As a gym owner I see hundreds of people walk into the gym each day with intentions of changing their bodies. Some of them improve so quickly they’re barely recognizable after 6 months. Others look the same year after year. What makes the difference? Why do some successfully race towards their goals, while others are constantly spinning their wheels? While everyone’s situation is unique, I see a lot of common errors made by those who fail to make gains. Here are the top five:
#1 – Inconsistency
Many people get off to a great start with their fitness program, but after 4-6 weeks they start feeling burned out or bored and fall of the wagon. When they eventually return to the gym, typically after a period of gluttony over the holidays, they’re back to ground zero or worse. Then the cycle repeats. To make long term progress, you have to be consistent. You don’t have to be consistently perfect, but you have to consistently show up and consistently put forth some effort.
#2 – No Attempt at Progression
The next most common error is failure to make your workouts harder over time. People come in and do their 30 minutes of cardio on level 5 or their four sets of bench presses with 185 pounds or whatever the case may be, week in and week out. If you never increase the difficulty of your workouts, there’s no reason for your body to adapt and improve. If you want to gain muscle, you need to gradually add more reps or sets or weight to the bar or use other intensifying techniques. If you want more cardiovascular fitness, you need to gradually add time or intensity to your cardio routine. We all have off days, and sometimes it’s necessary to take a step back in order to take two steps forward, but to make gains you need to attempt workout progression over time.
#3 – Diet not Aligned with Goals
Diet can be a complicated subject, but the critical basics are very simple. To gain weight, you need to eat more calories than you burn, and to lose weight you need to eat fewer calories than you burn. When a person is trying and failing to gain weight, 95% of the time they simply aren’t eating enough. Likewise, when a person is trying and failing to lose weight, 95% of the time they’re simply eating too much. For better overall health and performance, you should also avoid eating junk. That’s really all there is to it. Additional dietary techniques can enhance your results but aren’t necessary to move in the right direction and make progress. Make sure to get the basics right and ensure that your diet is aligned with your goals.
#4 – Lack of Recovery
If you have the first three items taken care of, consider yourself an elite dedicated fitness enthusiast. Unfortunately, many of the dedicated fail to make gains due to lack of recovery. Working out is a process of breaking down your body, and recovery is how it builds back up. Without recovery, gains simply do not occur. Recovery includes adequate time between workouts, relaxation, sufficient sleep, and good nutrition and hydration. Other techniques such as sauna, massage, stretching, hot/cold therapy, and active recovery such as a brisk walk or light exercise can also help. It’s critical that your recovery matches or exceeds the stress of your workouts. If you’re consistently working hard in the gym but not seeing results, try increasing your recovery or reducing your time in the gym to bring those two factors back into balance.
#5 – Lack of Variety
There’s a saying that all exercise routines work, but none of them work forever. Even the best workout programs eventually lead to staleness and lack of progress, otherwise known as a plateau. When you hit a plateau, being patient, consistent, and working harder are not the answers. The only way out of a plateau is to change to your workout routine. In most cases, all that’s needed is to change a few exercises or other workout parameters such as the rep range, rep speed, number of sets, or rest between sets. The new stimulus will trigger an adaptation in the body. If you are in a severe rut, you may also need to take a short break or an easy week in the gym and slowly work your way back up in volume and intensity. By getting a “running start” you can surpass your previous plateau.
Avoid those five common mistakes to stay on the gain train!