Why You Can’t Make Progress in The Gym…And How You Can Change That

This dude is intense... Photo Courtesy of Muscle & Strength

Consider today’s post a splash of cold water in your face.  I’m likely going to tell you things, that deep down, you already know.  But sometimes it takes someone shining a little light on things to make change happen.  That’s the point of this article; to make you stop, become aware, and find out how to change yourself and your workouts so the time and effort you’re putting in is rewarded.  You deserve that, don’t you?  Of course you do…so keep reading… 

Here’s a quick story I’m willing to bet many of you can relate to…

I once knew a woman, we’ll call her Lisa, who on paper, did everything she was supposed to.  She NEVER (and I mean NEVER) ate junk food, fast food, or even cared to have a cheat meal now and again.  She ate balanced meals, had her protein shakes after workouts, and watched her sugar consumption.  She barely drank alcohol.  When it came to workouts, Lisa almost never missed a session.  She spent a good 5-6 days a week in the gym; some days even doing two-a-days.  What’s more, Lisa had been living this healthy lifestyle for YEARS.  By all accounts, Lisa, a twenty-something healthy woman, should have been picture perfect and the epitome of healthy living. 

But she wasn’t.  Despite all of her time and effort, Lisa was very much “average”.  She maintained excess body fat on her lower body and abdomen, had meager muscle tone, and had an endurance level which ceased to improve.  Naturally, Lisa was frustrated.  She does EVERYTHING right, doesn’t eat crap, and still, she can’t lose that stubborn excess fat or making any meaningful muscle/strength gains…talk about spinning your wheels.  Well, Lisa came to me looking for help and after just a couple of weeks working out with her and observing her fitness plan, it became abundantly clear why progress was so elusive to her.  No, it wasn’t for lack of variety or repetition of workouts; it was her intensity.  Lisa lacked intensity; mentally she was unable to push herself hard enough to make change.  Without intensity, the greatest, most well-designed fitness plan in the world is meaningless.  It’s like having a Ferrari with no fuel….it’s getting you nowhere fast. 

Are You Lacking Intensity?

Intensity is a tricky thing.  What constitutes an intense, grueling work out for one person, could very easily be a warm up for another.  I’m a big believer that mental will power is the biggest variable when it comes to success.  Genetics certainly play a part, but individuals who are able continue on when their minds tell them to stop, are the ones who have the healthiest bodies, inside and out. 

So how do you know if you’re lacking intensity?  Well for starters, if you’re doing everything right and you look pretty much the same as you did a year or two ago, something isn’t right.  There are two options…

  • A: You are an anomaly and your body is resistant to the effects of exercise, weight lifting, and healthy eating. 
  • B: You lack intensity.   

Call me presumptuous, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say option B is the cause of your lack of progress. 

Have you been lifting the same weights for years; unable to move up in weight?  Has your mile time not improved despite consistent running?  Has it been almost a decade and you still can’t do a pull up? 

If you answered yes to any of the above, you may suffer from lack of intensity. 

Examples of Lack of Intensity

  • Cutting workouts short
  • Able to casually flip through and read a magazine/book while doing cardio
  • Refusing to increase the weights you’re using
  • Not trying new exercises/workouts because you’re afraid of looking stupid and/or not being able to complete it.
  • Stopping just when you start to feel the (good) burn.
  • Taking the same classes over and over because they are comfortable to you.

At the core of lack of intensity is very often a fear of failing.  People are so afraid to fail, or look stupid, they refrain from pushing themselves.  Let me tell you something; every one of those awesomely fit people you see in the gym has failed more times than they can count.  Failure is a driver of success and progress.  Take a look at this quick clip about failure.  Besides being one of my all-time favorites, it drives home the point above very nicely. 

Get Out of The Comfort Bubble

One of the most common things I see is people who exercise because it makes them feel like they are doing something good; they exercise because they feel like the should be.  They aren’t exercising to make progress, they are exercising so they feel good about themselves.  Well, yes, it’s great to feel good about yourself, but these type of feel good vibes are short-lived.  Want to ALWAYS feel good about your body and lifestyle?  Want a six-pack that will make people jealous?  Exercise with a purpose and stop exercising because it’s just something you think you should be doing.  The progress you start to make will have you feeling SO much better than you could ever imagine.  People who have purpose are the ones making the gains and transforming their bodies.  People who exercise so they get some short-lived good feelings are the ones who look the same year after year.  Who do you want to be?


Time to Get More Intense

You know the feeling after a REALLY tough workout...start feeling like that more often...

Learning to up the intensity of your workouts isn’t something someone can give you.  It doesn’t come in a plan on some fitness blog.  It’s not something you can buy from Jillian Michaels on DVD for $39.99.  It all starts within you.  Ask yourself right now….Do I want to change my body and look more like the people I enviously stare at, or am I content with how I look now?  If you’re content with how you look now, more power to you.  But if you want to improve yourself and jump-start your progress, it’s time to alter your intensity.  Some tips to increase your intensity…

  • Make the clock your master.  Look at the clock on the wall and do NOT leave until a certain time is up.  Doesn’t matter what comes up…you’re not leaving until the clock strikes (fill in the blank).
  • Use a spotter.  Having trouble pushing yourself past a plateau or upping the weights?  Using  a spotter will help you push yourself to use heavier weights and start making progress in the process.
  • Find motivation everywhere.  Always be looking for motivation.  Maybe it’s a pair of legs you see, or a speed at which someone is running, or the way someone is jump roping.  Constantly look for motivation.  When you have so much motivation around you, it’s easier to push yourself.
  • Start an exercise journal.  Document how far you run, how long you do cardio, and most importantly, how heavy the weights are that you’re using.  It’s easy to fall into a pattern and never bump the poundage of your weights.  With a journal, you’ll instantly be able to tell you’ve been doing 75lb lat pulldowns for the past 18 months….and it might be time to step it up.
  • Interval sets with a timer.  Set an interval timer (plenty of apps to download for your phone) and work for the entire interval.  No more guessing how long you’ve been doing your squat jumps…now you know.  Go hard for the entire period, rest when you’re allowed, and finish every round.

At the end of the day, all the tips in the world won’t make a difference if you don’t make that committment to up your intensity.  Understand the only thing keeping you from your goal is your intensity (or lack thereof).  Once you find a way to block out that annoying little voice in your mind that tells you to quit, you will instantly start seeing progress.  Quite literally, developing the ability to push yourself past this point can happen over night.  The urge to quit is there for EVERYONE, the overweight and extremely fit alike.  The difference is the ability to block the desire to quit out and finish your workout with all the intensity you can physically muster.  Get out there, unleash your full potential, and see how easy transforming your body really can be.*



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