Part 2: 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.
As this is a 3-Part blog post, be sure to read part 1 prior to moving on to this section, which you can find here.
Error #3: You aren’t chasing your dreams.
Now that you’ve chosen workouts that you love and have goals that align with these activities, it’s time to start focusing on how to continue fueling yourself for these activities. Points #1 and #2 focus on the fitness activities and goals we choose, because this sets the course for our fitness journey. If we are consistently active and working towards goals we care about, we have the foundation needed to make progress. From here, we need to consider other factors in our days and lives that will either accelerate or hinder our fitness progress.
There are many different variables that may come to mind when I say that recovery is critical to making fitness progress. Many health and fitness experts would agree that the quality of your recovery matters more than the actual effort made in they gym when it comes to making progress. This point should not be overlooked, so read it again if you need to. It is very intentional that this point is the very next fundamental to follow up your activity and goal selection.
Don’t believe that your recovery is just as important, if not more so, than your effort in the gym? Consider this: all forms of exercise are a physical stressors. The common lesson many of us receive regarding how a muscle grows and gets stronger stands as an excellent example. As you may have heard, damage is done to a muscle as it works. This damage is known is “microtraumas” or “microtears”. When the body repairs this damage, it is supposed to grow back bigger and stronger. While this is an oversimplification of the process, at its core it is true. Considering this, you may realize how significant recovery is. Without the recovery or repair process, the muscle simply remains damaged. In this case, you’re not just delaying progress but possibly causing regression. It is for this reason that significant progress in any fitness endeavor demands adequate rest and recovery.
With that in mind, we must address sleep. Sleep is the cornerstone of our health. Without adequate sleep, nearly all your health and fitness efforts will be more like an uphill battle. During sleep, your body and brain are restored and repaired from a full, exhausting day. The more you miss out on this opportunity to reset and recover, the less motivated you’ll feel and the less energy you will have for nearly anything else.
Unfortunately, there are many different things that can interfere with our ability to get a good night of sleep. Stress, blue light from screens, caffeine intake, or any number of factors can seriously hinder our ability to drift off to dreamland. Feel like your sleep needs some improvements? Check out this link to find tips for improving your sleep from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.
Error #4: You make it to the gym, but you aren’t present for the workout.
At this point, you are certain that you have picked forms of exercise you enjoy, you have set goals that keep you coming back to these activities to seek progress, and you are getting enough sleep to recover from all the hard work you put in. This next rule focuses on your mindset in the gym. More specifically, we are concerned with the principle of prioritizing ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’. In other words, it doesn’t matter how long you spend in the gym, but how intentional you are about working towards your goals. To put it bluntly, nobody ever hit their fitness goals staring at their phone. Distractions during our workouts diminish the quality of our workouts and the benefits we will receive from them. Among the top offenders for distractions: phones and stress.
If you find yourself getting sucked into your phone during your usual time for fitness, it may be time to find ways to distance yourself from the phone. If that isn’t a possibility (perhaps you listen to your music through your phone or need to be close to your phone for work), it may be worth at least exploring options to reduce distractions. For some, putting the phone on ‘airplane mode’ or silencing notifications is enough. For others, it may mean putting the phone in the locker or the gym bag. Can’t quite part with your phone during a workout? Try to at least leave it on the other side of the gym. This way, you may be less tempted to pick it up as often.
If you find stress is the main culprit distracting you during your workouts, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with balancing busy schedules and various responsibilities, more than a few of which tend to creep into our mind during our fitness time. In this scenario, having routines or strategies to create a ‘mind-shift’ into fitness mode can be very helpful. Sometimes it may be as simple as having a favorite playlist of music to blast in your headphones. Other times, it may require some creativity. Having a routine or ritual to your workout can help you get into the proper headspace. Some people feel they need an activity that is mentally challenging and stimulating, like boxing or playing basketball with someone else, to pull them out of their headspace and into the present. Other people sometimes find that changing the time of the day that they workout can be a simple fix to stress-levels and distractions. For some, the morning workout is too stress-inducing to squeeze into an already-packed morning schedule. For others, the evening workout is too difficult, as they still have thoughts from work swirling in their head and find they can’t focus. Finding your sweet-spot may take some trial-and-error.
Still feel that you’re struggling to manage your stress and finding that it is hindering your fitness goals? Contact a Wellness Coach here at Western to see if we can help you find effective stress-reducing strategies!