8 Reasons Your Weight Training Results Suck
If I had to guess, I'd estimate that for every person who has been weight training and getting good results, there's probably about 50 other people whose results absolutely suck.
Some will give it a try for a certain period of time, get no where, and then give up for good. Others will do the same, only they'll periodically try again, get the same sucky results, and quit only to repeat this all over again every few months or years (or annually as part of their New Year's Resolution). The rest have all of the dedication in the world and will never give up. Instead, they'll consistently get virtually no where... forever.
That last one sounds familiar to me because, well, it was me. I started weight training in 2000, and after some good initial results, I spent most of the next 2 years wasting my time. My results sucked. In fact, I came this close (I'm holding my thumb and pointer finger a half inch away from each other) to being one of those people (and there's dozens of them in every gym) who are exactly the same today as they were their first day in the gym, and this will be equally true 10 years from now as well. Fortunately for me, I avoided this and fixed what was making my results suck.
If any of the above sounds familiar to you, I have good news. You can fix it. If you're thinking of starting weight training for the first time, you can prevent it from ever happening to you in the first place. How? Well, I'm glad you asked (or I'm glad I asked in your voice).
Here's what I feel are the 8 most common reasons your weight training results suck right now, have sucked in the past, or will suck at some point in the future.
#1: Your progression sucks.
Pay attention to this one. While this list isn't in any specific order, I still put this one on top for a reason. Above all else, the key to increasing muscle, strength, endurance, or just improving your overall fitness level is quite simply progression. There must be some type of progression, and all focus should be placed on making this progression occur as often as it possibly can.
If you consistently work out in any typical gym for a certain period of time, one thing you are sure to see are the same people, doing the same exercises, with the same weight, for the same number of reps, for weeks, months and years... and continuing to get the same sucky results. And, rightfully so.
Without making an effort to progress, you will do nothing but maintain your current state. It's the progressive overload principle. Basically, you need to convince your body that results (be it muscle, strength, whatever) NEED to happen, and the only way to do this convincing is by progressively increasing the demands being placed on your body.
The human body is smart. If you put it in a certain situation consistently, it will adapt. In this case the "consistent situation" is progressive weight training. The adaptation? Making you stronger, creating new muscle tissue, etc.. This is the real goal here... gradually increasing what your body is capable of doing so that it is constantly adapting to these new demands. This constant adapting leads to constant results.
How can you do this? Well, when it comes to weight training, the simplest, most common, and most obvious way (and the only way I'll be mentioning right now) is by increasing the weight you are lifting and/or the reps you are lifting it for. For example, for Exercise XYZ, if you can currently lift 50lbs for 4 sets of 8 reps, your new goal should be to lift 55lbs for 4 sets of 8 reps of that same exercise. Let me break that down for you...
For Exercise XYZ, you can currently do:
Set 1: 50lbs - 8 reps
Set 2: 50lbs - 8 reps
Set 3: 50lbs - 8 reps
Set 4: 50lbs - 8 reps
Your goal the next time you perform Exercise XYZ should be:
Set 1: 55lbs - 8 reps
Set 2: 55lbs - 8 reps
Set 3: 55lbs - 8 reps
Set 4: 55lbs - 8 reps
If you can do it, great. Go to 60lbs the following time. If you can't, and instead get something like this:
Set 1: 55lbs - 8 reps
Set 2: 55lbs - 7 reps
Set 3: 55lbs - 7 reps
Set 4: 55lbs - 6 reps
...don't worry about it. This is perfectly normal. Your new goal is to make this become 4 sets of 8 reps. Put all of your effort into adding 1 rep to that second and third set, and 2 reps to that forth set. Maybe one workout you get 8, 8, 7, 6. Then next time you get 8, 8, 7, 7. Then next time, 8, 8, 8, 7. And then finally you get the 8, 8, 8, 8 the following workout. When that happens, repeat this all over again with 60lbs. This is progression. This is the single most important aspect of getting any form of positive weight training results.
If you didn't attempt to progress and you just continued lifting the same 50lbs for the same 4 sets of 8, nothing would ever happen. No new muscle, no new strength, no new improvements, no new results. You could continue doing it for the next 20 years, it wouldn't matter. This is something your body is already capable of doing. Continuing to do it will only signal your body to maintain what is needed for it to be able to lift 50lbs for 4 sets of 8.
