Your aim in the gym should be to always be making progress. Which is why going from smooth and steady progress to feeling like you’re stuck in the mud, can be enough to test even the most experienced gym-goer.
Of course, it’s only normal that progress will slow down over time but when you go from slowly increasing your weight on the bar, gaining weight on the scale and seeing progress in the mirror to nothing, you know something is up.
In fact, there are several other reasons you could be seeing a lack in, thankfully they can all be addressed and reversed.
As much as some people like to think they can go at this fitness game with no real plan and somehow still get the body they want. The truth is there’s more to it than just working out now and then.
In fact, there are several factors that, if you’re ignoring, can bring your progress grinding to a halt. Let’s tackle them one by one and get you back on track.
Sleep is an important part of daily life, but did you know it can affect the quality of your workouts?
One study (1) showed that participants who were sleep-deprived and restricted to 3 hours of sleep a night saw a significant impact on their performance in the bench press, leg press, and deadlift.
Sure, this is to be expected, 3 hours of sleep is extreme and not something I imagine anyone will be doing, at least not intentionally. However, if for any reason i.e. travelling you are severely sleep-deprived then expect your performance in the gym to suffer until you’re sleeping pattern returns to normal.
This is backed up by a study (4) that shows, even sleep deprivation of just 1 hour a night during the week can negatively impact body composition and whether weight loss is from fat or muscle, additionally the study discovered that ‘catching up’ on sleep at the weekend does not reverse the effects of missing 1 hour per night during the week.
Getting regular, good quality sleep is very important if you’re serious about changing your body.
How much you eat can directly influence your performance in the gym.
If you’re eating in a calorie deficit but expecting to continue gaining both muscle and strength, it’s just not going to work.
However, you also need to be aware that your body can only build so much muscle at a time and at a certain point additional calorie intake will only serve to increase the amount of fat you gain.
The aim is to eat enough to support continued progress in the gym without gaining excess fat. For most people, a surplus of 200 – 300 calories above maintenance calories is enough to stimulate muscle growth (provided your training is doing the same).
The only time I’d recommend eating more than this is;
Eat enough to support your performance in the gym but not so much that it impacts your health and aesthetics.
The progress you make in your first year won’t be the same as your third. This is ok, in fact, it’s completely normal and natural.
After some time (the amount varies between individuals) you’ll get to the point where even adding a single rep on one exercise in a session is progress. This is not to be ignored, after all, progress is progress.
Remember, even if you’re adding one rep or 1.25kg to the bar you’re still making progress. If this describes your current situation then take a deep breath and relax, you haven’t stopped making progress yet.
Be aware that progress will slow down as your experience increases, celebrate the small wins and stay focused on your goal.
Related: How to Track Your Progress
If you’re not applying progressive overload you won’t build muscle, it doesn’t matter how good your training program is or how well you stick to your diet, if you’re not getting better in the gym it’s all for nothing.
There are numerous methods of applying progressive overload but the 2 I’m most concerned with are either adding weight to the bar or adding reps over time, with the result usually being a mixture of both.
For example; if you do 3 sets of 8 reps with 70kg using the flat bench press on chest day.
The next time you perform the bench press you’ll increase the weight to 72.5kg and work towards 3 sets of 8 reps again before increasing the weight again.
Alternatively, if you don’t have access to 1.25kg plates you’ll build your way up to being able to do 3 sets of 12 reps with 70kg before increasing the weight to 75kg and dropping back down to 3 sets of 8 reps.
You can’t turn up and use the exact same weights in every session, you must give your body a reason to adapt.
Consistency is a straightforward one.
If you don’t train regularly and/or don’t stick to your diet you won’t make progress. There’s no way around it and doing one without the other will only ever give you sub-par results.
If you want to change your body you have to be consistent.
You get back what you put in, if you only turn up and train a handful of times a month, don’t expect the same results as someone who trains on a consistent basis.