Why You're Not Making Progress - and How to Fix It
So you want to lose some weight and/or build some muscle. You go to the gym most of the time, you miss the gym sometimes, you eat good most of the time, you don’t eat good sometimes...things go up and down and around and around and you don’t seem to get anywhere. Sound about right?
This fitness thing - it’s not easy. You see infomercials about 20 minute workouts and 7 minute abs and you’re led to believe that’s how it works. Let me be the first to tell you that this is not how it works. The fit people in those ads didn’t get that way from 20 minutes of easy work on a shoddy piece of equipment - they got that way from YEARS of consistent hard work and dedication. They get paid to be in those commercials. What separates those that meet their goals from those that don’t? Well, there’s lots to that equation, BUT here are a few problems that I see that jump out at me as to why people fail to make progress in the gym.
PROBLEM #1 - Inconsistency
This is a bigtime killer. BIGTIME. KILLER. I cannot stress enough how much important consistency is. You have to schedule your workouts into your life. HAVE TO. You have to make your body change - it’s not just going to magically be in shape one day (although you might find it magically out of shape).
Think about it the same way you think about work. If you have to work 5 days a week, you go to work 5 days a week. Because you HAVE to go. Tired? You go to work. Have a million things to do at home? You still go to work. Imagine if you missed 2 days of work just about every week. How much work would you get done? How far would you get in your field? And how long would it be before you were fired? Now how about if you don’t miss work, and work your butt off day in and day out? Well now you’re advancing in your field and making progress in your career.
Treat your body the same way as your job. The body NEEDS you to keep your workout schedule and put the work in, the same way your boss needs you to go to work every day and put the work in. What happens when you do this? Good things happen to those that work. Think about it...if you are supposed to go to the gym 3X a week (which is about the minimum for those wanting to make a serious change in their physique) and you miss one workout every other week, you are missing out on more than 15% of your workouts. If you schedule the gym 3X a week, you would get you roughly 144 workouts in a year, and you would miss 24 workouts. Imagine if you missed 40 days of unexcused work in a year (that’s roughly 15%)...what’s your boss going to say?? Have kids? Imagine if they missed a month of unexcused school in a year. Would you expect them to make honour roll or even pass??
You cannot expect progress without complete consistency. Make a rule that if you’re going to work, you’re going to the gym. Put it in your schedule and don’t waiver. Make the gym part of your work day.
PROBLEM #2 - Effort
This one really grinds my gears. Say you follow your schedule and you do make it to the gym...you took the time out of your schedule to drive to the gym and workout. And then you half-ass it. WHY? You took the time out of your busy life to go to the gym - why oh why would you put in a half-assed effort?! What else do you have to do except tie your shoes up and go all out. It’s 60 minutes of your day. Put your tiredness, stress, laziness, whatever it is, put it all aside and immerse yourself in your workout. No excuses and no regrets.
Let’s go back to the scheduled equation from above. So you’ve already missed 1 workout every 2 weeks due to inconsistency, giving you 120 of 144 workouts in a year. Now let’s say you give a poor effort on 1 workout every 2 weeks...that’s another 15% and 24 more workouts that you can scratch off your scheduled list as being unproductive. So now you have 144 scheduled training sessions, 24 missed and 24 lazy workouts. That leaves you with 96 good workouts. Or does it?
PROBLEM #3 - Reward Eating
The silent killer! Say you knock out an AWESOME workout in the morning. You got a good sleep, you made the time to go to the gym, AND you put in an “A” effort. You’re feeling great about yourself and you’re on the fast track to where you wanna be. Then someone asks if you want to go out for lunch and you oblige. ANNND when you get there, riding your euphoric fitness train, you feel you’ve “earned” anything on the menu - you go with something you know you shouldn’t (like a burger and fries, or a fettuccine alfredo), but hey, it’s all good you’ve earned it. Wrongo Dongo.
Say this happens once every 2 weeks (payday Friday maybe??)...oh no! Another 24 erased workouts and another 15% of your equation is lost. So 144(scheduled) - 24(missed) - 24(lazy) - 24(reward eating) = 72 productive workouts. HALF of what we wanted. Imagine if your Doctor missed HALF of his scheduled classes in medical school. Would you trust him to be your doctor?
Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in balance and I do believe in allowing some wiggle room, and I do believe in refeeding the body to ensure metabolic stimulation. BUT the refeed needs to be timed properly, not consumed at a time of self reward. Stick to your meal plan and refrain from reward when it’s on a whim.
SO you started with a goal of going to the gym 3X per week every week. Which is 144 workouts in a year. You lost 24 workouts due to truancy, 24 workouts due to laziness, and 24 workouts due to reward eating, leaving you with 72 and half of what you originally scheduled (which was already a low number to begin with). Half is a hard number to progress with. NOW let’s be realistic - you take 2 weeks of vacation a year, and you never come during the week over Christmas. That’s 9 more missed workouts, which leaves you with 63 productive workouts in a year. Less than half of your goal!! If you contributed less than half of your projected RRSPs over the course of your lifetime, you’re looking at a pretty lean retirement fund.