Force your body to something it has previously been unable to do, and the complete opposite will happen. The only way your body will ever achieve any positive results from weight training is by you forcing them to happen. Signal your body to change, and it will. Don't... and it won't.
#2: Your little pink dumbbells suck.
Ladies, this one is for you. Step away from the 3lb pink dumbbells. The only reason you should ever go near them again is if you need a dumbbell-shaped paperweight to match some other pink desk accessory. Honestly, that's all they're really good for. Let me explain...
Did you read #1 on this list? If so, this really shouldn't require much of an explanation. In order to get non-sucky weight training results, the progressive overload principle must be in constant and consistent effect. What that means is you must challenge your body to do something it isn't currently capable of doing. Now, this doesn't mean you need to go outside and try to pick up a car. It just means you need to do things that are challenging for YOU. And, take my word for it, I don't care if you are 15 or 50, male or female, there is no healthy adult on the planet who is going to be challenged by a 3lb dumbbell.
I recently saw a woman in my gym do dumbbell presses with the smallest/lightest dumbbells I've ever seen in my life. She could have held 2 pencils in each hand and gotten the same effect. Hell, she could have drawn a picture of a dumbbell on a piece of paper and held the paper in her hand. It was just plain crazy. And of course, she'll be back next time to repeat the same exercise with the same tiny dumbbells for the same number of reps. Then she'll wonder why she isn't any stronger, why she hasn't built any new muscle, why she isn't toning up and getting leaner, why she isn't getting into any better overall shape, and why she is getting nothing but sucky results from weight training.
The answer is simple. She's not signaling her body to make any of these improvements. When she does this extremely typical type of workout that many females do, her body basically thinks this: "Oh great, here we go again. She's got the tiny pink dumbbells out. What are we going to do now? Yet another set of 10-20 reps just like last time? Yawn. Wake me up when we're going to do something that is even remotely challenging."
If she progressed to the next heaviest weight of dumbbells the next time she did this workout, her body would think "Hey... what's this? This is new. We've never had to do this before. Hmmm. Interesting. If she keeps this up, we're going to have to adapt to this new work we're being forced to do." And that adaptation, of course, is the basis for all GOOD weight training results. The body will adapt by making the things you want to happen... actually happen. Increased muscle, increased strength, increased endurance, increased flexibility, increased bone density, increased overall fitness level, etc.. The body must be challenged to improve or else it will gladly remain as is. The typical workout done by most females just isn't even almost making this happen.
What's that? You use your light pink dumbbells because you don't want to get "big and bulky" like a guy? Here's the thing though, you CAN'T get big and bulky like a guy. Don't get me wrong, you females can definitely put on your share of muscle, just not nearly as much or nearly as fast as a guy. It's just not in your genetic makeup. What? What about the females who are indeed big and bulky like a guy? Well, all you need to do to avoid that ever happening is avoid their drug use.
This is the big female fear and the biggest excuse for having these non-challenging weight training habits. That if you even attempt to do a big exercise, or use a big weight, or do anything more than small exercises with light weights for high reps, you'll wake up the next day and look like a big freaky female bodybuilder.
First of all, I wish muscle could be gained that quickly. Where you could wake up one day and think "Oh crap, how did this happen? How did I gain all of this muscle without realizing it?" It just doesn't work like that. In fact, the best the average male adult could hope for is gaining something like 0.25 - 0.5 pounds of muscle per week, and that's under the best possible circumstances. For females it's most likely half that.
Second of all, as long as you don't use any "assistance," you could never get that big, freaky, manly look that so many females are afraid of even if you really wanted to. This common fear is a borderline myth, and all it's actually doing is causing a lot a women to get a lot of sucky weight training results.
So ladies, what should you be doing in the gym? You should be working out like a guy who wants to gain 100lbs of muscle and be able to pick up cars and throw them down the street with their bare hands. Alright, that's a bit extreme, but I'm just trying to make a point. You need to push yourself (safely, of course). You need to challenge your body. You need to do more than pick up the same little pink dumbbells and lift them for the same 15 reps for the same little isolation exercises (more on those later).
