It happens all the time. People hit the gym over and over, only to be disappointed in their results again and again. If this sounds like you, there might be some issues with how you’re approaching your workouts. These are some of the most common.
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#1. You’re using a less-than-optimal split.
Splitting refers to dividing your exercises up, either into style (cardio vs strength) or body area (for instance, back and chest). The traditional strength split usually looks like legs on Monday, biceps and triceps on Tuesday, back on Wednesday, etc.
The first problem with this is that body splits often don’t mimic functional movement. For instance, a shoulder press focuses on the muscles in your shoulder (specifically the anterior deltoid), but it also recruits multiple assisting muscles, including triceps, trapezius, and pectoralis.
For this reason, it’s extremely difficult to achieve a true split. Not only that, but a traditional split also means that each body area only gets worked one or two days a week. What usually works better is full-body sessions every other day. This way of working is more efficient, working more than one muscle and burning more calories at a time, yet it ensures that you don’t overtrain, giving you at least a day to recover before your next session.
Another reason to rethink your split is that scientists have figured out that long, drawn-out sessions can be detrimental. Everyone’s body is a little different, and there are many factors, such as weight amount, that affect performance limits. Still, for most individuals, around the 90-minute mark, the body has used up most of its glycogen stores and starts to turn to protein as a source of energy. That transition can mean damage to your muscles, which can mean you’re sorer and can’t build up your muscles as fast as you want.
Research also suggests that short, hard workouts improve your metabolism and keep it elevated even after leaving the gym (the afterburn effect). Therefore, instead of splitting your strength and cardio into two different days and using longer routines, you might do better to give it you are all with a short (30 minute) strength workout in the morning and another 30-minute cardio workout at night.
#2. You’re not keeping a log.
Two logs are essential when you’re training–the diet log and the exercise log. The diet log is critical because it keeps you accountable for your caloric intake. People exercise hard too often but then take bites here and there, not realizing how quickly it all adds up.
The exercise log is where you track how many sets you did, the weight you lifted, or the time you spent moving. Without this chart, it’s harder to track your progress and make a game plan for what to do at your next session. You end up doing whatever looks good instead of what your body is capable of doing.
#3. You aren’t taking enough recovery time.
In the United States, most people are conditioned to think that more is always better and that taking time off is a sign of laziness. When it comes to exercise, nothing is further from the truth.
If you don’t give your body time between routines to recover, you’ll tear down all the repairs that it’s trying to make and won’t be able to bulk up. More disturbing is the possibility of overtraining syndrome, which can cause irritability, fatigue, chronic soreness, increased bouts of illness, and other complications.
This syndrome results in part because the body’s systems are so intricately connected. It’s not just your muscles that need a break–your nervous, immune, and other systems do, too. Experts say you should be taking at least one or two rest days a week at a minimum.
#4. You’re not paying enough attention to your form.
Experts stress form in exercise for a reason. At the most basic level, the good form keeps you safe, preventing injury. You might not be getting the results you want because the poor form has caused muscle strain or joint wear and tear problems.
The poor form also can mean you develop the muscles improperly, creating imbalances that look as awkward as they feel. The best way to combat this is to get in front of a mirror or have a buddy work with you. Avoid rushing through your workouts, and make sure you are concentrating on the muscles you’re working with every set.
#5. You’re not mentally and emotionally committed to what you’re doing.
Working out is tough stuff. That’s why it’s called working out. Your problem might be that you quit when the moves get hard, which is the very moment when your body reacts and does everything it can to adapt and protect itself. You might be failing, too, because you aren’t allowing yourself to give your heart and mind to what you’re doing.
If you don’t have an emotional, personal reason for picking up the weight or putting on your running shoes, you probably won’t stay motivated long. In the same way, if you don’t concentrate, you might find yourself letting your form or degree of active muscle engagement slipping. Get your head in the game before you even think about your warmup, and don’t release your focus until the last move is over.
Sometimes getting good results at the gym requires some serious self-evaluation and changing how you work completely. Now that you know some of the key culprits that rob exercisers of success, you can consciously avoid them and get the body you want.