In a perfect world, results would be immediate. You’d perform one set of squats—and bam! Glutes for days.
But that’s not how the human body works. In fact, when you start a new workout, for about the first six weeks the bulk of your performance improvements are neurological (your muscles are learning how to best respond to exercises on a cellular level)—so it can take months to begin to see any significant change in muscle size. And, when it comes to fat loss, most experts agree that losing one to two pounds per week is as fast as anyone should go. Otherwise, you may lose weight from breaking down your (very) hard-earned muscle.
Still, there’s a difference between slow-and-steady results and non-existent ones. And, at one point or another, every gym goer has felt like they were getting zilch from their workout.
Sound familiar? Before you throw in the sweat-soaked towel on your fitness goals, consider these six possible reasons why you aren’t seeing the results you want—plus the simple strategies to get your workout working for you.
You Constantly Bop From One Workout To The Next
Keeping your body guessing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. If you lift one week, run another, and ‘switch things up’ whenever possible with your ClassPass membership, you’re not sticking with any one workout for enough time for your body to actually adapt to it by building muscle or gaining strength, explains SoCal-based trainer Mike Donavanik, C.S.C.S., C.P.T.
Get Results: Make a workout plan that’s centered around one exercise mode or set of exercises in which you want to progress, Donavanik says. For instance, if you want to build muscle and strength, the majority of your workout days should involve weight lifting. Still, you can integrate some variety with a couple of cardio or wild card days in which you hit up spin or try out new activities. The balance will prevent boredom without stalling your gains.
You Perform The Same Workout Every. Single. Day.
On the flip side, some people like to stick with the exact same workout every time they hit the gym—and for months on end. No bueno. When you stress your body with a new workout, it adapts. Each time you perform that workout, you keep adapting—until it’s no longer a challenge. Your muscles say, “don’t worry, I’ve got this,” and then your fitness plateaus, Donavanik says. Plus, as your body adapts, it also becomes more efficient at that given workout, meaning you burn fewer calories running a 10-minute mile in week four of your running plan than you did in week one.
Get results: Add variety without losing the consistency you love with the FIIT principle. Change one to two of the following workout variables every three to four weeks: Frequency (how often you perform a given workout), Intensity (your rate of perceived exertion or resistance level used), Time (duration of the workout), and Type (exercises contained in that workout), Donavanik says. For instance, if you’ve been performing a workout with a protocol of three sets of 10 reps or a work-to-rest ratio of 4:1, you could perform the same one using four sets of six reps or a 3:1 work-to-rest ratio.
You Avoid Carbs
Protein tends to get the workout results glory, and for good reason, but carbohydrates shouldn’t go untouched, says Erica Suter, M.S., C.S.C.S., a Maryland-based trainer and strength coach. After all, insulin, which your body releases when you eat carbs, helps the amino acids from protein make their way into your muscles, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Plus, glycogen (carbohydrates stored in your muscles and liver) is your body’s primary energy source for high-intensity exercise. To get max results, you need to fuel for max performance.
Get results: “In order to reap the benefits of a strength training or conditioning session, it’s critical to nourish your body post workout,” Suter says. By following your workouts with a snack or meal that contains a roughly 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein, like chocolate milk, apple and string cheese, or peanut butter sandwich, you will replete your body’s glycogen stores while helping your body more efficiently build the metabolism-revving muscle you just sweat for.
You’re Over-Stressing Your Body
It’s important to remember that, similar to work deadlines, unhealthy foods, and lack of sleep, exercise is a stress to your body. Too much cumulative stress puts your body into a catabolic state, meaning that you break down muscle rather than building it and store fat rather than burning it, Donavanik says.
Get results: Sometimes, reducing your overall stress—even if that includes temporarily dialing down your workout volume—can help you get more out of the minutes you do log in the gym, he says. However, before automatically cutting back on your workouts, consider what the biggest stressor to your mind and body really is—and work to mediate it.
You Overestimate How Many Calories You’re Burning
Most exercisers have little idea how many cals they actually burn during their workouts. (After all, on average, fitness trackers overestimate caloric expenditure by 10 to 15 percent, according to a 2014 Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study.) Paired with an “I’ve earned that cookie” mindset, overestimating your daily caloric burn can easily translate into a caloric surplus and weight gained, not lost, Donavanik says.
Get results: Pay less attention to calories in and out and more attention to your body’s hunger cues. Begin eating when you are slightly hungry, stop when you are slightly satisfied, and you will find that you will more naturally achieve the nutritional balance needed to get the most out of your workouts.
You’re Not Challenging Yourself Enough In The Gym
“Upon starting a workout program, it’s totally fine to go through the motions and learn basic movement patterns so you don’t butcher form,” Suter says. “However, once you have at least a month under your belt, it’s time to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” Your body cannot build more muscle tissue, improve your cardiovascular power, or increase your endurance unless your workout stimulus is greater than what it can easily handle.
Get results: Increase your workout intensity! When running, cycling, or performing other cardio workouts, that generally means increasing speed. When performing resistance exercise, that means going heavy, Suter says. Decrease your reps, use heavier weights, and give yourself enough rest between sets that you are just able to eek out your last rep with proper form.
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