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Have You Hit a Fitness Plateau?

An award-winning personal trainer helps a mom in a workout rut.
WebMD Magazine

Each month, WebMD the Magazine puts your questions about weight loss and fitness to top exercise and motivational experts. This month, Sarah Null, 37, a stay-at-home mom in North Carolina, asked for help boosting her exercise and weight loss routine. Null is celebrating four years as a breast cancer survivor -- but she’s not so happy about the 20 pounds she put on in treatment. At 5 feet 4 inches, she weighs 160 pounds and would like to get back to her pre-kids, pre-cancer weight of 140. We asked nationally renowned trainer Ben Greenfield, director of sports performance at Champions Sports Medicine in Spokane, Wash., and the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s 2008 personal trainer of the year, for help with Null's dilemma.

Sarah's question: Over the past year, I’ve lost 5 pounds, then gained 2, then lost 1.8 pounds. I can’t seem to get going on consistent losing. Lately, I haven’t gained or lost a single ounce in several weeks (I’m in a “Biggest Loser” competition with my mom’s group and doing terribly). It’s maddening that I lose the same amount of weight -- none -- whether I spend 40 minutes on the elliptical machine or not, drink only water or not, stop cleaning the kids’ plates or not. Help!

Answer: According to Greenfield, “Sarah has a lot of tools she can use to overcome her plateau. By changing up just a few things with her exercise and diet, she can make a big difference.” Here’s how, advises Greenfield:

Pump it up. Instead of 40 minutes on the treadmill, pump up your metabolism with high-intensity intervals. Do four minutes of any cardiovascular exercise as hard as you can; then two minutes of strength-building exercises (using free weights or weight machines). Repeat this “harder/easier” cycle five times. (The magic cardio-to-weights ratio is 2-to-1.) Your post-exercise metabolic rate and fat loss will increase much more than if you exercised 40 minutes steadily at an average pace, and you’re also building lean muscle mass.

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