What’s the number one complaint you hear in most gyms and health clubs?
“I’m not getting anywhere with my workouts.”
“I’m not getting results like I used to.”
“I’m training harder than ever, but I’m still not ____________(losing weight, gaining size, etc.)”
Sound familiar? I find that every time I take a closer look at these complaints, a common factor emerges. Typically, the person is on a program where they do the exact same exercises, in the same order, each time they do a particular workout. Whether on a circuit routine, upper/lower body split, or training individual muscle groups, the story is usually the same.
The human body adapts very quickly to any stress put on it. While any well-planned program can produce results, if it is not changed or varied occasionally it will not succeed in the long run. How is this best accomplished?
I want to let you in on a little training secret that I and many trainers use with our clients:
Never do the same workout twice!
It’s a simple philosophy, but when followed, will ensure consistent progress without the plateaus many experience in their routines. Now keep in mind that other factors can come into play when you’re not progressing: poor diet, lack of sleep, overtraining, poor exercise form (but that’s another article!) I want to address the workout program itself, and how you can control the direction it takes.
For example, let’s take a look at a typical gym member I’ll call John. John is very diligent, and works out 3-4 days a week. He has been training for a number of years, with a goal of adding more size and muscle definition to his body.
Lately his progress has stalled, and I observe him as he’s performing the chest and arm workout below:
Barbell Bench Press
Barbell Incline Press
Lying Triceps Extension
Standing barbell curls
Seated Dumbbell curls
(With each exercise, he does 3-4 sets of 8-12 repetitions).
After watching him train, I can see he’s very focused, using proper form and gradually increasing his weights on each set . So what’s the problem? He’s been doing this same routine for over a year! His body has adapted to the particular stress he’s placed on it, and he will not see any further progress until he makes some changes. Just a little tweaking and modifying of this program will make a difference in the results. He can even retain the same basic structure, while shaking things up a bit.
The concept of never doing the same workout twice is easy to implement.
All you need to do is vary the equipment used, angle, body position, weight, number of repetitions, order of exercises, hand position, etc.
For instance, a barbell bench press is a compound movement that works the chest, shoulders and triceps. Look at all the options John has available to vary this exercise and the manner in which it’s performed:
Dumbbell bench press
Dumbell Chest Press on a Stability Ball
Push-ups on a Stability Ball
Chest Press Machine
Cable Chest Press
Resistance band chest press
(There are even more possibilities, but you get the idea).
Wide/medium/close grip on the barbell bench press
Drop Sets-Performing as many repetitions as possible with good form using a heavy weight, dropping to a lighter weight and continuing, finally dropping to an even lighter weight , and repeating once more before resting..
Superslow repetitions-Taking 5-10 seconds on each part of the movement, lowering and raising the bar or dumbell in a slow, continuous manner.
Supersetting-Doing the bench press with another exercise for the chest or opposing muscle group before resting.
Order of exercises-Performing pectoral flyes before the bench press (pre-exhaustion principle).
Giant Sets-Doing 3-5 different exercises for the same muscle group in a row before resting (this is done using lighter weights and is a real shock for the body, so it should only be done occasionally-think of it as a jumpstart for your muscles).
Lighter weights and higher repetitions-this is part of the concept of per iodization-varying the volume and intensity of training for optimal strength gain and progress.
The above examples give a great deal of variety in just one single exercise, and they can be applied to any movement. John could use these same principles to vary his exercises for each muscle group. The key is to analyze what you did in the previous workout, and do it a little differently the next time. The body will constantly be adapting , and the variety in movements, angles, weight, balance and muscle coordination will keep it continually challenged and progressing. This process also eliminates boredom-it’s a new workout each time you go into the gym.
Give these tips a try and and watch your workouts produce better results. Remember:
Never do the same workout twice.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
-attributed to Ben Franklin, among others
Overcoming Adversity, Setbacks and Obstacles in Your Training Program: The Mindset to Succeed
Never give up. Never, never, never, never give up.
Although Winston Churchill spoke these words during wartime to rally England, they aptly describe the mindset necessary to reach your health and fitness goals. There will always be roadblocks and obstacles in your path, but those who are successful in life find ways to get around them. And so can you!
