Why People Often Fall Short of Their Fitness Goals


In my years of personal training, I have had countless opportunities to observe people in gym environments, to see their routines, watch the mistakes in their form (usually because they’ve learned from someone who makes the same mistake), noticed their habits, and had many conversations with those seeking information to help them in their quest. I’d like to share with you some of the most common challenges they bring up, and some thoughts about how to address these.

I do __________ (hours) of cardio every day, I don’t eat hardly anything, yet I can’t seem to lose any weight. Sound familiar? So, what do you do? My first suggestion is usually to cut back on the cardio, add resistance training (not just doing curls with 5 pound dumbbells, but a well designed weight training program for the full body), and up the volume, frequency and quality of their nutritional intake. Not eating allows your metabolism to slow down, and your body then wants to store any consumed energy as fat. A gram of fat has 9 calories, a gram of protein or carbohydrates only 4, so your body would prefer to store fuel as fat as an energy source. Eating on a regular basis (every three hours or so) keeps your body from getting into this “storage mode”. Resistance training does build muscle, which increases your metabolism, which makes your body a more efficient fat burner. The benefit from most cardio ends as soon as the exercise does, while resistance training provides an uptick in your metabolic rate for up to 48 hours after the session. Resistance training can also stem calcium depletion in women. If you are concerned that you will “bulk up” if you left, let me put you at ease. I train competitors that spend $20,000 and a year’s time in the gym to add five pounds of muscle, so if you think you are going to get huge from lifting, it isn’t going to happen. You will get a toned and defined look, with the right prescription, but you aren’t going to look like a bodybuilder. As a friend often says, “Lifting doesn’t make women huge. Cupcakes make women huge!”


I work out ____________ times a week, but my ________________ (pick a muscle or muscle group) isn’t getting any bigger. This tends to come more often from guys. They come into the gym and follow a very predictable workout pattern. Monday is chest and tris, Tuesday back and bis, and so on. First, most people underwork their legs, which are the largest muscle groups in the body. Because of their size, legs have the most impact on testosterone production and metabolic rate. Want your arms or chest to grow? Work your legs harder and heavier. Also, change up your routine. Your body acclimates to familiarity, so it begins developing efficiency, rather than being pushed to become stronger. Don’t follow the same exercises, in the same order. You should usually begin with the compound movements that work the larger muscles, but don’t always start chest day with flat bench, then incline, then flies, then cables, etc., like most guys do every Monday. Switch from barbell to dumbbells, change grips, bench angles, etc., add super sets, drop sets, pyramids, or some variable to shake up the mix. Do this and you will see your plateaus get left behind.

I saw this guy/girl doing this exercise this way, but when I do it I feel pain. Unless you are well along in the fitness path, and need new dynamics to provide specific stimulation, the basic exercises, with changes in grip, angle, weight, reps, etc. should provide all the challenge you need. Just because the body builder type that you saw in the gym was doing lat pull downs or military presses behind his head doesn’t mean you should. He is most likely developed enough to need a tweak to continue making progress, is aware of the risk/reward involved, knows how to tell when his body feels something is amiss, and so an unconventional exercise or adaptation may have merit. This isn’t the case with most in the gym. Safety and avoiding injury is the number one consideration in choosing an exercise prescription.

The drop off from the New Year’s Resolution crowd. Every year, like clockwork, the gyms fill to capacity in January. There are waiting lines for most pieces of equipment, the parking lot is full, and you see dozens of people you’ve never seen before. By and large, these new members are all gone by Valentine’s Day. Why? They aren’t making progress, because they have no idea what to do. They think they should do cardio to lose weight, but are unsure as to what cardio apparatus to use, the intensity settings, for how long, etc. They fail to include resistance training, so their metabolisms remain sluggish. I frequently overhear people bemoaning their lack of progress in losing weight after I have watched them ride a recumbent bike for 15 minutes at minimum resistance, or walk on a treadmill at 2.5 mph for a half hour.is that better than doing nothing? Yes, but barely.They also don’t have a source to provide coordination between their exercise and nutritional intake, so the results just don’t happen. How can you avoid this? Hire the best trainer you can find, and follow what they direct you to do, to the letter. If you need some help with deciding which trainer is best for you, inbox me and I will certainly help.The cold, cruel fact is, if you are unhealthy today, the failure rate on everything you have tried is 100%. The fact that you played a sport or lifted weights in high school is irrelevant to your condition and needs today.

I lift and I do cardio, but I am not seeing the progress I expected. Check your food plan. If your nutritional intake isn’t properly aligned with your exercise prescription, then you will fall short of what could be. To add muscle, you need a sufficient amount of protein to build it. To maximize your workouts, you need sufficient carbs to provide energy. Too often, carbs get kicked to the curb because fad diets brand them as “bad”. The reality is that carbs provide the energy you need to maximize your efforts. Stay clean with carbs like quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potatoes and brown rice, but make sure you get enough. Don’t obsess with macro counting, just strive for balanced nutritional intake.

A fit lifestyle is the result of a combination of five factors; Resistance training, cardio training, proper nutrition, proper hydration, sufficient and quality sleep/rest. if you are falling short on any of these five, put your effort into getting that area shored up, and you will see your progress improve.

Jim Harris