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From not working hard enough to lack of honesty: 5 reasons you might not be seeing results

Personal trainer Dean Merton shares his opinion.

IN MY YEARS in the personal training industry, I have seen my fair share of successes and failures.

shutterstock_584834053 Source: Shutterstock/FS Stock

It would be dishonest of me (or any other coach) to say that I have a flawless record of success with helping my trainees to reach their goals 100% of the time. At first, I beat myself up over my failures, and those of my trainees to achieve the goals we had set. I would rack my brain trying to figure out ways around not only my shortcomings as a coach, but their shortcomings as an athlete.

Through much retrospection, as well as a healthy dose of introspection, I think I’ve come to find a couple of the reasons why much of the general fitness population does not achieve the goals they set for themselves, whether they appear to be easily achieved, or whether they appear to be a little lofty. Below are five of the reasons I feel many people do not achieve their goals. Some will be obvious, and some will piggy-back off the previous point, but all of them are relevant to the world of physical fitness as I have observed it over the years.

You’re not working hard enough

Yep, the first reason you may not see the results you want may very well be the most simple; you don’t put in enough effort. Many of you reading this will probably act aghast. After all you REALLY want to achieve your goals, you’re determined to succeed, you deserve to have a Hollywood blockbuster made about your epic fitness journey.

Hold your horses though, if you took a step back and observed your own training from the perspective of someone who is not you, what would you see? Would you see the grand epic vision you have of yourself, soaked in sweat, pounding out rep after rep, chalk creating billowy clouds throughout the room as the repetitive sound of clanging iron causes a scene reminiscent of a testosterone-filled warzone? Or would you see someone quietly lifting light to moderate weights very quietly in the corner of a commercial gym? My guess is probably the latter.

No matter how epic the song playing in your headphones you must realise that the epic scenario it is creating in your head is just that; a scenario in your head. Human beings have a terrible habit of aggrandising their own circumstances, of viewing the world as an epic tale of which they are the stars. That’s a pretty neat way to get through the mundane days of our lives, but it is not a scenario that will lead to a whole lot of personal growth.

shutterstock_278388485 Source: Shutterstock/Undrey

Of course we’re not helped by the era of celebrity culture that we live in, where everybody who picks up a 3kg dumbbell and snaps the occasional selfie wants to be a ‘fitspo’ or have plaudits sent their way for the progress they’ve made on their ‘fitness journey’.

The best advice I could give you the next time you grind out an ‘epic’ set but still find yourself dissatisfied with how you feel, move, or look is fairly simple, and I apply it to myself quite regularly — ‘Nobody cares, work harder’.

You’re not comfortable with suffering

Ok so maybe this second point will be a little belabored given what I have said above, but I feel as though there’s a distinct difference between not working hard enough and not being able to handle the suffering necessary to see the results you want.

I once heard (singer/songwriter) Glen Hansard utter an absolutely brilliant quote that he stole from a Franciscan nun; it simply states ‘No one comes to God but through suffering.’ Glen expanded this thought past the realm of religion and stated that ‘God’ in this instance could mean anything from truth, to beauty, to creativity. I will expand this further and say that if you want to grow either mentally, spiritually, or physically then you must know at least some level of discomfort and suffering. By the way, when I say grow physically I mean anything from losing fat, to improving mobility, to gaining muscle.

Lifting weights hurts, that much is undeniable, but you must be willing to deal with discomfort in order to gain anything from training.

To put it simply, to have what you have never had you must do what you have never done. Or in a much more scientific way, the only way to subject your body to an adaptation-inducing stimulus is to disrupt your homeostasis to such a degree that your body is forced to change. By doing this on a continual basis you may find that there are times when you break a sweat, there may be times you feel dizzy or sick, and there may be times that you tear chunks of skin off your weak hands by pushing them up to and past their old limits.

This does not constitute grounds for giving up, this merely tells you that you are pushing past your old limits and stimulating your body to adapt and change. If you want to continue to grow and adapt, then you must be willing to sacrifice some of your weaker cells in the process.

shutterstock_296586320 Source: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

These noble casualties will not be lost in vain, as in their place you will grow newer, more resilient soldiers to continue your march towards your goals.

No one comes to growth but through suffering.

You think you’re more advanced than you are

This one I was definitely very guilty of over the last few years. As human beings we’re all prone to the occasional bit of shiny object syndrome — we all want the newer phone, the faster car, or the more complicated training program.

We erroneously believe that we are unique snowflakes with amazingly personal circumstances that dictate that we must tailor our training to fix every 1mm misalignment in our hips, or restore that missing 15 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion.

Those are noble pursuits that wouldn’t be a bad idea for a higher level athlete, however if you’re simply looking to look or feel a little better then maybe your efforts would be a little better served just hammering the basics home on near-daily basis. Often times the reason why you suck at squatting is because you squat once a week with terrible form and the mistaken belief that you’ll magically stumble upon some other way to fix your movement without practicing it.

