Workout results mean different things to different people—after all everyone has different reasons for working out. Maybe you just want to keep your heart healthy and reduce your overall disease risk. Or maybe you have a specific goal, like training for a race, losing weight, or building muscle. The last two, which are both achieved by changing your body composition (how much fat and muscle you have), can be especially difficult to do.
Since so many factors go into losing weight, or say, getting six-pack abs, it’s never easy to do. Exercise, diet, sleep, stress, mental health, hormonal changes, and even just the genes you were born with can make it harder or easier for you to reach these goals. It’s complicated and difficult.
If your workout results goal involves weight-loss or muscle-building, it can be discouraging to spend hours in the gym and see no visible results after months of work. And while some factors at play (like genetics, mental health, and anything that impacts your hormones) can be hard to overcome and may need to be addressed by a doctor before you can start to see a change, there are some things that most people can do to help move beyond a roadblock and get closer to their goals.
1. Prioritize sleep.
Weight loss especially is impacted by so many more factors than just diet and exercise. Getting poor sleep can sabotage your weight-loss efforts in a few ways. Being sleep-deprived impacts the hormones that control appetite, urging you to snack—and prompting you to reach for quick energy, aka highly caloric sugary and fatty foods. Lack of sleep can also slow down your metabolism and simply leave you with too little energy to work out. Establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual, leaving electronics outside the bedroom, and quitting caffeine after 2 P.M. are all easy ways to help improve your sleep habits.
2. Try something completely different.
“If you are somebody who does the same thing every time and you have been doing that for years, then you need to completely switch it up,” Chelsea Aguiar, a personal trainer at the Fhitting Room in New York City and founder of Athaya Fitness, tells SELF. When your body gets used to the same movements, it no longer has to adapt to keep up. “During physique changes and body composition changes, your body is adapting. When you’re trying to make progress, you always want your workout to feel challenging. The second it becomes comfy or you feel like you can coast, your body is not making any adaptations,” Aguiar explains. The way to force your body to adapt is by getting outside of your comfort zone.
3. Make small but meaningful changes to your current routine.
Sometimes tweaking your go-to workout (as well as adding some completely new exercises) can make a difference. “For example, at Flywheel where I teach, if you do the same RPM [or speed] but increase intensity, it’s a different workout,” celebrity trainer Lacey Stone, tells SELF. “If you increase the speed on the treadmill by 1 or 2, it’s a different workout.” Lifting heavier than normal, or working out for longer, can both be helpful changes, too. Aguiar adds, “Make sure you’re only changing one thing at a time, be very specific.” If you’re increasing the weight you’re lifting, don’t also add reps. “Pick one thing—duration, intensity, or load. Make two minor adjustments at most, but you never want to change too many things at once otherwise you put yourself at risk of doing something well beyond your capability.”
4. Take active recovery days.
Active recovery is any workout that gets you moving but still lets your muscles recover fully—which is important so your body can reap the benefits of exercise without getting too burned out. A slow run, long walk, or even yoga are all great forms of active recovery. This is a great way to keep your body moving (and burning more calories than you would if you took a full-on rest day) while still giving your body and mind a much-needed break from strenuous activity.
5. Cut out prepackaged foods.
“Nutrition is number one, whenever it comes to any type of weight loss or body composition goal,” Aguiar stresses. “Success is 100 percent determined by how well you’re eating.” She’s not the only one who says this—any weight-loss coach or trainer will tell you the same. Newer nutrition research has stressed that it’s not just how much you eat, but what you eat, that matters. Focus on eating whole foods, and ditch prepackaged stuff that’s often processed and includes more ingredients (hello, sugar bomb!) than necessary. The best way to eat a healthy, balanced diet? Cook for yourself as often as possible. “It doesn’t have to be complicated. Focus on eating lean proteins, and as many veggies as you want. Try to make sure the things you’re eating come from the Earth, not a box.
6. Watch portion sizes.
Stone emphasizes doing a self-check on portion sizes. To be honest, it can be really hard to control portion sizes, especially if you’re eating out at restaurants and being served two times the size of a healthy portion. Here are some tips for getting your portions in check.
7. But maintain a sense of balance in your diet.
Eating healthy, whole foods and less added sugar is important, but so is balance. Saying you’ll never have a glass of wine or cookie again will just set you up for failure. Aguiar suggests thinking about it this way at first: five days out of the week, eat a healthy, clean diet. The other two days, play with it. “You don’t want your two days of fun to be two days of total debauchery,” but treat yourself to the things you love so you don’t feel deprived but can still stick to your goals.
8. Work out less often.
This might sound counterintuitive, but if you’re working out so often that you’re feeling burnt out, you may not really be getting much out of some of those workouts. Fitness pros emphasize the importance of taking a break so your body can recovery properly and so you have enough energy to come back to your next workout full force. If you’re hitting the gym every single day and feeling exhausted, take a day off, get some rest, and see if it helps your subsequent workouts become more efficient.
9. Have fun.
Finding a workout you actually like and have fun doing will benefit you in countless ways. A few big ones: You’re way more likely to stick with it, and you’ll maximize the stress-relieving abilities of exercise. “There’s a difference between fitness for results and fitness for fun, and I think having a really healthy balance of the two is key for sustained health and progress.