I have written a few times about my personal fitness journey that started towards the end of last year. The catalyst of a kidney stone was more than enough of a wake-up call for me to make some key changes and improve my health.
I was initially surprised by just how unfit I had become. However, once I took the leap and began excessing regularly, I was pleased by the speed with which I made some fairly significant fitness gains. I found that setting small goals helped to keep me motivated and to push me that little bit further.
I think my story is fairly common. Most people who decide to get their fitness on track start out with guns blazing. They are able to see some immediate improvement. My Twitter feed was full of “New Year, New Me” inspirational quotes and achievements right throughout January. In February, those tweets began to disappear…
The thing is, there comes a point where the gains become harder to realise. It is no longer just a matter of setting a goal and then conquering it as a matter of course a few weeks later.
That is where I am now. It is also probably where a lot of those “New Year, New Me” resolutions ended. I call it the plateau.
The Exercise Plateau
A geographical plateau is defined as:
“a usually extensive land area having a relatively level surface raised sharply above adjacent land on at least one side”
That couldn’t be more accurate in describing my exercise journey to this point. My fitness levels rose sharply, to the point where I am clearly the fittest I have been in over ten years. But now… for the past few weeks I have well and truly been battling my way across that “relatively level surface”. From where I currently stand, there is no further incline in sight.
That is challenging. We all like to make quick gains. We like to see the progress and feel like the hard work that we are putting in is making a difference. My past few months of running have been great. I have been able to see the excellent gains on my Fitbit App after every run. It has been motivating, rewarding. But now when I look at my Fitbit Blaze after a run and see that my times are not improving… it can be disheartening.
Watch Out For That Pothole…
The plateaus can be challenging, but the real killer of fitness goals are the potholes. There are few things more demotivating than pushing hard, only to see a decrease in your performance.
I have hit a couple of potholes in the last little bit. It’s fair to say that they have made me question my pursuit of personal fitness and whether I am up to the task of physical self-improvement. I have a thousand excuses for why these potholes appeared – for why I, all of a sudden, found it too difficult to run five kilometres in under 25 minutes. But the excuses aren’t important. The facts are the facts, I fell down the hole and it felt awful.
I can really understand why people give up at this point. It feels like you have given everything and it just wasn’t good enough. You may as well go back to the old ways, at least you didn’t need to get up at 5am and run through the cold and rain. The old way was comfortable. The old way was easy.
This is the time to reflect.
After a recent run on which I fell right down a particularly deep pothole that I did not see coming, I took the time to stop and think. I reflected on my running and how disheartening it felt to go for a run that I deemed a failure. My desire to give up was strong.
However, as I sat and thought, it occurred to me that even though I felt that the run had been a failure, it was still a whole lot quicker and I covered a much longer distance than I would ever have dreamed of doing just a few months ago. I realised that my next run would probably be smoother, and that I would be back up on that plateau in no time.
As for the plateau, is it such a bad thing? I don’t think so. It means I am now working hard. It means that I am not at a point of rapid gains, but instead at a point of maintaining all that I have achieved so far. Will there be more gains in the future? Yes. I am absolutely sure of it. But for now, I must be content with fortifying the progress I have made.
As I reflected, I realised that even in a worst-case scenario of running on this particular plateau for the rest of my life, I am still at a level of fitness that is far higher than I have experienced for years. Returning to a sedentary life would undoubtedly result in a gradual slide into more and more health problems, whereas maintaining my current levels of fitness should keep me happy and healthy into the foreseeable future.
This realisation gave me great strength. It helped me to understand that every time I strap on my Fitbit and head out the door I am doing myself some good. I don’t have to be a world-beater each time, I just have to get it done.
If any of this rings true for you, don’t wait until New Year’s Day 2019 to make the same impossible-to-keep resolutions again. Forget about New Year, New Me. Go dig the Fitbit out of the drawer, dust off those running shoes and head out the door. Doing something… anything now is better than doing nothing. You will encounter the sharp rises, the plateaus and the potholes… and all of that is okay.