We’ve all been there.
Things were going great with this exercise routine for the first couple of weeks, but now I’ve plateaued.
Now this doesn’t mean your progress should trace a line that goes continually upward from the day you start training to the day you die, but there are subtle changes that happen in a training session that occur in even the most seasoned trainees.
If you’re working out, you should be progressing. If you’re not, there’s something wrong. Simple.
What’s not so simple is understanding why you’re not progressing as you’d like and whether or not your expectations are realistic. Sometimes what feels like a plateau is simply a time of consolidation preparing you for the next leap in your skills. Progressing means so much more than extra weight on the bar or another repetition in all the exercises done for that day.
Good progress means an incremental improvement in the quality of your movement, how smoothly and freely your workout goes, and how you feel about the kind of training you did.
Let’s take a look at other ways to view progress and how some relatively quick changes can spur on great improvements in your goals to be healthy, strong, and fit.
1. Fixating On Outcomes Prevents You From Focusing On The Present
They say there’s strength in numbers, but they clearly do not know much about exercise progression.
The bottom line is, if you want to get results, you’re going to have to stop obsessing over numbers – on the scale or in your notebook – and instead, pay more attention to improving your exercise form.
Don’t get me wrong – results are really important.
But when all you focus on is losing a certain amount of weight, or getting a certain number of reps, you lose sight of what’s important: that the process of training is about aligning your training to your true motivations and goals.
Results matter and improvement matters, but not at the expense of being mindful about the process and remembering that your exercise program is more than just a means to an end.
Does it really matter if you lose those 20 pounds in 2 months vs. 4 months, or even 6 months?
Deep down you know it doesn’t. And it’s likely worse to lose that weight quickly as it more often than not leads to a regaining of weight when you burn yourself out from being so focused and fixated on that weight loss. You’ve lost the weight but not likely the underlying issues that caused the initial gain in the first place.
Remember we are in this for the long haul. Fitness and living well isn’t a 12-week program – it’s for the rest of your life.
2. Poor Recovery Makes Your Training Sessions Less Effective
People mistakenly think “more equals more.” In other words, more exercise = more results.
Well, it is true that you need to work hard if you want to see results, but if you don’t give yourself adequate rest when you need it, then you’ll just be spinning your wheels and wasting a lot of your effort.
Particularly when you are just starting out, you likely don’t have the recovery capacity for 5 or 6 days a week of hard training. It takes time to build up to that level, and hastening the process won’t make you better faster; instead, it’ll hinder your progress.
Even those coaches that espouse the “train everyday” program advocate varying levels of intensity in your workouts as needed and taking some downtime after long weeks of hard training. This easier, or simply no training, period is when your nervous system and muscles recuperate and build up in response to all that work.
Neglect this crucial period and you’ll shortchange yourself from the gains you should have.
Schedule less intense training days, as well as complete days off, into your regimen, and occasionally take even more time off. You’ll return to your training rejuvenated and refreshed and ready to conquer more goals ahead.
3. Trying To Do Too Much Prevents You From Doing Much Of Anything Very Well
One of the biggest issues people run into with training is they feel they need to be doing multiple things at once to get “varied training”. The problem with this idea, however, is it prevents you from getting good at any one of the things you are working on.
It’s very easy to spread yourself too thin. There is just not enough energy and time to work hard and improve for more than a couple of goals at one time.
A perfect “balanced” program might be a good idea for maintaining your skills and condition, but it really won’t take you further in your development. To do that it’s best to give a focused effort for a specific goal or two for a period of time, then move on to the next thing, and so on.
Don’t be afraid about “losing” skills and performance when you have to put them on the back burner for a while. Sure, you’ll likely regress a bit, but you’ll have no problem regaining those skills, and you’ll improve that much quicker than if you tried to do everything at once.
If you’re having trouble progressing with a particular movement or routine, it may be that you are playing at too many things at once. For example if you really want to improve your gymnastic rings skills, you need to focus on rings – and only rings – for awhile then move on to other challenges.
Make targeted goals for yourself and stick to those instead of confusing your body with multiple programs at once.
4. You’re Flying Solo And Flying Blind, With No Guidance
Listen, I understand that some people work better alone, but everyone needs help. Especially when it comes to proper training.
That’s why we always tell people to take video of their training sessions so that they can not only see their own mistakes, but also get feedback from others (including the GMB team if you’re a member of the Alpha Posse).
The only way you’re going to continually improve your form is by continually correcting and learning from your previous mistakes.
It’s also why enlisting the help of a coach can help you to the next level.
You may be very knowledgeable about different things in your life (your job, your hobbies, etc.,) and you may even know quite a bit about training in your own right.
But even with that, how much better would it be to have another person who is able to view you from the outside and guide you when you hit a lull in your training despite all your best efforts? A hell of a lot better of course!
5. Trying To Move Too Fast Ultimately Slows You Down
A couple of weeks ago, a friend told me her trainer’s rule: if you can do 5 reps of a particular exercise, you’re ready to move on to the next progression. This is a BIG mistake people make in exercise. They hit a certain repetition goal in one workout and then immediately change to another exercise.
Just because you can do a movement does NOT mean that you can do it well enough to move on to the next progression. It takes time to consolidate a movement skill and the ability to do it once doesn’t equal the ability to repeat it with good form on a consistent basis.
Remember: form is key.
You may be able to do 5 pushups, but how’s your form? Do you feel strong enough to move on to the next progression? I bet if you really stop and think about it, you’d like to have another few sessions to really dial in your technique and get the confidence that you OWN that move and that exercise.
If you move faster than you’re ready to, your body is not going to be happy with you, and you won’t be happy with your progress.
You Can Change Gears And Get Moving Again
Take a hard look at your training program, your attitude, and your perspective. In the five tips above, we’ve identified some of the things that are likely causing the sticking points in your development. Pick one tip from the list to start with (see tip #3 and you’ll understand why you shouldn’t do more than one at a time), and apply it right now. It’ll be the kick in the butt you need to improve.
It’s easy to fall back into a comfortable routine, and to continue to do the things you’ve always done. But if you do the things you’ve always done, you’re going to keep getting the same results.
Don’t be afraid to make a change for the better. You really don’t have anything to lose.
Whatever it is that’s holding you back, the most important thing you can do right now is choose to make a change.
Decide on one small action you can take right now to change your habits or your beliefs so you can get traction and start moving out of your rut. Then take the first step.
That first step is the most important.