Part 1: Why Your Workouts Aren't "Working Out"
After years of scouring through fitness and nutrition research, I have discovered quite the assortment of tips and tricks to ‘maximize results’ in the gym. By this, I mean I have put in considerable time and effort towards understanding all the ways to help my clients most efficiently and effectively reach their fitness goals. Throughout this research, I have come to find that much of the ‘big picture’ or ‘fundamental’ truths for fitness seem to be glossed over, neglected for the sake of defining and understanding the minutiae. In other words, we often seem to “miss the forest for the trees” when seeking or giving advice to make progress in the gym. Many of the popular articles in the news and on the internet are announcing the next ‘breakthrough technique’ or product that will ‘take your fitness to the next level’. While we are obsessed with finding the cutting-edge difference-makers, we forget that fundamentals are… well… just that: fundamental. The “tried and true” basics of how to be successful in the gym aren’t shiny, sexy, new, or exciting. So, while we frantically search for the next secret to make that 1% difference, we forget to attend to the other 99%. Among the chatter of all the ‘new research’, we seem to no longer hear about what has worked for so many people over so many years prior.
In this three-part blog, I would like to introduce the major errors I see fitness enthusiasts make that prevent them from reaching their goals or their fullest potential. The intention with this article is that you use it as a sort of “checklist”. As you read through each bullet, consider whether any of these fundamental missteps sound familiar. If this is the case, addressing this factor could be the missing link in truly accelerating your health and fitness goals. With that, I also recommend treating this list in sequential order, working from top to bottom. If you find that there are multiple points you need to work on, start with the upper-most point (closest to #1) and work your way down. The higher on this list the point is, the more foundational it is. If you don’t resolve any issues in the earlier points, any changes in the later points will not have as significant of a result, if any. Whether you are starting a new fitness journey or have been working out consistently for years, this list is essential to ensuring you find a fitness plan that works for you.
With that, read on for the top foundational fitness mistakes and how to fix them.
Error #1: You don’t even like your workouts.
This is the most foundational, fundamental factor in whether someone ever achieves their fitness goals or even finds a good, healthy relationship with exercise or movement. If every workout you’ve ever done or ever do is something you dread, chances are you aren’t very motivated to sustain it. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll want to be active if your current workouts are painful, uncomfortable, or downright boring. Most people doing exercise in a way they feel they “should” instead of being active in a way they want tend to have motivation that waxes and wans. If you instead commit to forms of exercise and activity that you find exciting and energizing, you are much more likely to stay committed for the long-term. Before addressing any other factors for why you might not be seeing progress, consider whether you even enjoy how your time at the gym is spent.
It’s possible you may read this first suggestion and think to yourself, “I hate [insert exercise type here], but how will I ever reach my goal of [insert goal here] if I don’t do that?” For many, this can mean weightlifting to gain strength, running to lose weight, yoga to gain flexibility, and the list goes on. If you’re pondering this conundrum, I’d like to make two argument points: First, assuming that the single activity you’ve committed to (and dislike) is the only way to achieve your goal is neglecting an entire world of fitness, filled with many different ways to achieve the same goals. Just because some book or article you may have read said a particular form of exercise was the best way to achieve a particular fitness goal doesn’t mean it is the only way to achieve that fitness goal. Which leads to my second point: that particular activity (that you don’t like but feel you “should” do) actually isn’t your best way to achieve that goal because you don’t enjoy it. If every fitness session is done begrudgingly, you’re never going to be committed or focused enough to achieve the supposed goal, regardless. Picking an activity that you enjoy and are committed to will keep you motivated enough to stay consistent and reach your goals. Want to gain strength but hate lifting weights? Try a bodyweight workout routine or ashtanga yoga. Looking to improve your endurance but hate running? Try boxing, rowing, or swimming. Regardless of your goals, there is always more than one way to reach them. And whatever your fitness goals may be, the types of exercise that you truly enjoy are going to be the best way to achieve them.
Error #2: Your goals and your activities don’t really make sense.
If you’ve made it to this point, we’ve already established that you enjoy your workouts (or have changed them so that you do enjoy them). Now it is time to evaluate your goals and decide if they align with the activities you regularly participate in. For example, your cardio might improve if your workout of choice is playing basketball, but you’ll probably never gain significant amounts of strength. Further, many forms of yoga may build strength and flexibility, but they likely won’t improve endurance. Perhaps one of the best quotes I can reflect to you is from my old cross-country coach. During practice, the team would often complain when we had a more challenging practice planned. Coach would announce that we had one of our longer runs and the team would erupt in a chorus of groans combined with some whiny complaints of, “But why…”. At this point, coach would have a devilish grin and repeat the mantra, “The only way to get better at running… is to run.” While this may sound obvious, it is an excellent reminder when we establish our fitness goals. When setting your goals, frame them from the activities you enjoy. If you like yoga but hate running, you may need to let go of any goals of running a marathon. If you like basketball but hate weightlifting, having a goal of a 300lbs barbell squat makes little sense. Set your goals within the activities you enjoy, and you’ll fuel your motivation rather than fuel the guilt of being unable to achieve a goal you feel you “should” have. The only goals that matter are the one’s that keep you coming back and focused on the fitness activities you enjoy.
To continue this point, I’d like to recall the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” In other words, choose the activities you love, and set goals that will continue to motivate you in those activities. To continue our example, you may have previously been lifting weights to get stronger but changed to doing more basketball because you enjoy it. If that’s the case, your new goal could be to improve your layups. It might take some time and reflection to realize that the past goals you once held weren’t truly your own and wouldn’t actually deliver you any happiness or satisfaction. Setting and achieving goals in activities you love will be consistently rewarding, making it so that you don’t have to delay feeling happy ‘until you reach [insert goal here]’. Life’s too short to do a workout you hate. Love your workouts and set goals that keep you coming back for more.
Stay tuned for Part 2!