Most of us have had to deal with layoffs from our workout program at some point in time. Injuries, illness, family problems, work stress, chronic pain, long-term health issues and even surgeries can disrupt your well-planned workout goals. It can be depressing to see hard-earned results slowly fade away. Many times this leads a person to give up, but I have witnessed many amazing comeback stories with my clients. With the right mindset, it’s possible to end up in even better shape than your were in before the layoff happened. What does it take?
Positive attitude and persistence, along with a willingness to learn , adapt, and be a little creative.
It’s been said that if a wall lies in your way, you have several choices. You can scale the wall, go around it, tunnel under it, or even blast your way through it. In other words, you have many options when confronted by a problem. If one solution doesn’t work, you move onto another. And another. And when it seems you have exhausted all options, get a second opinion. Talk to a friend, family member, or professional. There may be an obvious solution that you have overlooked. How many different ways are there to solve an algebra problem? There is always more than one way to arrive at the correct answer. Persistence and perseverance are the key.
Growing older can lead to the inability to do certain activities. But this doesn’t mean you have to throw in the towel! Just because you may no longer be able to do squats due to back problems, this doesn’t mean the lower body can’t be worked effectively. Exercises on machines with back support, high-rep sets, dumbbells, stability balls, balance boards, and other tools can give you an equally effective workout and results. Our bodies thrive on variety-get creative! Endlessly repeating the same routines leads to plateaus, staleness, and burnout. Can’t handle high-impact cardio activities anymore? Knees, back and joints can’t take the pounding? You can get equally effective cardiovascular and fat burning benefits from low impact elliptical trainers and bikes found in most gyms.
Sometimes an injury or condition can lead to the discovery of an activity you hadn’t considered before. I never tried yoga until I started experiencing some lower back problems a few years ago. I found incorporating one day of yoga into my workout program took care of my back, as well as increasing my flexibility, balance, and coordination. The stress release and relaxation were an added benefit, and I also found this addition to my workouts led to better results in my weight training.
It all comes down to attitude-focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. We all have limitations, but everyone can make the most of what they have. Let your limitations spur you to greater creativity and trying new things in your workout. The key is to capitalize on your strengths, while working around or conquering your weaknesses. Start out with activities you can safely perform, and then add more challenging exercises in gradually as you progress. I work with a lot of clients coming out of physical therapy, and it’s amazing what they can achieve with proper guidance and a willingness to work.
Regardless of the length of time and nature of the layoff, there are several steps you can follow to get back into a workout program:
1. If necessary, get a doctor’s or physical therapist’s clearance to begin an exercise program. They can also advise of activities and exercises you will need to avoid, based on your current physical condition and health status. Even if you are in relatively good health with no known medical problems, it doesn’t hurt to get a complete physical if it’s been a few years since the last one.
2. Analyze your current fitness status and where you want to be. What steps will be necessary to achieve your goals? How did you get in shape before? What worked for you? If you did it before, you can do it again. Write down a list of your goals, and break them down into long-term and short-term. Short-term goals of a week or month help break down the longer term goals into manageable pieces, and will also enable you to see progress.
3. Visualize the final end product of your goal. What will you look and feel like? Post a picture of yourself in your best shape somewhere you will see it every day.
4. Educate yourself. There is a wealth of information online, in print, and through many types of media.
5. Need an extra push to get started? Hire a qualified trainer to assess your condition and set up a progressive program. Try a one-on-one session with a yoga or pilates instructor. Your mind and body will appreciate the variety.
6. Stay focused and don’t become discouraged. You didn’t become out of shape overnight, and the process of getting fit takes time. Celebrate each small goal you accomplish with some type of treat for yourself-a weekend getaway, a night at the movies, a gathering with friends.
7. Surround yourself with positive people. Encouragement from family and friends can really make a difference in your progress. Avoid negativity and situations that may cause you to lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish.
8.Never give up.
Overcoming adversity and the challenges life throws at us can often lead to accomplishing even greater things than we thought possible, awakening us to new possibilities and opportunities.
