By Justin Ochoa STACK.com
Everyone has ups and downs in the weight room and on the field or court. Sometimes the downs last longer than you’d like, and you can’t seem to get yourself back in gear. If your progress stalls for an extended period of time, you may be able to make some alterations to get back on track.
Here are the 5 most common reasons your training program could be failing, and how you can get back to making the progress you wish for!
1. Scattered Goals
I believe that good goal setting is essential to a successful training program. Unfortunately, setting goals like “I want to get super jacked, bro” is not an effective use of your time. Ineffective goal setting is one of the most common roadblocks I run into with clients, and it often happens before they even lift a single weight.
I see three major mistakes when people express their goals.
- The goal is way too broad.
- They set multiple goals that have no relation to each other.
- The goal is based on another person’s success.
For starters, broad goals are garbage. I’m sure you’ve heard of S.M.A.R.T. goals, right? S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. Specificity is necessary when you create a goal for yourself. If you don’t use the entire S.M.A.R.T. acronym, at least use the S!
Instead of the vague “I want to get super jacked, bro,” add a specific element. Is there a body part you want to make visible changes to? Maybe a lift on which you want to increase your 1RM? Find a way to add detail to exactly what you want to improve. The more specific your goal, the easier it is to measure when you test for progress.
Another issue you may run into is trying to achieve several goals at once, especially if they’re not really related to one another. If you tell me you have three major goals—to dunk a basketball, run a 5k race in under 25 minutes and gain 10 pounds of lean muscle mass—you may be spreading yourself too thin.
Finally, setting a goal based on another person’s success is a quick way to fail. “I want to look like The Rock” will leave you sulking after every workout. Goals should always focus on you. You are a unique individual, and only you can become the best version of yourself. Striving for accomplishments based on what other people have done always leads o disappointment, because everyone has different circumstances.
With the volume and variety of fitness programming on social media right now, it’s tough to stay grounded. I’ll admit that. Just remember that you can only control situations in your own life. You have the chance every day to make subtle, cumulative improvements in whatever it is that you want to get better at. Those will add up, I promise.
“A goal properly set is halfway reached.” —Zig Ziglar
2. Poor Recovery Techniques
You push your body to the max with every workout and relentlessly work toward your goals. You eat a clean diet and fuel your body for performance, longevity and optimal wellness. Despite all those things, you’re still not seeing results from your training program.
You’ve forgotten an aspect of training that is equally as important as diet and exercise. You’ve forgotten recovery.
Lack of recovery can have severe negative impacts on your training progress. You can experience extreme muscle fatigue, weakness, sluggishness, a weakened immune system and lack of motivation due to your poor recovery approach.
So how do you recover? Some common methods include, but aren’t limited to:
- Complete rest from exercise
- Self-myofascial—e.g., foam rolling
- Mobility & flexibility work
- Physical therapy
- Hot tub
- Sensory deprivation tanks
- Massage therapy
I like to use the “propellor theory” when discussing recovery. Think of your body as a boat powering through the choppy waters of life with a three-blade propellor One blade represents your training program, the second your diet and the third your recovery efforts. All three blades have to be in sync and spinning powerfully or your boat won’t go anywhere. If one blade breaks, your boat will either brutally slow down or completely break down.
Everyone always remembers the importance of diet and exercise, but many forget that third blade. Without recovery, you’re going nowhere. Find the recovery methods that work for you and include them in your schedule on a weekly basis. Even if it’s just an extra hour of sleep every night, you will see a huge payoff in your results.
“The damage done in one year can sometimes take ten or twenty years to repair.” —Chinua Achebe
3. You’re Too Impatient
I struggled with this issue for years. Being too impatient can really hurt your training. It’s natural to want results immediately, but the reality is that noticeable progress takes an extensive amount of time and work. Everyone knows this, but it’s easier said than done.
What helped me most was changing my thought process on the measurement of results. Think in terms of 2-3 months, not weeks or days. By opening up your expectations window, you allow yourself a realistic amount of time to attain and notice your results.
Impatience can lead to perceived failure, which can put you in a negative state of mind. Training is supposed to be enjoyable, fun, your getaway, etc. Let it be those things. Put in the work. Trust the process.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.” —Ernest Hemingway
4. Your Diet Needs Improvement
This kind of ties in with No. 2, since your diet is part of the recovery process. As the saying goes, “you can’t out-train a poor diet.” It’s plain and simple. If you have goals involving strength, power, body composition or athletic performance, a corrupt diet will stall your progress.
One of the major reasons a training program fails is lack of attention to diet. Let’s be clear. By “diet” I am referring to the sum of food you consume on a regular basis, not the latest nutritional fad.
I am a firm believer in food journaling. Some people love this technique; others hate it. In my opinion, you should record everything that enters your body—how much of it and when you ate it. This is the only accurate way to know how to tweak your diet when your results aren’t what you want them to be.
If you’re crushing each training session but not seeing the outcomes you want, try starting a food journal. Whether you go old-school with a pen and notebook or try applications like My Fitness Pal, this will help immensely.
Start today. You may be surprised to see how much extra sugar you consume or that you’re not eating nearly enough fiber. The more you know, the better you can perform.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” —Hippocrates
5. Your Environment Sucks
This is the most underappreciated issue with unsuccessful training programs. Environment is everything. If yours sucks, so will your training results.
Your environment, in this context, can include the following:
- The gym at which you train
- The friends you hang out with
- The food your family eats
- The activities you do in your free time
My article “Stop Using Willpower” addresses the importance of choosing a good environment instead of testing your willpower. The article features a medical study that proves humans do not have an infinite amount of willpower. Willpower runs out and will eventually fail you. To reduce your use of willpower, you need to maintain an environment that sets you up for success.
Using the four examples of environment listed above, a bad environment for a high school basketball player who wants to play in college would look like this.
- Trains at a commercial gym flooded with distractions
- More than likely doesn’t work with a trainer.
- Gym time turns into social time.
- Hangs out with mischievous friends
- Friends don’t realize that their troublemaking actions may bring him down as well.
- At this age, some kids believe it’s “cool” to misbehave and look “bad.”
- If there’s trouble within the group, everyone (including the athlete) is guilty by association.
- Family has no interest in health or nutrition
- Athlete doesn’t take full advantage of his or her potential, fails to make healthy choices.
- Family and athlete may be uneducated about healthier food options.
- Hobbies include unsafe or unsmart activities
- We already know his friends don’t make the wisest choices
- Athlete is putting himself, and his career, at risk
Given the environment in this example, the athlete has put himself at a disadvantage to improve his game. His surroundings do not support his goals. On the other hand, a good environment for a high school basketball player who wants to play in college would look like this.
- Trains at a sports performance facility
- Doesn’t train at a big box commercial gym.
- Might work 1-on-1 with a strength coach.
- Hangs out with teammates who have similar interests and goals
- Non-athlete friends stay out of trouble and have their own personal goals.
- Prefers to eat to fuel his performance on the court
- Family supports him and tries to keep unhealthy foods out of the house.
- Family improves their own health as a result.
- In his free time, likes to watch sports, work out, hang out with friends, etc.
- Watching sports could directly impact his game, and he enjoys training and hanging out with friends.
Take a look at your environment from this perspective. We’re all human, we love to have fun and we make mistakes along the way; but if you spend the majority of your time in a success-based environment, it will pay dividends. You don’t have to do anything drastic like abandon your friends and cut all ties with the world, but putting more thought into your actions is a step every serious athlete has to make one day.
“I believe your atmosphere and your surroundings create a mind state for you.” —Theophilus London