Fighting Through a Plateau

We had a good conversation with our team recently.  During some one on one meetings, a few athletes expressed to me that they thought they were going to peak too early and were worried about burning out.  They felt like they were working extremely hard and that they weren’t progressing as fast as they would have liked at this point in the season.

I figured I would take advantage of this opportunity and teach the team about three important terms in our sport: peak, plateau and burnout.  Although our conversation that week certainly focused on athletic training, I think it’s a good discussion to have because it covers many areas of our life.  Don’t we run into plateaus all the time in our spiritual life?  Don’t we run into burnout at work?  And when we talk about a peak, that is something we want in many aspects of our life.

For the team meeting, I defined each of those words (and I will do so below) and talked about how they can become a big part of our training (and our lives).

Peak – to reach the highest point

Burnout – physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress

Plateau – a state of little or no change following a period of progress

As a coach, I explained, we want each of our athletes to peak at the right time.  That’s the goal.  It’s the positive outcome of training at a high level for 15-20 weeks.  The negative outcome of training, and one that we are trying to stay away from, is the burnout.  There is a fine line between the two though, and it’s easy to move from peak to burnout in a matter of a few days (or a week).

Why does an athlete, or a human being, move so quickly from peak to burnout?  I am sure there is a scientific answer, but I am not well-versed in that aspect of this part of human progress.  But I have been coaching and mentoring athletes/people a long time.  And to me it’s quite simple.  When you focus on a goal with a high level of intensity and personal drive, you can only sustain that type of stress for a certain period of time.  The training and focus lead you towards PROGRESS, but it also takes a lot of energy, and you can fizzle out pretty quickly.

If you think the fine line between a peak and burnout is tough, let’s look at a plateau.

What’s particularly tough about a plateau is that it can be deceiving.  You have become consistent in your training and you feel like you are working at a level you have never been able to sustain in the past.  You have grown as an athlete, or as a person, and you are now pretty comfortable with those tough workouts.  It’s deceiving because you think you have accomplished the goal of reaching a high point in your training.

During a plateau, you work hard, but you aren’t seeing any new progress.  Sure, you are consistent, but you want to see progress.  This can be mentally draining and very frustrating.

This is the point in your training where a coach needs to step in and help explain that you DO have another level.  You have more locked inside you and you can break through the plateau.  But it’s not easy.  As I stated above, you are comfortable; but you need to learn to be uncomfortable.  That’s the key to breaking through a plateau in life – finding the uncomfortable and being able to embrace that feeling.

As you read this right now, I bet you are thinking about a plateau in your own personal life.  Let me assure you that you can get through it.  EMBRACE the UNCOMFORTABLE and be willing to give your all for that GROWTH moment.  I BELIEVE IN YOU!

Chris Hardie is the Head Men’s and Women’s Cross Country Coach at Waynesburg University.  You can follow him on Twitter @Coach_Hardie_WU or follow the team on Facebook at Waynesburg University Cross Country.

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