4 Reasons You Aren't Making Progress in the Gym
I don’t claim to know everything when it comes to exercising and programming, but with 16 years of consistent lifting under my belt, and researching and experimenting with types of training such powerlifting, bodybuilding, CrossFit, and Olympic lifting, as well a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and doctorate in physical therapy I have learned quite a bit. There are some consistent trends I have noticed in novices and experienced lifters alike that I think are important to be making continued progress in the gym. These are 4 of the most common mistakes I see, and all things that I was guilty of at one point or another.
1. You Aren't Consistent Enough
First and foremost- we MUST be consistent in the gym if we are to see any progress. I cannot tell you how many times I have witnessed someone be consistent for a few months, making it to the gym 5 or 6 days a week, just to fall off and not go at all for 4 weeks. Then when they start to get back into the routine again, it’s like they’re starting from square one.
This is also true of the people that go 1 day this week, then 4 days the next, then 2 days a week, then 0 days a week, and so on and so forth. Without consistency and a routine schedule your body will not have the stimulus needed to adapt and improve.
2. You Don't Work on your Weak Points
Weak spots can be a huge barrier to continued progress in the gym. If you’re building to a 200 pound squat, but all you do is quad focused leg exercises, you’re likely leaving a lot on the table. While the quads are a very important muscle group to a strong squat, we need to place emphasis on the hips, glutes, hamstrings, low back, and core. If one of these areas is considerably weaker than it should be, it will hinder you from getting to that point. And not to mention more likely to be injured when you try to max out. This can apply to any movement or body part. But when dealing with compound lifts (exercises involving multiple joints/muscle groups), we will only be as strong as the weakest link in the chain.
3. You Don't Progressively Overload Your Exercises
Progressive Overload is the concept of systematically and routinely increasing the challenge to your body and your muscles to continue to make progress in your strength and fitness.
If we aren’t progressing our exercises or our workouts in any way, we can not expect to make progress overall. For example-if you perform a 5x5 bench press every Monday (national bench day of course), but you always use 160 pounds every week for months on end, your body is going to reach a point that it is not receiving enough stimulus to get stronger. But if you do that same 5x5 at 160 pounds for 4 weeks, then increase to 165 pounds for the next 4 weeks, then 170 pounds the next 4 weeks, you are continuing to progressively overload your muscles where they will get stronger.
Now that is a VERY simple way of thinking about programming to progressively overload, and it will reach a point that you can not just keep adding weight, but it’s an easy way to think about it. This is one topic that is researched consistently and thoroughly, because we are all on the quest to find the perfect program and consistent ways to get getter stronger and better!
4. You Always Max Out or Push Every Exercise to Failure
Perhaps the most common non-form related mistake for those that are in the gym working out is always maxing out and taking every exercise to failure, this was even stuff I did when I was younger. If you consistently max out (1 rep max), or you’re always pushing an exercise to failure, you’re sacrificing a lot of long-term progress for perceived short term gain and it’s just slowing down your progress. Our muscles and tissues need to work hard to get stronger and bigger, but it can easily be done with less than max loads. Otherwise, your body has less than adequate time and resources to recover and build back up, which makes future training sessions less effective. There is definitely a time and place for taking exercises to failure, but if it is something you do routinely, every workout, then small changes could be made with big results!
Most of my training takes place between 65-95% of my 1 rep-max, dealing with sets of 2-15 reps. I usually max out 2 times every year, because I have been exercising long enough now that my strength doesn’t increase as fast as it did when I first started. Most of the time I stop 1-3 reps short of failure during a set. So say I could do 10 reps with 200 pounds, I would probably stop somewhere on rep 7-9. This also varies based on the goal of the training session that day, how many total sets I am doing, how much rest I am giving myself, where in the training session I am, and what my body feels like that day. Again, this is a simple way to think of programming, but the moral of the story here is I am rarely taking exercises to complete failure.
If you struggle with any of these mistakes, or have anything else you have learned that you think would be good to add please leave a comment and I would love to make a follow up to this blog!
If you seem to have trouble making progress in the gym, or you feel like you're always sore, in pain, or you just can't move like you want to, schedule a FREE 15 minute phone call with us to determine if we can help you move without pain so you can stop missing and modifying your workouts!
November 12, 2023