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9 Reasons You’re Not Seeing Progress in the Gym

It’s not uncommon to hear about women who have been regular gym-goers for years, and yet they’re still struggling with their weight, or struggling to get other results that they’re striving for.

How can that be?

Well unfortunately, simply going to the gym, even on a regular basis, doesn’t guarantee you an awesome physique. It depends entirely on what you do there, as well as your diet and lifestyle in general, as to what kind of results you ultimately get.

Below are 9 reasons why you may not be seeing any progress in the gym. They’ll give you a great insight into exactly what it takes to achieve a physique you can be proud of.

1. Your Workouts Lack Intensity

There’s a common, tongue-in-cheek saying that if you still look good at the end of your workout, it wasn’t hard enough. Well there’s actually a lot of truth to that. Workouts are meant to be challenging. They’re meant to hurt and to make you dig deep.

It’s often very easy to fool yourself into believing that you’re working out intensely when in fact you’re not. If you stroll into the gym yawning and dragging your feet, drop off your bag in the locker room, then wander out onto the gym floor scratching your head trying to decide what you feel like doing today, then it doesn’t matter how many times you reach failure during your workout, you’re not going to be training with intensity.

Intensity isn’t just defined by reaching failure or near-failure on each set. There’s failure and then there’s failure. Intensity is determined by your mindset. You have to be mentally amped up, not just ready to move some weight, but ready to destroy it. Like frothing-at-the-mouth ready (figuratively speaking).

Many people like to take pre-workouts to fire themselves up. I personally don’t, I use my mind to flick the switch in my head to “kill” before my workouts. Find what works best for you.

Think about this. Imagine you’re in the shopping mall and some psycho-looking guy just snatches your infant child and runs off. Think about how hard you’re going to chase him down and how strongly you’re going to wrestle him to get your child back. I can guarantee you’re not going to be thinking to yourself, ”boy, this is pretty tiring!” You’re going to be on a mission to kill or be killed. That’s intensity.

2. You’re Not Using Progressive Overload

It’s so easy to fall into a rut with your training, where you’re just going through the motions and doing the same thing day in and day out. You might feel a sense of satisfaction that you’ve made the effort to go to the gym and that’s great, you should be proud of yourself – they say that half the battle is showing up.

But make no mistake, it’s not the entire battle. Showing up gets you a seat in the game. If you want to win the game, you have to earn it.

Your body won’t change if what you ask it to do is always the same. You have to keep pushing it past previous limits if you want it to grow. This is the concept of progressive overload. In a nutshell, it means breaking previous personal records, whether they’re for strength, number of reps, or whatever.

By keeping track of your workouts you’ll have a good idea of how strong you should be or how much you should be able to do for each particular exercise. That doesn’t necessarily mean however that you’ll be able to reach that same level each and every week. That’s because it will depend on the order in which you do your exercises, how fatigued you are before that exercise, and so on.

Nevertheless, you should see a general improvement in your personal bests over time. If you don’t, there’s no progressive overload going on. You can’t expect your physique to progress without your performance progressing.

3. You’re Not Consistent

If you only have a great workout say once or twice a week, and slack ones for the remainder of the week, or worse still none at all, you really can’t expect to see groundbreaking results. Having an awesome, super-intense workout once in a while unfortunately just doesn’t cut it. By the same rationale, if you happen to have a bad workout once in a while, it’s not going to kill you.

It’s what you do on a regular basis that determines your results, not what you do once in a while. And the more regularly you do it, the more influential it will be. In other words, if you want great results you have to be very consistent.

Women with great physiques achieve them because they’re dedicated enough to consistently do what it takes, day after day. Until you commit to being consistent with your workouts, you’ll always get haphazard results, if any at all.

4. You’re Not De-Loading

One of the keys to a balanced and successful workout program is the ability to listen to your body. It’s simply not possible to keep putting huge demands onto your body, pushing past its limits week after week over the long-term without sooner or later something giving.

That “give” may be dramatic, like an injury for example, or it can be simply a loss of energy and a feeling of lethargy and being flat. Some people refer to this condition as overtraining, but in the strict sense of the term it isn’t the same thing.

It does however mean that your body, and perhaps more specifically your nervous system, needs a break or a back-off period to re-group and reset itself. This is precisely what a de-load does. It can last anywhere from say one week to perhaps three weeks, and involves doing your workouts at about 50-60% of your normal weights, taking your sets nowhere near failure.

A well-planned de-load will allow your body to recover without risking loss of condition and muscle mass. By tracking your progress and listening to your body you should be able to detect when you’re due for one and how long it needs to be. When you’re getting to the point where it seems that hitting your normal level of intensity and motivation is a struggle and your progress seems to have plateaued, a de-load could very well be just what the doctor ordered.

5. Your Mind is AWOL

In case you weren’t aware, AWOL is a military term meaning away without leave, as in not there, as in somewhere else. Being 100% mentally present during your workouts is vitally important to your results, for several reasons.

First of all, wondering about what you’re going to wear to the party on the weekend or whether or not the new guy at work likes you isn’t exactly conducive to maintaining a high level of intensity and drive during your squats. Intensity requires focus, and we’ve already talked about the importance of intensity.