As a famous American once said:
“You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Are you putting in 110% effort in the gym but still not seeing the results you had hoped for? The problem might not be in your workout routine. Although you may be following a rigorous strength training and cardiovascular program, a vital link may be missing-proper nutrition. I’ve found over the years that most of my clients will focus and push themselves during a workout, but they all tend to go astray on the diet component of the program. The sad fact is, nutrition is about 90% of the battle when it comes to getting in shape. The results will not happen without the right balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and total calories!
This is where the meal diary comes in. It’s similar to a personal diary, but rather than recording the day’s events, you write down everything you eat and drink. This can be done in a workout log or even a standard notebook. Simply divide each day into sections-breakfast, lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks. All beverages need to be included-water, coffee, tea, milk, alcohol, etc. Little extras like condiments on your sandwich and cream in your coffee also need to be written down. Basic rule of thumb: if it goes in your mouth, it goes in the diary . Recording this information for a week will open your eyes to a lot of potential problem areas that may be slowing down progress toward your goals. It’s surprising how many nutritional mysteries can be cleared up by keeping a written record.
The “after” comments were all made before I even had a chance to review the diaries with each client. It’s amazing how writing down what you eat for a week can illustrate problem areas so clearly.
Once you have the diary filled out for a full week, it’s time to review it. Your objective is to see how well your nutritional efforts are supporting what you’re doing in the gym, or as I refer to it: the good, the bad, and the ugly. What are you doing well? What needs improvement? Are you getting too much or too little of certain items? Are there foods that should be cut out entirely?
The first thing I look at is beverages. Believe it or not, this area is every bit as important as solid food intake. Are you drinking enough water every day? If you’re walking around in a state of dehydration, this will affect not only your workout results but also your health.
Water is vital to so many processes in the body, including:
Digestion and elimination
Building muscle (muscles are composed of over 70% water)
Keeping the body cooled
Hydrating the skin
Energy level (nothing will make you fatigue faster than dehydration)
If you are in any state of dehydration, the body will slow down all processes to conserve water. Do you really want to hold back your ability to build lean muscle and burn body fat? Follow the ACSM standard and be aware of urine color throughout the day. If it’s not almost clear or the palest yellow, you’re dehydrated and need to consume more water. Be aware that any caffeinated drink is a diuretic-it will flush water out of your system. And for those using creatine, you must consume even more water than the normal individual. Creatine helps hold water in the muscles to make them appear larger and fuller-without enough water, you’ll experience muscle cramps.
What about other beverages?
Sometimes excess calorie consumption comes in liquid form-not a good thing if you’re trying to lose weight or get better muscle definition. Although fruit juice is relatively healthy (compared to a soft drink), it can sabotage your efforts through high sugar content and calories. Eating whole fruit is always a better choice-you’ll get more fiber and nutrients, without the heavy calorie toll of the juice. Alcohol takes a one-way trip to your body fat stores, as well as impairing muscle performance the following day. Try to avoid or consume in moderation. One word about protein shakes: know what you’re getting. This can be an excellent way to get more protein in the diet, but be aware of fat, sugar and calories. The real danger can be at the smoothie bars located in gyms. A concoction loaded with peanut butter, chocolate and bananas is not the best choice unless you’re an individual who has a hard time gaining weight. A large shake with high-calorie ingredients and yogurt can turn into a nutritional disaster when trying to get lean. As I once joked with a gym owner: “fatten’ em up at the juice bar and they have to keep coming back to work it off!” (He didn’t see the humor, but you get the point).
Whew! That was just beverages! Now what about your solid food intake?
First of all: breakfast. I know it’s cliche, but breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Your body has gone eight hours or so without food or water, and your metabolism will stay sluggish without food. Eating breakfast not only gives you energy for the day, but it also helps elevate your metabolism (your body burns calories during the process of digestion-this is also part of the reasoning behind eating 4-6 small meals per day). Skip this meal and you’re slowing down your metabolism-nobody wants that! I advise busy clients who are in a rush in the morning to have at least a cup of yogurt, piece of fruit, protein bar-just get something in your system to get your body started . Avoid the fast food joints-a slimy fried piece of something with cheese between 2 English muffins is not a good nutritional choice! General rule of thumb: if you can get it at a drive-thru window, it’s probably not a healthy food. Remember, we want to get your day off to a good start. Consuming excess fat and calories for breakfast can set the tone for the whole day-don’t do it!
