When your performance at the gym is less than the kick-assery* you hoped for…
When the weight doesn’t go up on certain lifts, or (gasp) even goes down…
When the same run is just as vomit-inducing today as it was 6 months ago…
When you’re in a rut, or hit a plateau, it’s time to figure out how to step up your game.
*Kick-assery is an industry term. A related, but opposite, industry term is “douchebaggery.” Both can be seen in the gym, but you should strive for the former.
Which Do You Prefer?
The beach or the mountains?
They almost seem like different genres to me — not like apples and drywall, but also not like apples and oranges.
More like apples and lasagna.
Yet we lump them together and force each other to pick a favorite. (I’m more of a mountain person, Megan likes the beach.)
What does this have to do with improving your gym game?
Ruts and plateaus.
They might seem like apples and lasagna, but they share a common setback: The work you put in at the gym feels unproductive.
Before we get too far, let’s first acknowledge that you may not be as bad off as you think.
It’s not abnormal to struggle with a routine that would usually be easy for you. Sometimes it’s caused by lack of sleep, or a period of poor nutrition. Other times it comes out of nowhere.
The key is to not get derailed by it.
If after several weeks (certainly months) you’re still having a tough time, or aren’t seeing improvements, it’s time to change things up.
Changing It Up
This doesn’t have to be complicated.
You don’t have to take up kickboxing, or goat yoga, or goat kickboxing (I don’t think PETA will be endorsing that anytime soon).
If something uncommon interests you, go for it. Otherwise little changes are all you need to get out of a rut or bust through a plateau.
Bored with a certain rep range? Go heavier on some stuff, lighter on others.
Can’t seem to break your bench press record? Try switching to dumbbells for awhile.
Strength at a standstill? Focus on cardio and watch your muscle endurance take off.
Cardio feel like you’ve stalled out? Challenge yourself with a new pace or distance.
Tired of running? Switch to a rower, bike, swimming, etc.
Without a trainer, it’s easy to get stuck doing the same things over and over again. You get in a rut, which causes a plateau. But these small changes can help you get back on track.
See Your Improvement
A big mistake with lifting is thinking the only way to improve is by adding weight.
But that’s not practical. You won’t always be able to do that.
That doesn’t mean you can’t improve, though. You can use the exact same weight, for the exact same number of reps, and if it feels slightly easier than it did last time… you’ve improved!
I’m not handing out participation awards here, that’s legitimate progress.
There are other subtle ways to see progress that don’t involve using more weight.
You’re making progress when you use the same weight but:
Have better form.
Do even one more rep.
Do a movement slower for more time under tension (TUT).
Do a movement faster for greater intensity and increased power.
Add an extra set.
Take less rest time between sets.
Those improvements count just as much as when you add 5 pounds to a movement.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of ways to progress. But hopefully it helps you see that, even if you aren’t always adding weight to an exercise, that doesn’t mean you aren’t improving.
When it comes to these small changes and improvements, they have one thing in common:
That is, the only way to see them is by keeping track.
If you slog away mindlessly through each workout, you’ll forget what you’ve been doing and won’t notice the progress you’re making.
Before you know it, you’ll either be in a plateau-fostering-rut, or you’ll just think you’ve stalled because you can’t see your improvements.
That’s why I have all my online coaching clients take notes of every workout. And you should do the same for yourself.
Take notes. Any notes. The more the better.
Here are some things to keep track of:
Time (for sets, rests, and total time)
Difficulty (was it hard, easy, average?)
Form (did you nail it? did it start to slip?)
Context (did you have a bad night? not get to eat before your workout?)
All of this will help you take your workouts to the next level.
If you like these principles but aren’t sure where to begin, I recommend our free At Home Beginner’s Workout. You can do it in 20 minutes a day or less. You don’t need any exercise equipment. And there are 3 different levels to keep you improving and progressing all the way to the end.