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How To Break Out Of A Running Plateau

If your running times aren't dropping or your fitness is not improving, here is what you can do.

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running plateau

Plateaus. I love progression in life and in running. I love to see faster times and my body getting stronger. I also understand that there are times throughout the year, especially after a key race, when I am not training hard or putting in much effort. My fitness obviously isn’t going to improve. BUT what about the times when we feel like we are working hard but we aren’t seeing any improvements? We stay the same even though we are putting in effort—what happened to the progression? This is called a running plateau.

Plateaus in our fitness can also be caused by being overtrained. Our body has put in enough work but not enough rest. It starts to rebel and we can’t keep up with our normal paces. If this is the case then take some time off because running really will be there for you when you are ready to come back to it. Also, our stress levels effect our running big time. If life is overwhelming right now, take a step back and get things back together without putting more pressure on yourself through running.

Hopefully some of these tips can help you dig yourself out of a plateau!

1. The most obvious one is to run more or to run faster. Make sure to safely increase your mileage and speed but the more you do it, the more your body will adapt to the longer or harder workouts and improvements will come.

2. V.A.R.I.E.T.Y. Switch up your runs to include different types of workouts—hills, tempo, easy, long, fartleks, repeats…you name it! Progressing is really hard if we continue to do the same workout over and over. The step below can help you to really focus in on what runs will help you towards your specific race goals.

3. Hire a coach. I notice my biggest running improvements when I have a coach. Having an outsider’s expert opinion and training plan tailored for your strengths and weakness can really help to get you out of that plateau!

Related: How To Turn Setbacks Into Moments Of Growth

4. Maybe you aren’t running YOUR race. If you are striving for improvement for a specific race, are you sure that is the race for you? I find myself craving a specific marathon time but to be honest, I think the half marathon is what my body loves and does better with. My body is built more for that distance and when I train and race 13.1 miles, I always see big improvements, rather than when I train for a marathon.

5. Find your happy spot for races each year. Maybe you are running too many races and your body is begging for rest. Maybe you need to race more to help you get used to nerves and to grow from the experience. Find that happy spot where you aren’t affecting your performance by doing too many races, yet still getting in some quality races to help you learn and grow as a runner.

6. If you are really wanting to break out of your rut and see improvements, then start training with people that are slightly faster than you. I have a group of girls that I call up to run with anytime I need to turn my training up a notch. They inspire me and help me to get faster because I am chasing after them the entire run. If you want to be faster, you have to train faster (with plenty of recovery too).

7. Strength train! I am currently taking two boot camp classes per week and doing one strength class on my own. I am noticing huge differences in my form, the ability to power up hills and to keep running with fewer injuries.

8. Are you being consistent with your training? It is really hard to improve our running fitness when we are constantly taking breaks from running.  Love this quote from Hansons Half-Marathon Method:

“Physiologically speaking, inconsistency in training makes for a never-ending struggle to maintain even a baseline of fitness. While adaptations can occur rapidly with proper training, they can also be lost with just a couple of weeks of inconsistent running. For instance, if you train 5 days a week for 3 weeks, a noticeable improvement in fitness will take place; if, however, those weeks are followed by 2 weeks of training only 2 or 3 days a week, your fitness gains will begin to retreat. It then requires 2 more weeks of consistent running to get back to the previous level. In the end, 6-8 weeks of running went by just to get you back to where you were at the third week.”

Related: This Happens To Runners Every Training Cycle

9. Where is your brain at? I feel like I really hit plateaus (or move backwards in my training) during the times I am having negative thoughts about my abilities. If I continue to tell myself over and over that I’m not good enough or that there is no way I will hit a certain race pace, then surely I won’t. Our minds and bodies are so incredibly connected. If your mental game is holding you back, then it is time to work on your thoughts to help you to get out of this plateau!

What do you do to dig yourself out of a running plateau? Tweet @Womensrunning!