Paralysis by Analysis: 10 Reasons You're Not Making Gains

Mike Wines
Written By: Mike Wines
November 17th, 2015
Updated: June 13th, 2020
24.1K Reads
Paralysis By Analysis: 10 Reasons You're Not Making Gains
Think less, lift more. Words to live by if you're the type who thrives on details but never makes progress.

I can’t begin to tell you the number of pointless Facebook debates I’ve witnessed between coaches and lifters alike discussing minute details which likely only account for a 1-2% difference in body composition and strength.

Sure, 1-2% can make a fairly sizeable difference when you’re competing against the best in the world. But, odds are you’re not competing in the Olympics, you’re just a recreational lifter who wants to look good naked or turn a few heads with your feats of strength.

At the end of the day you must remember one thing - it’s not about getting fancy, it’s about a relentless application of the basics until you become a master in the most mundane things.

If you struggle with chronic over-analysis, then keep reading. It’s time to turn things around and stop spinning your wheels once and for all. 

1. Programming

Have you ever met one of those guys who’s married to his program? I mean it’s not Facebook official but the guy can literally tell you the exact percentage he’s going to hit on back squats 3 weeks from now.

Now don’t misconstrue what I’m saying – programming and periodization are both incredibly important in order to ensure long term progression. But, what are you going to do when you feel like crap but your program calls for a max effort deadlift session?

Let me guess, time for 3 scoops and Metallica at ear splitting levels? That may work once or twice but you’ll quickly find that this short term strategy is anything but sustainable.

If you’re going to make gains for the duration of your training career then you need to learn how to interpret and appropriately respond to signals from your body.

Despite what most motivational pictures tell you, your body is not lying to you and it’s not always about pushing harder. On the contrary, I think you should be more concerned with your recovery than your training if you want to ensure the best growth possible.

Related: 13 Hilarious "After Leg Day" Memes For People Who Really Train Legs

2. Technique

I’m a technician by nature so this trait is somewhat engrained in my personality but I try to couple it with an adequate level of intensity to ensure my priorities stay balanced.

Technique and cueing will always have their place but they should be primarily reserved for submaximal work. Once you get into 90%+ territory, you only need to remember one thing (in the case of a deadlift): “Pull more, think less”.

Now obviously you should be working to continuously improve biomechanics through a variety of internal and external cues but you must choose your wording carefully as cueing is very individualized by nature. Many cues can be misconstrued and overused as I explain in more detail below:

3. Personal Biases

No, your body part split it not superior to any other style of training, regardless of how many PubMed links you DM me on Twitter.

Science is great but you shouldn’t be trying to force a square peg into a round hole simply because a study says one method is better than another.

One of the most important aspects in program design is enjoyment and sustainability. However, most don’t realize that these components are intrinsically linked. In other words, one will be able to sustain a program longer when they actually enjoy what they’re doing.

There will always be research to back one side or the other but when push comes to shove, if you’re not enjoying what you’re doing then you’re not going to be motivated to make training a habitual part of your life.

4. Supplements

Here’s an earth shattering thought: what if you actually listened to your body and got more sleep rather than abusing preworkouts to push yourself through another mediocre training session?

Not to mention, if you need a preworkout in order to “find your motivation” to lift then it might be time to re-examine your goals or perhaps even your mindset surrounding the gym.

I hate to break it to you but supplementation likely only accounts for roughly 5% of changes in body composition. You can’t out supplement a crappy lifestyle, poor recovery, and abysmal biomechanics.

Paralysis By Analysis: 10 Reasons You're Not Making Gains

5. Intensity

You’re probably lazier than you think.

Now, let me clarify – laziness is largely a societal outcome from mechanization coupled with our ingrained tendencies to exert as little effort as possible.

Your body is a master of homeostasis so it’s not going to expend any excessive energy when the primary goal is survival. Not only that, we tend to overestimate our efforts during exercise and underestimate our caloric intake.[1,2,3]

In other words, there’s a pretty good chance you eat more than you think and you don’t know your physical limits because you’ve never pushed them.

As I mentioned above, programming needs to be based upon enjoyment but at the end of the day it’s not just what the person wants to do, it’s also what they need to do.

