After over 20 years in the personal training business, I've come to realize that many people still have problems achieving their personal fitness goals. While this is good for my business, the vast majority of people will be training on their own without a trainer. So it’s with these folks in mind that I'm writing this.
Regardless of the goal (fat loss, muscle gain, or performance), I believe there are a few commonalities to the lack of results the average trainee experiences.
Here are my top 5:
1. Trying to create the perfect workout
While knowledge is a great thing, many trainees experience “analysis paralysis." The Internet age has made this a bigger problem than ever before.
Simply put, there is too much information available. We are constantly being bombarded by the latest tips, tricks and secrets to six-pack abs or buns of steel. And it all sounds good.
The result of this information overload is generally an over-complicated, convoluted, impossible to maintain program. By the time you’ve sprinkled in a little of program A with a dash of program B to an already too long program C, the resulting workout is a Frankenstein-like behemoth that takes too long to get through. You’re going to lose your mind for sure!
Do yourself a favor ... pick one program that fits your goals and sensibilities and don't add anything to it.
2. Program Hopping
Similar to the above advice, once you’ve picked a program, stick to it.
Your program may be perfect, but you need to give it time to actually let the results come to fruition. The old adage "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind.
I think most people worry too much about a program becoming stale. Stick to a program for the length of time the creator of the program suggests. This could be as little as 4 weeks or as long as a few months.
3. Forgetting the Basics
With a plethora of YouTube videos, exercise books and fitness DVDs all around, it's easy to fall prey to a "newer is better" mentality. Cool gadgets and intense-sounding routines with never-before-seen exercise secrets can be seductive, but they pale in comparison to old standbys like squats, deadlifts, bench presses and pull-ups.
There are many variations of these lifts that you can apply to help counter the boredom that can arise from doing the same exercises all the time. But remember the 80/20 rule: 80 percent of your results are going to come from 20 percent of the exercises you use. Make sure the basics are your 20 percent foundation.
4. Lack of Intensity
Intensity simple means how hard you are training. Everyone (except perhaps CrossFitters) seems to be concerned with overtraining, when in fact, they are more likely undertraining.
If my years in the public gym setting taught me anything, it's that far too many people go through the motions when they are at the gym. They do the same workout routine with the same weights week in and week out and wonder why they aren't making progress. It's simply not enough just to show up (although there are days when just showing up is what matters!)
Intensity can be achieved by lifting more weight, lifting the same weight for more sets or reps (called "volume"), decreasing rest periods, and even lifting a weight faster (only appropriate for certain exercises).
5. Lack of Progression
Closely linked to intensity, progression simply means that you are trying to get better.
Progression is not always linear (in fact, except in rank beginners, it’s rarely linear), but it does have to be a goal.
Again, think more weight, sets, reps; and/or less rest. Also experiment with more difficult exercises and routines as you master the current ones. (But remember number 3 ... the basics should always be a cornerstone of your program.)
In closing, if you find your training has lost its mojo, it's time to re-boot. Pick a sound training plan based in the "big" exercises from an expert in the field (might I suggest Jon-Erik Kawamoto) and stick to it. Focus on intensity and progression and take your results to new levels.