The workout plateau


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Image courtesy of vorakorn/

Image courtesy of vorakorn/

It’s three weeks from spring break, and you step on the scale, wondering how many more pounds you can shave off before you hit the beach.  The number you see isn’t encouraging.  It hasn’t changed in several days, despite your continued workouts.  You’ve hit a plateau.

Both weight loss and strength training efforts tend to show lots of progress at first, while results lessen with time.  This pattern isn’t random.  In fact, science can predict when you’ll plateau, as well as how much weight you can lose – or muscle you can gain – before you do.

In his new book, “The Plateau Principle,” James Hargrove explains why plateaus occur and how people can use this knowledge to set realistic weight loss and strength training goals.

“The pattern will always be one of large early change that slows over time,” said Hargrove, associate professor emeritus of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia.

We may be trying to lose fat or increase muscle, but our bodies automatically bring us back to a balance between the gain and loss of these tissues.

“After six months of weight loss, even if the person has not lost a great deal of weight, they’ll usually plateau,” said Connie Crawley, who works as an extension nutrition and health specialist for UGA Cooperative Extension.  Continued weight loss or muscle gain requires a person to make changes to their workout plan.

In the first part of his book, Hargrove uses illustrations from scientific studies about weight loss, weight gain and strength training to help readers understand how the body adjusts during a workout program.

The second half of the book teaches readers how to apply what they’ve learned to their own workout plans.  Readers can monitor their weight once a week and enter these data into an Excel spreadsheet that Hargrove provides on the book’s website.

The spreadsheet is built around the plateau principle, which is actually a mathematical equation.  This equation uses the rate at which a person is losing weight in their current workout plan to calculate the amount of weight they’ll drop before losses grind to a halt.  A person can also determine how long it will take to lose the weight.

A similar spreadsheet predicts how much muscle someone in a strength training program can gain over time.  People can also find out how quickly they will gain weight or lose strength if they stop their training program.

“The plateau principle can tell you if you need to increase your training or perhaps decrease it,” Hargrove said.

Experts James Hill and Rena Wing suggest only 20 percent of overweight and obese people in the U.S. have lost weight successfully without regaining it. Dietitians and personal trainers can help people find ways to change their training and break through a plateau. Hargrove explains how readers can design their own spreadsheets to help themselves or their clients make and track these training goals.

Hargrove’s book, which was published through CreateSpace in September, can be found online through