What to Do if You're Just Not Achieving Your Fitness Goals
Exercise without clear fitness goals in mind, and you’ll likely feel like a hamster spinning on its wheel. Fitness goals give your workouts focus and keep your head in the game, even when your body is ready to call it quits. But, to be effective, fitness goals need to be attainable. If you’re putting in the time but not attaining any of your fitness goals, something is off. It’s time to hit pause, take a step back, and consider why you’re not meeting your fitness goals.
1. Fitness Goal: Lose Weight
One of the most common fitness goals by far, weight loss can elude even the most motivated among us. Nothing’s more frustrating than committing to a fitness plan, adjusting your diet, and seeing the numbers on the scale hold steady.
Why You’re Not Losing Weight
Many individualized factors—from your daily activity level to your age or the medications you take—can influence your weight loss journey. (Turns out, that 3,500-calorie-per-week-deficit rule isn’t completely airtight or universal.) If you’re not meeting your weight-related fitness goals, it makes sense to take a closer look at your intake. Less obvious mistakes can sabotage your fitness goals. Are your seemingly “healthy” meals filled with extra calories (e.g., a dinner salad topped with cheese, croutons, and dressing)? Are you accounting for beverages and snacks in between meals?
Conversely, eating too few calories can also negatively impact your fitness goals. “When you go on a diet, your metabolism slows down and your body will fight hard to try to conserve any calories it can get,” says Amy Chow, registered dietitian and founder of BC Dietitians Directory. “Weight will not come off when your body is lacking essential nutrients. It’s always a good idea to have your diet assessed by a registered dietitian.”
2. Fitness Goal: Stay Consistent
Maybe your top fitness goal is to remain consistent with exercise. You have a history of hitting your fitness goals hard for two weeks, then falling off the wagon for three. You know all of your other fitness goals are dependent upon your sticking with a routine, yet you can’t seem to stay motivated.
Why You’re Not Consistent
Are you starting too aggressively and then burning out? Fitness goals should be challenging, but they also need to be realistic. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised regularly, it’s unrealistic to jump back in with 60-minute workouts six days a week. Beginners should start with smaller, achievable fitness goals (e.g. three 30-minute workouts a week) and gradually ramp up your workouts over time.
Also, find something that you like to do! If you hate running or traditional bodyweight workouts, opt for a completely different activity like kickboxing or barre. It’s a lot easier to stick with a workout that you enjoy.
3. Fitness Goal: Achieve Muscle Definition
You’re working out, and you want to look like you’re working out. This is a completely reasonable fitness goal. But, for some reason, you just can’t get cut.
Why You’re Not Ripped
First of all, it’s crucial to start with reasonable fitness goals as they relate to your body composition. Your ability to pack on muscle mass is, in part, dictated by your genes. You simply may not be predisposed to a bodybuilder’s physique, or it may require way more work than someone else who’s genetically hardwired to gain muscle.
You can optimize your muscle-building efforts by making sure your strength-training workouts are progressively challenging. In other words, if you’ve been doing the same lifts with the same pair of dumbbells for six months, you can’t expect to see new results.
“Over time, our body will adapt to the stimulus we place upon it,” says Nick Occhipinti, CSCS and Student Doctor of Chiropractic (DC). “This means that as we train, we must continue to challenge ourselves in a stepwise fashion to make gains.” Make sure you’re increasing weight, adding reps, or both.
4. Fitness Goal: Feel Energized
You’ve heard about endorphins and the “runner’s high,” but your workouts only ever leave you tired. If one of your fitness goals is to have more energy, but you’re feeling wiped out, you might be forgetting one important aspect of a fitness routine — rest.
Why You’re Tired
You’re probably not getting enough rest. And we don’t just mean sleep, which is also incredibly important. Besides getting in the prescribed 7-9 hours of shut-eye, you should also be taking days off from working out, especially if you favor high-intensity exercise. Working out every day without breaks can lead to overtraining, a general sense of burnout, and even injury.
5. Fitness Goal: Get Stronger
Whether you want to do a pull-up or just be able to carry that extra-large bag of dog food to your car, getting stronger is a worthy fitness goal. So, what if you’re putting in the hours, but your strength gains have stalled?
Why You’re Not Getting Stronger
Strength and muscle mass go hand-in-hand. So, as previously mentioned, you need to continue to challenge your muscles with increasingly difficult workouts. And, following an appropriately tough workout, your muscles require protein for re-building.
“The way to signal an increase in MPS (muscle protein synthesis) is to perform resistance training at the appropriate intensity to signal the body that an increase in muscle is both beneficial and necessary,” says exercise physiology expert Alex Rothstein, instructor and coordinator at New York Institute of Technology’s Exercise Science program. Rothstein explains the theory behind muscle adaptation:
- Muscles develop in response to a need to develop.
- After the stimulus has been provided from the workout, we then need to signal the body that nutrients are available to be used as building blocks for larger muscles.
- This is where protein ingestion comes in.
In the four to six-hour window following a strength-training session, Rothstein recommends a meal or shake with 20-40 grams of protein, three of which should come from a protein called leucine.
6. Fitness Goal: Score Six-Pack Abs
You crunch, plank, twist, and curl with dedication. Yet your six-pack abs are nowhere to be found. What gives?
Why You Don’t Have a Six-Pack
Again, genetics play a significant role. Your body type may not lend itself to a washboard-like midsection. But if you’re only focusing on your abs and not maintaining a healthy diet and holistic fitness plan, you might be setting yourself up for failure.
In reality, all that crunching may be building muscle mass in the rectus abdominis and obliques. But if those muscles are covered in body fat, you won’t see their six-pack shape. Also, spot reduction is a myth; you can’t focus fat loss on one body part, no matter how hard you try.
Your best bet is to keep all the core work, but eat healthfully and make sure you’re exercising your entire body.