If you are completely new to fitness and you are working out, you will probably make some impressive gains and results at the beginning of your lifting career.
Pretty much anything you do in the gym will result in muscle growth. The reason why is simple, you are introducing your body to a new type stress and it is adapting to it very quickly.
If you are looking to lose weight and gain muscle (which should be your goal if you want to keep the weight off), you will quickly lose first few kilos and, with that, you will also gain a lot of strength. Quite often, beginners can achieve strength improvements of around 5% workout to workout.
After 2 - 3 months, this will start to change. You will find out that your progress is slowing down because your body has already adapted to the stress. After 6 months of total training your progress will most likely completely stall.
I have seen people who are beginners or intermediates, going to the gym for years looking exactly the same with no progress at all. They are just going in circles, and most of them blame genetics, but that is not really the reason why they are stuck.
So what do you do when you hit this wall, and how can you achieve your goal? There are a few elements to this, lets go through all of them one by one.
If you are not logging your exercises and the weight you move each time you go to the gym, you probably need more structure. This is a common mistake that most people make. They never keep track of which exercises they are performing, what weight they are using, and how many repetitions they make each set. Without this data, it is impossible to know if you are progressing or not.
The first step would be to start logging your workouts. This can be done by using a simple app like notes, or you can download many free apps that are specifically made for tracking your workouts.
I would recommend the second option as it is also free and much more convenient to use. I personally use an app called ''Strong'' for more than a year now, and I highly recommend it. (this is not sponsored, I just like to recommend good things that I try, test and use)
This will help you to be more organised and will also help you to see if you are progressing or not. If you are progressing and getting stronger, you will be able to see exactly at what rate, which is usually an eye opener for many as now they clearly see the results of their work.
On the other had, if you are not progressing, you will be able to change certain things like the amount of sets you do, or your diet by introducing more whole foods and optimizing your fat intake.
Doing too much or too little
Workout program is a very broad subject as it can have many different variables, but the most common mistake is that trainees are either doing too little or too much volume. If you do too little, you cannot make any progress. If you do too much, you are risking overuse injuries and your are probably too fatigued from workout to workout. After a certain threshold of stress is met, the body gets the message and adaptation is triggered. But the problem is, after a certain point, you exceed the body's capacity to adapt to further stress, and at this point it becomes detrimental.
On top of this, muscle damage limits your body's ability to activate muscle tissue.
This is why there is an optimal range of the number of sets you should do per muscle group in one week. Of course, you need to experiment with this, but to give you an idea, most of your progress should be achieved within 12-20 sets per muscle group per week. If you log your workouts, you can easily calculate how many sets you are doing in a week and adjust accordingly.
Changing exercises too frequently
Every single exercise you perform is a skill. Your nervous system plays a big role in this. The more you perform a certain exercise, the more efficient your nervous system becomes at activating all your muscle fibers to produce greater force.
This is why sticking with the same exercises can benefit your strength greatly over a longer period of time. Since getting stronger is required for muscle growth, we need to maximize this by performing same exercises for at least 2-3 months, and possible even more.
This is when exercise selection becomes very important. You should generally pick exercises with best microloadability, that way you can always keep increasing the load. Most compound exercises are very suitable for this, which is why they are often recommended by many fitness trainers in the first place.
Lack of sleep
This is probably the most underestimated factor when it comes to fitness in general. The importance of sleep has been confirmed by many studies, especially for strength training. Sleep deprivation has even greater negative effect than chronic stress, and it has negative effect of basically every system in your body.
Here is a list of these effects:
-Wung et al. 2018, conducted a research where they found that sleeping 40 minutes less during the midweek, caused the ratio of lean to fat mass loss to shift from 20% lean mass loss to 80% of lean mass loss! Another interesting thing is that the sleep deprived group were allowed to catch up on their sleep during the weekend. Despite all of that, they went from losing mostly fat to losing mostly muscle!
-Increased appetite: sleeping 6 instead of 8 hours a day can increase your appetite by 20%.
-Decreased metabolic rate.
-Decreased testosterone production. Sleeping 5 hours a night can decrease testosterone production by 13%.
-Increased cortisol secretion. A single night of sleep deprivation can spike up cortisol production by 40%.
-Increased insulin resistance.
-Decreased cognitive functioning.
To avoid effects mentioned above, sleeping 7.5 - 8 hours will be sufficient. Also your sleep requirements increase as your body fat percentage decreases.
Here is a few tricks on how to optimize your sleep:
As long as you have a consistent lifestyle, your circadian rhythm will automatically synchronize with it. As long as your meals are at consistent times, you work out at the same time, and you have enough day light exposure, your sleep should be fine. People with consistent lifestyle have a significantly better sleep quality than people with irregular lifestyle.
Limiting your pre-bed light exposure can significantly improve your sleep quality. Light exposure acts as a signal to your body that its time to be active and it prevents your body from producing melatonin which helps you fall asleep.
To prevent this, you should either get a black out curtains, or blinds that let no light inside. Your bedroom should be pitch black when you want to go to the sleep.
If you are using your computer before going to bed, you can install f.lux on it. Electronic devices have a very strong blue light that disrupts your biorhythm. Installing an app like this decreases blue light and turns it into more warmer colors, like that of a sunset. Red spectrum light does not disrupt your biorhythm as much as blue spectrum light.
All the reasons I have listed above are very fundamental and basic, but also crucial to your progress. Most people overlook them and focus on trying to figure out what is the best exercise, or what is the best diet that will transform your body.
It all starts with building a solid foundation that can carry you very far in your fitness journey.
I am currently taking 2 new clients for my flagship Be Fit and Strong online coaching program!
If you are looking to take action and take your physique to the next level, check out more information by going on the online coaching tab in the menu above.
You can also book a free assessment call to see if I can help you reach your goals.