So what about this 4-6 small meals per day? As I mentioned above, it helps elevate metabolism because every 3 hours or so your body is having to digest a meal or snack. This process requires calories, so you’re helping your body get leaner. The smaller meal size helps ensure that your body will have enough nutrients for immediate energy requirements, without storing a lot of calories as body fat. This is the problem with large meals: your body only needs a certain amount of food to keep you functioning healthily. Any amount in excess of this will be stored-as fat. With the 4-6 small meals, the aim is to give your body enough of the nutrients it needs to build lean muscle, while minimizing fat storage. Additionally, the body can only digest so much protein at one sitting. For an individual trying to put on muscle size, this allows him to get the extra protein he needs in a way that the body can efficiently utilize it. The constant feedings will also help maintain a stable blood sugar level, keeping your energy level constant.
As you can see, portion size plays an important role. The nutritionist’s rule that your protein source should be the size of your fist or a deck of cards (chicken breast, steak, etc), is also a good rule to follow for intake of starchy carbohydrates. Large quantities of potatoes, rice, pasta, and bread can quickly add up in terms of calories and body fat storage. Although I have serious issues with the Atkins Diet, I do believe we all need to cut down in this area.
A common thread I see in every meal diary is a serious lack of fruits and vegetables. There are so many nutrients that you can only get sufficient quantities of in this food group. Eating a variety will aid your training efforts and energy level. It’s so easy to increase your intake. If you’re on the go, pack a small cooler with portable fruits and vegetables-precut carrots, apples, bananas, broccoli, etc. Add frozen fruit to a protein shake in your blender. When getting a deli sandwich or salad, load it up with all your favorites. One nutritionist advises trying to eat a variety of colors. Color is often determined by nutrient content. For example, foods high is beta-carotene are an orange color (carrots, yams, sweet potatoes, pumpkin). Fruits and vegetables will also add the fiber your diet needs to help in digestion and elimination.
The little things add up. That creamer you put in your coffee. The whole fat mayo on your sandwich. Is it worth delaying your progress? That “little bit here and there” adds up if you have the cup of coffee 3-4 times a day and eat out for lunch. Why do it when there are low-fat and nonfat alternatives? Another thing-the candy dish at the office or home. I hear the justification all the time : “one little piece won’t hurt me.” Maybe not, but it won’t help you. How many times a day are you dipping into that candy dish? The results on the meal diary may shock you.
As important as it is to eat breakfast, it’s just as important to avoid late-night eating. Those midnight snacks before bed are headed to one place-body fat storage. If you must, make it a healthy low-calorie treat.
To make the most of the meal diary tool, analyze the results in combination with your workout log. Do they both add up to progress in your program? Look for trends-when do you tend to eat less healthy or stray off course? What causes this? Do your eating habits suffer when you work long hours? What about weekends? Business or pleasure travel? Times of high stress? Boredom? How did the day’s meals correlate with your energy level and quality of workout? If you are trying to gain weight, are you getting enough quality calories? If trying to lose weight, how many calories are you taking in? Can this be reduced?
Remember that the process of working out tears down your muscles-it’s the proper nutrition and rest that will help rebuild them. Are you giving your body everything it needs to accomplish this? Protein’s main job is to build and repair muscle-are you getting enough? Feeling fatigued by mid-afternoon? Excess caffeine and sugar intake can lead to an energy crash later. As you can see, it’s not necessary to make huge changes. A little tweaking and modifying of your current diet can lead to greater progress toward your goals. It helps to be aware of what you’re eating: calorie content, protein, carbohydrates, fats. Know what you’re putting in your body. It’s all very simple. What you eat will do one of two things: it will either help you build lean muscle, or promote storing body fat. Remembering this will help you to make healthier choices. Fried fish or grilled salmon? Fresh berries with whip topping or fudge cake? I think you know the answer!