Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Most people will have, at some point, started working out and/or changed the way they ate for an extended period of time, only to find that they don't look or feel any different than when they started.
This sucks. It's frustrating, discouraging, and a massive waste of time!
If this sounds familiar to you, there's a real chance you've made one or more of the mistakes I'm about to outline.
As you read them, though, I want you to do so from a place of growth and exploration, as opposed to a place of self-loathing. I'm not "calling you out." You're not a failure. You're not stupid.
There is so much conflicting (and really bad) advice out there about fitness that it's shocking to me anyone gets anything done.
Have a read, and if you've made (or are making) any of these mistakes, REJOICE!! Now, you know what to do differently!
1) You're Chasing Pain, Not Progress.
"This workout will annihilate you!" "Omg the burn was insane!!!" I thought I was going to die!"
People say these things after workouts like feeling terrible is some sort of an accomplishment.
The point of working out isn't to feel pain; it's to make progress.
Are hard workouts necessary to make progress? Often, yes, but the pain isn't a barometer for the efficacy of a workout.
What to do instead:
Write down what you're able to do and look to improve over time. If you're engaging in resistance training (and you should be), write down how many sets and reps you perform, and with what weights. Try to beat your previous numbers. If you keep improving over time, you will build muscle, which is crucial for getting leaner.
2) You "Work (too) Hard" on Weekdays and "Play (too) Hard" on The Weekend.
It's OK to have a little ebb and flow to a diet, but if you're practicing some kind of strict diet Monday - Friday and then getting wasted Saturday night and going to bottomless mimosa brunch on Sunday, you are getting the worst of all worlds: you're not making any progress, and you experience the negative effects of dieting (hunger, boredom, tedium) 5 days out of the week!
What to do instead:
Have a frank and honest conversation about the cost/reward of modifying certain activities and what you're willing to change. Know that your diet will be negatively affected if you completely disengage over the weekends an be proactive about making compromises.
Maybe on Saturday, you've been having 6 drinks/night and you can try bringing that down to 3.
As for Sunday, maybe you need that brunch with your friends as it sends you into the next week feeling refreshed and restored.
No problem! Instead of saying "no" to doing that, you could consider ordering the egg white, veggie omelette with toast, black coffee, and one mimosa (no bottomless). Or maybe you reduce the bottomless mimosa frequency to once a month instead of every week.
You don't have to change everything, but if you're nailing your diet weekdays and sabotaging yourself on the weekends, see if you can do something to change that as it's keeping you in dietary purgatory.
3) You're Not Resting Enough Between Sets.
Cardio is fine and lovely, but it's not the goal when you're lifting heavy weights.
If you're performing heavy sets of compound movements (squats, bench press, chin ups, deadlifts, etc.), you will need to rest in order to do it again with high intensity. If you don't feel like you need to rest at least a couple minutes after a heavy set of deadlifts, you're either just starting out in the gym, or you're not working as hard as you need to be in order to make real body composition change (or you're working around an injury but let's not get all "but what about" guy on this).
To be clear about what rest isn't . . . "Rest" does not mean "run." Don't run between your sets.
It also doesn't mean "do 3 other exercises." There is a very niche time and place for that kind of training, and that time and place is likely not now or in your workout program.
"But Daniel, I want to burn fat!!" I know, and turning what could be an effective workout into a HIIT session isn't helping. If you're running around between sets of compound movements, you're likely sabotaging your progress in the gym.
What to do instead:
Rest between your sets. There's no magic number of rest, but for movements like squats, and deadlifts you'll probably want 3-5 minutes if you're working really hard.
A good rule of thumb: pay attention to your breath and your body. Are you still breathing heavily? OK, rest. Heart rate still up? No problem - rest a little longer!
Do the next set when you feel you can perform the set with proper form while still hitting the prescribed intensity and reps (remember: you're writing these things down now) outlined in mistake #1.
4) You're Majoring in The Minors.
Credit to my old coach and friend Bryan Krahn for introducing me to this idea.
If you're worried more about which is the "best" vegetable than you are about getting 5 servings of veggies into your mouth every day, you're majoring in the minors.
If you're buying all kinds of "recovery" gear, but you sleep 5 hours a night, you're majoring in the minors.
If you're scouring Reddit forums to find the "perfect" macronutrient ratio, but you don't know how many calories you're consuming, you're majoring in the minors.
What to do instead:
Get your fundamentals in check:
- Go to bed 15 minutes earlier if you're feeling run down all the time.
- Set some kind of structured eating schedule and stick to it.
- Have a serving of fruit and/or veggies with every meal.
