One of the most frustrating parts of any fitness journey is when you feel like you have been busting your butt for a solid length of time but are not seeing the expected results.
Sometimes this happens a few weeks into a brand-new fitness journey, sometimes it happens a few months or even a few years into it. For the purposes of this post, however, I am going to focus on when this happens soon after you have started or -restarted a new fitness routine.
On average, if you are consistently working out each week, you should start to see meaningful changes happening within 6-8 weeks. Considerable changes, we are talking about an overhaul of your body and fitness levels, take about 3-6 months. There are a couple of main reasons that you may be either slow to see results or are feeling like you aren’t seeing them at all aside from just not having been at it long enough. These reasons can include:
You Haven’t Fixed Your Diet
The old saying, “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet” is so true and in my opinion probably one of the leading reasons you aren’t seeing results from the hard work you are putting in with your workouts. One of the most beneficial things you can do to start getting your nutrition in line is to cut out processed, packaged foods that are often loaded with extra sugar and salt and focus on eating whole foods as much as possible.
A piece of advice when it comes to finding and incorporating whole foods into your meal planning is to shop on the outside isles of the grocery store and then cook as many meals as possible at home with those whole, fresh ingredients. Meal prepping for days that you are going to be on the go and need something already made and ready to eat to keep you from reaching for that bag of chips or candy bar is also key!
Finally, I cannot overstate how important it is to get enough protein when we are talking about meeting and maintaining your fitness goals. Protein is highly important for not only repairing and rebuilding muscles after a workout, but the essential amino acids that protein sources like meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy provide help to build new muscle tissue and at the same time burn stubborn fat. On top of all that, eating protein with every meal helps you feel fuller for longer than just filling up on carbs and fat alone.
If your nutrition is already in line, keep reading for a few more possibilities that may be holding you back…
Strength Training Isn’t A Priority
This issue was a huge one for me at the beginning of my own health and fitness journey. I was hitting the gym at least 5-6 days a week, spending the majority of my time on cardio machines like the treadmill and elliptical and wandering into the weight room only when it was empty enough for me not to feel embarrassed for being in there in the first place.
Guess what? That approach did not work at all. While cardio is an important piece of any fitness routine, it shouldn’t be your only focus if you are looking to slim down.
If you have been around my blog for a little while, you may remember I dedicated a whole post (#MBF) to this very subject….how building muscle through strength training is a great way to burn fat. Basically, the more muscle you are able to build, the more fat you burn, even while at rest! Who doesn’t want to burn fat even while you binging your current Netflix obsession?? Take a look at my #MBF post for more details on exactly how this works, but in the meantime, if you haven’t been hitting the weights or at least doing bodyweight exercises up until this point, start incorporating them into your routine now. If you are a little unsure about how to go about this, I have a few suggestions on this one also!
What ended up working for me was beginning to follow a weight training program I could do from home with just a few selections of dumbbells. I wanted to learn how to lift weights properly, with the correct form, and in an order which would be the most effective use of my time, so I did a little research and ended up diving into the program, LIIFT4 (click here for a FREE sample workout of this awesome program!). I am not exaggerating when I say that one decision changed my life. I fell in love with strength training and by the end of the program, I saw muscles I didn’t even know I had…I was hooked!
Another suggestion is if you are more a gym person, but still unsure how to go about lifting weights properly, just ask someone there for some guidance. I would be willing to bet that person who looks like they know what they are doing in the weight room would be happy to share some knowledge with you to help you get started. After all, they were once a beginner too!
You Aren’t Prioritizing Rest
As counterintuitive as this one might sound, rest is a key component in a successful fitness regime. This is one that became a real issue for me about a year into my own journey because I got to the point where I had found programs that I genuinely enjoyed doing so much and that I was seeing such great results from, that I never wanted to take a day off.
Really, I am being serious! I wanted to workout 7 days a week because I was having so much fun doing it and oh yeah, those endorphins can be addicting!
Pushing your body 7 days a week with no rest days, however, is a big no-no and can actually be setting you back on your quest to get fit. So, take my advice and build rest days into your own routine!
Nowadays, I typically build two rest days into my own weekly routine, depending on what program I am following and how much I am doing other workouts like riding my mountain bike and running. One rest day for me is typically a full rest day where I really give my body a break and let everything heal and repair itself and the other is usually an active rest day where I do something like go for a long walk, do some Pilates, or yoga or take my pups for a hike.
A few good signs your body is in need of a rest day or two are if you waking up feeling sore, you are more tired or moody than normal, or you feel a bit under the weather. You may also feel dehydrated despite drinking enough water or you might even notice that your heart rate is a bit elevated. These are all clear indications you have pushed your body hard enough for the week and it is time to let it rest. Build these down days into your workout routine and I bet it will help jump-start your progress again if it has stalled.
You Need to Mix Things Up
While I totally understand that most of us find comfort in routine, being comfortable while working out is not going to get you the results you are looking for. If you find yourself doing the same workouts, in the same order, with the same weight selection for an extended period of time this might be a contributing factor to the plateau you will inevitably find yourself in. While I do applaud the fact that you might still be consistently showing up if you don’t also switch things up once in a while your body will get used to the routine and your progress with cease.
It is only really when your body is challenged and forced to adapt to a new move or a higher weight selection or an entirely new workout altogether that meaningful progress can be made. For me, switching things up Is not only really great for my body and progress but also for my dedication to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The more variety I can incorporate into my workouts the more likely I am to continue to want to do them.
I do everything from weight training, to HIIT workouts, to running, Pilates, Yoga, and of course mountain biking, just to name a few. Not only do the different workouts keep things interesting for me but the unique aspects of each of them target different muscles and focus on different but equally important components of a complete fitness routine such as strength, mobility, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. Most importantly, just continue to challenge yourself. If you feel like you are stuck in a rut or are just coasting through workouts it is probably time for a change.
Plus, you might discover a new kind of workout that you really enjoy which is always a bonus! Check out my post “I can become a ballerina at 40 right?” for how I fell in love with Barre workouts after prematurely writing them off as something I would never like or benefit from. Challenge your assumptions people! You never really know until you try!
The reasons I listed above are just a few possibilities as to why you might feel like your progress has stalled during your fitness journey. Another really viable alternative is that you actually are still making progress; it just might not be reflected by the number staring back at you on the dreaded scale. A lot of the time that number might not be going down because you are building muscle at the same time you are burning fat. Remember muscle is dense and you could be shedding inches off your waist while getting stronger at the same time. If this is the case, ask yourself, “do my clothes fit better?”, “do I have more energy?”, “is my stamina increasing?”. If yes to one or more of those things, you are making progress, and congrats! The scale is by no means the end all be all, remember that!
If you are neither losing pounds nor gaining muscle AND all the things I listed above are not to blame, check things like portion sizes of the meals you are eating, have an honest conversation with yourself about your stress and anxiety levels which if high can be causing weight gain, and of course it is always a good idea to get in and see your doctor in a case like this. Several medical conditions like a low-functioning thyroid, to out of whack hormones, to an overgrowth of yeast in your body could all be to blame here as well. Most importantly, just don’t give up on yourself! Chances are with some small tweaks you can get back on track and continue to reach for and knock out all those awesome health and fitness goals you had set your mind to!