What Do You Do When You're Not Making Progress?

Posted by Raeanne Pemberton on

By Gabrielle Hoffman

You're working your ass off (or on, rather) in gym, running your program, doing your thing, and all of a sudden you hit the dreaded "plateau". Weights are stuck, you're frustrated, and you're convinced that you are just never going to make any gains ever again. We've all been there. So what do you do when you're feeling stuck?




First, you need to check yourself:

- What is your training age/history? If you've been training for less than a year, chances are, you aren't actually hitting any sort of "plateau" and you certainly haven't reached your genetic potential. You are now entering the realm of a being an intermediate trainee and with that, your newbie gains are going away.

- Do you have realistic expectations? Setting SMART goals and realistic expectations is important for helping you navigate your training experience. Setting big, scary goals is incredibly important (and highly encouraged!) but if you expect to add 100lbs to your squat in 4 weeks and you're not a total beginner, you're setting yourself up for some disappointment. Perhaps it's not that you're not making progress, it's that you're not making the progress you think you should be making based on unrealistic or unlikely expectations.

Next, examine factors outside of your gym time:



- How is your diet? Fueling yourself with enough calories to train effectively is important. Now, when you are cutting weight or focusing on fat loss, you will be training in a caloric deficit. Does that mean all your gainz are gone forever? No. But training adjustments can and should be made to accommodate said deficit (and that's an entirely different article for another day). When assessing diet and nutrition, I like to look at the following factors (listed in order of importance/relevance):
a.) caloric intake
b.) macronutrients
c.) micronutrients (food quality)
d.) nutrient timing
e.) supplementation

Examining each of these items and doing an honest assessment of each can be extremely helpful in helping you figure out what need more/less of.

- How is your sleep? Sleep is the #1 recovery tool. If your sleep suffers, your gym performance is also going to suffer. If you're not sleeping enough, step 1 is to get some more sleep! That may not be able to be accomplished all in one block (I certainly can't sleep for 10 hours every night) but focusing on getting more sleep and better quality sleep will do wonders for your recovery and your training.

- How are your stress levels? If you are constantly inundated with high levels of chronic stressors (life stuff, work, not sleeping enough, etc.) chances are, adding more stress in the form of super hard training sessions or super tough dieting is going to feel pretty awful. Life happens and stress levels can ebb and flow so if you have a bad day/week in the gym and you're feeling frazzled and stressed out - you haven't plateaued. Chances are, once you give your body and mind some to recover, you'll pick up right where you left off.

- What about your other recovery methods? Food, sleep, and stress managements are sort of the "big rocks" of recovery. Once you've addressed those, then start to look at the smaller rocks. Things like chiropractic/physical therapy care, massage, meditation, and ice/heat treatments fall into this category. Maybe adding in an extra chiro or massage session each month would help with that nagging pain that is holding you back. Perhaps implementing a meditation practice to help with stress will help you focus in the gym. Whatever it is, give it a try and see how you feel.

Lastly, assess your training program:



- Are you actually doing your program? If someone tells me they have stopped making progress and says "well, I was running x program but I deadlifted instead of squatted on my Mondays and then threw in a metcon conditioning piece at the end of every session and I totally haven't PR'ed my squat so this program must suck!" - YOU DIDN'T DO THE PROGRAM. Period. Do not attribute your lack of progress to the program if you didn't do the program as written.

While there are certainly other factors to consider, and other questions to ask yourself, these questions are a great starting point to help you assess why you're not making progress, what to do about it, and where to go next.

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