Episode 333 – Stop Wasting Your Time Exercising

Written by Jonathan

Let’s picture this for a second, you’re in the gym you’re exercising, you do a bit of jump rope, then you quickly shift to lunges, then to a plank, you hop up into squats, then you hit the floor to do some push-ups, you’re working hard, you feel your heart pounding, you start to feel yourself sweat, you see a drop hit the floor and you think, cry all you want fat, because I’m here for the long haul. Then your timer goes off you hop up and repeat that circuit again, and again. When your workout is done you pat yourself on the back and you say, ‘I did it’, neh, neh, you say, ‘I dominated it!’ then you go home reminiscing in the healthy glow of that workout you dominated, you feel good about accomplishing something that was so hard, you have a good night’s sleep and the next day you wake up and repeat it, then you repeat again and again and as days turn into weeks, that turn into months, you summon up the courage to step on the scale again, to find out drum roll please that you’ve lost ……no weight or such a small amount you are so disappointed you head straight to the fridge asking yourself, what the point of all that hard work for nothing.

I see this story a lot, in colleagues and clients, most recently I witnessed it played out in the gym of one of my client’s condos, a woman in her late 20’s or early 30’s hitting the workouts hard, following an intense circuit of back to back exercises, quickly changing from exercise to exercise as the app tells her. I see her often, she’s been coming down for months and sweating her tail off multiple times a week and as far as i can tell nothing is really happening from a physical change stand point, and that could be fine with her, maybe her goal is to stay consistent, work hard and sweat, if this is the case she’s nailing her goal, and for that she should be proud, she is likely more fit than 90 to 95% of the rest of the population. However I can’t help but wonder if she’s trying to get more out of her workouts, if she’s trying to change how she looks, if she’s trying to gain more muscle definition and lose weight?

Of course losing weight and changing body composition is heavily reliant on nutritional changes and maybe she hasn’t changed anything there, but nutritional changes aside, she should still be seeing some changes in her body and a well designed, well executed program can go a long way in building muscle without any dietary changes and it doesn’t look like she’s building much muscle either.

If you can relate to this story, you should continue listening, because I have a few theories as to why this is happening, and the better you understand them, the less likely you are to fall into this trap, because I know you don’t want to put in all this work trying to get to Los Angeles when you’re holding the map to Chicago, and what’s worse is that you think you are holding the map to Los Angeles.

Here are my 2 working theories. Let’s l see where they lead.

Theory 1 – She’s working hard, but not overloading her muscles. I can tell she’s working hard because she’s breathing heavily and sweating quite a lot, but this is because she’s doing repetition after repetition of exercise after exercises with no breaks, which is great for conditioning and burning calories, but not great for developing muscle. If you’re trying to build definition you can’t just be concerned with burning fat and calories, you have to also be concerned with how strained your muscles are. Are you damaging them enough and breaking them down enough that they have to come back bigger, yes bigger and stronger. That’s a prerequisite for building muscle.

I will take this a step further and talk about her form. I see this a lot, exercisers working really hard, being really out of breath, sweating profusely, but lifting with terrible form. Besides having a really high chance of becoming injured, poor form, usually means putting stress and strain on your joints and ligaments instead of on your muscles, which means you’re really missing out on that required muscle activation and strain that leads to overload and then leads to bigger and dare I say better muscles. Of course correcting your form can be tricky to do by yourself, you have to understand what muscles an exercise is supposed to be working and adjust the resistance and your form until you feel it there. You have to be able to look at your body and look for the warning signs of poor form, this means watching yourself in a mirror or video taping yourself and adjusting your form from there, which not everyone has access to or is able to do by themselves.

This is actually the biggest reason I advocate for getting a strength coach or trainer, not only can they look at your form and correct you so that you feel everything properly, but a good trainer will be able to help you pick the order of the exercises so they are most effective for you and make sure you’re doing the appropriate level. If you’re exercising for 3 to 5 hours a week anyway, you might as well make it the most effective 3 to 5 hours that you can, the one drawback here is that good strength coaches and personal trainers are usually in the range of $75 to $150 for single sessions, but it’s money well spent if it helps you get the result that you’re looking for.

The bottom line is that you need to activate and overload your muscles to get them to change. Let’s say you’re unsure of whether or not you’re doing a good job of creating that overload. Here’s the trick, if you’re sore in your muscles the day after, you know that little bit sore where you felt like you did something the previous day, not debilitated just the good soreness or almost tightness the majority of days after a workout, then there’s a better chance you’re doing it right.

This brings me to theory 2

Theory 2 – She’s following full body workouts, when split routines would likely be better. Full body workouts are exactly what they are described to sound like, routines that train your full body, whereas split routines break it up, where you focus an a specific set of muscle groups or movements one day then focus on a different set of muscles or movements the next day. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Full body routines are great for beginners, so you can learn the movements, you’ll probably be less sore because the exercises are spread out through your whole body, if you have trouble staying consistent or struggle finding time to strength train 3 or more times a week, then the full body workout is best for you, but if you exercise consistently and 3 or 4 times a week, you will definitely see better results with a split program, where you might do upper body one day then lower body the next day, or you will follow my personal favourite the push/pull split where you focus on pushing movements one day and pulling movements the next day, there are other ways to do splits, but those are the most common. Now this is where split routines really shine, they are so effective because you spend more time training the same muscles and movements in slightly different ways throughout your workouts and what this does is it allows you to break down your muscles more, which means they require longer to heal, but will come back stronger the next time around, stronger muscles, mean more weight and higher volume which means more muscles, it’s the most powerful and amazing positive cycle you can create when it comes to muscle development.

I know this is a story or scenario that will resonate with a lot of you, because I see it a lot. People slogging it out at the gym, working hard, sweating and then left scratching their heads as to why they can’t seem to improve any more or they’re not getting the results they’re looking for and as far as I can tell these are the two biggest reason why their muscles aren’t developing as much as they would maybe like to see, which at its core is an inability of the person exercising to consistently activate and overload their muscles, but if you can be patient enough to take the time to learn how to to the movements and the exercises properly it will be game changing for your muscle development, which means you’ll be able to look in the mirror and say, ‘Finally, I’m holding the map to Los Angeles, turns out it’s not going to be as straight as I want, but at least I know I’m going in the right direction.

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