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Do spend hours in the gym each week huffing, puffing, and sweating, yet struggle to see any measure of progress in your body composition or performance?
Have you tried every diet under the sun and can’t seem to blast that last bit of unwanted belly fat?
You’re not alone.
Millions of people slog it out on the mat and in the kitchen day after day and still struggle to find any modicum of success from their diet and training program.
We’ve assembled a list of the most common mistakes fitness enthusiasts make that stalls their progress.
Let’s get started.
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“Muscle confusion” was one of the biggest fitness crazes of all time, and it’s also been the bane of many a personal trainer’s existence.
The theory behind muscle confusion is that the body is constantly seeking homeostasis. In order to achieve this equilibrium, it has become exceedingly adept at adapting to just about anything we throw it’s way given enough repeated exposures.
This is why if you never implement the principle of progressive overload in training, your gains in size and strength stall.
You see, for a time, lifting a certain amount of weight for a certain amount of sets and reps will provide a sufficient challenge for your muscles. But after awhile, the stimulus isn’t enough to disrupt the body’s homeostatic state, which means your progress will stall unless you change something.
Now, this is where “muscle confusion” proponents will champion the need to change exercises and complete training programs every week or two to keep your muscles “guessing” so that they never adapt.
But here’s the thing, in order for your body to become stronger on an exercise, it needs to get better at doing the exercise.
If you’re constantly changing exercises every other week, you never give your body a chance to become proficient in the movement pattern and are therefore unable to build strength with that exercise.
Muscle do not grow because you “confuse” them with new exercises, they grow because you force them to lift more weight for more reps over time.
Changing exercises constantly only serves to cut your legs out from under you and will have you going round in circles never making true progress (i.e. adding weight to the bar).
Instead of trying to constantly switch up your workouts every few weeks, select 3-4 exercises for each body part and get ridiculously strong in them over the coming weeks and months and you will see the change you desire.
Simply put, if you’re not constantly striving for progression you will not get the results you want from your workouts.
Progressive overload is the key to building muscle and strength.
Now, the simplest way to induce progressive overload is to add weight to the bar.
The problem is, after a time adding weight to the bar is not as easy or feasible as it was when you were first lifting.
Fortunately, there are multiple methods for inducing progressive overload, including:
The list goes on, but the bottom line is that in order to grow, your muscles have to be forced to perform more work than they previously have over the long term.
In other words, if you’re still benching the same 135 pounds on the bench press for the same number of sets and reps six months from now, you will not have made any substantial progress.
Muscles are stubborn and they must be forced to grow.
One of our favorite methods for enacting the principle of progressive overload is the double progression method.
Double progression is a form of progressive overload that utilizes two modes to track progression -- weight and reps.
To implement double progression into your training program, pick a narrow rep range for an exercise (say 8-10 reps on the bench press) and a prescribed number of working sets (e.g. 3 sets).
When you go to the gym, let’s say your working sets are as follows:
In the above workout example, you did not complete 10 reps on all three sets. Therefore, you would keep the weight the same for next week’s workout and try to complete 10 reps on all three sets.
When you do complete the upper limit of your rep range for all prescribed sets on an exercise, then you can bump up the weight by 5-10 pounds.
Building off the last point, the only way you can ensure that you are progressively overloading your muscles in your training is by tracking your workouts.
In other words, the only way you know where to go is by knowing where you’ve been.
Tracking is essential to progressing optimally in your workouts, and without it, you will likely plateau.
Tracking your workouts also serves as a motivator, especially on the days when you might not be “feeling” it in the gym. By knowing how much weight you lifted for how many sets and reps, you have a target or goal that you know you need to beat if you want to keep building muscle and strength.
There are countless apps available to track your workouts, but if you’d rather not have to deal with your phone in the gym, there’s nothing wrong with going old school and using good ole pen and paper.
However, you want to track your workouts is not as important as actually tracking them. Use whatever means necessary, just make sure you’re keeping a training log and trying to beat your previous numbers each week.
There’s a reason the saying “abs are made in the kitchen” exists.
In order to lose body fat or build muscle, your nutrition has to be dialed in.
If you are not consuming enough calories and dietary protein, you will not grow bigger and stronger. Conversely, if you are consuming too many calories, you will not lose weight.
The only way to know with relative certainty that you are eating in support of your performance and physique goals is by tracking your nutrition.
When you track your food intake, you know how many carbohydrates, fats, protein, and calories you’re eating.
Knowing this allows you to make subtle tweaks to your nutrition plan to keep you on track with your goals. So, if you are trying to build lean muscle mass, and you’re not gaining weight at a steady clip (~.25-.5 lbs/week), knowing how many calories you are currently eating will give you an idea of how many more you need to eat to get the scale going in the right direction.
On the flip side, if you feel like you’ve been dieting for weeks and the scale hasn’t budged, yet you’re not tracking your nutrition, you really have no idea if you are in a calorie deficit or not.
Tracking your daily energy intake is paramount to fat loss and muscle gain, eyeballing might work for seasoned gym rats, but if you’re new to fitness and body recomposition, tracking your workouts and nutrition is essential.
Sleep is absolutely essential to your success in and out of the gym. Yet, so many people casually toss it aside with the mindset of “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”
Little to do they realize that shortchanging their sleep every night is undercutting their progress in the gym as well as their lifespan.
Sleep is when our body does the majority of its recovery and growth. Think of it as our own innate “fountain of youth” that washes away the stressors of the day and revives us for the coming day.
When we skimp on sleep, not only do we have less energy the following day, further impairing our progress in the gym, we’re also more likely to make poor food choices, and on top of that, the body is more prone to break down muscle tissue instead of fat!
So, not only are you less likely to lose fat when you’re sleep deprived (due to making poor nutritional choices), you’re also at risk for losing muscle tissue, which is key to maintaining a high metabolism and appealing body composition.
Getting the body you’ve always wanted isn’t a fairytale or fantasy. It can and will happen if you pursue it with determination, dedication, and drive.
There might be some bumps in the road along the way, and should you encounter a plateau along the road to your best body ever, keep these tips in mind and use them to catapult you to further successes in your journey of health and fitness.