If you are like most people, after a while your progress in the gym stops. And like most people, you complain but never take proper action. If you look back you may realize that your body has looked about the same and your strength is about the same as it was a year ago. You are consistent, your nutrition is good, and you are healthy. What is the missing factor?
Here is the short version of the answer for those who hate reading: You are too habitual to make the necessary sacrifices to move to the next level and don’t realize the effort it takes.
I am not talking about people who are already near the peak of how far they can take their body. I am talking about the people who are in good shape but not great. Or maybe they are in great shape but are below their potential. They can be better and they know they can be better but they don’t understand why they aren’t there. I will approach this from a performance perspective and a psychology perspective. These two things overlap but you will find some aspects you identify with more than others.
- 1. Humans are creatures of habit. The body craves homeostasis (staying the same)
These two things combined are bad news when trying to push your body. The body doesn’t want to change and subconsciously part of you doesn’t either. You want to go into the gym on the same schedule, with the same friends, at the same gym, and do the same exercises you are comfortable with. Entertaining the idea of not doing bench presses for 6 months, or squatting 4x a week is outrageous to you because that isn’t what you are used to and isn’t what worked in the past. Like anything in life you won’t accomplish anything if you stay in your comfort zone. One of the best pieces of advice for advancing in the business world is “constantly make yourself uncomfortable”. Take on challenging jobs. Give presentations that require too much work. Go above and beyond. Most people don’t do this so most work in a cubical. They make ‘enough’ money. They are comfortable. That is fine if you are happy with that. It is fine if you are happy with your 300lbs bench. If not, shut the fuck up and stop complaining and decide to change. Stick to that decision no matter what.
2. You don’t realize what is possible
I saw an argument one time about if a 405lbs bench was possible without drugs. If you are entertaining this question that means you haven’t been exposed to real strength or performance. It isn’t your fault. A 405 bench turns heads in most gyms but this is happening in every college weight room in the country. “No way!” you may be saying “Why don’t I see it more then?” because they are college athletes have been selected for their athletic abilities. You are in your pretty neighborhood gym talking about your glory days as a mediocre player on your small town football team. I am not saying this because to tell you they are better than you. I am saying this because you just aren’t exposed to a higher level of performance. There was a time when a 4 min mile was “impossible”. Within one year of that milestone being broken over 20 other people did it. You have to set higher goals than being the leanest or strongest in your workout group or at your job.
3. You fail to accept your own limitations
While this seems counter to the point above it is important. We all have different abilities and limitations imposed on us by life and genetics. Some people look great and never touch a weight. Other have to work their ass off just to keep fitting in their jeans. It isn’t fair but that is life. If you have a job, a family, a house , and real responsibilities, you might only be able to get in to the gym 2 or 3 times a week. Once you are there you might only have 45 minutes to workout. This being the case you may have to accept what this limitation will give you have learn how to maximize your time. In case you didn’t know this, raising your kids and being a husband/wife is far more important that having a perfect six pack. In fact most things are more important than that. Life happens. Deal with it the best you can. Adapt your diet and workouts to it rather than trying to copy someone elses who has all the time in the world. In addition we have limitations with willpower. If you constantly cheat on your diet why are you trying to diet that way? If you only make it to the gym 3 days per week why do you have a 4 day workout program? I talk to people doing this stuff all the time. Accept what you are willing to do and not do. You will make faster progress dieting in a way you can live with rather than a way that sends you over the edge. You may be saying “Screw that! I am going to make some changes and really turn it up a notch!” Cool. Remember when you said that a year ago. And the year before that? Stop wasting time. You may not be the ass kicker right now you want to be. It is ok. Pretending you are something else is worse. That isn’t to say you can’t change but obviously it isn’t happening right now. Deal with it instead of believing your own bullshit.
4. You don’t measure your progress and have no goals
It doesn’t matter how, but you need to know if you are improving. The farther you go the smaller the improvements will be but you should be getting a little stronger, or bigger, or moving better depending on your goals. Say you are trying to lose fat. Are you losing a pound a week? Are your clothes loser? Are your measurements changing? Are the weekly pictures you are taking of yourself different? Are you not doing anything like that? What are you trying to accomplish. “I just want to be leaner. I just want to be ripped. I just want to gain muscle and lose fat.” Those aren’t good enough.
“I want a rock hard ass that fits into my skinny jeans from high school.”
“I want to bench press 350.”
“I want to have a slight out line of abs but keep my curves.”
“I want to lose 40lbs in 4 months.”
“ I want to be 135lbs or 15% body fat”
Those are goals. Get some. Work towards them. Mark your progress. Otherwise you are just spinning your wheels. By having no form of measure you are also allowing yourself to screw up without penalty. You can cheat and not have to check in with yourself. Nice way to have no accountability, pussy. Instead if you want to lose 20lbs in 2 months, tell everyone. Ask for help. Maybe some of them want similar things and you can work together. It may be embarrassing but it isn’t any worse than being disappointed in your body for another year.
