that might work for me?

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      I saw an interview with Fergie not long ago. She said that using the uphill setting on a treadmill is what gave her her glorious booty. My friend has been doing just this for a few months and i’m already seeing results. It works the thighs and hips too!

    • Ben
    • August 31, 2013

    How Can I Get A Good Source Of Carbohydrates And Proteins, Plus Workout Tips? I am wanting to start working out and getting healthy and gain lean muscle mass but i don’t really know what foods i should eat before and after a workout to get a good serving of protein and carbohydrates. so anyone who is maybe an athlete or just trying to get healthy too share some meal ideas? and maybe a few workout tips? thank you.

    By the way I’m a 19 year old male weighing in at about 164lbs and about 5’7″ if that helps
    Oh and i have access to workout equipment like dumbbells, that machine where you work out your legs by pushing weights with them, (don’t know what its called) treadmills, and those stationary bikes and an elliptical.

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      I’ll give you a list of some common foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and take notes because it’s great for you to add them to your meal plan:

      Home-Made Pizza

      The above mentioned foods make your stomach full for a few hours. They make you have a slow digestion. So it’s good for those who want to slow down their metabolism. These foods are also beneficial for those who want to build muscle because they are great sources of energy for your body and muscles.

      Now I’m going to give you a list of foods high in protein that you should make sure you add to your meal plan. These foods are very important to build muscle mass.

      Here is the list:

      Sausages (healthy choices)
      Seafood (Fish, Calamari, Octopus, Salmon, etc.)
      Poultry (Chicken, Turkey, etc.)
      Peanut Butter
      Dairy Products
      Protein Shakes
      Protein Bars
      Liquid Protein

      As you can see there are many sources of proteins. So I recommend that you choose various, not just one.

      Doing combinations of these foods high in complex carbs and proteins will be the best way to create your meal plan.

      Three other foods you might want to add to your meal plan are:

      Ice creams

      These 3 are very good and delicious.

      Workout Tips:

      Get your form straight before you go heavy
      Progression is key – Add weight or reps when you can.
      Don’t get greedy – This is a long game. Adding too much too soon can leave you injured
      Eat. Adjust as needed.
      Focus. Gym time is work time. Socialization is fine, but spend time under the bar.
      Don’t buffet train – You don’t need to hit your biceps from 8 different angles, you need to get your primary lifts up.
      Get brutally strong – Your chest isn’t impressed with 15 pound flyes. Get your lifts up and good things will happen.
      Have fun – If you hate your time in the gym, you aren’t likely to make much progress.

  4. Reply

    Does Anyone Have Any Good “at Home” Workout Tips To Tone Stomach, Thighs And Butt? I’m not overweight or anything, I would just like to have a body that is more toned and healthy looking. I just need some workout tips that i can do at home in order to get rid of the fat; and tone my belly, thighs and ass. I DO NOT WANT ANYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH DIETING, JUST EXERCISE. Thank-you 🙂

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      I know this sounds vague, but just use youtube. it’s awesome because you don’t have to buy an expensive dvd or anything and because you can specify exactly what you want to tone. You can search like “inner thigh workout” then choose from a bunch. Same with butt and stomach. There are some great variations. But, don’t expect perfect results from just working out. How you look is mainly due to your diet. Exercise just aids in that and tones you.

      Good luck

  5. Reply

    How Do I Get A Body Like This? Any Workout Tips? I wanna get a body like hayden panattieres from the kohls candies ad. Or a body like Miley Cyrus for that matter. I carry lotsa weight around my middle waist, upper arms, thighs and calves, back, and neck. pretty much everywhere! any workout tips for a teen who totally wants a flat stomach and cute body?

      • HealthNut
      • August 31, 2013

      Try counting calories. 2400 is the maximum a person should usually intake per day (and I say usually because there are special occasions like birthdays and weddings where it’s kind of hard to stay under 2400 calories), and eventually (I say eventually because your diet probably gives you 4000-5000 calories right now, that’s what mine was) if you want to lose weight faster stay between 2000-2200 calories. Of course, if you’re diet includes fast food and Starbucks, 2400 is fine. Go to http://www.calorieking.com and look up calorie content of foods you eat, or you can buy their book, which might be handier. Combined with exercise, this is a great way to lose weight and isn’t risky like diet pills or miracle diets.

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