Why do you exercise? Are you trying slim down that big belly? Looking to have shirt-busting biceps? Or perhaps just trying not to become a three-toed sloth (even though they are cute)? Well, I can tell you that we all make mistakes in our never-ending quest to be fit as a fiddle. It’s in our nature to be comfortable. We make efforts to get to where we want to be, but often times we do the minimum to get there and never really breach our comfort zone. So if you have ever asked yourself, “Why isn’t this working?”, read on to see some classic mistakes you’re probably still making.
Tummy Training Troubles
At some point in our lives, we have all wanted our midsection to look at least a little bit different. Whether you’ve wanted to have washboard abs, a flat stomach, smaller pant/dress size, or even to see your toes again, we have all had goals. Training to see these goals come to fruition, however, can often feel like an uphill battle on a treadmill covered with petroleum jelly. No matter how hard or fast you move your feet, you just seem to see no progress. When it comes to seeing progress around your midsection, the difference is truly made in the kitchen and not the gym. This is because no matter how many crunches you do (or adductor machine squeezes you do for legs), you won’t see a bit of difference in fatty tissue laying over those areas (1). In reality, trying to zap away your problem areas is literally an exercise in futility, because spot reduction DOES NOT WORK (2)!!!! Furthermore, burning fat does not mean you’re losing fat (3). If you want to lose the muffin top, you should weight train (no not cardio), eat at least 500 fewer calories than you burn in a day, and face some of these hard truths:
1 – You will fail. Not everything you’re going to try will work. Keep trying new ways of losing weight and stick with what’s working for you. Whether it’s more exercise, eating less, or cutting out booze, find your weight-loss sweet spot to see that belly boil down to nothing.
2 – Your body is your fault. You’ve spent your entire life getting into the habits that have turned you into the person you are. Whether you’re happy with the way you look and feel, or get upset every time you look in the mirror, the sooner you start to take responsibility for your health and body, the sooner you’re going to make a change.
3 – Fat loss sucks. It’s damn hard and there is absolutely nothing “effortless” about it. You WILL have to get out of your comfort zone.
4 – You will never look the way you want. Our imaginations get the better of us by blowing things way out of proportion which results in some hybrid, demi-god version of ourselves. If you have ever thought to yourself, “I just want to look like I did when I was in high school/college”, then I’m sorry to burst your bubble Uncle Riko, you probably didn’t look that good in the first place. Our memories stink, we all think we are above average/better than we really are, and we are all getting older. Which leads me to my last point.
5 – Men and women lose fat differently, and our bodies don’t work the same as we age. This is especially true for postmenopausal women who have a harder time losing weight due to drastic hormone changes (4).
Programming Your Exercise For Getting Big
Getting bigger muscles is not easy. It takes dedication, lots of effort, and most importantly, consistency. Spending a few weeks lifting weights in the gym is not how you get bigger or stronger. You need to spend months, and even years, of heavy lifting to look like a muscle-bound gym rat. And even then, you will need to be doing a few key things to see success. To be clear, if you’re a high-level athlete there are a few very specific things that you need to consider, but we are not going to get into those topics here. If you are trying to get into a generally better body, then take a gander at what you need to be doing.
* Ignore the overrated minutia of training that just about everyone online is talking about. Even smart people and trainers get bogged down in the never-ending pile of garbage that’s out there these days.
* Progressive overload is the name of the game. More weight, more reps, more volume, more frequency, more quality, more efficiency or more intensity (of effort). These are all different forms of overload and this increased workload from one workout to the next is fundamentally what triggers muscle growth.
* Beginners can add weight to the bar at almost every workout, and enjoy rapid muscle gains with about 5 sets of exercise a week per muscle group. Experienced lifters will see gains come slower and need about 10 sets of exercise a week per muscle group (5). So don’t get frustrated; keep at it.
* Think long term. Not only does muscle growth happen slowly, your progress rarely occurs in a continuous, straight upward line.
* Sacrificing form for weight is unacceptable. I know you want to see more weight on the bar, but if your form goes to crap, then what’s the point? Strict form is always important for results and safety, but a standardized form is also a must when it comes to quantifying your progression from one workout to the next.
* Keep a training journal. Your memory isn’t so hot either, so write it down. How can you possibly get better if you don’t remember the sets, reps, and weights you did last time?
When it’s all said and done, you need to take care of you. Everyone experiences weight loss and muscle gain differently. What works for me probably won’t work for you. But if you’re not making an effort to get out of your comfort zone, then nothing will work. If you’re not tracking your process, successes, and pitfalls, then you won’t know which direction to go next. Work hard consistently to get to your destination.
1. Vispute, S. S., Smith, J. D., LeCheminant, J. D., & Hurley, K. S. (2011). The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 25(9), 2559.
2. Idoate, F., Ibanez, J., Gorostiaga, E. M., Garcia-Unciti, M., Martinez-Labari, C., & Izquierdo, M. (2011). Weight-loss diet alone or combined with resistance training induces different regional visceral fat changes in obese women. International Journal of Obesity, 35(5), 700-713. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.190
3. Stallknecht, B., Dela, F., & Helge, J. W. (2007;2006;). Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, 292(2), 394-399. doi:10.1152/ajpendo.00215.2006
4. Green, J. S., Stanforth, P. R., Rankinen, T., Leon, A. S., Rao, D. C., Skinner, J. S., . . . Wilmore, J. H. (2004). The effects of exercise training on abdominal visceral fat, body composition, and indicators of the metabolic syndrome in postmenopausal women with and without estrogen replacement therapy: The HERITAGE family study. Metabolism, 53(9), 1192-1196. doi:10.1016/j.metabol.2004.04.008
5. Schoenfeld, B. J., Ogborn, D., & Krieger, J. W. (2016). Effects of resistance training frequency on measures of muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Sports Medicine, 46(11), 1689-1697. doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0543-8