Millions of people walked into the gym on January 1st, and were ripping, roaring, and chomping at the bit to get after it.
Now there are some depressing statistics out there about how people don’t make it past January and blah, blah, blah about how people aren’t motivated.
But the truth is, it probably isn’t the motivation that is the issue, it is the lack of results.
A lot of people go in, work their faces off in January, and then leave because they didn’t get where they wanted to be.
Now, here is how you fix that problem. You don’t just say, “You weren’t going to last anyway”, you highlight the biggest reasons people fail and you help them avoid them.
These following 4 things are the the main reasons people fail with their New Year’s resolutions and how you can avoid them.
1. You Put Unrealistic Timelines on Things
Everyone’s mom and their dog went into January with very lofty health and fitness goals. Which I am 100% behind. New Year’s resolutions are better than no resolutions and they often spur people to make a big shift. Something has to get the inertia going and if January 1 is what does it, I am 100% down with that.
Now here is the real issue. Most people put unrealistic timelines on things. And its mainstream fitness media’s fault.
Ok, kidding about that, but popular workout programs, magazines, and news articles do give us all very unrealistic expectations.
How many “ripped abs in 30 days” or “7 days to firm glutes” did you see on the cover of magazines or above the fold of articles you read in the past month? The answer is probably a lot.
Above all else, this is the fundamental reason people fail. They expect something by a certain date and when they don’t achieve it they quit. They don’t think the juice is worth the squeeze.
When you put hard timelines on things that aren’t 100% under your control (let’s be real, your body composition isn’t 100% under your control) and things that you don’t fully understand the intricacies of, you set yourself up for failure.
You want ripped abs? GREAT! Here is your timeline: Forever.
You want firm glutes? FABULOUS! Who doesn’t? Here is your timeline: Forever.
You have to be willing to work toward your goal until you actually achieve it.
Setting your goals like this does several things:
- It gives you a more realistic timeline.
- It forces you to do things the right way and setting up your plan for the long haul.
- It gives you shades of grey to operate in and each day can be a success. Unless you quit, there is not ultimate failure.
2. You Are Chasing Calorie Burns, Not Adaptation
Calories in – calories out = fat loss. So focusing on that calorie number is the main goal of exercise right? I mean if I want to lose weight I need to eat less and burn more calories.
While true, it also misses the really key important of training: Adaptation.
You can burn a lot of calories just walking. In fact, if you just care about losing weight, walking is quite effective1,2.
When you really stop and think about why you train (aka exercise) you really train to elicit an adaptation. The calorie burn is just a happy by product. Seriously.
Different training styles have drastically different adaptions on your physiology while they can have similar caloric expenditures.
If you are trying to get really strong, you need to train quite specifically to be really strong. You have to lift heavy.
If you want to add a lot of muscle tissue you have to train fairly specifically for muscle growth. You have to accumulate a lot of volume.
If you want to improve your aerobic capacity and perform really well in endurance type training/events you have to train your aerobic system. You have to train at a low intensity for a long period of time.
With each of these modalities you can structure your training to elicit specific calorie expenditures based on the overall work load. But you have to train specifically for an adaptation you are looking for so it’s key that you focus first on the adaptation and chase that. Not the mystical calorie burn.
3. You Are Trying to Do too Many Things All at Once
Now that you understand that you need to chase adaption and not calorie burns, we need to talk about program hopping/training ADD/trying to do everything all at once.
The human body is a remarkable organism and its ability to adapt to a wide range of stimulus is pretty unbelievable.
While the human body really can adapt to a wide range of stimuli, it takes a lot of the same stimuli over and over to accumulate a noticeable and meaningful adaptation.
Many people spend months, if not years, spinning their wheels by trying to do too many things and not focusing on.
For example, this looks like a lot of people’s training schedule, especially as they get started with a new fitness routine or starting the New Year fresh.
Monday: Chest and arms day (because EVERYONE knows Monday is international bench day).
Tuesday: Yoga and 3 mile run.
Wednesday: Heavy leg day (because friends don’t let friends skip leg day).
Thursday: Rest Day (gotta pamper myself)
Friday: Back and shoulders and some curls.
Saturday: long run day (gotta keep my cardio game up)
Sunday: Netflix and chill and pretend to do my laundry day.
Now this is where people run into problems.
There is a little bit of strength training, but not a lot.
There is a little bit of muscle growth (aka hypertrophy) focused training, but not really much volume.
There is a little bit of cardio, but not a lot.
They are doing a little bit of everything, but not enough of one thing to really make quick progress.
You would be much better to focus on one area of adaptation for an extended period of time (like 16-24 weeks) and then move onto a different focus. So maybe you start by training to add some muscle mass by doing a hypertrophy focused program for 16-24 weeks, then work on your cardio by doing an 16 week maintenance lifting phase with 3 days a week of more endurance training.
Stay focused if you want to make progress.
4. You Are Focused on the Minutiae, Not the Big Picture
We often focus in on the small, not so important, details and minutiae when we should focus on the big picture stuff.
Why do we do this? Well, it’s easier to control the small things and wrap our minds around the small things than it is to understand and tackle the big picture.
Think about it like saving for retirement. It is really hard to try and wrap your head around saving $1,000,000+ dollars if you are making 50-60k a year.
Like impossible to wrap your head around. It becomes even more difficult when you think about investment accounts, and tax advantages, and market fluctuations, and inflation, and stocks vs bonds, and on and on and on and on… so you focus on 1-2 things. You save X% of each paycheck, put it in a managed account, and don’t touch it until you are 65.
The same thing happens for people’s health and fitness goal. They have this lofty far reaching goal and then focus on the little things they have control over but often miss the forest for the trees.
Here is what people often focus on … versus what they should focus on:
- The exact ratio of their macros vs. hitting protein and calorie requirements
- The glycemic index of their carbs vs. the nutrient density and satiety of their carbs
- Training fasted for extra fat loss vs. Getting in a high quality workout
- Nutrient timing vs. daily calorie needs
- The exact program they are on vs. the main goal of their program and its key principles (load, intensity, volume, etc.).
The Wrap Up
99% of success is in the prep work and succeeding this year is about setting yourself up right. By addressing many of the key pitfalls and barriers you can make sure you won’t fail this New Year. Don’t set unrealistic timelines on your goals, instead make the timeline an “I will work until I get there” timeline.
Chase the adaptation you are looking for, not the calorie burn. The calorie burn will be a natural consequence of doing work so you are better off aiming that effort at a specific adaptation.
Chase that adaptation for an extended period of time and don’t try to do too many things all at once; the old adage, “Jack of all trades, master of none” rings true. Master one thing and then move onto the next.
Don’t miss the forest for the trees. Focus on the big picture things that move the needle.