This is a question we unsurprisingly get asked extremely frequently, and usually the person has compared themselves to another person(s) before asking this. This is expected, but I’m not going to tell you not to compare yourself to others as you inevitably will, but rather as with monitoring scale weight, to do this properly (and with caution), so it can become a useful evaluating tool.
Now you might be shouting “That’s unhealthy!” “Max you idiot, stop this madness.” However read on and I’ll detail how ‘gains-comparisons’ (made up term) can be a useful gauge of progression, and a means to allow self-evaluation, alongside various other factors that could be slowing your potential rate of progress- BUT only when done properly and with a level-head. The other points I am going to list are of far more importance, and healthier areas to investigate and evaluate in order to optimise your progress.
This article is designed to detail the enumerating factors that contribute to your specific rate of progress, or more importantly, slow this down.
Not Applying Progressive Overload with Resistance Training AND Cardio:
As a beginner you will make progress with a standard training plan (or repeated single training week) for around 8-10 weeks, before hitting a plateau in results. This is because your body has adapted and does not have a stimulus routinely placed upon it that requires development of the muscles to cope with it. Your metabolism is not static and can also adapt to the energy expenditure (and lower calorie diet) so fat loss is also likely to stall- in simple terms.
To avoid this you should always look to increase weight lifted (and thus total volume) over time (in a safe manner). With regards to cardio this will mean increasing the intensity or duration in order to achieve results over time; this is why HIIT is favoured over LISS by many trainers as it’s more sustainable and applicable to busy lifestyles in that respect, as well as having a more beneficial impact on your metabolism.
Insufficient Rest and Nutrition:
Poor quality and quantity of both rest and nutrition can lead to insufficient recovery, decreased performance in your workouts and ultimately hampered progress. Guesswork on your nutrition, commonly associated with people who choose to ‘eat clean’ and disregard macros and calories, can also limit the potential progress could make.
To increase your quality of sleep I have personally found not using personal electronic devices for 30 minutes, reading a book, and not using stimulant based pre-workouts (at all and especially after 5pm!) has massively helped. Organisation and goal setting also help clear the mind pre-bed. Even good quality ‘sleepy-teas’ as I like to call them seem to help- as a placebo if anything.
In order to improve your nutrition for your goal ensure firstly that you consume adequate protein: a good starting point is 1 gram per pound of body weight. Eat the majority of your carbohydrates around your workouts, and ensure the majority (at least 70%) are from non-processed, complex sources. And do not avoid eating fats- these help with enumerating important functions and productions of hormones in the body.
This is hard to avoid, so it is best to try and manage it as well as you can. It can stem from workload, social commitments, finances, overthinking and generally a poor hold on routine and time-management. When you are passionate about health and fitness especially, disrupted nutrition and to a lesser extent training, can negatively affect your mood through stress and self-loathing (leading to a negative snowballing process).
With regards to stress and depression affecting people we do not feel at place to give definitive advice- and would not want to in case it indirectly (or directly) negatively contributed to somebody. What I will do is detail how I personally deal with rubbish periods:
- Evaluate where you have fallen down and what has triggered this rough patch,
- Set fresh goals in all important areas of your life; training, nutrition, private and professional life/education,
- Prepare to start again on a realistic date: i.e. Monday (in at least 1-2 days time). This will give you enough time to organise and mentally prepare yourself for a fitness regime, renewed professional endeavour or generally allow time to organise all areas where you feel you could improve easily and simply!
This is with regards to both diet and nutrition, which are both negatively affected by periods of binging on food and alcohol that commonly coincide with no training. We do not believe in abstinence from alcohol, or that it negatively affects your hormones, but undeniably getting absolutely slaughtered at least twice a week will negatively impact on your training, recovery, macronutrient intake and ultimately hamper potential progress.
Hitting the gym with structure regularity and employing progressive overload over a prolonged period will heed faster results than cramming sessions and then having time off due to injury, hangover or burnout on a regular basis.
The same goes for your diet; if you find eating ‘clean’ results in you craving and then binging on ‘cheat foods’ or having ‘cheat days’ you may want to employ flexible dieting. Flexible dieting will allow you to incorporate your favourite foods daily within your macros, as long as the majority of the meals are high quality ingredients with adequate fibre.
Ultimately balancing your social life and training life is easily achievable with some sensible moderation within both areas. This article about practicing balance in your life could be also be an interesting read!
Not Applying Periodisation to Training:
Intermediate trainers should change periodisation every 4-6 weeks for maximal results. Advanced trainers will favour following weekly periodization (sport/goal dependant) over a prolonged period, applying progressive overload over time and utilising properly performed Taper Weeks.
We can all get stuck in a rut due to preferring a certain type of training and neglecting another protocol, but breaking out of this and really working on your weaknesses can help re-stimulate progress- especially in experienced trainers. I for instance hate volume work and short rest periods- but have felt/seen minor improvements over time by consistently and correctly utilising volume work in a cyclical nature through periodization.
For the above reasons we employ periodisation in all our fully comprehensive, flagship LDNM Guides; in order to maximise progress for new through to very advanced trainers.
Being a Natural Trainer:
Don’t compare yourself to fitness models, supplement ambassadors, ‘athletes’, and so forth. It is their job to look/be in peak condition, which is commonly unattainably huge, low body fat and incredibly vascular the majority of the time- within a very competitive, massively unregulated field.
The normal, natural and shift-working person simply does not have this luxury, support or doctoring of supplements/chemicals to make optimal progress. Therefor it is much healthier to gauge your progress against your own progress photos or a training partner with a similar environment (to a lesser extent). Properly tracking your progress is most important, and evaluating your work rate and dedication inside and outside the gym compared to your training partner or friend is also useful- but remember, genetics, chemical compounds and various other factors can come in to play here.
Ask any physiotherapist and they will all tell you that ambitious or enthusiastic active people are the worst patients. Sporty people (for example) commonly fail to abide by the 4-6 weeks of rest, going instead for 2-3 weeks and trying to work around the injury. This unfortunately is me all over!
You simply must listen to specialists and listen to your body. Niggles will soon turn into injuries, and injuries in to chronic injuries over time, which can then cause imbalances, leading to further injuries and poor posture. This can affect not only your training, but your job and private life as injuries/health deteriorates- especially if you do not have private health insurance.
This Lower Body Stretching Routine is a great way to help prevent injury.
As you become closer to your natural limit, the rate protein anabolism (building muscle) becomes closer to rate protein breakdown (muscle catabolism). Therefore it becomes important to be regularly stimulating protein synthesis by consuming adequate good quality protein (and sufficient calories for desired goals) every 3.5-4.5 hours.
This article on why we count our macros is a great read for those looking to structure and optimise their diet.
There are various factors that can solely or cumulatively take away from your potential progress; whether your aims are building size and strength, reducing body fat, improving sport performance and or all the aforementioned points!
Ultimately we preach practicing the below points with more readiness in order to maximise consistency and therefore the sustained rate of your hard-earned gains:
- Balance in your life,
- Realism and goal setting,
- Self-preservation and proper conditioning,
All the above is aimed to be helpful, and allow you to further your progression. However, do not beat yourself up about areas you feel could be improved as life happens- your family, friends and career are most important. Obviously this isn’t poo-pooing your health and hobbies as these are incredibly important to your physical and mental well-being, but see the bigger picture, practice balance and stay organised :).