Far too often I see young men in the gym performing 3-5 curl variations on their ‘arm day’. More often than not, these guys have arms resembling the straps of the nearest TRX and are swinging around a 12kg dumbbell like it’s a battle rope. They have not earned the right to use advanced techniques or programming ideals by sweating their way through linear progressions in volume or frequency.

As a general rule, the newer you are the more you simply need to practice the basics and add weight to it. To give you a frame of reference I started lifting things (with no real rhyme, reason, or knowledge) when I was 15 years old. I’m 27 now and still consider myself an intermediate in terms of my programming needs. Why? Because simply put, I have not reached the level of strength or hypertrophy to warrant splitting my training sessions into a bodybuilding-esque body part split. I can continue to make great progress simply by manipulating my intensity, rep ranges and exercise selection every couple of weeks. As a result I hit three serious weight training days per week where I will stress my entire body via squats, hinges, pushes & pulls (yes, my whole body in one day), and supplement that with 2-3 days of accessory exercises, cardio, and general ‘fluff’ work that wouldn’t fit within the confines of my bigger days where the aim is to tax the entire system within 90mins or so.

I arrived at this realisation after 12 years of trying everything from bodypart splits to two-a-days. I’m not saying this is definitely the way for everyone to go, but if you have an ‘arm day’ but can’t knock out 10 clean chin ups or do 20 pushups then you may be going the wrong way about things.

You’re not being honest with yourself

Are you REALLY being honest with yourself with how hard you’re working? Are you REALLY working up to an 8-9/10 RPE? If you’re not then the only person you’re fooling and/or cheating is yourself.

shutterstock_160379219 Source: Shutterstock/Sebastian Duda

It’s perfectly alright to leave some reps in the tank every now and then. After all, if training is just a hobby there’s no need to take excessive risks. However this is not conducive to embracing the suck as mentioned above, and will not result in achieving the types of lofty goals that some may set for themselves. Dishonesty with oneself can extend beyond the weight room and into the kitchen. I myself have been guilty of licking the odd spoonful of Nutella at times when I was ‘determined’ to drop body fat or be at my absolute leanest. Was I really ‘determined’? Maybe. Was I also human? You betcha.

We will all falter, we will all put in less than 100% from time to time, and we will all do things that are not conducive to our long term health & happiness in order to get some momentary joy. Believe me when I say that no one understands this better than I do, however in the pursuit of your goals you must be honest with yourself and able to acknowledge your shortcomings if you hope to correct them.

Why did I lick that spoonful of Nutella? Cause I like sweet things and hadn’t prepared enough food for times when cravings kick in… And also because my granny bought me a kilo of the stuff and it was in the house. How did I correct my issue? I threw the jar of Nutella out and never bought another one….. No wait, I actually ate the whole jar, felt bad about myself, then never bought it ever again. I also made sure that I had a contingency plan for times when cravings kicked in, like a protein shake, because if I’m honest with myself I find that I have some problems with willpower, a leftover trait from being a morbidly obese only child with some confidence issues.

This is not an easily solved problem as you may imagine, but the more you know the better you can prepare for the inevitable, and it all starts with being honest with yourself about what you’re doing wrong, or what you could be doing better.

You’ve set goals based on what you think you should want

And to piggy-back on our previous point about honesty; I have met a number of people over the years who set goals based on what they THINK they want from training, based on what they feel society wants them to be.

Human beings come in all shapes and sizes — there are tall ones, short ones, skinny ones, curvy ones, and indeed fat ones. Somehow we have created this absurd notion that all humans, especially women, should have a certain look in order to appear attractive or desirable to the opposite sex.

shutterstock_297318935 Source: Shutterstock/www.BillionPhotos.com

Despite the best efforts of many enlightened persons and publications over the years to celebrate the diversity of the human body, the problem still persists in the general psyche that if we don’t look a certain way that we have no right to feel accomplished or happy.

While there are certainly unhealthy forms to take; ie too much body fat causing the body to become diseased or immobile, it is each individual’s responsibility to live a life that they are happy to wake up to every morning.

If you have somehow found yourself chasing a single digit body fat percentage and find yourself in a miserable state each and every day due to the pursuit of this goal, ask yourself is the achievement of this goal worth the hardship it will take to reach the end of the road? If the answer is no then you have a goal that you don’t truly want, and it’s entirely ok to then tweak that goal, or to change it entirely.

Why am I telling you this? Should I not be telling you that your goals are the most important thing in the world and you must achieve them at all costs? (like so many other ra-ra coaches you will encounter in your life time)

To put it simply, you must realise that all goals you have are simply a manifestation of the ideal that you are hoping to achieve a greater sense of happiness than when you set the goal for yourself. If your ‘fitness journey’ takes you to a place where your mindset evolves just as much as your physique, if not more, and you achieve happiness then you my friend are the victor, regardless of what the scale, the calipers, or the photos will say to you.

Dean Merton is a Dublin-based strength coach and personal trainer. You can follow his work on Facebook or his website

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