1. The better you get, the harder it is to improve.
You may notice that when you start dieting or working out things just happen and it is easy. The longer you go, the more your body fights back. A beginner putting 10lbs or more on his or her squat in a week isn’t unusual. A professional Olympic weightlifter may fight for a 5lbs increase in any lift for a year. That 2lbs may be the difference between a gold medal and not placing. A full time job of training, professional nutrition, and professional coaching is needed for this increase. So the better you look, the stronger you get, you will have to work harder and smarter. You may need a plan instead of just going into the gym and doing what you feel like. You may need to do some of the things listed below.
2. Your flexibility/mobility sucks.
This is mostly a problem males have. This is the hardest thing to drive home because people hate doing it. We are supposed to move around. We are not supposed to sit so much. The hard thing about flexibility training is how hard it is to start because you are so tight you are uncomfortable even stretching. Here are some tips. Stretch when warm either from activity or after a shower. Stretch multiple times a day. At first stretch a lot. Relax into the stretch, you shouldn’t be in real pain. Focus on hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, ankles if your lower body needs help. Focus on pecs, lats, and shoulders if your upper body needs help. You can do static stretching, mobility drills, or whatever. Remember to use the flexibility. Hang out in a deep squat position with a flat back. Things like that. You need this to even pick a bar off the floor with good form. How can you complain about your deadlift, clean, snatch or any lift that starts on the ground if you can’t even pick the bar up properly. “But I read that static stretching decrease power.” Says some fucking geek on the internet. You are right it does if performed pre activity according to some of the newer studies. Also, do you give a shit? Are you planning to win the Olympics this year? Or are you a guy with shitty mobility who can barely squat parallel? Guess what? If you can drop below parallel in a good position you will be way stronger than the tight nerd refusing to stretch. USE ANY METHOD NECESSARY TO GAIN BASIC FLEXIBILITY.
3. You need to eat more to gain muscle.
News flash. If you are 220 and want to be 230 you need to eat. A LOT. “But I don’t want to be fat!” Great. Doesn’t change the fact you aren’t gaining weight without extra calories. You may add a little fat but if you are smart and don’t do anything stupid then MOST of it will be muscle. The key is to constantly make progress. Try to add a pound every week or two consistently. Ignore excess water weight you may have from eating more. Reach your goal. Maybe you are slightly soft for your liking. Then just pull back a little and SLOWLY lose it. Maybe you end up at 227 but you just gained 7lbs of muscle in a few months. Much better than the past year of saying how you wished you were 230. Maybe you go too fast and it is mostly fat. So what? Just spend a few weeks dieting it off and try again with a different approach. It isn’t that difficult. You may have to gain slower than you want to keep the fat down or you might be one who could use a few pounds of fat. Again, take action.
4. You need to eat less to lose fat.
If you aren’t losing weight you are eating too much. Yes, you can have glandular or metabolism problems but it doesn’t change the fact that you take in too many calories in your given situation. Yes, you should maximize your metabolism and health. You should eat a sensible diet. But I got news for you sister, if you are 160 and you want to be 120, you have a long way to go. It isn’t going to be easy and it isn’t going to be fun. You can still drink on occasion, you can still have somewhat of a life but you won’t be drinking every week or having cheat meals every other day. Shut up and go. Don’t complain to your boyfriend or husband anymore. Just take action. Throw out any food in the house that temps you. If your significant other complains saying that he wants the food say “You have two choices. I can be lean and confident which leads to more sex and less complaining, or I can continue to gain weight until I cry myself to sleep at night. By the way you are fat too.” By the way, the less healthy you are mentally and physically, the harder dieting is. Get healthy.
5. You are lazy in the gym and don’t know it
When is the last time you had to sit down for 5 min after squatting because you couldn’t walk? When is the last time you worked so hard on a lat pull down that you could barely hold onto the bar? Many times people get into a place of just doing enough. Sure that set of 10 was tough but you could have done 12 if you really tried. Why does your body need to change if it can handle what you throw at it? Remember that you have to push your body to a point where it is forced to adapt. This doesn’t mean you have to kill yourself in the gym every single time. That could do as much harm as good. This just means you have to be uncomfortable. It is a workout. It isn’t supposed to necessarily be fun or easy. One of the most common statements I get from first time clients is “Whoa! This is hard!” These are experienced trainers. I actually feel bad when I have to tell them that it really isn’t, they just don’t push themselves. A high level of effort can slip away from you because it isn’t comfortable and it shouldn’t be. This goes along with having a plan and goals.
- You don’t plan your workouts
- You compare your progress to other people
- You are stressed out
- You rely on supplements instead of nutrition
- You suck and will never improve because you lack the drive and determination. Again, this is ok. Just admit it.
What you did in the past will not work. Get uncomfortable. This may mean working out less, eating more; doing the opposite of what feels right. Purge your fears. Own your body and your mind. These are the only two things that are truly yours. Everything else is an illusion or can be taken away.