Runners of all skill levels have plateaus in performance from time to time. It’s completely normal to reach a plateau after you’ve been training for a while. When you hit a plateau with your race training or any other fitness plan, don’t get discouraged. It’s all part of the process.
Plateaus are a time to reassess your training program, look at your lifestyle choices, examine your mindset, and make any needed changes. It’s easy to get discouraged when you stop seeing progress, but think of it as a reminder that every once in a while it’s necessary to change something to reach your goals.
Our fitness and running routines might become stale for a variety of reasons. Some runners are happy with their current mileage or pace and see no reason to alter their routine. Some people just don't know what they're doing wrong or how to fix it.
Changes in the seasons might make it challenging to maintain a regular running schedule. Sometimes life events happen, work gets overwhelming, or you have an injury to deal with. There are ways to work with all of these situations to break your plateau and keep making progress.
Run more often.
One of the simplest ways to get faster is to run at a faster pace. Start by increasing your regular speed in short bursts and then work toward returning to your normal speed gradually. You may find that you become more winded as a result of the acceleration. For some people, this might look like going out on their same runs each week, and simply trying to push the pace a little faster. For other people, this could be shorter and more frequent runs.
When your muscles start to feel tired, it's vital to tell the difference between actual pain and the soreness that comes with exertion. If you feel like you are injuring yourself, take a break, and take a few days off. In most cases, it’s just the discomfort of exertion and the unfamiliar feeling of pushing past your own limits. Know your body so you know if you need to rest, or push harder.
Do you know how fast you are running? There are numerous apps you can get on your phone or smartwatch that will keep your pace, and even break down the elevation changes so you can see how fast you run uphill vs, downhill. Keep track of the various factors that impact your running times, like hydration, fuel source, and time of day. The weather can make a pretty big impact too.
Race as often as possible.
Increasing your weekly running mileage is another effective method for getting faster. Your pace should improve if you swap out some of your resistance training days for more running, as opposed to, say, running once a week and going to the gym three to four times a week. Make sure to keep a solid mobility practice to keep your tendons and ligaments strong and flexible.
Take a rest.
If you’ve been training 4-7 times per week for a while, you might need a long rest to fully allow your body adapt to your training. It might feel like you’re slacking, but rest is one of the most important parts of your training, since this is when muscles heal and mitochondria proliferate. Use active recovery strategies like restorative walks or yoga.
To give your body a chance to recover while still keeping up with your training, make certain days less intensive than others in terms of speed and distance. Going hard all of the time is a recipe for frustration, burnout, and injuries.
Track your stride turnover.
A key indicator of your running efficiency is your stride turnover, or the number of steps you take in one minute. Counting your strides is a straightforward method of improvement. By gradually increasing your stride turnover, you'll be able to run at a quicker pace.
What factors into how fast your stride turnover rate is? It is recommended that you begin running at a pace that you can keep up for three miles, and to keep track of your distance, you should count each time your right foot hits the ground. Once you've done this for 30 seconds, you'll have a good idea of your stride turnover. Multiply this by 2 to get your total turnover rate. The average goal of runners is to achieve a turnover rate of 180, so aim for your next incremental goal to get to that range.
Tempo interval training.
In interval training, you sprint for a brief period of time and then slow down to a more sustainable pace, or even stroll, until you are ready to sprint again. Different variations of that cycle are possible. This is a popular and effective way to increase your running speed and break through your plateau.
The best strategy to increase your cardiovascular strength, or the ability of your heart and lungs to handle physical exertion, is to engage in interval training. It's a great alternative to running the same distance every day because of the unique way it strengthens your muscles.
It's like a marathon for the mind, helping you build speed and endurance so that when the time comes to actually run fast, it feels familiar, and even fun.
Run up hills regularly.
Running up hills trains your body to use its muscles and joints more efficiently, making you a faster runner overall. Speed can be improved by doing hill repeats, which involve running up a hill and then jogging or walking down the hill repeatedly. You can incorporate it into your jogging routine once you've built up a sufficient amount of endurance. You’ll need to breathe deeper when going up hills, since you’re using the large muscle groups in your legs more intensely, which means you’ll need more oxygen to power those movements.
Start by adding hill sprints once a week. Start sprinting up the slope as quickly as you can, staying on your toes. If you have to take a break to walk up the hill, that’s just fine, as long as you keep moving. Keep your form and effort consistent. Finally, get wrapped up and take it easy as you jog or stroll down the hill.
Focus on sleep.
A good night's sleep is, without a doubt, one of the best and most reliable strategies to boost your running ability. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, as recommended by the National Sleep Foundation. You might need a little less, or a little more, and this is a highly individual number. If you need more sleep, there’s no reason to feel guilty. You can’t force your body to recover in less time than it needs.
Maintaining healthy habits when you sleep is also important. Aim to go to sleep about the same time every night. If you want to sleep better, turn down the temperature in your bedroom, make it as dark as possible, and leave all phones and devices outside the room.
Sleep aids are a great way to ensure optimal sleep. Lights Out will give you a small dose of melatonin, a hormone that helps to regulate sleep cycles, as well as valerian root, an herb known to help relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep.
Strengthen your core and other major muscle groups.
Many runners just go out and run, and we discussed this above in the interest of running faster. That’s an effective strategy some of the time. Other times it’s necessary to do the opposite: run less and focus more on resistance training. Major improvement in your running performance is possible with the use of exercises that target your glutes, quads, calves, hip flexors, abs, and hamstrings (and training upper body strength as well for good measure).
The power of your abdominal muscles has a surprising effect on your running speed. You'll be able to take deeper breaths and put more pressure on your legs if you strengthen your abdominal muscles.
You might need to change the way you fuel your body or supply nutrients for your runs. You might already be eating a diet made of whole, healthy foods, but still need to shift your macronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and supplements. If you are keto, try having a little more carbs. Check to ensure you’re getting enough high quality protein. Hydrate often with a complete electrolyte drink like Key Nutrients Electrolytes.
Sometimes it’s one small nutritional shift that can make a massive impact on your speed and endurance, so look at your daily intake and see where you can improve.
Key message: change something to break plateaus.
There will inevitably come a point in even the most dedicated runner's or gym-routine goer's when they hit a plateau. There is always a way to break through a plateau, and it might not be the same way every time. Don’t give up! There is always a way to improve, so try these strategies and remember them the next time you hit a plateau. In running, a plateau is a great opportunity for reflection. Get outside, make a fresh plan, and get to work.