You’ve been lacing up your sneakers and heading to the gym at least 5 days a week, yet you’re frustrated with your lack of progress. Why aren’t you getting the results you want? Why aren’t your muscles more defined and toned? Before you throw in the towel, here are 10 reasons to consider why your workout may not be working.
Sure, we all know that it takes a lot of hard work to shape up but if you’re in the gym for 2 hours or more 5 to 6 days a week, or taking boot camp classes, weight training and squeezing in extra cardio day after day, you are likely over-training. Exercise is great for you, but doing too much from day to day does not allow your body adequate time to recover. Pushing your body too hard leads to fatigue, strong cravings for carbohydrates and sugar because your body is seeking quick energy, a weakened immune system, and often trouble sleeping. Consider a two-day-on, one-day-off routine to allow for better recovery, and instead of boot camp with weight training and cardio all in a single day, try breaking them up and performing those routines on separate days.
2. Skimping on sleep
Many people don’t realize the importance of sleep when it comes to your weight loss goal. It is during sleep when the body recovers and repairs the tiny microscopic tears in the muscle fibers created from strength-training so that, over time, you wake up stronger. Also, sleep deprivation tends to suppress our natural growth hormone, making it harder to build lean muscle. Skimping on sleep is also one of the fastest ways to derail your fitness plan because your lack of energy will increase the potential to binge and overeat. So be sure to get your zzz’s!
3. Performing cardio only
It sure would be nice if we could simply hit the pavement day after day, log a few miles and end up with the perky derriere that we’ve always dreamed of. The sad truth is that without a combination of cardio and strength training, we will never win the war with gravity and manage to lift and tone everything. If you have been avoiding weights due to a fear of bulking up, you can rest easy knowing that it’s not that easy! A seriously muscled physique takes years of training and consuming loads of calories.
4. Overestimating the caloric burn
For most people, the number of calories being consumed versus the number of calories burned is nothing more than a best guess. Without a number of scientific measure in place, one can only estimate their daily caloric needs. The goal, then, is to try and create a deficit to lose weight or body fat. The problem is that many people rely on exercise equipment to determine the calories burned and those machines are often generalized and inaccurate. Your best bet is to keep a food journal and log every morsel that passes your lips. Without getting your nutrition in check, you could exercise until you are blue (or in this case, red) in the face and the only result would be frustration.
5. A stale workout routine
Many of us are creatures of habit. We wake up, eat the same food for breakfast every morning, visit the same places for lunch, shop at the same clothing stores and often go to bed around the same time every night. A routine is comforting but when it comes to a workout, if you have been doing the same routine month after month, your body has likely adapted to the stimulus and is simply going through the motions. You need to shake things up and introduce new stimuli in order to keep making progress. Our bodies only change when they are forced to adapt. Consider trying a new workout at least every 3 to 4 weeks.
6. Going too easy
If you have a kid or have ever carried a backpack in school, then you know that you are stronger than those 5 lb. dumbbells that you’re lifting. I’m willing to bet that even some of your purses weigh upwards of 10 lbs. So don’t make the mistake of going too easy in the gym, ladies! Muscles only grow when they are forced to do work. Never sacrifice form to lift heavier weight but don’t let heavier weight intimidate you. Try lifting a slightly heavier weight for a repetition or two and then drop down in weight to finish the set. Then each time try a little bit more. When doing cardio, instead of long sessions of steady-state cardio, try incorporating active rests between sets or high intensity sessions like 30 second sprints (30 seconds of hard work and 30 seconds rest) to really kick up the intensity.
7. Eating too few calories
Food is fuel, not the enemy. So many people make the mistake of cutting calories too low when trying to get in shape. Without adequate fuel you’ll be hard-pressed to build muscle, and it’s the muscle that raises your metabolism. Constantly under-eating creates a vicious cycle as the metabolism slows down to preserve the energy it’s not getting from food. This then stalls weight loss (or creates weight gain) which causes many people to increase cardio and cut even more calories. Determine the calories you need, taking into consideration your activity level (including exercise) and keep a food log to stay on track. It only takes a slight calorie deficit of 250 calories a day and 250 calories burned with exercise to lose up to 3500 calories (1 pound) per week.
8. Too many cheat meals
A dangling carrot can certainly be great motivation for your workouts but when that “carrot” becomes the occasional cinnamon roll, alcoholic beverage or seven layer chocolate cake, it’s a potential slippery slope. An indulgence for a special occasion is certainly ok and even encouraged to maintain sanity. Also, having a bite of something sinful every now and then won’t reverse all of the good you’ve done, but be cautious of a weekly cheat meal. The cleaner the fuel (food) in your body, the leaner you’ll be. If you notice your body fat is starting to creep up, get real about managing those cheat meals and opt for some more nourishing options.
9. Stress and hormones
At times of stress it’s not uncommon for people to turn to food whether it’s eating to fill an emotional need, or eating on the run because there never seems to be enough time in the day. But a stressed-out lifestyle can lead to weight gain and hinder your workouts. Cortisol is often referred to as “the stress hormone” because it is secreted, in excess, at times of stress. Since cortisol plays an important role in the maintenance of blood pressure, and also stimulates fat and carbohydrate metabolism for fast energy, too much cortisol can mean an increase in appetite. Not everyone is affected by stress and cortisol in the same way. Some people handle it well while others fall apart at the seams. If your workouts seem less productive and you often combat cravings, consider finding methods to reduce stress in your life.
10. Lack of consistency
All too often people start an exercise program with the best of intentions, scheduling themselves for 5 days a week. Don’t set yourself up for failure right out of the gate. Before engaging in a regular workout routine, determine a realistic number of days that you will be able to commit to without fail. Consistency is paramount to your fitness success. Catching a workout now and then is good for your overall health but for those looking to make noticeable change, it’s going to take a regular routine and solid commitment. If you can only go 3 days a week, be sure to hit every muscle group within those 3 days with enough intensity and stay active the other days. Any amount of exercise is always encouraged, but it’s those who consider it training and not just a workout who typically achieve greater success.
Jamie Middleton (Eason) is one of the most recognized faces in the fitness industry. She holds several fitness titles, most notably Hard-body Entertainment’s World’s Fittest Model, and has been featured as a writer and a model in hundreds of thousands of magazine layouts. Jamie has a bachelor’s degree in Communication; is the official female spokesperson for Bodybuilding.com, Gold’s Gym Fitness Institute Expert and is a syndicated writer and columnist for numerous websites and magazines. As creator of the popular LiveFit Trainer and her own Labrada Lean Body For Her Signature Supplement Series, Jamie has helped hundreds of thousands of people reach their fitness goals.