The best athletes in the world share how they blow past plateaus and score better resultsBy Caitlin Carlson, Women's Health
Call it a lull, rut, or wall--we've all hit that point when a workout routine becomes static, progress has flatlined, or injury has forced a setback. Even Team USA's finest! Yet these athletes learn to push their bodies to higher and higher limits. Hear how they blow past plateaus and score better results.
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1. Stop and Listen
"I train nonstop to try to get stronger and faster," says 2010 Olympic moguls skier Heather McPhie. But she found a surprising payoff from slowing down: "During our last training camp, I took 10 minutes each day to center myself," she explains. "I set a timer and did nothing. It helped me observe things, like tightness in my right shoulder, that I wouldn't have noticed otherwise."
2. Schedule Wisely
She knows they're important for building stamina, but McPhie doesn't look forward to her moderate-intensity cardio workouts. So she strategically schedules them the day after a really intense workout. "That way, I can appreciate the relatively slow and steady pace, instead of feeling bored and restless," she says.
3. Chose Quality Over Quantity
Commit this fitness rule to memory: Proper form trumps workout volume. "You'll get better results (and ward off injury) by doing fewer reps correctly than by doing a bunch with poor form," says two-time skeleton Olympian Katie Uhlaender. Rather than shooting for, say, as many squats as you can finish at boot camp, she suggests focusing on keeping your weight on your heels and pushing your knees out slightly.
4. Match Intensity, Not Weight
"Depending on factors like sleep, diet, and other workouts that week, you'll feel stronger some days than others," says Uhlaender, who's also training to weight lift in the 2016 Summer Olympics. "You have to listen to your body." So she considers perceived effort (how difficult a workout feels to her) in addition to max effort. If last week Uhlaender could do 10 reps of an exercise using 75 pounds, but today she's struggling to finish the set using 50 pounds, she doesn't sweat it--her effort is comparable even if the weight isn't. More important: Note what zapped your strength so you can adjust for your next session, she says.
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5. Ease Off to Make Progress
Years ago, 2010 skeleton Olympian Noelle Pikus-Pace was consistent about training--but she had also become complacent. "Now I love pushing myself above and beyond what I think I can do, then giving myself a break," she says. This push-and-rest approach not only fends off boredom, but also translates to impressive results. "As a mother of two, I didn't think I could be better than I was at 21--and here I am, faster than ever before." Try it: For two weeks, increase the weights you use during strength workouts, then take a "rest week" and scale back just a little; the following week, jump above where you left off in week two.
6. Partner Up
A workout buddy can help you push harder, we know. But 2010 Olympic ice dancing silver medalist Meryl Davis may have found the trick to boosting those benefits: Train with the same partner. "I rarely train without Charlie White [her career-long partner]," says Davis. A steady partner can tell when you need tough love or encouragement, when you're totally wiped or you require a push--none of which a one-time gym pal is likely to be able to do.
7. Ignite Your Workout
Speed skater Alyson Dudek knows that it's not enough to simply show up. "If I just hit the ice on days I'm tired or unmotivated, my workout suffers," says the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist. "I get it done, sure, but it's not making me better." Her trick: starting with a really high-energy warmup. "On those days I'm just not feeling it, spending a few extra minutes on a series of dynamic exercises--like ladder drills, skips, and jumps--can mentally and physically kick-start a more productive workout."
8. Don't Cheat Yourself
Tight on time? "Cutting a workout short by skipping moves at the end greatly reduces its effectiveness," says freestyle skier Brita Sigournery. It's like baking cookies: You can't just leave out eggs or baking soda; the recipe relies on all the ingredients working together. But you can cut the amounts in half without hurting the results. Shave time by doing one less set of each exercise, says Sigourney.
9. Go All In
After 15 years of competitive snowboarding, people often ask three-time Olympian Kelly Clark, "Aren't you burnt out? Haven't you had enough?" "It's been my experience that true burnout doesn't come from too much activity," says Clark. "Burnout comes from unmet expectations." Translation: For consistent, long-term success, you have to balance what you hope to accomplish with the work you're putting in to make it happen. If either one is lacking (you don't have clear goals, or you don't have a set plan to work toward them), you can quickly feel like your workouts are getting you nowhere and want to give up.
10. Work Around Pain
"If you feel discomfort during an exercise, our strength coach Mike Boyle suggests asking yourself one question: Is it pain or soreness?" says Julie Chu, three-time Olympian in women's hockey. "Work through soreness, but if it's pain, stop and pinpoint the cause." You don't have to take a break from working out; just find an alternative exercise that doesn't hurt, Chu explains. For example, when she injured her wrist, it was tough to do proper hang cleans; she swapped them for body-weight squat jumps, which also build explosive power.
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