Why You Don’t Make Progress (and How to Change That), By Chris Gingrich

There’s a reason we all can’t stand commercial gyms during the first two weeks of January (some of us don’t like commercial gyms at any point of the year, but that’s another article in and of itself).  Millions of people, spurred on by New Year’s resolutions, hit the gym in an effort to finally get healthy and fit.  And they inevitably fail.  Why?  Why is change so hard? 

 Other, more advanced fitness enthusiasts set noble goals, only to go the gym day after day, year after year, without achieving any real progress.  Surprisingly, the reasons both groups of people fail are the same.  Here’s a list of a few problems that can crush our fitness goals, and some ideas on how to combat them:

 You dwell on missed reps or poor workouts

 Bad is more powerful than good.  As human’s, we are attracted to negative events more quickly than their positive alternatives—news stories that feature death over volunteerism, gossip about a co-worker rather than praise, or images of war instead of nature.  Weight training is no different.  We are much more quick to react to a missed rep or poor workout—a psychological trait that can wreak havoc on confidence for many workouts to come.  Think: one poor rep accounts for, perhaps, 1% of your workout.  At three times per week, one poor workout accounts for .01% of your training year.  So rather than dwell, look for the good: that rep that felt perfect, the new mobility exercise you tried, or your intensity you displayed on the tabata finisher.  Look hard enough and you’ll always find something, in even the worst of workouts, to be proud of. 

Takeaway: Find one small positive in every workout and build momentum around it.

You’re overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the options

You read T-Nation.  You subscribe to blogs.  You follow Twitter.  You read about 5-3-1, starting strength, german volume training and crossfit.  You don’t know what to do—to you, they all sound good.  So, you end up doing nothing or stick with the status quo.  Maybe you rotate a new routine every week.  Stop.  Now! 

Take the time to figure out your goal.  One goal.  You can’t have it all—so pick your most important goal, and focus.  Having too many goals leads to too many choices, and that leads to indecision.  So pick one, and be specific (a specific weight AND date).  Then, you can stop worrying about where you want to go and start working on how to get there. 

Takeaway: Have a clear and achievable destination.

You let yourself slip too often

We’ll always find a way out, if at all possible.  If your goal is to get stronger—in what? By when? By how much?  Make your goal black and white, with no room for shades of gray.  Maybe you don’t like to squat, but you know you should.  If you don’t have a black and white goal, you’ll justify skipping squats in any way possible: “oh, I did lunges on Monday,” or “I want to be fresh for my jog tomorrow,” or “I’ll do them extra hard next workout.”  No, you won’t.  So make a black and white goal: I’ll do one set of squats at the beginning of every workout.  It either is, or it isn’t…no wiggle room.  And chances are, you’ll end up doing more. 










Takeaway: Set a black and white goal with no room for if’s or but’s.

You’re overwhelmed

Maybe your goal is to add 100 pounds to your squat by Christmas.  That’s a good goal.  It has a definite, clear focus.  The problem is, what’s the best path to get there?  And whatever that path may be, it seems entirely too long and exhaustive and far away to ever get there.  So, instead of (or better yet, in addition to) setting huge, long-term goals, set smaller, incremental, achievable goals instead.  Maybe you’ll add 10 pounds to your squat this month.  Suddenly, that’s much more tangible and achievable.   A month is easy to conceptualize.  Ten pounds isn’t so overwhelming.  So rather than thinking about a year from now, take a one-month chunk and dive in with 100% focus and determination. 

Takeaway: Break your goal into achievable segments.

You stop if you hit a setback

 So maybe you don’t hit your first goal of 10 pounds in a month.  That’s great!  First, find the positive: maybe you added 5 pounds.  Next: embrace the struggle.  Learning is always preceded by failure.  Instead of thinking of failure as failure, think of it as a learning opportunity.  Maybe you’ve learned that you don’t respond well to high volume—failure embraced, lesson learned. 










Takeaway: Struggle is the seedling that inspires growth.

You lack support in your environment

You are what you’re surrounded by.  Does your commercial gym ban chalk?  Probably not a good place to pursue a powerlifting goal.  Your training partner lives for “bench and bi” days?  Not so good for your injury prevention program.  Gym’s 45 minutes from home?  Maybe not good for your consistency.  What you often see as a problem with yourself can be attributed to environmental factors.  Analyze your surroundings and ensure that they are consistent with your goals.  Then, you’ll be ready to achieve great things. 

Takeaway: Place yourself in a positive environment with like-minded people.

You don’t make the small changes

So you’re getting to the gym and doing the big lifts.  For the most part, you’re doing what you need to do.  If your progress is stalling, look at the little things.  Are you keeping a workout journal?  Are you taking a few minutes to do a proper warm-up?  Pre-workout nutrition?  Post-workout?  In this case, sweat the details—they can make or break a program. 

Takeaway: Small habits result in big changes.

 Fitness is a constant struggle between instant gratification and long-term benefit.  You choose to cook chicken instead of grabbing a cookie.  That’s a short-term sacrifice.  You go to the gym instead of relaxing on the couch.  That’s long-term thinking.  It’s a battle of willpower, and it can be exhausting.  Set yourself up for success by celebrating every victory (however large or small), thinking clearly, being consistent, and embracing the journey.  And the iron.  Definitely embrace the iron.


Chris has been certified through NASM and the IYCA and currently holds a certification as a High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He has worked with several athletic teams: including running a “dryland” program for a local swim team the past four years, working with track and field throwing athletes, and developing a strength and conditioning program for a growing basketball program.  He is constantly looking for new material and owns several dozen books on fitness, listens to the fitcast in his car, and surfs the internet for new information from the great minds in the fitness field: Eric Cressey, Dan John, Mike Boyle, Gray Cook, and Todd Bumgardner, to name a few. Chris currently lives in the Harrisburg, PA area and works as a teacher at a local high school. Some of his hobbies include lifting (of course), basketball, music, and motorcycles. (922)

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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
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