Wasted Gains: 3 Reasons Your Workout Program Sucks

These 3 simple reasons are holding you back from accomplishing all of your fitness goals. Learn what they are and alter your workout program accordingly!

#NEWyearNEWme.

If it’s not trending on Twitter yet, it will be.

It’s January which means everyone is on the hunt for the spring break body. Miami or bust, am I right?

While I applaud the enthusiasm, we need to hash out a few common (mis)beliefs to help you avoid the typical pitfalls which ensnare many in the new year.

1. Soreness Determines Your Perception of Success

Perception to most is self-deception.

Everyone wants to proudly wear their red badge of courage on their chest (or on social media as the case may be). However, we must keep in mind that social media exists in a vacuum. It is a microcosm of arbitrary information, generic quotes, and reductionist thinking. Therefore, we must be very careful in how it shapes our mindset and undermines our actions.

If your Instagram is full of #LIVESORE hashtags and motivational videos dubbed over standard film scores, then maybe it’s time to consider what’s actually driving the process…

Related: Train Like An Athlete, Look Like A Bodybuilder

Would your training still feel successful if you didn’t cripple yourself with soreness after every lift? Do you enjoy training or are you merely riding the coattails of an emotionally charged roller coaster being directed by classical overtures and melodramatic narrators?

“When you train and train hard, you acutely damage a lot of systems in the human body. This isn’t optional. If you are living sore, you are essentially in a chronic state of damage, maybe without recovery or adaptation.

But, most people don’t really care about these things. They want to feel something, anything. They want to connect with the world and other humans around them. They want to fly flags to distinguish themselves from the masses. They want to bond over mutual struggle and pain.” – Dr. Ben House

Takeaway: Many believe soreness is an indicator of hypertrophic adaptation (via mechanical tension, muscle damage, and metabolic byproducts) but that isn’t always the case. If you can’t walk for a week after your leg day, is your mindset really sustainable?

I can’t answer these questions for you but I think it’s important for one to consider the driving force behind their actions. If you want to maintain longevity in any endeavor, it must enhance your life, not detract from it. Choose your motivation wisely.

2. Taking Advice From Professional Athletes/Fitness Models

If you’ve been on social media over the last few weeks then you’re probably aware of all the hype surrounding Tom Brady’s TB12 method along with James Harrison’s departure from the Steelers. If you aren’t familiar with Harrison’s social media shattering workouts, here’s a quick snapshot:

 

A post shared by James Harrison (@jhharrison92) on

On the contrary, Mr. Brady tends to shy away from the heavy lifting and believes in “no load strength training” according to his new book The TB12 Method. According to Brady, “Muscles need to be pliable and soft. Dense, stiff muscles are easily injured and lack the ability to absorb and disperse stress from impact” (e.g. those incurred during a tackle).

Interestingly enough, Harrison was just dropped by the Steelers in the 16th week of the NFL season and picked up by the Patriots. Both players are eclipsing 40 years of age but their methodology is drastically different – herein lies the problem.

For years, professional athletes have long been heralded as the poster children for alternative ideas, unproven supplements, and outlandish claims. However, appealing to authority is never a legitimate source of evidence. Logical fallacies make poor arguments but in the world of fitness, they remain largely unnoticed.

Cognitive Bias - “a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.”

However, recently I saw an interesting conversation on Facebook surrounding this topic and noted a particular comment relevant to our discussion. An individual expressed their opinion regarding Mr. Harrison’s workout and recovery methodologies (many of which are controversial):

“He can do what he wants. Just like Marshawn Lynch is free to eat skittles until his heart’s content and seemingly half of the NBA in 2017 is free to go vegan. None of that changes the fact that athletes at that level are outliers in the first place and extrapolating whatever they’re doing directly to the general population is a silly endeavor.”

Takeaway: Tom Brady and James Harrison are genetically elite. You will likely never have 5 super bowl rings, no matter how many games you quarterback from the couch with the remote in your hand.

Find what works for you but don’t be afraid to question popular claims made by those in the spotlight. Odds are they can’t explain the “why” behind the “what” and as such, you need to dig deeper to verify the legitimacy.

3. Recovery Matters More Than Training Volume

“If you’re not making progress, just train harder.”

How exactly does one quantify ‘harder’? Does that mean more volume, higher intensities, shorter rest periods, greater frequency – perhaps all of the above?

Maybe it’s time to take a step back and consider the opposite end of the bell curve – maybe you’ve been crushing it for too long (#3scooplyfe) and you need to let off the gas for a few days?

Bell Curve to Illustrate the Average Persons Work to Recovery Rate

Recovery takes an investment (time, money, effort) coupled with consistency. The harder you train, the more emphasis you must put on recovery.

If you decide to completely disregard all aspects of recovery – i.e. go to bed at 3am every night, never eat anything green, and stress yourself out about everything (aka live like the average American). Then, you will not be able to train as hard as you want.

Your preworkout may try to convince you that you can, but that lifestyle is short lived and your physiology will dictate when you hit the wall.

It’s coming; it’s not a question of “if”, but “when”.

Related: 4 Things I Wish I Would’ve Known When I Started Training

Rather than waiting to hit the wall, be proactive in your approach to monitoring and quantifying recovery on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. I use a variety of metrics with my athletes, some more complex than others. But, here’s a fairly simple questionnaire which you can utilize on a weekly basis to monitor your physiological response to training:

Athlete Readiness Assessment (YES/NO)

  1. Altered mood status?
  2. Disrupted sleep (increased urge to urinate at night, heightened sleep latency, reduction in dream frequency, etc.)?
  3. Higher frequency/duration of sickness?
  4. Reduced appetite?
  5. Constant muscle soreness which limits daily tasks of living?
  6. Excessive joint and tendon stiffness?
  7. Increased irritability?
  8. Nagging chronic injuries?
  9. Consistent increase in morning HR (taken supine before rising in AM)?
  10. Heightened sensitivity to bright light (i.e. sunglasses always needed outside)?
  11. Altered digestion (e.g. change in stool frequency, consistency, bloating, flatulence, etc.)?
  12. Weights feel heavier than normal every session?

SCORING (# of YES responses):

  • 9-12 = Likely time to deload for a week, cut volume by 50-60%, reduce training load by 10-12% and make light(er) weights move fast.
  • 5-8 = May want to consider areas within your lifestyle, nutrition, and training which need improvement. Go to bed before 11pm, increase carbs around/during your training session, spend more time outside in the sun, ditch social media for a while and consider using headspace or calm, etc.
  • 1-4 = Probably not much cause for concern unless one symptom is particularly intense and long lasting in duration (4-6 weeks). For example, losing your appetite for an extended period of time with no apparent explanation.

Takeaway: Over the course of a mesocycle (i.e. a 4-8 weeks training block), you’ll likely find that your scores start to creep up as you incur more accumulated fatigue. However, if you don’t address this fatigue and allow it to dissipate, you will stifle adaptation.

Monitor your recovery and adjust according. Your body is always trying to tell you something, it’s just a question of whether you’re listening.

Train Hard, Think Harder

Walking into a gym is the hardest step for most resolutioners. However, once you make it through the door, it’s time to crank up your BS detector because there is no shortage of misinformation in this day and age.

"The difference in knowing just enough to be dangerous and knowing enough to really help others is not that large. Yet, to bridge the gap one must maintain the attitude that they might not know everything and therein lies the problem.” – Dr. Ben House