In my opinion (and the opinion of virtually any respectable source), there is no real difference in the way a guy and a girl should be weight training. We're all human, and all of our bodies respond to the same basic principles. Therefore, we all need to do the same things in order to get the results we want. Would a guy who wants to gain some muscle or get stronger waste a second of his time with a 3lb pink dumbbell? Of course not, and no woman should either.
#3: Your body part split sucks.
First, let me clarify what I mean by "body part split" by giving you an example of a fairly typical version of one:
Friday: Biceps and Triceps
This, my friends, may very well be a variation of the most common type of workout organization you'll find the average person using in nearly any gym on the planet. Your first thought might be "Well, if so many people are using it, it must be good, right?" Wrong. The average person may use it, but then again, the average person's results suck. This is no coincidence.
Your next thought may be something along the lines of "But bodybuilder so-and-so uses a similar body part split, and he's huge!" or "I have a subscription to a bunch of bodybuilding/fitness magazines and every routine the pros or trainers ever recommend is always in the form of a body part split similar to what you just mentioned." or "I read a ton of websites that all recommend a workout split like this." or "I've been paying attention to this big guy in my gym and he appears to be using a similar routine." How could this be, you ask?
I'll sum the answer up in 2 words... drug use. I'll say it again, drug use. And, once more for effect... drug use. Cancel your subscriptions to those magazines. Delete those websites from your bookmarks. Ignore that guy in your gym. Here's who body part splits tend to work the best for... drug users and those with well above average genetics. Pro bodybuilders are both. That guy in your gym is most likely one or the other, if not both as well.
Does that mean the body part split mentioned above (or anything similar) doesn't work unless you have super duper genetics or are using some form of "assistance?" Nope, it can still work. The real question is, would it be the optimal way for a natural, genetically average person to workout? The answer there is a resounding NO.
You probably need some convincing, I know I did. It took me a good 2 years of once-per-week-body-part-split training before I started to realize how my own results sort of sucked and started looking for answers why. Let me save you the time. The body part split is not ideal for about 90% of the population. Nearly every single respectable strength coach (the people who train high school, college and professional athletes from a variety of sports) and fitness expert would back up that statement.
There isn't an athlete (from football players, to gymnasts, to powerlifters) on the planet who splits their workouts up in terms of body parts and trains each one once every 7 days. They know that this just isn't optimal. Old time bodybuilders/strongmen knew this too, which is why they would have probably laughed in your face if you suggested they use a typical body part split. This type of weight training layout became popular right around the time performance enhancing drugs became popular. This is no coincidence.
So, magazines slap pictures of huge bodybuilders all over their magazines and sell it to you with the headline of "Learn what this guy does to look like this!" Unfortunately, at the end of the article describing his high volume body part split, they leave out the disclaimer that should say "Oh, and don't forget to use a ton of drugs like this dude did."
So then, what are the best workout schedules for us natural, genetically average people? In most cases, I'd recommend a full body split, upper/lower split, or push/pull/legs split. For beginners (less than 6 consistent months), there is no question that a full body routine done 3 days per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday, for example) is by far and away the most recommended weight training split (check out my Beginner Workout Routine). An upper/lower split (upper body on Monday and Thursday, lower body on Tuesday and Friday) is perfect after that (check out my Muscle Building Workout Routine). I made the switch from a typical body part split to an upper/lower split years ago and won't be switching back any time soon.
#4: Your exercise selection sucks.
If you want to increase strength or muscle, you'd be at a HUGE disadvantage if your workout consists primarily of, well, crap. A ton of biceps and triceps exercises, leg extensions and leg curls, pec decks, cable crossovers and dumbbell flyes, and so on. These are all small isolation exercises that serve to "isolate" the specific muscle you are looking to "work." This is all well and good, and these types of exercises can (and in some cases should) be a part of your weight training routine. However, they should be nothing more than a very small part of it.
Instead, your workout should be comprised primarily of big, compound exercises. These are the exercises that allow you to use the most weight, allow you to add weight the most often (aka the progressive overload principle) and will add more muscle to your body than any combination of isolation exercises ever will.
