Do you give your blood, sweat, and tears to the weight machines, dumbbells, and treadmill and elliptical every time you go to the gym? Are the results nowhere to be found? You're not alone.
Here are the top 4 culprits holding you back from the results you want:
You wouldn't expect a diet to work without consistency. Why would your training program be any different? Without consistency and commitment to an expertly crafted plan, your body has no reason to adapt. When we exercise, we disrupt our homeostasis (a state of balance which your body works to maintain). This stress causes changes in bodily processes to occur, i.e. increased body temperature, oxygen consumption, heart rate, muscular adaptations. And the degree of this stress depends on the intensity, duration, and modality of the exercise.
With proper recovery methods (see #4 below), our body can work towards restoring homeostasis and encourage adaptation to the new stresses. Depending on your exercise program, these adaptations may make you stronger, shed body fat, and build muscle. You will have no way of getting results without the consistency of a personalized program that allows you to progress through the exercises week-to-week (a program is typically written in 4 to 6 week periods).
From my experience as a personal trainer, new clients encounter this problem after they've spent time "class hopping". They start out with some success, but then plateau quickly. Their body composition may even worsen over time. These classes typically offer no structure, progress, or periodization (an organized approach to training that incorporates various aspects of a the program over a progressive cycle and during a specific period of time). This means consistent stress/stimulus for your body to adapt to and get results from.
Dedicate yourself, be consistent, and work hard to stick to a program to gradually get stronger and in better shape. You should be able to pick up your children without hurting your back, run a 5K with ease, or just feeling and looking better.
Spending too much time in the gym
Some think more is always better. Exercise is one thing that many people go overboard with. Spending any more than 75 minutes in the gym per session (warm-up included) is a waste (unless your profession depends on it). Greater than the 60-75 minute mark, hormone levels start losing their potential to optimize the work you put in. Research proves that while testosterone (T) levels rise and peak at about 30 minutes into training, the 45-minute mark is when T levels are working to come back down to baseline. Cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," is also raised in response to intense exercise.
These hormones help us get results in the gym, but there is a point of diminishing returns for our efforts. Too much exercise can cause sleep disturbances, digestive issues, and weight gain can actually take place. This point seems counter to what we think when we think of intense training, right? Training too frequently and for too long can result in a lack of recovery, leading to little growth in strength, less muscle gain and even less fat loss.
Your program may not make sense for your goals
Certain training regimens are going to be better at helping you achieve your goal. If we're talking fat loss, then almost any training regimen can result in a loss of body fat as long as it is accompanied by a great diet. Fat loss programs are going to look different compared to muscle-building (hypertrophy) and strength training programs.
The takeaway here is simple. Have a personalized plan created specifically for your goals, your body and your lifestyle. If you don't have one, then you could be wasting your time. This program must allow you to achieve your goals in a timely manner, while also allowing you to have plenty of free time.
Recovery, rest, improvement
Let's do some math – there are 168 hours in a week, and let's say you spend 6 hours in the gym during the week. That means there are 162 other hours being spent elsewhere. While this may be hard for some of us to hear when we are bringing our all to each session, it should be known that most of the results you get from your strength training program happen when you are not at the gym. Without adequate recovery, your body won't properly adapt and you won't get the results you want and deserve.
I believe that nutrition is one form of recovery, which needs to be on point with your goals (i.e. caloric deficit for weight loss; caloric surplus for hypertrophy). And while some supplements may be used to help you in the gym (i.e. creatine and protein powder) and for health benefits (i.e. multivitamin, fish oil, probiotic, vitamin D), these products should be used as additions to a healthy diet. Eat whole foods, avoid processed foods at all costs, and use any other supplement if needed. With good nutrition, your body is able to recover and function at its best.
Massages, meditation, yoga, low intensity walking, and sleep are other forms of recovery, which are important for achieving results. Stress can be the number one cause of illness and lack of success. If you are always "on", your body will not fully recover and your ability to sleep will be affected. These methods will help you go into a more relaxed physiological and psychological state, a must for your strength training results to take place.
Keep these four principles top of mind and the results you want are sure to follow. Consistency and patience with your progress are virtues we should have in the gym in order to reach our goals. Life is often this way as well.