So how do you fix this?? How do you make it so you make more like 90% or more of your workouts. The people that you see that are very in shape and look like they want to look got that way from consistent, hard efforts and good, clean eating.
The good news is we can fix these shortcomings. Finding solutions and improving on these 3 things will help immensely...let’s take a look how we can do that.
SOLUTION #1 - Creating Consistency
Getting your workouts in consistently over time is tough. That’s why the fitness industry preys on people’s emotions and caters to the “quick, comfortable, and easy.” None of those things should be associated with getting into and staying in shape. Come to terms with that. This will not be easy. It is going to take some grit, some planning, plenty of preparation, and lots of hard work. Why do you think so many people are overweight? Because it’s easier to be out of shape than in shape. SO, what can you do to make sure you’re attending the gym regularly? Ultimately, it is going to come down to YOU and how serious you are about this. Not just serious like “I should go to the gym tomorrow,” but serious like “Tomorrow is Wednesday. On Wednesdays I train at 6am so I need to turn this Netflix bs off and hit the sheets so I can bring my ‘A’ effort tomorrow.” It’s about priorities. F*ck the body I have now, I want a new one. How important are YOU? Once you’ve made yourself and your health important, here are a few other ways to increase your consistency:
ENJOY THE GYM - this is a hard one for some people. This again comes back to coming with terms that this thing isn’t going to be easy. I get that question a lot from new people…”when does this get easier?” NEVER. You will most certainly get better at it and get into better shape, but it will not and should not get “easy.” Find a program you believe in and work your ass off with it. We have people at the gym all the time that tell us how much the LOVE coming to the gym...don’t get me wrong...it’s always hard, it’s never going to be easy, and sometimes they’re cursing my name for that hour, but they love the atmosphere and they love the workouts, and that makes things a heckuva lot easier to get through the doors.
BUDDY UP - find someone that shares your goals and set up a schedule with them, and hold each other accountable. Don’t let them down and don’t let them let you down. Partner up, train hard together, share notes, share experiences, and learn and grow together. Doing this with a partner or a small team will not only increase your consistency, but it will be that much sweeter when you’re making progress together. I can’t say enough about the people that I train and compete with - I would certainly not be where I am today without them. Mike and I have been training partners since 2006!!! That is a lot of hours together pushing and training and learning from one another.
SET GOALS AND HAVE DIRECTION - This is a big one that most people flounder with. What exactly is it that you want from the gym?? And how are you going to make that happen? Write it down, map it out, and have direction. Broad, simple goals like I want to lose 20lbs this year are vague and directionless. Write down clear, concise, direction driven goals. HOW are you going to lose that 20lbs?? What does that look like today, tomorrow, next week, the week after, next month and for the rest of the year. Be realistic with yourself and set key markers along the way. Give yourself a reason to go to the gym and you’ll find your motivation to be consistent is much greater, as will be your progress.
Once you have established yourself as an important need in your life, you will prioritize your time to include the gym. You will get some consistency and start seeing progress...and guess what?! That consistency is going to strengthen and getting to the gym will become more automatic...bringing that 45% attendance rate up. So now with you are only missing 1 workout per month instead of 2...that is 12 per year instead of 24, bring our productive workouts up from 63 to 75.
SOLUTION #2 - Creating a Great Work Ethic
I think that a subpar effort can be both psychological and physiological, and both can be addressed. Let’s start with the psychological ways to improve our work ethic…
HAVE SOME GRIT - Sometimes you just need to toughen up and tell you brain to shut up, put your nose to the grindstone, and flat out go to work in the gym. Remember how I said this wasn’t going to be easy? We all have days that we have a lot going on and don’t really want to work hard, but forget that notion - tell your body you’re in charge and you’re going to throw down on this workout. Have some GRIT. EARN the body you want, don’t hope for it.
BELIEVE IN YOUR TRAINING - this goes with what I said above about finding something you enjoy doing... believing in your program will keep you engaged and hungry for progress. If you’re going to the gym and constantly wondering if this is what you should be doing or if you’re wasting your time is going to affect the effort you’re putting in. Trust me when I say there are a million or more ways to get into shape...but one common denominator that all of the different programs, styles, and methods have is EFFORT. Hard-ass, sweaty-ass, gut-wrenching effort with a focus on improving over time. IF there is such a thing, effort is the golden ticket.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF - My least favorite word in the gym is CAN’T. This self-defeating term is the quickest way to deflate yourself and derail your work ethic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go and train with no regard for safety or with reckless abandonment, because that is going to run you a high injury risk, BUT you have to believe in yourself. You can’t let that little negative voice in your head be in charge. You have to try things you’ve never done before. That is progress. That is how we change our body. FORGET CAN’T! Be a bulldog and don’t be afraid of new challenges. A new you will require new thinking. And yes you CAN.
