What’s Wrong With Your Workout?

women tired from workoutHave you ever been frustrated by a lack of progress from your workout?  Maybe you tend to get injured easily whenever you exercise.  You definitely aren’t alone, as many gym regulars have experienced the letdown of crushed expectations and diminishing returns from their exercise program.

To understand why this happens, you need to know that there are many factors influence the outcome(s) of a workout.  These include training specificity, pre/post workout nutrition, attitude, genetics, age and lifestyle factors.  Chances are many of these factors, if not fully understood and optimized, are likely crippling your results.

Before you set expectations and plan your workout, you must determine how these factors will affect you and what you’re going to do about it.


You Become How You Train

You need to understand that your body adapts according to the specific method of training you choose.  For example, if you cycle often enough, you’ll become a better cyclist.  However, this may have very little positive carry over to other activities.  Sure, you’ll get fitter, but don’t assume that your newly acquired fitness will help you when you go hiking or are running on a treadmill.  This is true for all physical activities.  Make sure your activity of choice closely resembles the activity you want to develop.

With weight training, the importance of specificity not only applies to the type of exercise you choose but also your rep speed and the actual number of reps performed in a given amount of time.  Sounds pretty complicated?  However, it just comes down to selecting the right exercises and reps to best accomplish your goals.  Training haphazardly will only create unpredictable and inconsistent results.  Feel free to review an earlier post on how to match your weight training to your specific goals.

If your goals are more general in nature, then this is not as big an issue, provided your workouts are progressive over time.  In this case, cross training (using a variety of training methods) is a good option to keep things fresh and moving forward.

Give Me Fuel, Give Me Fire

Whether you’re in the gym, at work, or at home, your ability to perform is the bottom line.  Performance is often a reflection of your mental, emotional and physical competence.  In the context of working out, your performance begins with optimum nutrition.  This means eating the right foods – namely whole natural foods which are rich in micronutrients that deliver the goods.  This is just the foundation of a productive workout and the part most people fail at.  How can you expect your body to perform, recover, adapt and evolve without the raw materials it needs to do so?  If you’re skipping breakfast, ignoring pre/post workout nutrition and generally eating with free-styling ignorance, expect to have a lot of bad workouts.

Even if you eat well, if you’re not eating to match your goals, you could be shooting yourself in the foot.  Different training goals require different dietary approaches to maximize adaptation and performance. Meal type and timing and the correct use of reputable dietary supplements all must be considered if you’re serious about results.  Even the best training program will deliver disappointing results if your nutrition is not considered.

Give Me Some Attitude

It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult undertaking which, more than anything else, will determine its successful outcome. – William James

Approaching a workout is no different. If you hate exercise and generally avoid it at all costs, things are going to be tough for you.  If , during your workout, you’re prone to distraction, your results will suffer for it.  We’re all social creatures, but your training time should be sacred.  Save the water cooler conversation for another time and place.  Projecting the right energy, focus and attitude, appropriate for the task at hand is vital.  We all have stress weighing us down, but how about using your anger, jealousy, resentment and any other destructive emotions you’re harbouring to fuel your workout?

The Hulk Enreaged

Not only will this release tension but you’ll likely enhance your performance and get much more out of your workout than you ever thought was possible.  Focus on deep, rhythmic breathing and feeling energized.  Eliminate fatigue from your mind and fill it with positive thoughts.  Next time you feel like you have no bounce in your step, your legs feel heavy and your overall desire to workout is low, check your attitude at the gym door and correct it.  Watch your productivity soar as a result.

Make Your Goals Fit Your Genes

It’s been said that we don’t pick our activities, our activities pick us.  People tend to gravitate towards activities they are good at  and ones their body is designed for.  If your goal is to increase muscle mass but you tend to prefer yoga or golf over lifting weights, it’s likely that you’re not ideally suited for weight training.  You may also have a muscular makeup and skeletal frame that is not optimal to reach your goal.  This isn’t to say that you can’t make significant improvements, especially if you’re a raw beginner, but you won’t likely get magazine cover results.  The bottom line is that certain people possess the genetic ability to excel at particular activities because their bodies are very adaptive to the training stimulus.

The results you get from a given workout may differ greatly from someone else, even if all other factors are equal.  This isn’t to say that you can’t make improvements, but you need to be realistic based on what limitations your genes express.

Even if you’re blessed with great genes for your chosen goal, there is still a ceiling limit on human performance and adaptation that will eventually cause everyone to plateau. You need to recognize this when it happens and be content with your achievements.

Act Your Age

old lady walkingIt’s no secret that aging slows down all of the body’s systems.  The process begins in your early 30’s and it’s a slippery slope beyond that point.  Not only is muscle loss is a major concern, but so is muscle quality.  The net result is an impaired ability to produce force (strength loss)  and produce force rapidly (loss of power).  Developing strength and power capabilities are important but more difficult to train as we age.  Most of us reach our peak between the late teens and late 20’s for building muscle and power so expectations need to be set accordingly.

The same age related decline is found with aerobic endurance  training.  Women reach maximal aerobic power between the age of 12-15 and males between 17 and 21. From there, it plateaus for a period and then steadily declines with age.  A middle aged man or woman simply can’t train like a teenager and certainly won’t get the same level of results.  Training too hard and too often will only lead to progress stagnation, overtraining and possibly injury.

Many of these age related “limitations” can be slowed, and even reversed in the short term, with a sensible approach that’s appropriate for your age.

Lifestyles Of The Fit And Healthy

There’s more to optimizing the workout experience than diet and exercise alone, much more.  In fact, your workout depends on everything you did, or didn’t do, in the preceding 24 hours.  Lifestyle factors such as sleep quality and quantity, activity levels, stress, and social influences, just to name a few, can all impair workout performance and nullify your gains.  You need to manage these factors just as you would for your training variables and nutrition.

Give Yourself a Break

Let’s say you’ve got all the factors right up to this point.  Congratulations, but this alone does not guarantee success.  When your body gets run down (and it always does), what do you do?  Getting to know when your body can handle periods of intense work and when it’s becoming stressed is an essential skill in all areas of life.  Your workouts must be designed with periods of hard work and periods of lighter work if it is to adapt optimally.  There’s just no way around this fundemental concept.  If you train too hard and too often, you’ll stress the body beyond its ability to recover and your results will stagnate, or even worse, start going in reverse.  If you’ve been working out for a long time without a break or change in your training approach, you know this to be true.  Plan your workouts in cycles and be prepared to change the recipe to cope with life’s unforeseen interruptions.


Setting expectations for workouts can be tough for most people.  The fitness business is based upon deception, fraud and visual trickery, so it’s easy to lose sight of what’s real.  This creates confusion for many people seeking optimal performance and/or the perfect physique.  The intent of this article is to keep things real, help you understand your limitations and identify the areas you can improve upon to make your workouts more productive.  Your progress may be impaired because of one or more of the factors mentioned here.  Correct the ones holding you back and accept the ones you can’t change.  Then, set your expectations accordingly.  Train smart and get results!

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Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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