Why am I not seeing results from the gym?
In Part One of this series, I talked about having a strong mental game if you want great results from your hard work in the gym. Today we talk about what you’ll need to be doing while you are actually exercising to see the greatest results.
Intent & Focus
Every day I watch people come to the gym, do their exercises with total crap form then immediately hit their social media feeds or wander around and talk to their friends. They weren’t even remotely focused during their exercise and on their breaks, they totally remove themselves from what they are at the gym to do. TO WORK!
I’d say at least 80 percent of people who come to the gym have very little focus when they exercise. This is also exactly why most people who go to the gym see zero results.
Most people don’t ever think about the muscle groups they are trying to train, they don’t try to push themselves with more reps and better form each week and most don’t record their weights or their rest times at all. Exercise reps are usually pounded out at lightning speed with total shit form and then they are right back to Instagram or talking to their friend.
Nine times out of ten this is because the weight people are using is too heavy. Somewhere along the way they’ve told themselves they must use super heavy weight and get to the end of the set as fast as possible. Trust me when I say the goal isn’t to “finish” your exercise set. The goal is to put the muscles you are trying to train under tension (for EVERY rep) for a specific amount of time. If the weight is too heavy or you are moving too quickly this will be impossible and your results will be minimal. The only thing that might improve is your ego…
You need to have a strong intent when you exercise.
Are you training lower body today? Great, your intent for the day is to train your lower body hard and train it in a way that challenges your last lower body training day. When you do your squats or your lunges are you focusing on every inch of the movement to make sure you have great form? Are you focused on feeling your quads and your glutes? Are you recording your weights and your rest times? If not you are basically just moving your body.
Moving your body is good for you but movement for the sake of movement will not get you anywhere but exactly where you are now.
I have a few challenges for you to help you increase your Focus and Intent when at the gym. Try these for 3-4 weeks and I promise you’ll see a huge improvement.
First up unless you are using your phone to track your sets/reps/weight and rest time put it away…and when I say put it away I mean really put it away. Lock that sucker up. Trust me your Instagram feed and all your adoring fans will still be there when you get back. If you are using your phone to track your progress and rest times then only use it for that.
When doing an exercise, think deeply about the muscles you are about to train.
I bet you think you already do…I promise if you aren’t seeing results you aren’t.
Let’s use a simple back exercise like the one arm dumbbell row as an example. Do you initiate the movement with your lats when you begin? Do you feel your lat contract when the dumbbell gets close to your body? Do you lower the weight back to the start under control? Do you even feel your lats when you do this exercise? If you said no to even one of these then it means you aren’t focused during the movement or the weight you are using is too heavy. If the weight is too heavy and your form is suffering it’s because you aren’t focused on training your back, you are instead focused on training your ego…or you just aren’t focused at all.
Add THREE SECOND ECCENTRICS (The lowering part of reps/movements) to ALL your movements for 3-4 weeks.
On the lowering phase of an exercise like say squats, take 3 full seconds to reach the bottom position. For every one of those three seconds, I want you to check in with your form and how the muscle you are trying to train feels. This goes for bicep curls, bench presses, overhead presses etc. As you lower your bicep curls from the topmost contracted position take three full seconds to get to the full bottom position. This will help you have much better neuromuscular control and muscle proprioception (mind-muscle link). Plus you can get more growth from the eccentric part of lifts vs the lifting/concentric portion of lifts.
If three seconds isn’t helping you “connect” and focus make it 4-5 seconds on the lowering phase of each movement.
Add a One – Two-second pause at the bottom position of each movement. During this challenge, it will take you three full seconds to reach the bottom position of your squat. Then you’ll add a 1-2 second pause (dead stop) in the deepest part of your squat before starting the up portion of the lift. Same goes for bicep curls…pause at the bottom position before curling the weight back up. What this does is remove the momentum “bounce” at the bottom of most lifts/moves. Moving a weight from a dead stop is much harder than from a bounce…it’s also safer.
Stay strong and tight in the pause and don’t relax the muscles…this isn’t a 1-2 second break!
You may find that during this 3-4 week challenge the weights you were initially lifting now feel too heavy. Good, reduce your weights, focus more on what you are trying to do and before you know it your weights will climb back up again.
*It’s important to know that the form you use is more important than the weight you use. Lifting heavy weight is very important for growth but if your form isn’t on-point you will see very little progress in the shape of your body…you may improve your ego but that’s about it. When a weight is too heavy your body will start recruiting all kinds of other muscles than the one you are trying to focus on. Not only does this slow progress but it creates bad movement patterns. Besides not seeing progress, those patterns usually turn into bad posture and injuries.
Focus as much as you can on ignoring everything going on around you when working out.
Stop caring what other people might think about the weight you are using and step inside your body and the muscle groups you are training. Constantly ask yourself what your intent is for the exercise and movements you are doing. If you are training your chest do you feel your chest? If you are training your arms do you feel your arms? If not, slow down, use the tempo challenges above and start focusing inwards on how you actually feel during each rep for each exercise.
While everyone around you is throwing weights around at lightning speed with total shit form you’ll be slowing down, internalizing and getting the maximum out of the movements you are doing.
Keep a close eye on your breaks between exercises. Use a stopwatch to make sure your breaks are consistent. If they are too short you won’t have had enough time to recover and your weights will end up being too light, if your breaks are too long you’ll go past the point of recovery and start seeing less results.
For example – let’s say you have a small superset of Dumbbell overhead presses mixed with some Walking Lunges. Keep track of how long the break is between the two movements and how long you need to rest when you’ve completed them both.
A1. Dumbbell Overhead Press – rest 10 sec then move to A2
A2. Walking Lunges – rest 60 sec before repeating A1
If you were to stay on point with these break times then the next time you perform this circuit you’ll know exactly how you performed. If you have no idea how long you’ve rested you’ll have a tough time figuring out where to make changes and challenge yourself from week to week.
You won’t be able to add extra weight to all your movements every week so things like reps, tempo and rest times will be where you make the most changes week to week. Next time you are at the gym try and beat your last workout in some way. Either shorter rest times, heavier weights, more sets or more reps. Your body is an amazing adapting machine. Challenge it or you’ll stall out on results fast!
If focusing on the muscles you are trying to train isn’t working I encourage you to hire a fitness coach even if it’s just for one session. A good coach can show you not only proper form but how to initialize each movement with the muscles you are actually trying to train, the intensity you should be training at and possibly which exercises work best for your personal biomechanics.
You are in the gym to work my friend. You aren’t there to watch TV, chat with your friends, check social media feeds or show off. Get in, focus, get to work and get the heck out!
If you’ve stalled out on your progress shoot me a message. I’ll help you sort out and get you on track for quick results.
Jade McClure – Vancouver Personal Trainer & Nutrition Coach
Hey Jade, I completely agree with you especially about the slow you centric part of the movement. When I am training as well as when I am training my clients I make sure that they have a very slow you centric movement. Letting gravity do all of the work in lowering the weight does not help anybody make progress or create a mind muscle connection. I am referring my clients to this article to better reinforce what they know they should be doing. Thanks for the write up.