There’s a reason they call it a fitness journey. Once you start the quest by establishing a solid workout routine, you’ll find yourself in new territory with new challenges—call this country Resultselvania. The terrain in Resultselvania can be rocky, the road crowded in by dark and discouraging willows. The good news is there are plenty of friendly locals who can help you pass over the bumps in the road and cross the border into a brighter, more Instagrammable nation.
Count us among those voices, because if you made it through that extended metaphor, you can get through anything.
The truth is that working out—even working out daily—isn’t always enough to see results at the waistline. The sooner we face that truth, the sooner we can adopt a results-based fitness plan that really works. Start by dropping these habits. Pretty soon, you’ll be skipping down the road to Maintainia, land of health and fitness.
1. Choosing the Wrong Exercises for Your Goals
First things first: All low-risk physical activity is good for you. That’s as true today as it was in 2006, when the medical journal CMAJ concluded, “There is irrefutable evidence of the effectiveness of regular physical activity in the primary and secondary prevention of several chronic diseases … and premature death.” The last thing we’d want to do is discourage healthy habits just because they don’t make us look like [insert fitness model name here]. In short, don’t stop exercising, even if you’re not quite reaching your fitness goals.
“All movement is beneficial,” Levine tells HealthyWay. “Which exercises are most beneficial, however, depends on a person’s individual goals.”
Movement may be good for your health, but if you have specific goals—weight loss, targeted toning, greater strength, you name it—you need to pick the right movements for the task. Kai Marshall, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who operates Kai Marshall Personal Training in Fort Worth, Texas, gives an example we can all probably identify with: The Gut.
“Many people do ab exercises to help them lose belly fat,” Marshall says. “Well, you can’t spot-reduce fat, so no matter how many crunches you do, they won’t help you lose inches.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should lose the crunches though, Marshall explains.
“[Ab exercises] will, however, make your core stronger,” he says. “It’s like taking antibiotics to fight a virus. Sure, it’s medicine, but not [the] right kind.”
You’ll find the right medicine for belly fat not only in the gym, but also (and especially) in the kitchen. But as far as your workouts go, it’s always worth meeting with a personal trainer to discuss your individual fitness goals. A qualified trainer can help you put together a workout routine that works with your body and your lifestyle. The right workout varies as much as our bodies themselves; that is to say, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach for exercise any more than there is for jeans.
2. Looking the Other Way on Calories
It’s obvious that a good exercise routine does not give you a free pass at the buffet. Still, our psychology is such that when we feel good about our workout life, we’re more likely to give ourselves leeway to loosen up the diet—which is not a good way to tighten the belt. To make matters worse, exercising gives some people the munchies. Regardless, diet is inexorably tangled up with exercise. Food is instrumental in reaching any fitness goal you can think of.
“Try making one or two changes a week, such as drinking water throughout the day and adding a vegetable to each meal. Small, consistent changes will lead to long-term progress.” —Alisha Temples, licensed nutritionist
“Try making one or two changes a week, such as drinking water throughout the day and adding a vegetable to each meal. Small, consistent changes will lead to long-term progress.”
—Alisha Temples, licensed nutritionist
“This depends on your body type, genetics, and training goal,” Marshall says. “But for the most part, diet is about 80 percent of the [weight-loss] struggle, and working out is the other 20 percent.”
This viewpoint is common, even universal, among fitness professionals. Sean Bykerk, owner of Mississauga, Ontario’s Breakthrough Bootcamp gym, is quick to remind us that you’re probably not going to burn off all the extra calories from a cupcake binge no matter how much time you put in on the stair stepper.
“Nutrition is more important than fitness when it comes to weight loss,” Bykerk tells HealthyWay. “Many have tried and failed to ‘outwork’ a poor diet … It’s far more effective to control the calories you take in rather than eat what you want and burn it off with exercise.”
3. Making Too Many Diet Changes Too Fast
By now, you’re probably aware that the weight-loss battle is won by the fork and not the medicine ball. But when we embark on a whole diet-and-exercise campaign to transform our bodies—or at least tweak them a bit—we often try to accomplish too much too fast.
