By far one of the most discouraging experiences in the gym is working hard and not seeing the effects of all of your hard work. You've been hitting the gym consistently but the scale doesn't reflect it. You've been pushing yourself on the bench press but you just aren't feeling any stronger. You feel like you've been breaking a sweat and watching your diet, but that six pack still isn't visible yet. This is incredibly common, but can be very discouraging especially for new gym members. I remember when I first started lifting I was discouraged because I was not progressing very quickly, and many of my friends were able to lift a lot more weight than me. It sucked! I felt ashamed, discouraged, distraught, angry... I was working so hard for what? To only be able to squat 60% of what my best friend did? To not have the vertical jump to dunk a basketball even though I'd been doing everything that those vertical jump gurus told me to do? What was I doing wrong?
Turns out I was doing just about everything wrong. It wasn't until I learned about basic and advanced exercise principles through my education and experience as a personal trainer that I began to see significant outcomes for myself. I just recently decided to sit down and look at some of my downfalls, and share them all with you. As a personal trainer and an individual who has now spent the past 2 years committed to a consistent, evidence-based exercise routine, I've had the opportunity to identify ten unique reasons why most people aren't getting the results that they desire.
10 Reasons You Aren't Getting Results In the Gym
You haven't stuck with it long enough
It's estimated that about 50% of new gym members quit within their first 6 months (IHRSA). This could be for a lot of reasons, but one primary reason is because they aren't producing results. A lot of people will try out exercising with the expectation that it is going to be a nearly instant pathway to the ultimate beach body, or that they'll be able to compete in the Boston Marathon after running for a couple of months. That's simply not true.
It's also important to know that in the initial 4-8 weeks of training, strength and coordination gains are primarily due to improved neuromuscular adaptations and not due to increased muscle mass. I like to tell this to all new exercisers who are looking to build muscle, because it can be very discouraging not to see those results even if you feel stronger.
With regards to weight and fat loss it is typically considered healthy to lose 1-2 pounds per week depending on body fat percentage, age, gender, etc. So shedding off that extra 5, 10, or 20 pounds is not going to happen overnight, it may occur faster or slower than most people depending on a lot of biological variables. While there are immediate benefits to exercise, it is foolish to expect quick or instantaneous results with regards to physical feats or appearances from exercise.
Your training isn't specific to your goals
If you're training to run an Ironman there is no need to try and deadlift 600 pounds. If you're training primarily for a powerlifting meet there is no need to run 10 miles every day. If you're training to build muscle you shouldn't be lifting only one time per week and doing strenuous cardio the other 6 days. This is where those basic exercise principles come into play. This is why I recommend some form of personal training to all gym newbies so that they can learn the basic principles of exercise, learn how to exercise safely and efficiently, and learn how to train based on their goals.
If someone wanted to improve their cooking skills, why would they practice playing the violin? If someone had the goal of learning a new language, why would they read books in their own native language? While both of those examples don't hurt anything, it's not helping them achieve their goals! It's all the same for exercise. Your fitness plan should be designed to fit your needs, your life, and your goals.
Related: Fully Personalized Training Services
If you aren't getting stronger, losing weight, improving athleticism, etc. at a rate that you would like to be, you might not be exercising as much as you need to. You can say you get in the gym consistently, but one day per week for 30-45 minutes isn't going to cut it especially if you have goals you want to accomplish.
It's generally recommended that you get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, and that you work each major muscle group at least twice per week to receive most health benefits. In my opinion (as well as the recommendation of health and exercise professionals), this should be your minimum requirement.
Now if you aren't getting to where you want to be, or you feel like you're plateauing in your training, you might need to bump up the volume of your workouts. For example if you've been doing 3 sets of 8 for a bench press with the same load over the past month, it's time to add another set, or some reps, or some weight. This is the principle of progressive overload. Progressive overload is basically the process of continuously challenging your body so that it continues to make the necessary adaptations. This is how progress is made! Progressive overload does not only relate to weight training, but also cardiovascular fitness as well. If you want to train for a marathon, but you only run 2 miles every workout leading up to the race, you're going to have an absolutely miserable experience. Build your workout volume over time to constantly improve!
You're not taking recovery seriously
Recovery is incredibly important. If you aren't allowing your muscles 24-48 hours to rest after working them, you aren't going to experience the same gains as someone who does! Your muscles and all the energy systems in your body have to regenerate after a tough workout in order to improve. In order to maximize recovery time here are some basic rules to follow.
Sleep is for the strong. Get 7+ hours of high quality sleep every night. Some individuals might need more depending on their training intensity and volume.
Drink plenty of water. 70-75% of your muscles are water and dehydration is a serious issue. Water is required in a seemingly infinite amount of physiological processes. So stay hydrated throughout the day.
Listen to your body. We are inconceivably complex creatures. If you pay attention, your body will give you signals if it needs something. If you're super sore take an active recovery day, or a rest day. If something hurts, ease up a little bit. If you're thirsty, drink some water!
Eat healthy, and fuel your body. I'll talk about this more in the next section, but your diet is incredibly important! A sports car driver wouldn't fill his car with regular gas, they'd fill it with the best fuel, so why wouldn't you do the same with your body?
