Getting Clients Through Training Plateaus

IDEA asked some of its members how they go about helping clients through their training plateaus. Here are two of their responses:

Clients who have hit a plateau may need some additional tweaking of their program or lifestyle to get them to progress toward their goals. In my studio, we focus on the trifecta for success: nutrition, stress management and sleep.

When it comes to nutrition, it’s not always about compliance; finding nuances with each client is key. For example, utilizing starch for postworkout nutrition and for meals early in the day can aid in energy maintenance. Another complexity of a plateau is adequate caloric consumption. There are times when a client has restricted consumption too much, allowing the body to halt weight loss. This is when we reiterate the importance of appropriately fueling the body’s energy for working out, recovery and more.

Stress has no calories, but it can also do a number on a physique. By negatively impacting fat loss and muscle growth hormones, stress can be a key factor in creating a plateau. Stress never really goes away completely; however, we give our clients tools to manage their stress. Everyone has a unique stress management frequency, but many have found techniques such as low-key restorative walks, yoga, Epsom salt baths, massage therapy and/or a gratitude journal to be helpful. A stress reduction practice takes time and experimentation, but it doesn’t need to consume hours per week. Many clients spend just 10–15 minutes daily on quality stress management once they have found what works for them.

The final component is sleep. When clients are sleep-deprived, it’s more difficult for them to make sound nutritional choices and it increases stress. Factor that in with the negative physical impact of sleep deprivation (even minor deprivation), and it’s no wonder training often plateaus when clients aren’t sleeping. Sleep is the physical and mental reset.

How can we help clients sleep? When nutrition is dialed in and stress is properly managed, better-quality sleep will often come naturally. We educate clients about the value of sleep questions? and the tools to improve their sleep. Clients should be aiming for 7–9 hours of sleep a night. If they struggle to fall or stay asleep, it’s often related to blood sugar and can be remedied with a bite of dietary fat right before bed or a half serving of starch at dinner. Reading, relaxing, avoiding alcohol in the evening, and drinking hot, decaf tea can aid in the quality of sleep.

Julie Stubblefield
Owner, SparkFit
Mechanicsville, Virginia

What I have found successful is to sit down with clients at a nontraining time. While clients may feel like they are communicating with you, you may sense a wall or stress when they talk. You want to be able to read their body language and know when to listen and when to speak. Knowing how to ask the right questions can help you draw out pertinent information. But you need to do this with an informal quality that puts them at ease. Sometimes this requires a neutral territory.

That’s why I recommend an excursion. Grab a cup of coffee, go shopping, etc., and chat about other parts of their lives. Many times, the non-health-and-fitness parts of their lives can become a point that needs attention and focus. Getting them out of the gym so you can see them in another environment and they can see you in another environment can assist in bringing out what is deep within. It helps me, as the trainer, to better understand clients’ thought processes, and it reaffirms that their trust in me is not ill-fated. This experience can help to reenergize all parties involved. I can create new programs based on what is going on in their lives, and they feel they are getting the fresh start or push they need.

Nancy Matican Bock
L.A.S.T., Lifestyle and Sports Training
Melbourne Beach, Florida

How do you help your clients through their training plateaus? Please feel free to share your answer in the comment box below.

To view the full article which ran in the March 2014 IDEA Fitness Journal click here.

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