There are a couple different types of people in the gym, who I believe have good intentions and their hearts are in the right place, but they just never see progress or get results.
Some people may spend weeks in the gym and not see the results they want. They get upset and say, “what’s the point? I’ve been busting my hump and nothing has changed.” They give up and continue their previous unhealthy trend. Their answer is simple. They give up too easily. Others spend months to years doing the exact same thing every day in the gym and in the kitchen and never see the results they want. In some cases, they actually regress.
This all comes back to arguably the most common question in the fitness world: How soon will I see results?
The answer: It depends on the goals you’ve set for yourself and how dedicated you are to the plan to get there. The overall answer isn’t cut and dry as everybody is different. However, the truth of the matter is, you should be able to at least see progress towards your end results within a couple to few weeks. If you’re eating healthy foods 80-90% of the time with proper serving sizes, you should be able to lose 1-3 pounds per week. If you start getting beyond a month and nothing is changing at all, then you need to make a change. You need to take a step back ask what can change out of your daily habits. If you truly don’t know and can’t figure it out, seek help from a health and fitness professional. But consider these goals and progress markers and then consider the following questions to ask yourself.
Potential Goals: Weight loss, muscle building, weight gain, increase in strength, cardio and endurance, eliminate the need for blood pressure or cholesterol medications, eliminate back pain, increase the ability to play with and pick up your children, increase daily energy, better flexibility/mobility, improved balance… the list goes on. It depends on what’s important to you. Note: I did not list “toning” as a goal as “toning” is a buzz word created by the industry to sound less intimidating and more appealing than building muscle. Toning is in fact, building muscle. Muscle isn’t preexisting and just waiting to magically form to the shape we want it to. Muscle is built to give the definition and strength we desire. Muscle building doesn’t automatically mean men and women alike are going to end up with arms like Arnold. It’s just what the defining process is. Your eating habits play a bigger role in whether or not you’ll bulk or get lean and how the definition reveals itself. If you consume more calories than what you burn, you will gain weight and add mass. If you burn more calories than what you consume, you’ll achieve a lose weight and achieve a leaner physique.
Now regardless of our goals, if we’re working out 3-4 days a week, we should be seeing some sort of change. You will not meet your end goal in the first week or two (or three and probably not four). If you do, you need to aim higher. You’re looking to see progress in the first few weeks. This progress may come in the form of some weight coming off (1-3 pounds at the most in a week), you feel stronger or energetic (yes, the way you feel physically and mentally is absolutely progress), you can hold a plank with better form or for a longer period of time, you can run a little faster, you don’t get out of breath as quickly doing something you started with, you can lift heavier weights, your mobility and flexibility are improving, in a few months your follow up with the Doctor reveals better cholesterol or blood pressure, your body fat percentage decreases, your joints ache less, and again the list goes on and depends on what has ailed you previously.
So if you’ve been working out for a month or longer and absolutely nothing has changed in terms of progress, something in your habits HAS to change. YOU have to change something. Ask yourself these questions and answer them honestly. Being brutally honest with yourself and making the necessary changes are the only way you’re going to get to where you want to be.
- Can I improve my eating habits? A good rule of thumb is if it can't be killed or grown, it probably isn’t going to help you in lowering your body fat percentage. Aim for whole lean meats like fish, turkey and chicken breast, pork chops (in moderation, fat trimmed), lean beef, ground turkey/chicken/beef 90% lean. Be cautious of deli meats as they’re often pumped full of additives and pitfalls. Look for deli meats with next zero in fat and zero carbs and a very short ingredient list as well as low sodium. As for your fruits and veggies, the closer you are to the actual source, the better. The further the food gets from its original state is bad. Eating an apple: good. Eating apple sauce: bad due to the added sugar and losing the fiber and nutrients in the skin. Eating a fist sized baked potato, regular or sweet: good. Mashed potatoes are bad due to the loss of the fiber and nutrients in the skin and the likely added butter and milk (with milk comes more fat and/or sugar). Eating potato chips or veggie straws: bad due to added oils fats and everything else in the over-processing of the food. Using mustard, horseradish/wasabi, healthy oils, and hot sauce for a dressing or sandwich spread: good. Mayo, cream cheese, sour cream, ranch or other creamy dressings or spreads: bad due to high fat and sugar.
- Have I minimized alcohol intake? The reality is, no matter what spin you’ve read to make an alcoholic drink sound healthy, alcohol is still poison to our systems and its intake is to be kept to a minimum. Very few people can consume alcohol on a regular basis and see results. If you consume alcohol more than a drink or two a week and you’re not making progress, it’s probably time to admit to yourself you’re not one of the few people who can pull it off. Alcohol, plain and simple, is a metabolism decelerator minimizing burned calories AND full of empty calories. It’s the ultimate double whammy. Admittedly, I still enjoy the occasional adult beverage. And maybe once a month, I’ll enjoy a few in a night. The truth is it’s best kept to a minimum. When you do opt for a beverage, still keep your goals in mind. Avoid sugar filled cocktails like liquor and pop, margaritas, juice mixers, etc. Plain liquor is best to sip on followed by a glass of a quality, dry wine (keeping in mind sweeter likely means more sugar). Also keep in mind alcohol is a big dehydrator. Match each drink with a glass of water to avoid cramps and headaches as well as keeping our muscles nourished as they are more than 70% water. Dehydration can make that next workout or the current recovery process extra difficult on your body… which is why most regular drinkers are not in the best of shape. Alcohol is hard on our system and when processed, our body puts off everything else it wants and needs to do as it attempts to expel the alcohol from our system. One night of hard drinking will erase a week’s worth of hard training. Even just a little drinking can erase a day’s efforts.