Diet is just as... if not more important... than exercise
What you put into your body will determine how much energy you have throughout the day, how well your body recovers from its daily activities and exercise, and how well you're feeling. If you aren't getting the proper nutrients that your body needs, you're not going to perform well during exercise, and you put yourself at risk for illness and disease. In general, most people will benefit from a high protein, low-fat, low added sugar diet. Here are a few basic tips for your diet that are backed by research. For more information about dieting and nutrition help, please reach out to a registered dietician.
High protein intake is key. Protein in the diet assists in muscle protein synthesis, and aids in the rebuilding of muscle. Foods that are high in protein are often also high in satiety, meaning they can help make you feel more full after a meal. This is beneficial for individuals looking to lose weight. Eating a high protein meal can make you more full, and can assist in the prevention of overeating. According to the Dietary Reference Intake, the recommended amount of protein for a sedentary individual to consume is .36 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For active individuals this needs to be higher though. It is generally recommended that individuals consume between .8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight for individuals trying to put on muscle.
You need to follow a workout plan
If you just go to the gym without any type of plan, the chances that you will achieve your goals are significantly lower than a person with a plan. A workout plan gives you a checklist, it provides accountability, it measures progress, and it ensures that you are progressing in the direction that you want to be. There are many other benefits as well!
If you aren't getting the results you want, but you just go into the gym and improvise every workout, it's going to take you a long time to get there. It's like going into a grocery store with no list. You go in not knowing exactly what you want, and have a general idea of what you need, but then you end up buying the double stuffed Oreos because they were on sale and they sounded amazing. No matter how focused you think you are, we're all a little scatterbrained at times. Follow a workout plan, contact a personal trainer. I promise you'll start to see results.
Related: Workout Warrior Exercise Programs
You're too distracted at the gym
How many times have you gone to the gym with your friends, or ran into someone you haven't seen in awhile, and a quick catch-up conversation turns into a 30-minute gossip-fest. Next thing you know, you've only got 10 minutes before you've got to leave the gym. It's happened to almost everyone before! You lose a ton of productivity when you get distracted, and that's killing your gains in the gym! You don't have to be the anti-social lifter with the oversized hoody on and the hood covering half of you face, but try to avoid distractions when you can. Cut out the distractions, cut on some tunes, and get to work! It's as simple as that.
You aren't consistent enough in the gym
Do you go to the gym frequently, but you lack consistency in your schedule or in your exercise selection? Sometimes people can fall into a rut of going to the gym often (say 4 or 5 times a week) for a while, but then they take a week or two off at a time. How on earth are you going to make progress if you work hard for a short amount of time, but then give it up for a prolonged period of time?
Don't get me wrong, rest days are important, and less-intense periods of training can be beneficial, but cutting out exercise completely can hinder your progress in the gym. If a businessman wants to make 300 sales in a year, but takes a week long break after making just 1 sale, he's not going to reach his goal! You have to develop a consistent routine, and hold yourself accountable (or have someone else hold you accountable).
You need to switch up your training
Have you ever tried a new exercise that doesn't seem too tricky, but then leaves you incredibly sore the following day? That's because your body is not used to that specific movement. Often times, individuals will perform the same exercise routine every trip to their fitness facility, and expect different results. That reminds me of a pretty famous quote...
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result."
I'm sure you've heard that before. So why do the same thing in the gym? Switch it up a little bit! That can help you break that plateau and make strides in the right direction! If you've been doing regular squats, try switching it up to a goblet squat or a front squat. If you've been doing a barbell bench press for awhile, try doing it with dumbbells, or changing the movement to focus on the eccentric portion more. The opportunities are endless!
Switching up your exercise selection makes working out less of a monotonous task, and instead makes it something to look forward to. I recommend switching up your exercise selection every 4-8 weeks. As a personal trainer, I like to call these training blocks with my clients. In exercise programming we typically refer to these as microcycles (depending on your goals, training style, duration, etc.). Try it out, and see what you think!
You're blind to your own results
It's hard to see results when you see your own body every day. You could be making significant progress, but you just aren't seeing it. It's like seeing a toddler after a few months. When you initially saw him or her, they were about 2 inches shorter, their hair was shorter, and their cognitive and speech abilities weren't anything to write home about. Then after a few months, they've made leaps and bounds in all of those areas. Gosh, human development is fascinating.
While none of us reading this are going to develop as quickly as toddlers, it still applies to how others see us after awhile. If you're noticing strength, endurance, and/or energy gains, but you aren't seeing physical changes, it might be because you're blind to them.
To combat this issue, try taking an occasional progress picture. I typically recommend once a month or once every two weeks. If you take one every day you might not be noticing very big differences, but if you take a photo periodically and look back at them you might be able to see that you actually are making progress in the right direction.
I hope that this article helped you to identify some changes that you can make with your habits so that you can begin to make progress in the gym. If you have any questions leave them in the comments below, fill out my quick questionnaire, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please consider subscribing to our blog by entering your email address below for biweekly motivational prompts, additional article commentary, exclusive offers, and more!