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Not getting results in the gym? Ask yourself these 5 questions

Figure out what’s not working and then consider making some of these small adjustments that will deliver big results.
Solo Session At The Climbing Centre
Find ways to exercise that are fun. There are too many options when it comes to being active to settle for being bored or dreading your workout. SolStock / Getty Images

With the spring season comes an “out with the old, in with the new” mentality. And it can be a great time of year to re-evaluate your workout routine, too. Should you move your workout outdoors or stick with the gym? Is your current routine delivering results or are you looking to switch it up with some different activities?

First things first: The old saying “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it!” applies here. If you’re enjoying your workouts and seeing the results you’re looking for, there’s no need to switch things up. But if you’re questioning if your workout routine is effective or you’re not enjoying it, we’re going to help you get to the bottom of the issue — and provide some adjustments you can make that will get you moving in the right direction.

1. Am I Bored?

Are you getting bored with the same old routine? Research shows that boredom with any activity can breed dissatisfaction, which encourages people to search for creative change and novelty. As humans, we’re wired to get sick of doing the same thing over and over again — and that doesn’t stop short of exercise!

According to the American Council on Exercise, mixing up your exercise not only increases your adherence to a workout routine, but also may help speed up your results and help you avoid plateaus. Plus, varying your workout activities helps to prevent overuse injuries. Say, for example, you’re a runner. If you have knee or joint issues, switching things up with a low impact yoga or Pilates class a few times a week can help prevent injuries from the constant pounding on your joints.

Just beware of bouncing around from one workout to another too quickly. Take it slow when trying a new exercise you’re not as familiar with to avoid injury. Here are some small ways you can begin introducing novelty you’re your routine:

  • Try group fitness so that you can use other people as a variable in your workout, stay challenged by a professionally-curated workout routine and feed off the energy of a group mentality, which will be a departure from solo workouts!
  • Take a different class. If you regularly go to spin class after work, try hitting the 8 a.m. class once or twice a week. Or if you’re used to taking bootcamp with a certain instructor, go on another day or time to give someone else a try.
  • Switch up your playlist. If you regularly go to a dance or spinning class but are bored of the same music, go to another day or time or instructor. If you frequently head out for a run, refresh your own playlist and add in some new jams that will put a pep in your step.
  • Bring a friend to your workout to spice things up. You may be surprised how much you look forward to a Saturday jog in the park when you can spend it catching up with a friend!
  • Create new goals for yourself so that there’s a different motivating factor behind your workout. Consider signing up for a 5k or joining a sports league this summer (and spending the next few months getting in shape to play!).

2. Am I inconsistent?

I see this issue a lot: people are religiously active on weekends, going on long hikes and bike rides, playing outdoors with their kids, and never missing a Sunday Pilates class. But these same weekend warriors just can’t seem to be as consistent during the week, when work and family obligations always seem to get in the way.

And the opposite can also be true: Some people thrive on the predictability and scheduling of the work week, never missing a workout, but go off the rails with their diet and exercise during weekends, when schedules are more lax. One study published in Obesity Research found that Americans 19 to 50 years old take in 115 more calories (mostly from alcohol and fat) per day on Friday through Sunday than on the other days of the week.

Regardless which boat you’re in, falling into a repetitive trap of consistently hitting workouts for only part of the week and then reverting to unhealthy habits the rest of the time can undo all of the hard work you’re putting in.

The truth is, what works under the constraints of weekday life may not work once those constraints change on the weekend, and vice versa. In over a decade of working with busy clients, I’ve found one super simple solution to this problem: pretend you lead a double life. It’s time to create two workout plans; one for the weekend version of you, and another for the Monday to Friday version of you.

If you often skip workouts during the week:

  • Cut your workout time in half on weekdays. Instead of a 60-minute workout 4 days per workweek, aim for 30-minute workouts 2 days per week (yes, cut the days in half, too!)
  • Change the location of your weekday workouts. Having a hard time getting to the gym after a long commute home from work? Plan for workouts in your living room or a nearby park to make it easier for you to fit them in.
  • Make workouts social. Often social plans pop up after work that interfere with workout plans. To avoid this, kill two birds with one stone by scheduling a fun group workout like a spin or barre class instead of just opting for drinks or dinner with friends.

If you think weekends might be derailing you efforts, here are some suggestions:

  • Get it done in the morning. Since weekends tend to be less structured, there’s more of a chance that a last-minute dinner invite or impromptu Netflix binge can push your workout off the calendar. Getting your workout done first thing won’t only start your day on a healthy note, but it will ensure it gets done no matter what fun plans pop up.
  • Make your social plans active. Just like during the week, checking your workout off the to-do list while also getting in some quality time with friends and family can help ease the stress of fitting in exercise, and make it more enjoyable. Head to the park for a game of basketball or tennis with your family, take a long walk with your spouse to catch up about your week, or arrange to meet up with friends for boot camp before brunch.
  • Sign up for a class ahead of time. If you have a hard time motivating yourself to get moving on lazy weekends, committing to a class at a certain time can help hold you accountable. This can be especially motivating if you sign up for the same class each week and develop a rapport with the instructor and other students — you won’t want to let them down by not showing up.

