What to Do When Your Workouts Aren’t Working

what to do when your workouts aren't working

You’ve bought the cute workout outfits, paid for your program, and have started setting your alarm to show up and workout every morning. But it’s been a few weeks and your jeans are still annoyingly tight. Your patience is thin (but your waist still isn’t) and you’re frustrated at the annoying scale that mocks you every time you step on it. What gives? Why does it feel like your workouts aren’t working?

Fist of all, I totally get it! I’m on my own fitness journey just like you (and I especially know how it gets SO much harder in the “midlife” years), so I understand how it feels when it seems like your efforts aren’t showing you the results you want.

As much as we would all like THE magic pill, unfortunately it still doesn’t exist. In my experience, it’s usually a variation of things that contribute to a weight loss plateau. Top that off with the fact that every body is different, so there isn’t ever one universal solution. Of course, I’m not a doctor, but if you’re frustrated with your workouts not working, go through this list of the most common contributing factors to see if any of these possible reasons might apply to you.

And if they do, see what small changes you might be able to make that can turn things around. 

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #1: You aren’t tracking your progress accurately

If you’ve spent day after day working on your fitness, but you feel like it’s just not working, you may need to level up your measuring stick – figuratively and literally.

First question is, are you even tracking your journey at all to begin with? If not, how do you know you aren’t making progress? I recommend using multiple measures to track your trend line over a few weeks at a time. This includes food and exercise, and can include anything from journaling to a detailed spreadsheet.

Most people step on the scale to see if they are losing weight. I don’t have anything against scales, but if you are using the scale as the ONLY metric, that could be inaccurate. We all have fluctuations in water retention, body inflammation, and hormones, and this definitely affects that number you see between your toes.

What you can do:

Since we know the scale doesn’t tell the whole story, how else should we track the success of our health and fitness? Along with stepping on a scale, to get a better gauge on just how far you’re progressing, try the following measurements every few weeks:

  • Body fat measurement
  • Before and “during” photos
  • Body measurements
  • How well your clothes are fitting

All of these indicators together, seen over time, will give you a more accurate picture of your overall progress.

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #2: You’re going in without a plan

In the past (literally, for years!) I would show up at the gym, or take a class here or there, and call that my exercise “plan”.

The truth is, I really didn’t have a plan.

At the gym, I didn’t want to seem like I didn’t know what I was doing, so I either followed other people or jumped from one machine to the next, reading the instructions printed along the side of the machine. You know, those diagrams with the muscles highlighted in red telling you “this is a hamstring workout”? That was my “plan”. 

And the free weights? I was much too embarrassed to go there. I mean, EVERYONE in that part of the gym looked so legit, there was no way I was going to put myself in that mix.

But just showing up isn’t a plan. Not an effective one, anyway.

What you can do:

A good plan should have variation. It should include a mix of progressions for cardio, weights, and body weight exercises. The exercises should be strenuous enough where you have to push to finish them, but not so impossible that you give up (or get injured).

Seeking out an expert can help you know which type of workout is best for you. You can hire a personal trainer (which I did a few times) to walk you through a program that is tailored to your specific goals. They will also help you change up the routine from time to time – which you definitely need to do if you want to see changes in your body composition. 

Working out from home can also be effective, and much cheaper than a personal trainer. If you opt for home workouts, stick to proven programs that are backed by certified trainers with a track record of getting results. There are many options for this, but make sure the one you pick is backed by research and you’ve seen real results from real people.

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #3: You’re trying to out-train crappy eating

If you’re over 50 like I am, you probably know this one all too well. If you’re not quite old enough to have witnessed the metabolism slow-down, well… stay tuned, my friends! 

Kidding aside, if you’re killing it everyday with your workouts, but not seeing results, the most common reason is that you’re sabotaging your own efforts by not paying attention to what you’re putting into your mouth.

Yup, your mama was right – you ARE what you EAT (so don’t be cheap, processed, or fake)! :)

Most times the issue is you’re eating the wrong food or eating too MUCH food, but sometimes the problem is you’re not eating ENOUGH food. Putting yourself on a blood sugar roller coaster is never a good thing. Plus, your hormones will be spinning, and you’ll be at risk for all sorts of diseases, including cancer, auto-immune disorders, skin rashes, and of course, weight gain. I’ve had all of the above, but thankfully, I’ve learned a lot since then.

When you’re consuming processed food, fast food, and sugary drinks, working out until the cows come home will never be enough. Oh, and by the way, starvation is not a sustainable path to weight loss.

Even if you look “fit” from the outside, your insides know better.

What you can do:

The very best thing you can do is to eat more God-made food and less man-made food. That is, eat more food that grows and lives right on the planet created for us. I don’t think there are pastures of Krispy Kremes growing anywhere, so those wouldn’t fit our description (although some would say they are pretty heavenly). 

Focus on eating meals full of healthy fats, proteins, and complex carbs from fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat, fish, and poultry. And unless you have food sensitivities or allergies, don’t pay attention to the diet industry trying to convince you to eliminate whole entire food groups! Get rid of the mindset that foods are “bad”, and just make intentional choices to eat what serves your body. And do the best you can.

There is also some neat science-y hunger hormone stuff going on inside your body that you can read about here.

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #4: Your body is bored

If your workouts aren’t working, ask yourself when was the last time you upped the intensity. If you’re reading your book on the treadmill while you watch your Netflix shows, chances are you won’t see a leveling up of your results.

You can keep your body from getting too comfortable by changing your overall program every 6 to 8 weeks. Make sure to balance out working out different body parts from day to day, and do new things that challenge your muscles in different ways. 

