On the 14th of August 2010, traffic began to slow on the China National Highway 110. Eventually a perfect storm of car volume, lorry transports, breakdowns and road works conspired to create a 62 mile tailback which lasted for a morale-shattering 12 days. It was so prolific local economies sprung up as nearby residents sold food and water to stranded motorists for greatly inflated prices!
We have all had the misfortune of sitting in traffic jams. In the face of a thousand flashing brake lights our progress grinds to a halt, leaps forward then slows again. Often for no apparent reason. It’s a frustrating experience but if we ride it out the congestion eventually releases its grip on our forward momentum.
The same thing happens in fitness training.
In the early stages of a new workout regime personal bests comes thick and fast. More repetitions, more resistance, more strength. It’s the beauty of being a beginner!
However as time passes by and our training experience grows the likelihood of hitting a performance plateau increase and progress can easily slow to a halt. This does not mean we should abandon our routine. This does not mean we are doing anything wrong. It just means progress is more likely to occur in spurts.
By staying on the road and persevering with our workouts we can still achieve intermittent bursts in fitness performance.
One thing worth considering as our training experience grows and our ability to do more work increases is the emphasis we place on rest and recovery. Somewhat counterintuitively the fitter and stronger we become the longer we need to recover from individual training sessions. This is due to the greater physical stress we are capable of exerting on our muscles and energy systems. Circling back to our traffic jam analogy this would be comparable to pulling into a service station, putting our feet up and allowing the blockage to clear before heading back out onto the same road.
Sometimes all we need to make progress is a little bit more patience and a little bit more rest.
(Of course, no training program works forever. If you hit the biological equivalent of the China National Highway 110 tailback then it might be time reconsider your fitness regime and plot a new path forwards.)