3. Am I Seeing Results?

Before you write off an exercise plan as ineffective, know that you may be looking for results in the wrong places — more specifically, the scale. My clients say, “I’ll believe it’s working when I see the scale move!” Seeing the number tick down can be a great motivator if you have pounds to lose, but chances are, it’s not going to move as quickly as you hope — and if your goal is permanent, sustainable weight loss, that’s a good thing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the safe rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week. Losing weight faster than that is often due to eating and exercise habits that are unmanageable over the long term, that will often end in binges or rebounds where you pack the pounds back on down the line.

So ask yourself: Am I seeing an average of 1-2 pounds of weight loss a week? If the answer is yes, give your body the time it deserves to see movement on the scale, and instead focus on other changes that can be occurring that are just as important, if not more so, than the number on the scale, like:

  • Are my clothes fitting looser?
  • Do I have more energy?
  • Do I feel more toned or stronger?
  • Am I lifting more weight than I used to be able to?
  • Am I increasing how many repetitions that I’m able to perform in a workout?
  • Is my cardiovascular endurance increasing?
  • Am I less winded or less sore than I was when I used to do this similar routine?

If your answer to the majority of these questions is no, then it’s time to change it up. Here are a few ways to keep your body guessing and push through a plateau:

  • Do your workout in the reverse order.
  • Completely change your workout and try a new activity.
  • Do the same workout outdoors instead of in the gym.
  • Cut your dumbbell weight in half and double the repetitions.

4. Am I Getting Injured?

Some soreness is expected when you’re working hard in the gym. But pain or excessive soreness can definitely be a deterrent to working out — or put you out of commission altogether. All too often I see people “pushing through the pain” and while there is certainly some discomfort that comes with exercising, pain is another story. Before you get to the point of serious injury, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do I feel overall more or less fit and mobile than when I started my current workout routine?
  • Do I have aches and pains more than most people I talk to?
  • Do I leave a workout feeling less energized then when I started?

As a recreational tennis player, I found that my shoulders and neck were getting extremely tight and tender once I upped my game to playing four times a week. This meant that I had to scale back my other workouts, like strength training and cardio, because my body just couldn’t handle it. In fact, when I would do my normal strength training, I noticed that I was actually losing mobility in my upper back and shoulders since I worked my arms so much in tennis. Similarly, when one of my private weight loss clients started doing Pilates on the reformer machine instead of on the mat, she felt her legs getting toned and stronger, so we cut out the lower body strength training from her workout routine to ensure she didn’t overwork them.

Moral of the story: Listen to your body! Here are a few adjustments you can make if you feel like your workout routine is causing you pain or contributing to an injury:

  • Scale back the workout and do less reps and less weight.
  • Get a complimentary physical therapy assessment at a local office.
  • Try a different modality of working out. Feeling stiffer from your 9-5? Add a yoga class into your workout routine. Feeling joint pain from a high-intensity interval training class? Try a lower impact strength training workout instead.

5. Do I Dread My Workouts?

Are your workouts the least favorite part of your day? We all have those days where we are tired or stressed and just not in the mood to hit the gym, and that’s okay. But if you’re dreading your workout more times than not, something has to give.

There could be a few factors at play here. Here’s how to shift your mindset:

  • Do you feel like you’re getting beat up while working out, but feel great after? Instead of focusing on how hard the workout is going to be, focus on how good you’ll feel afterwards. This is your pump-up ammunition to think about anytime you are planning for or begin dreading your workout.
  • Do you actually dislike the workout? If so, don’t do it! There are so many different options when it comes to exercise activities that you should never settle for suffering through something you really don’t enjoy. Shop around for a new workout. Many studios offer a free class to new students so make a commitment to sign up for 2 to 3 this month and explore what other types of exercise may be more enjoyable for you.
  • Do you feel rushed or crammed for time working out during the week, which just leaves you more stressed? When it comes to group fitness classes, there’s often not enough recovery time built in after the workout, which can leave you feeling hyped up and stressed to rush to your next commitment. Carve out 5 extra minutes to hit the stretching mats in the gym to allow your body to cool down and to stretch out any areas of the body that you worked in class. And consider adding in some lower impact more restorative workouts like Pilates and yoga once or twice a week. You’ll still be toning and strength training, while also giving yourself a much needed mental break.

Take the change of season as your cue to do an honest assessment of what’s working and what’s not when it comes to your workout routine. Committing to making some adjustments now will help get you moving in the right direction. Slow and steady wins the race!


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