We’ve all come to a point in our training when it feels like no matter how much effort you put in, we stop improving and nothing seems to change. Whether you can’t knock that extra minute off your 10k time or can’t quite seem to manage the last couple of reps in the gym, here are some reasons why you might not be seeing progress.
Not Pushing Hard Enough
Do you train with friends? Do you spend more time chatting than exercising? This can be true for gym-goers as well as runners who will maintain a very light intensity to keep up the conversation. If this is the case, either start using each other as motivation – a little competition never hurt anyone – or go solo for a few workouts and notice how much you get done when there’s nobody to talk to between sets.
Alternatively, if you are training alone, you might be taking it too easy on yourself and giving in when you may have an extra mile or another set left in you. Why not find yourself a training partner and see how motivation from others makes a difference?
You’re Training Too Much
Conversely, you might be pushing a little too hard, too often. If you are noticing that you feel tired, stressed, sluggish or constantly sore when training then it might be time to take a day off. While some people like to push through the pain, not getting adequate rest is a sure-fire way to pick up an injury or do yourself some harm. During rest your energy stores (glycogen) have time to replenish and broken muscle tissue has time to repair, coming back stronger.
Make sure you are getting at least 1-2 days off a week from hard training and getting plenty of sleep and your body will thank you for it by returning stronger and feeling refreshed. For serious athletes it’s tough to take time out, so you could switch your rest day to something lighter than usual, known as active recovery, but unless you’re an Olympic champion you will no doubt benefit from some complete rest every now and again.
Your Training Isn’t Specific
If you want to get better at a skill, you need to practice it. This sounds simple but all too often people will spend too much time focusing on the wrong areas of training. For example when preparing an obstacle race, practicing running along with bodyweight & plyometric exercises will get your body used to the demands of the event. Maxing out your bench press three times a week probably will not.
Similarly, when preparing for a running event, getting outside on a route that will match the race you are preparing for (eg. hilly, flat, off-road) will stand you in much better stead for your race than the same distance on a treadmill or cross-trainer. The more you run, the more comfortable you will become with running, which will improve your overall endurance.
Have a read of the 10 Basics Of OCR Training.
You Never Warm Up Or Cool Down
Diving straight into a workout without giving your muscles time to prepare is the quickest way to pick up an injury. By doing some light exercises eg. a few squats, lunges & pushups, some light jogging and some dynamic stretching, your body will be ready for what you’re about to put it through and your performance will reap the benefits.
Additionally, at the end of your session cooling down is just as important, this can be anything from walking around for 10 minutes to bring your heart rate down, a series of stretches, or even the dreaded ice bath. Cooling down will minimise the risk of cramping up later on, can help reduce soreness and will ensure your body is ready for round 2 tomorrow.
Not Setting Yourself Targets Or Goals
Knowing what you want your improvement to be is the first step to achieving it.
If you are not setting yourself any targets then you run the risk of either trying too much too soon or never increasing your workload to match your progression. If you’ve haven’t ran before, then just lacing up and heading out the door without an aim of time or distance can ending up with you miles away from your house without the energy to get back or getting lost. Setting yourself a target of running 5km in 4 weeks time will allow you to plan how much you need to do each session and where you are likely to go to match that.
For more experienced athletes, there will come a time when your body will be used to the weekly workouts. You will need new targets to shock the body and push it to the next level. Set a target to know where you want to be, to firstly reward your hard work and provide a sense of achievement, then secondly to make sure you are seeing progression. Tell your friends and family too, which will give you support and give you that extra incentive to reach your target.
Sticking To The Same Routine
If you’ve been going through the same training routine/schedule for the past few months and stopped seeing any progress, chances are your body has adapted to this routine and you have hit a plateau. Fixing this can be as simple as increasing the weight you lift, increasing your running speed or mileage, or changing the type of training you’re doing.
More likely, a new routine in the gym every 4-6 weeks or adding in short, fast runs and sprint days or some hill workouts into your weekly running schedule will waken your muscles up to a new stimulus and keep your training fresh.
Your Nutrition Isn’t Right
Many people view exercise as a license to eat whatever they want. While you may get away with a few treats here and there, if you are seriously looking to improve then fuelling your body is important. Processed foods should be avoided like the plague, your diet will do best by sticking to all-natural, whole foods such as quality meats, vegetables and fruits to keep a steady energy supply throughout the day.
If you’re training make sure you have enough energy to do so. Eat correctly the day before a long run, not just in the morning. Take advantage of the ‘window’ after a workout or long run, when you need to eat within 30 minutes of your run – the enzyme in your muscles that replenishes the carb stores you’ve just burned is increased by 300% in this window. So it’s critical to eat then, helping you to recover.
Scan through some nutrition-based articles.
Not Keeping Hydrated
Staying hydrated is very important to make sure your body is working to it’s full potential. Research suggests that performances decline with only 2% dehydration.
During long training sessions you lose water through sweat, moisture in your breathing and through muscle utilisation, so even during the winter you run the risk of dehydration. Your body is 60% water so by drinking water it will not only keep you energised throughout training, but will aid in avoiding cramps and keep your joints lubricated, helping to avoid injury. You lose a great deal of water when sleeping so make sure to start hydrating when you wake in the morning!
Remember you are not just drinking for your current activity but also for tomorrow.
Your Technique Is Lacking
There will come a time when you won’t get any more improvements. Changing your training plan may help but your technique could be holding you back. Whether this be simple running tips, obstacle tips or general gym tips. There are plenty of ways to do this cheaply, buy a book, search online, join a running club, do a gym class or have some personal training.
Everyone needs competition. Whether it’s to keep you motivated or to compare yourself to. For running, join a running club or run with a friend. Try a CrossFit class whereby you will be competing against others and putting your times on the board. Go to a circuits class or enter a gym competition.
If you can’t do any of the above get some friends together and train as a group. The motivation and support is the key here not the winning.
Also read: How To Stay Motivated.
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.