Ok so there are a few psychological things we can work on to improve our work ethic in the gym. But what about physiologically? What are we missing that’s making us so tired, so lazy, and/or putting in poor efforts??
DIET - This is obviously a massive one, so I’m only going to touch on a couple of things I think are key aspects. Clean eating is one. Are you eating a diet of processed, garbage-laden foods? Those will keep you and your energy down, which is going to affect your workouts. Here is an easy rule to live by...only eat food that walks, swims, or flies, or grows in the ground or grows on trees. If it needs more than 1 stage of processing, forget it. If it has ingredients that you can’t pronounce, forget it. Remember you’re in the gym for about an hour a day, so there are 23 other hours that are equally important to your progress. Don’t throw them away with poor food choices.
PROTEIN INTAKE - This is going to help your recovery so you’re not crippling sore from your last workout, cuz that’s gonna slow you down bigtime. I recommend 0.6 to 1.0g of protein per pound of bodyweight per day. SO if I’m 200lbs, I need somewhere between 150-200g of protein PER DAY. Eating like crap all day and then having a protein shake after you workout isn’t going to fix the underlying problem of poor food. Protein powders are meant to supplement an already existing diet. If you’re saying “Oh I can’t eat that much protein.” Yes you can. There’s that CAN’T again. Everyone of our team members eats that much protein, as do fit people all over the world. Again it comes down to you and your willingness to put in the work and to change.
SLEEP - This is a tough one sometimes, because we are all busy. Work, stress, kids, life commitments - we all have things that cut into our sleep. But again it’s about priorities. You can make time for enough sleep, but you have to make that time happen. Do you really need to watch one more episode on the flix? NO. Go to bed and have a great workout tomorrow. I will say from experience that if you’re in a sleep deprived state, eating a ton of good food and getting a ton of good nutrients will help keep you moving. People get tired and stressed and reach for comfort foods...which are almost always...PROCESSED!! Having a rested, ready body is a big up when it comes to putting in great efforts day in and day out.
HYDRATION - No coffee and Red Bull don’t count. Nor does orange juice or koolaid or coca cola. Getting lots of water is an absolute must for cell hydration, which will directly affect mood, energy, and yep you guessed it, work ethic in the gym. And no I don’t mean drinking 1 bottle of water while you work out. I mean drinking water all day every day. I recommend at least 3L of water on non-workout days, and closer to 4L on workout days. “But Jay I can’t drink that much water!” Shut your can’t up and do it. If you’re awake for 16 hours, you need to drink around 1 cup of water per waking hour to get 4L in for the day. That’s half of a little 500ml bottle. Caffeine, although it can be stimulating and can help temporarily bump up energy (especially for a workout), actually has a diuretic effect on the body, so make sure if you’re a caffeine junky you’re getting enough water to counteract it. Try being really hydrated and see if it improves your energy and work ethic in the gym.
Making these psychological and physiological changes isn’t going to happen immediately. BUT we can work hard at them and bring that attendance rate up again. Now say we again only have 1 poor workout a month due to lack of effort...that makes it 12 on the year not 24, bringing our productive workout rate up from 75 to 87... Inching closer by the day!
SOLUTION #3 - Erasing Reward Eating
This one often comes down to your ability to say NO. I’m not saying no to hanging out with friends, but instead saying no to those nasty-no-good-foods that are erasing your hard fought workouts. WILL POWER. You had a great workout...no you didn’t earn 2000 crappy calories from the drive-thru. How bad do you want your body to change? And does this meal have your progress at the forefront? Is there something else you could have instead? Don’t erase all your hard work in the gym with a reward meal. Have a commitment to yourself and identify that those foods aren’t in your plan. Which brings me to my next point:
HAVE A NUTRITIONAL PLAN - Don’t just flounder around eating what you think might be a good idea. Sit down and plan out your meals. Get your protein in. Stock your fridge with clean foods. Prepare your meals ahead of time (you are way less likely to reward eat and binge if you have a meal waiting in the fridge). Write it down and hold yourself accountable. It’s a little scary sometimes writing everything down and seeing it in front of you, but maybe that’s what you need! Being honest with yourself isn’t always easy, but it will never steer you wrong. Like I mentioned above, I do believe in balance and I do believe in refeed/cheat meals, but ONLY when they’re timed and part of an executed plan.
So let’s say you’ve got a plan and you’re saying no to those reward meals. All of them. That brings us up from 87 to 111 productive workouts!! Now find a way to sneak in a couple over your holidays and you’re back up over 115 and at 80% of our goal!! Still not optimal, but very realistic - especially right out of the gate. Over time with the improvements provided in this article your progress will show, as will your motivation to continue to push forward. Let’s make it 4X per week next year!! Remember lots of small changes can add up to big changes.
I have touched on a few things briefly in this article such as goal-setting, meal planning, grocery shopping and refeeding. For a more in-depth look at these aspects of fitness you can download my ebook Plan Prepare Succeed: Goal-Setting and Nutrition Principles for Fitness Oriented Adults right HERE.