In my current program, the trainer alternates between upper body work, HIIT cardio, lower body, core, and flexibility throughout the week. The moves are mapped out in advance and there are progressions that build upon each other. Being that I’m not a professional trainer myself, this is perfect for me, because all I have to worry about is showing up and following the schedule. If you’re interested in a complete workout program like that (which also includes meal plans) you can get on the list for our next fit club here.

What you can do:

Whether you are stuck in a fitness plateau or not, it’s a good practice to consistently challenge your muscles and your heart rate for them to grow. Rather than trying to wing it by yourself, look for a comprehensive program where a variety of challenging and progressive moves are available to you, created by trainers that know the science behind it.

If you are a part of our fit club in our challenge groups, these factors are already incorporated inside the app, so you don’t have to worry about this part. Just make sure to switch up your overall program every couple of months (there are so many to choose from, this probably won’t be a problem).

My Workouts Aren’t Working Reason, #5: You have exercise ‘ADD’

Do you have ADD when you’re working out? Here’s what it might look like during or in between your workouts:

  • It’s so tempting to try to catch up on emails, text a friend back, or even check your social media between sets
  • You’re constantly wiping down the mat, noticing lint on the carpet (that you just HAVE to clean up right NOW)
  • You use your treadmill time to watch your shows that you missed during the week
  • You stop continuously to get a drink of water (but really, you’re kinda just stalling)
  • At the gym, you float from machine to machine with no real plan
  • You jump from one type of workout to the next – and never really go through one program from start to finish

What you can do:

Go for consistency. Stick with a consistent exercise routine (for example, strength training three days a week and biking 2 days) for a minimum of four weeks.

Be patient. Results take time, so just keep at it. If you keep switching around or quitting altogether, all you’ll accomplish is being stuck in the perpetual “start over” mode for who knows how long!

Workout each body part with intention. You’ve already allocated the time for your workout. Make that time count.

Track your progress. Sometimes you feel stuck, but the numbers (and photos) say otherwise, and you’ve actually come farther than you think! When you can see progress over time, it may stop that “exercise ADD” from happening in the first place.

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #6: You aren’t sleeping enough

Our body does some pretty incredible stuff while we sleep. For one, sleep is vital to muscle growth and recovery, especially after a strenuous workout. Sleep also boosts immunity, cell repair, mental well being, and even memory.

Many studies have shown that when the number of sleep hours goes down, weight creeps up. Chronic sleep deprivation also causes our hunger hormones to be out of whack, which messes up our appetite and our ability to regulate satiety. As a result, we are more likely to overindulge, even when we’ve had enough to eat.

This study even found that pre-diabetes symptoms can appear in otherwise healthy adults when sleep deprived for as little as six days.

Getting a healthy amount of sleep helps our body:

  • Improve concentration and productivity
  • Remember what we learned during the day
  • Repair and regenerate muscle/cell tissue
  • Decrease inflammation in the body

What you can do:

The recommended “right” amount of sleep for most adults is between 7 and 9 hours. Here are some ways you can help yourself increase your ZZZs:

  • Set a regular bedtime to allow for whatever time you wake up to reach that 7 hour mark
  • Try to wake up at the same time each morning
  • Develop a nightly ritual if you have trouble winding down
  • Decrease your screen time before bed (and take the screen away from your overnight)
  • Get regular exercise (but not too close to bedtime)

Even if you think your body is “fine” on less than seven hours, I encourage you to try hitting the seven hour mark consistently for two weeks and seeing what a difference it makes in the way you feel!

My Workouts Aren’t Working, Reason #7: You need more water

For tip number seven, I’ve saved the most impactful, and probably the easiest, for last. Simply, you need more WATER.

Hydration is one of the most vital pieces of the puzzle, not only for weight loss, but for your entire metabolism. Every part of our body – from our tissues, to our cells, to all of our organs – needs water to function properly (just ask my friend who is recovering from surgery to remove his kidney stone)!

There are so many benefits of drinking water, among these, just to name a few:

  • Water flushes out toxins from our body
  • It reduces the high calorie intake from other beverages we might otherwise drink
  • It lubricates our muscles, connective tissues, and joints, which helps reduce the risk of pain and certain diseases
  • Water can be a natural appetite suppressant (sometimes we think we’re hungry, but are actually just dehydrated)
  • It’s FREE!

If you’re like so many people, you might be walking around in a state of slight dehydration without even knowing it. In addition to just being thirsty, signs of dehydration include fatigue, low blood pressure, headaches, dark urine, and constipation.

What you can do:

Because even mild hydration can negatively affect your body (and your brain), it’s important to drink up! You’ll feel a lot better. Just try it and see!

A pretty standard recommendation is to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day, but if you are active, or in a hot climate, you probably need more. Others recommend a gallon of water each day, but the best way to tell if you are sufficiently hydrated is the urine test – it should be basically close to clear (or at least very light yellow).

If you’re looking to up your water intake, here are some simple ways to do it:

  • Ccarry a water bottle and sip throughout the day
  • Set reminders on your phone
  • Drink a glass of water before each meal
  • Replace sugary beverages with water instead
  • Flavor your water with fruit
  • Eat more foods that have a high water content (celery, cantaloupe, cucumber, lettuce)
  • Drink a glass before rising in the morning
  • Use a pre-workout drink to start your morning workout routine

So there you have it! Seven reasons why you might be finding your workouts “aren’t working”, and ideas for what you can do instead.

  1. Drink more water
  2. Track your progress
  3. Have a plan
  4. Eat real food
  5. Vary your exercise
  6. Have a focus
  7. Sleep well

If you are doing everything you can, and just can’t get the inches to budge, there may be more going on than you can find by searching on blogs like this one. Don’t forget, your doctor is the one who can give you actual medical advice if you need it!

Good luck in breaking your plateau!

Strength for your journey,

xo Laurie

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Laurie Yogi
Your online wellness strategist, just trying to embrace 50(ish) & helping you do the same.