“One way to self-sabotage a new workout routine is by making too many changes to the diet at the same time,” says Alisha Temples, a licensed nutritionist who works with athletes. “For most, this approach is too drastic and unsustainable.”
Temples recommends introducing diet changes slowly, over a long period of time.
“Try making one or two changes a week, such as drinking water throughout the day and adding a vegetable to each meal,” she tells HealthyWay. “Small, consistent changes will lead to long-term progress.”
4. Sticking to the Same Routine Week After Week
We are creatures of habit. That’s great when those habits are healthy, but it can lead to a fitness plateau all too easily. If you’re not stressing your muscles, you’re not making any progress. And because the body’s whole point in building strength is to adapt to that stress, if you stick to the same routine for too long, you’ll start treading water (maybe literally, if you’re into pool workouts).
“I always tell my clients, ‘The workout never gets easier. [You] just get stronger,'” Marshall says. “You should always be making tiny changes to your workout routine as your body adapts.”
“Instead of constantly changing up your workout routine, focus on progressive overload … the gradual increase of stress you place on the body during a workout. You can do this by increasing weight, reps, range of motion, or decreasing rest times.” —Sean Bykerk, owner of Breakthrough Bootcamp gym
“Instead of constantly changing up your workout routine, focus on progressive overload … the gradual increase of stress you place on the body during a workout. You can do this by increasing weight, reps, range of motion, or decreasing rest times.”
—Sean Bykerk, owner of Breakthrough Bootcamp gym
Take weightlifting, for example.
“If you’re lifting weights, make sure every week you do a little more weight, or more reps, or take less rest,” Marshall says. “Find small ways to make each workout harder than the previous one.”
5. Changing the Routine Too Soon
Yes, you want to keep your exercises challenging by making them progressively more difficult. That doesn’t mean making radical changes to the workout every few days, though, say our experts.
“It is important to stick with a program long enough to reap the benefits,” says Levine. “A program need not be changed until you stop seeing results—specifically with respect to how you feel when completing a workout and the number of reps completed or amount of resistance used.”
The emphasis should be on what fitness professionals call progressive overload, says Bykerk, not on completely new exercises.
“Instead of constantly changing up your workout routine, focus on progressive overload,” Bykerk says. “Progressive overload is the gradual increase of stress you place on the body during a workout. You can do this by increasing weight, reps, range of motion, or decreasing rest times.”
6. Taking Your Stress to the Gym
We’re all about the mind-body connection when we read about exercise reducing stress. Unfortunately, that mind-body connection cuts both ways. According to a 2011 study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, mental stress can lead to quicker fatigue and declining strength during workouts.
“When you’re stressed, your muscles are at a higher level of arousal and your heart rate is elevated,” study author Ranjana Mehta, PhD, told Men’s Health in 2012.
When you start your exercise with a boosted heart rate and your muscles tensed to run or fight, you get tired pretty quickly. You’re tempted to give up early. It’s not ideal.
To make matters worse, women report higher levels of stress than men—49 percent of women said they “frequently experience stress,” versus 40 percent of men, according to a 2017 Gallup poll. That means nearly half of the women at the gym could be making greater strides toward their fitness goals than they are currently.
Try beating this workout challenge by exercising in the morning, before the day’s stressors have a chance to dig in deep. Alternatively, you could increase your warm-up time, Mehta said. Low-intensity workouts help curb the body’s stress response, preparing your muscles for a nice, effective gym sesh.
No Pain, No Gain
Luckily for the hopeful, Maintainia-bound travelers of Resultselvania, there’s one key indication that a workout is working, and it is unmistakable: Exercise should hurt.
“Generally speaking, if the workout feels easy, if you do not feel your muscles fatiguing or your breath quickening, then you are likely not working hard enough to build lean muscle mass or increase metabolism, and therefore not working hard enough to see changes in your appearance from the workouts,” says Levine.
Hey, no one said the fitness journey was going to be easy. What we will say, however, is that you can make it anyway. Lose these habits, go see a personal trainer, and get ready to ease on down the road like your name was Diana Ross.