- Eat lean protein at every meal.
- Whether or not you count them (for most people, you don't need to count calories), know that calories are the only determining factor in meaningful weight changes. Focus on manipulating that variable as you see fit.
- Engage in a progressively-overloaded workout program.
5) You're Creating Too Many Rules
These rules are often the kind that fall into category 4 (majoring in the minors). They are things like:
- No bread.
- No carbs after 8 PM.
- Every 3rd day, we fast for 76.5 hours exactly!!!!
But sometimes, they're "rules" that are in-line with your goals:
- 3 times in the gym/week, NO EXCEPTIONS
- 1800 calories/day and NOT A GRAIN OF RICE MORE (also no rice because carbs are bad!!!!)!!11!1!
Jeez . . . That's a lot of pressure! And also, it's so tempting to break rules!
*In case the whole "it's my hot body I'll spread Coronavirus by not wearing a mask if I want to" thing isn't evidence enough, just take my word for it: people rebel against rules.
What to do instead:
Talk to yourself like a grown up and collaborator: ask yourself what meaningful changes you can make to your routine to help move yourself towards your goals.
Then, ask yourself how willing, ready, and able you are to make those changes.
If both you and you feel confident those changes can be made, take them out for a spin for a week or two! If it went well, that's awesome! Gauge your progress and see if you need to build upon those changes.
If it went poorly, ask yourself why.
- Did you make the change consistently and nothing changed? OK, great! You've set a foundation you can build upon - see how you can up the ante just a little bit.
- Were you unwilling/unable to make the change? That's OK! Despite my mask joke above, it is your (hot) body and it is your choice, so ask yourself: is that change worth the benefit of the outcome? Ask yourself if you're read/willing/able to make changes elsewhere to try to get to the same place.
If you do think the cost/benefit is worth it and you want to try again, don't just tell yourself to stop sucking and try harder - that doesn't help;, see if you can make some adjustments to set yourself up for success!
Can you . . .
- Change what foods you keep easily accessible in the house?
- Set your gym big by the door the night before you want to work out?
- Have a conversation with a loved one asking for their support?
And when you make a change, remember that no one is forcing you to do this; you are allowed to do or not do whatever you want to do with your body. I know this seems like self-help silliness, but it is crucial that you feel you have agency of your body and your choices. Even if you hire someone (for example, me) to help you with your fitness goals, that person is helping you; they don't have final say in what you choose to do with your body.
Also, one last thing: make a change. One. Not two. Not three. Just one. See how that feels before adding more.
6) You're Not Following A Structured Training Plan
We've all been there before: you and your buddy walk to the gym, slap a "big wheel" on each side of the bar, pump out a few reps of bench press, and just take it from there.
This is, as the kids (circa 2003) say, hella fun. It's also a great thing to do once a year if you're on vacation or on the morning of a friend's wedding or something like that.
This is not effective training.
What to do instead:
Follow a program focused on making slow and steady progress over a long period of time. Start "too easy" so you can establish perfect form and get into a rhythm, and then progress as outlined by the program.
Pro tip: if the program doesn't say anything about how to progress, it's not a good program.
Need help getting started? Here are some resources:
- Consider working with me.
- I started my lifting career with Stronglifts 5x5. It's not perfect, but it's better than 99% of what you'll see on the internet, and I think it's a great start to serious lifting.
- Starting Strength is many people's favorite program, and for good reason: it's very effective for new lifters, and it instills the basics early on.
- I'll be putting out a free program for those new to structured training in about a week (or however long it takes for me to figure out how to make it look nice). It will be gym-based (sorry), but it will have a variety of movement options so you can get the most out of minimal equipment. If you want to be notified when it's out, follow me on Instagram at @realdaniellopez (#neverphony) or like my business page on Facebook.
This list is not all-inclusive . . .
but I was running long (typical) and wanted to keep it easy to digest. If you've found yourself making any of these mistakes, I hope you'll find joy and relief in knowing it doesn't have to be this way! You can reach your goals by focusing on the stuff that matters, setting realistic expectations of yourself, and engaging in regular, structured training.
Need some help? Once again, I'd love to work with you, and I hope you'll consider reaching out for training.
Need some help, but short on cash? Have a look around the site! I am putting out new information (almost) weekly, and I've already covered a variety of topics that might help you reach your goals with a little more precision a little less stress. Also, follow my Instagram page or Facebook page for notifications when more articles go up and for videos of me singing songs or pictures of me in funny wigs/costumes.
If you liked this article and/or know someone it might help, please do me a favor by sharing it on social media or with someone who could use the information.