These types of exercises include the bench press (flat, incline and decline), squats (and other squat variations), deadlifts (and other deadlift variations), rows (bent over barbell/dumbbell rows, t-bar rows, seated chest supported rows, etc.), pull-ups, dips, and overhead presses.
If you have any interest in adding any amount of muscle to your body, increasing your strength at all, or just becoming a more fit and athletic person in general, your workout program should be largely built around these weight training exercises.
#5: Your recovery sucks.
When you are working out, you are not getting results. Instead, you are signaling your body to do what it needs to do to make the results happen. In order for your body to do this, it needs to rest and recover. It needs off days, days when you aren't signaling it with weight training. It's not even so much that each muscle group needs a chance to recover before the next workout (although they do), it's that your entire body (from the nervous system on down) needs to recover.
For these reasons, the average person should have a minimum of 3 off days per week. This allows you to have a maximum of 4 weight training workouts per week. This fits perfectly with my recommendation of an upper/lower split as well as 3 full body workouts (which would allow 4 off days per week).
In addition, each workout itself should be kept to about 1 hour each, give or take 15 minutes or so.
Your body also needs sleep, the more the better. In an ideal world, 8-10 hours a night would be perfect. Your body also needs you to avoid stress. The weight training itself is about all the stress your body wants to deal with. Outside stress beyond that certainly doesn't help.
#6: Your form sucks.
I see it so often that I barely notice it anymore. Spend time in any regular gym and you're guaranteed to see it too. Horrible, many times even laughable, form when performing certain weight training exercises. Squats that have the range of motion of a calf raise. Biceps curls that look like some insane combination of a reverse grip upright row and a good morning. Bench presses where the spotter is getting more of a workout than the person doing the actual bench pressing. From something as advanced as a squat to something as basic as a push-up. Name any exercise and you'll find thousands of people performing it with bad form.
The way I see it, there are 3 types of bad form. The dangerous kind that can (and most likely will) cause an injury, the kind that lessens or completely voids the effectiveness of an exercise, or the kind that is a combination of both. All types should be avoided completely.
You could have the best routine, with the best exercises, with an exceptional focus on progression, and it will all do very little if bad form is preventing you from getting everything out of it that you should be.
Whether it's just a lack of understanding how to do an exercise properly, or just an ego thing (lifting more weight than you can with proper form for the sole purpose of lifting a heavier weight), it doesn't really matter. If your form sucks, your results will suck.
#7: Your consistency and patience sucks.
The positive results from weight training don't happen overnight. It takes time. You can't workout hard for a couple of weeks and expect amazing results. I know, some people are programmed into thinking you can from the various ads making it seem like you should. "Get the body of your dreams in just 6 weeks!" or "Get the results you want in as little as 3 weeks!" Those are all giant lies. Ignore them.
In addition to time, it also takes consistency. As I've mentioned throughout this article, weight training is really just the tool you are using to signal your body to improve. That signal needs to remain constant (while still allowing adequate rest and recovery, of course). This means that you can't expect to do everything right for a short period of time, stop, start again, stop, start again, etc. and get positive results. Your body won't see the need it improve if the demands being placed upon it aren't consistent.
#8: Your diet sucks.
There are so many reasons your diet could suck that this could quickly become a whole second article. Let's keep it simple. First, calories. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less calories than your body needs. If you want to gain weight (specifically a significant amount of muscle), you must consume more calories than your body needs. (Full details on this can be found in the Guide To Calories And Weight Control.)
After that, you need sufficient amounts of protein, carbs and fat, and you need to get them all from good sources. (More details can be found in The Beginner's Guide To Diet, Nutrition And Healthy Eating.)
Then you need plenty of water, vitamins and minerals.
The best weight training workout in the world can easily be made sucky at the hands of a terrible diet. They go together. Get them both right, and the results will follow.
If you've been doing any weight training and are getting less than stellar results, I can almost guarantee that one or more of the above reasons is the cause. If you're new to or are planning on getting into weight training in the near future (which literally every single person, male or female, old or young, could greatly benefit from), these are the most common causes of poor results. Read them, understand them, and avoid them.
For an insanely detailed guide to building muscle, check out The Ultimate Guide To Building Muscle.
For additional information about creating the most effective weight training program, check out my new workout-specific site, A Workout Routine.