She was confused because she trains hard 5-days per week, and she wasn't seeing any change.
"It just kind of feels like I'm not getting any better."
This woman checks all of the boxes. Clean eating. Amazing consistency (5-days per week for 5+ years). Healthy. Great attitude. And incredible work ethic.
It also bears mentioning that she's very fit. At 45 years of age, she's lean, can knock out multiple chin-ups, deadlift almost double her body weight, and swing a kettlebell until the cows come home.
Yet she felt that despite her efforts, she hadn't progressed in quite a while.
Why do we plateau?
Training plateaus can be confusing until you understand the basic principle of adaptation:
The body doesn't respond to exercise. It responds to stress.
While this person works incredibly hard, her weekly training routine is nothing new for her. She's been knocking out 7-8 hour training weeks that include strength training and high-intensity cardio for years now.
But while a regimen like this would absolutely crush a beginner, she has fully adapted to it.
She's basically told her body, "This is what kind of activity we're doing." To which her body responded, "Ok, got it."
It's been a few years since that initial request, and she really hasn't asked it to do anything different since then. So why would it continue to change?
I think what was partly confusing (and frustrating) to her was that the workouts she does FEEL stressful. I've watched her train many times, and she works and suffers with the best of them. I don't care how fit you are, swing a kettlebell for 200 reps and you'll be gasping for air.
The issue was that she isn't accumulating any stress on any specific system over and above what she's used to.
Her training is somewhat random and lacks month-to-month progression--which is perfectly fine if she just wants to be generally fit, functional, and healthy. An general program works great for longevity, health, and overall fitness if it's balanced and adheres to good principles of movement and program design structure.
But unless you're a true beginner, it sucks for making significant progress in any specific area.
If she want's to start making improvements, a few things will have to happen:
1. Pick something and measure it
Doesn't matter what it is. Something strength-related works best since it's the easiest to quantify. But pursuing progress means we're going to have to get specific. Ideally, this thing should have significant meaning and importance to her.
Again, it's important to understand who we're talking about here. This woman is not a beginner. Newbies can get better at everything simultaneously with very minimal training, and very little recovery. A couple sets here and a few intervals there, and they'll get stronger and leaner rather quickly.
This doesn't apply to more advanced trainees.
2. Increase the stress on the system(s) that support it
In short, she'll have to do more of the thing she wants to improve in.
If she wants to get better at the deadlift, the easiest place to start would be to deadlift twice per week instead of the one time she's doing now.
She could also increase the number of sets she does. Or she could add volume to the exercises that support the deadlift.
There are quite a few ways to stimulate adaptation, and choosing the correct one depends on the person. But the principle remains the same, there needs to be added stress on the system.
3. Understand that adding something means taking something away
This is where people have a hard time. Adding more to the pile means you have to remove something else.
Not only does she not have 3-hours to spend at the gym each morning, doing so would really impede her ability to recover and adapt from the added stress of what she's targeting.
There can (and should) still be balance and variety in the program, but just know that prioritization and elimination has to be part of the conversation.
4. Be consistent and patient
The key will to growth is delivering a consistent message to the body, and then being patient as it does its thing. And I don't mean try a new program for 4-weeks and see if it worked. For this person, I'd give her at least 12 to 16 weeks of solid, focused training before we really re-assess her progress.
5. Re-assess and re-evaluate
After the training period, we check in to see how things improved. If they did, great. Let's continue along the same path. If not, let's figure out what could explain it and make some changes.
That's training in a nutshell.
Training is simple: Do this. Then do more of this. Collect trophy.
But it's not easy.
It's an incredibly confusing, frustrating, complex road to navigate. You've got to be consistent, patient, focused, objective, and learn to walk the fine line of "enough stress to improve, but not too much to burn out and get hurt."
Additionally, nutrition, sleep, and other life stresses can get in the way and impede progress. So you've got to learn to manage that as well.
Training: Simple, but not easy. Just like everything else in life worth pursuing.