Secondly, the quality of your workouts is very much dependent upon how you mentally connect with the muscle group you’re training. This is known as the mind-muscle connection. It’s important to focus closely on the target muscle group, to mentally isolate it in your mind so that it’s getting the undivided attention of the movement, and to visualize it working. EMG testing has shown conclusively that this process makes a significant difference to the level of activation of a muscle.

And thirdly, I’m a big believer in the power of our mind to influence the condition and wellness of the body. When I work out therefore I don’t just use the normal mind-muscle connection that I’ve just described, I also visualize the working muscles getting filled with blood and nutrients and actually growing bigger and stronger.

Even if you don’t believe this has the ability to influence your gains in any way, you’ll still experience a greater pump and create a more familiar connection with your own body.

6. You’re Avoiding the Big Exercises

Doing the common isolation limb exercises such as curls, raises, extensions and so on play an important part in creating a complete and balanced physique, however relying on these exclusively or too much is a mistake. By doing so you’ll be seriously limiting your development.

Even though you absolutely can and do build muscle using these types of movements, they’ll only get you so far. Your ability to build your physique is strongly influenced by your body’s overall strength, which is why it’s important to include the large, compound exercises in your program. These include squats, deadlifts, bench presses and pull-ups.

These movements build great overall strength and develop your entire physique (not just the large muscle groups), which you can then fine-tune through the smaller isolation exercises. Not only that however, the big lifts also help your body to produce more muscle-growing hormones, which will of course contribute significantly to your rate of development.

7. You Can’t Out-Exercise a Bad Diet

Too many people underestimate the importance of diet on their physical development. They believe that all progress is made in the gym, and that any deficiencies in their diet can be compensated for in the gym. In the vast majority of cases however, this simply isn’t the case.

A bad diet will hold back your progress in both directions – gaining and losing.

If your goal is to lose weight, it’s safe to say that your diet is the dominant factor in your success, not exercise. Ideally you should have the two working together of course, but at the end of the day your diet needs to be well on point before you can expect to see any results from your efforts in the gym.

In fact, making mistakes such as overeating or over-restricting yourself to the point of metabolic damage will more often than not prevent you from making any progress whatsoever.

If your goal is to develop your physique on the other hand, you need to appropriately feed the growth by increasing your intake. That means more calories, more protein, more carbs and more fats. All three macronutrients are important to growing muscle, not just protein, so be sure to keep your diet sensibly balanced while you increase your calorie intake.

8. You’re Doing Too Much Cardio

Like poor diet, doing too much low-intensity, steady-state cardio will also impede your results both for losing weight and gaining weight. Low-intensity cardio specifically has been shown to be catabolic (it leads to muscle loss) and also to be a contributor to metabolic damage.

If your goal is to build your physique then excessive low-intensity cardio is certainly not your friend. This type of cardio signals to your body to reduce its muscle mass so that it can cope with the activity more efficiently, and also as part of its process of lowering your metabolic rate to compensate for the high energy demands you’re placing on it.

For fat loss, cardio exercise is undeniably beneficial in the short-term as one of its major outcomes is to burn calories. Doing too much however will lead to metabolic adaptations that actually reduce your body’s rate of fat-burn. These adaptations are what lead to weight loss plateau. There’s no shortage of women, competitors included, who need to be doing one, even two, hours of cardio each and every day just to maintain their weight as a result of this.

Cardio exercise is something best done in moderation, not overdone. By far the most preferred form is the high-intensity variety (normally interval training) as this doesn’t lead to metabolic damage or muscle loss, and actually improves your body’s ability to burn fat.

9. Just Because

Since we’re all individuals we have to acknowledge the fact that we all progress at different rates, no matter how hard we work or what we do. The tendency to compare yourself to someone else who’s progressing faster than you, and wonder what they’re doing that you’re not, is understandable. The fact is however, there may not be any particular reason for it, outside of genetics.

Also bear in mind that sometimes you may actually be making progress, but it’s just not obvious to you. This can happen if you’re relying on the scales as a measure of your progress. Gaining muscle is a good thing but it can offset any fat loss you may have achieved and make it look like you’re not progressing. Use a variety of methods to track your progress, including weight, body measurements, photos, how your clothes fit, and so on.

Another point to consider if your goal is to build a great muscular physique is that unless your body fat percentage is low enough, you won’t necessarily see very impressive results since your muscles will be hidden under body fat. That doesn’t mean you’re not making progress however, it just means that you can’t see it, yet.

It’s not uncommon for Figure competitors, for example, to look a little chubby or bulky during their off-season as some can tend to gain perhaps a little too much body fat. That doesn’t mean however that their muscle is no longer there. It is, but it just isn’t visible until they cut back down again.


Making progress in the gym isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would be looking great, and that just isn’t the case. Getting results takes a lot of hard work, commitment and dedication.

Hopefully these 9 points will help you to correct any areas that you’re currently lacking in and get you going in the right direction. Let me know if one of these areas has been holding you back, and how you plan to overcome it. Maybe you’ve discovered a mistake you’ve been making that I haven’t mentioned here, and that’s been holding up your progress. If so, please let me know.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Gloria

Gloria

Gloria Kaneko is a lifetime 100% natural IFBB Figure athlete, certified gym instructor and personal trainer, and fitness model. She has also studied clinical psychology, is an NLP Master Practitioner, and has several certifications in Hypnotherapy and the Silva Method. Gloria is a co-owner and co-founder of Million Dollar Baby Fitness.

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