That’s is a great question this time of year, when a lot of folks might be getting frustrated by trying to create some positive change in their bodies but aren’t seeing the fruits of their labor. While it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact obstacle in the path of each person – since every body is unique – let’s dive into a couple of the potential reasons why someone could be seeing a lack of fitness progression.
Type of Exercise vs. Your Desired Change
I’ve been in a lot of gyms and training centers over the last 30 years of working out every day, and I’ve seen just about every way that a human can exercise. It’s fantastic to see folks trying hard and many who are doing it right, but just as often I see people who are struggling to find their rhythm with some consistent exercise which is beneficial for their bodies.
Example 1: Someone who wants to lose weight might think that riding an exercise bike for 30 minutes four to five days a week is the best way to accomplish that goal.
Example 2: Someone who wants to look better and “build muscle” will find a bodybuilding routine and lift weights three to four days a week.
There are many such examples, but in any case, the simple truth is that everyone can create more positive change, faster, if they combine resistance training, cardio training and mobility/self-care.
Remember our previous articles — I always refer to three factors of a successful fitness lifestyle: Consistency, Variety, and Uncomfortability. The first truth is that consistency is the most important factor in your success. Close behind consistency is uncomfortability, in which you push your body a bit further than it’s comfortable in order to force it to adapt and improve.
What we’re highlighting here is variety — in which you continually add variables into your exercise routines so that your body never stagnates. A simple example is the 10-pound biceps curl; if you do three sets of 10 curls with 10-pound dumbbells every day, your biceps will adapt and grow strong enough to perform that demand easily. Then, it will never change again, even if you continue to do that same exercise.
If you want that muscle to grow bigger/stronger/better, you must change the demand: add weight, change the angle/tempo/volume, etc. This same theory applies to someone who rides the exercise bike for 30 minutes every day or does the same weightlifting exercises every day. Hopefully you see some improvement initially — especially if you had not been doing any exercise at all prior to this — but at some point your body will reach the point where it no longer needs to improve in order to accomplish what you’re asking of it. But, if you combine different types of training, introduce new variables, and push yourself a bit further every week or two, then your body will be forced to adapt and improve because you are capitalizing on Consistency, Variety, and Uncomfortability!
It’s All About Intake
I’ve written dozens of articles for Muscle & Fitness, and if you’ve ever read any of them, you’ve probably heard me harp on the basic truth that intake is more important than exercise when it comes to creating positive change in our bodies. I say it a lot: Metabolism is like a bonfire that we need to maintain and keep burning hot. In this analogy, exercise would be the oxygen – it’s necessary to move our bodies every day. Our intake is the fuel — and there is no fire that can burn clean and hot without good fuel. Here are a few important thoughts to keep in mind:
You can’t outtrain your intake
Unfortunately, it’s just simple math when it comes to calories and burning fat. You can eat a 300-calorie Snickers Bar in two minutes, while it might take you 30 minutes on a treadmill to burn that many calories. And don’t get me started on smoothies, sports drinks, or sandwiches… I’ve helped many people who started out with the belief that after they worked out, they could go eat whatever they wanted because they “earned it.” We all have to learn, eventually, that while our workout might have burned 500 calories (if it was intense!), that Chipotle burrito could easily have 1,000 calories and then you’ve taken one step forward and two steps back…
Don’t drink your calories
Of course, for us grown-ups, this pertains to alcohol — which, in my humble opinion, is really a fourth macro since our bodies don’t actually categorize it into a protein, fat, or carb and don’t know what to do with it… But also, every other thing you drink matters. Coffee drinks, sodas, teas, juices, and those dreaded smoothies and so-called sports drinks — they all pack more hidden calories than we realize. My recommendation; stick with water. If that sounds boring, try bubby water, water with fruit, or if you really want to be crazy-healthy — try water with a splash of apple cider vinegar! This will help you immensely, not just with lowering your caloric intake, but in overall hydration which affects metabolism and other critical systems in our machines.
This is a high-level thought, but it should be noted in this discussion. We are intelligent beings, and we can discern what is good for us and what isn’t. If you are taking the time and making the commitment to exercise each day, as this question would imply, then you have the capability to apply that self-control and self-discipline to your intake as well, and you can make decisions based on what is good for your machine. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some treats — I love deliciousness as much as the next guy — but you must have a framework. Consider my 80/20 rule, which says that if 80% of your intake is good/clean/burnable fuel, then 20% can be throwaway calories. This is good for our sanity and for our bodies as it’s good to reboot the system mentally and physically.
Hopefully you are picking up what I’m throwing down. Exercise is huge, and good for you – it’s fantastic that you have committed to improving how you look/feel/perform. But if you truly want to create positive change, then you must commit to planning the Consistency/Variety/Uncomfortability of your exercise, AND commit to planning how to best your intake preparation each week.
Doing just one of these aspects is like completing 50% of a test and expecting to receive a 100% score.