- How do I push myself at the gym? If you’ve been working out for a month and nothing has changed in terms of abilities, there’s a problem. Do you always grab the exact same weight and never even try to pick up a heavier weight to see if you’re stronger and can do the set with a heavier weight? Do you always try to just run the exact same pace and never run just a little faster, even if improving by seconds? Can you talk through your workout in your normal conversation voice? Do you leave the gym with the same amount of energy and strength as when you entered? Do you not even break the tiniest sweat, ever? Are you comfortable during your workouts? If you answered yes to any of these, you can and need to push yourself harder within your workouts. There needs to be some discomfort in your workout. Sometimes you need to even doubt whether or not you’ll complete a set and then push through the burn to get there. You need to progress to heavier weights to make progress and build strength. Remember, getting stronger doesn’t mean you’re going to turn into Arnold. How big you get be it adding muscle or fat, depends on your eating habits. It’s impossible to talk easily or in a normal voice when you’re pushing yourself. If there’s nonstop chit chat and giggles, there’s a hard stop on progress. If you don’t even breathe heavily or let out the occasional grimace and grunt, you’re not really tapping into your full potential. I’m not saying you have to be the head turning screamer either. But heavy breathing is part of the process. Your heart rate should feel like it’s elevated and beating faster. If you maintain the same heart rate throughout your workout as it was on your walk into the gym, you need to push harder, try a heavier weight, advance a progression, move a little faster with some urgency, etc. Move like it means something to you. Show some urgency. Radiate some intensity.
For others, less is more. If you are busting your butt, exerting yourself like crazy, sweating up a storm, heart rate through the roof, and feeling physically exhausted at the end of the workout and you’re still not seeing results, you’re probably trying to do more than what your body is capable of and your form is suffering somewhere along the way. You need to be honest about your form, set aside your ego and worry about what YOU can do. If you’re working out with a partner or in a group, honestly, who cares what anybody else is using or doing? And even more so, who cares what weight or progression somebody with bad form is using? Here’s how you know what weight or progression you should be using. And it has nothing to do with anybody else. You should be able to execute the exercise with perfect form for the duration of the exercise but you should feel challenged. By the end of the set, you should begin struggling mentally and physically, but still manage to finish the set with good form AND you should not be able to continue more than a strained rep or two beyond what you just did. Let’s say you want to do 12 curls. If you can do 12 curls, but can keep going easily with perfect form for another 10 reps, you need more weight. If you do 12 curls and you’re done at 12 curls because you can’t possibly do more with good form NOT just because you hit the desired 12 reps, you’re using the perfect weight. If you want to do 12 curls, can only do 9 or less reps, have to stop and then finish with 3 or 4 nice and easy curls, you need to drop down a weight. If you do 12 curls, struggle, are swaying and bending your back and using your body to manipulate the motion, you need less weight. Again, your set should be over because you’ve used perfect form and challenged yourself to a point that you can’t do any more beyond the desired rep count or interval. Your set should never be over just because you hit the desired rep count or the clock on the timer stopped. So if you’re doing 30 second intervals and you breeze through the 30 seconds, advance your weight or progression. If you have to take a break or multiple breaks in that 30 seconds, drop down in weight or progression. Use a weight that will challenge you to get there, even create a little doubt, yet have the ability to dig deep and push yourself to get there.
It's important to remember, you burn most of your calories or build your muscle AFTER your workout. Getting your heart rate up or “feeling the burn” during the workout doesn’t mean squat if you don’t do it right.
The beautiful thing about health and fitness is that if something isn’t working, you can fix it. In fact, our bodies change and adapt so much, even when you make progress you may have to make changes again and again. And that’s ok… but don’t waste time not being willing to change when it’s apparent whatever you’re doing is not working. It’s a learning process and there’s a lot of great information to be had out there. If you can’t quite get your head around it, ask for professional help. It’s included at my gym. I would hope if you’re working with a trainer at any other gym, they too are willing to offer you quality advice.
Without challenge, there’s no change.
If you’re not willing to change, things probably aren’t going to change for the better. Things I often hear:
I don’t feel like I should have to work out after I worked for 8 hours.
I don’t want to wake up early to work out, but I’m too busy the rest of the day.
I don’t think I should have to cut down or minimize my consumption of pizza, chips, pop, alcohol, brownies, cookies, insert junk food here to lose weight.
I feel like I work hard enough during the week that I don’t feel like I should have to work out on my weekend. -That’s fine if you actually work out hard all week and this is your recovery period. Otherwise, it’s a bad attitude to take on.
I could do X if I weighed the same as him or her. Wrong…. You could do X if you put in the effort to get there and perform X move.
I shouldn’t have to eat healthier if I’m working out.
All of these are defeatist attitudes and reasons these people struggle to see results until they see the light and make a change. They stop trying to pound the square peg into the round hole. Stop trying to justify why you can’t do something, shouldn’t have to do something, or what you think should be good enough. It takes a little legwork and education in the beginning, but becomes instinct and much less of a thought when you hone in on what gets you to where you want to be. Embrace challenge and change. I promise, when you start to see progress and positive change, this whole thing becomes a lot more fun and a lot less “work”.