6. Fundamentals Before Supplementals

So, you learned how to count macros, read a few studies in the Journal of International Society of Sport Nutrition (JISSN), and did your first bodybuilding show. That’s awesome. However, that certainly doesn’t mean you understand the full gamut of nutrition nor does it designate you as a “coach” either.

The basics are pretty simple – caloric balance, food quality, satiety, and portion control are all fairly easy to understand and teach. However, most want to immediately jump into supplementation, meal timing, or nutritional biochemistry.

News flash, if your life revolves around counting macros, swolfies, and logging your workouts, you’re not even close to “mastering” the fitness lifestyle. Fitness should enhance your life outside the gym, not detract from it.

7. Frequency

I know you’re a member of #teamnodaysoff and you remind everyone with your daily Instagram posts but you know, it won’t kill you to take a day off. Not to mention, if you make rest a priority, you might actually start to get stronger.

I’m not talking about just sitting around watching Netflix either. Get in some low intensity movement (i.e. a solid dynamic warmup), nail your nutrition, and get your sleep in order.

Paralysis By Analysis: 10 Reasons You're Not Making Gains

8. Training Environment

No one makes gains at planet fitness…no one.

Okay I lied, I know some people who train pretty hard there despite the lack of squat racks and terrible playlist on repeat.

My point is, you must find a training environment which is conducive to your physical and mental growth. However, keep in mind that growth occurs through discomfort, your body is a master of homeostasis.

For example, I routinely drive 45 minutes one way in order to train at a performance facility across town. The equipment coupled with the general atmosphere and coaching staff keeps me coming back despite the drive.

Most won’t find this sort of setting in a commercial gym so it’s important to seek out like minded individuals who will be willing to push you along the way.

9. Duration

Turns out the cortisol bogeyman is completely bogus.

You’ve probably seen a million different articles describing the “detrimental” effects from workouts lasting longer than an hour and truth be told, there might be an issue for certain populations.

However, the vast majority of intra-workout-Facebook-perusing-gym-goers probably just need to work harder and worry less about a supposed “hormonal cascade” from excessive time spent under the bar.

Paralysis By Analysis: 10 Reasons You're Not Making Gains

10. Science

O, you science too?

Seems like everyone these days is an “evidence based practitioner”. Cool, more power to you.

However, we must be careful that we don’t lose the forest through the trees when it comes to actually interpreting data and prioritizing specific variables.

For instance, when discussing the digestion of mixed macronutrient meals and their influence on nitrogen balance, it is widely suggested to separate meals by 3-4 hours due to the refractory nature of muscle protein synthesis.[4,5]

Related: 9 Broscience Myths Destroyed with Actual Science

Let’s consider this for a moment though – if someone is awake for roughly 16 hours that would equate to a maximum of 5 meals if they followed the lower end of the suggested meal frequency guidelines.

But, what are they supposed to do if their intake requires them to eat 5,000 calories on a daily basis and they can’t stomach 5 meals with a thousand calories each? Obviously it comes down to more frequent meals with spread out calories to ensure they’re reaching their goals.

As legendary strength coach Dan John once said, “The goal is to keep the goal the goal.” Don’t get caught up in the finer points of science and miss the larger principles of basic physiology and thermodynamics.

Wheel Spinners Anonymous

The internet is both a blessing and a curse; you have access to extraordinary information at your fingertips but often times this can be confusing due to conflicting studies and opinions from experts. 

To quote Dan John once more, “Repetition is the mother of implementation.” It’s time to take a step back from this information age and master the basics. Learn to love simplicity as complexity breeds a lack of adherence.

The vast majority of trainees are going to find the best improvements to their physique and strength by focusing on the “big rocks” of training – adequate caloric intake, compound exercises, quality nutrition, sound sleep, and improved lifestyle factors.

It’s not about where you start, it’s how you finish and the road you take to get there. Don’t make this harder than it has to be. 

1 Comment
Posted on: Thu, 11/19/2015 - 09:48

Another very well written and interesting read Mike. I couldn't agree more with your penultimate paragraph.. I've made massive changes to my physique by simply adopting and applying those principles.