Some guys can spend hours in the gym. You know the feeling: It doesn’t matter what the weather’s like, or how you’re feeling, or even what you do once you’re at the gym—you’re there, doing the same old routine, grinding away.
And that’s exactly the problem.
After a while, your old reliable workout program can start to feel less like a routine and more like a rut. Suddenly you’ve become a gym robot, soullessly going through the motions, as your progress stalls and your workouts start to feel like a chore instead of something you enjoy. And the worst part? You’re not sure why.
But fear not, champ—help is on the way. Rejuvenate your program and start enjoying training again by addressing these five mental blocks that are holding you back.
1. You’re doing the same old thing
Following the exact same workout program since high school is a bad idea. Let’s face it: Doing 3 sets of 10 all week, every week can only get you so far. And while humans are creatures of habit, lacking any innovation will dampen your progress and kill your motivation.
What you need is a a program incorporates slight variations from week to week. Instead of the usual 3 sets of 10—known as straight sets—try doing a varied set/rep scheme, which hits your muscles with varying intensities to stimulate more muscle fibers, or varying your approach to each exercise slightly. Here are three to try:
Ladder reps: These involve doing ascending or descending reps such as 5, 7, 9, 11 or 12, 10, 8, 6, respectively. The weight would be adjusted for each set to match the goal number of reps.
Pyramid reps: When pyramiding, reps can look like this: 12, 10, 8, 10, 12 or 1, 3, 5, 3, 1. A trainee who has been doing sets of 8 or higher for a long time will really notice strength gains when training with weights suitable to reps of 7 and below.
Grip Switch: Change your grip to stimulate and recruit your muscles differently. Instead of always doing chin ups (double under hand grip), try doing neutral grip (palms facing inward) or pronated chin ups (double over hand grip, known as a pull up). Instead of always doing bench press with a bar, give your shoulders a break by doing a neutral grip dumbbell bench press.
2. Your progress is stalled
This can start to feel like a self-fulfilling prophecy—and if you’re not careful, it can lead to a vicious cycle: You’re bored, so you make no gains, and that makes you discouraged, so you work even less.
Training should be driven by reasonable, attainable goals and your progress toward those goals. Otherwise, you’re just lifting random weights in the gym with no purpose. Do you want to increase strength? Then you should be lifting weights for 5 reps or lower and always strive to move the bar faster. Do you want bigger muscles? Then lift weights for 5 reps or higher and always strive to add weight to the bar. Want to lose fat? Dial in your nutrition so you’re in a calorie deficit and bang out energy-depleting-type workouts. The training plan must match your goals in order to achieve them. Know what you want and choose to best plan of attack—and remember, you get what you train for.
3. You’re not leveraging a workout partner
Some people work well on their own. Others need company and find motivation in working out with friends. If you’re one of the latter, find a training partner who has goals similar to yours and good lifting technique. He or she can help you with your form while providing a spot when you’re venturing into heavier weights. Yelling silly things such as “It’s all you, it’s all you!” can be very motivating at the end of a tough set as well. Work off each other and reach new levels of strength and size you wouldn’t normally if training on your own.
4. You’re not recovering properly
Some of the best coaches will tell you that recovery is more important than the program itself. Doing trusted programs won’t get you the results they promise if you’re staying up late, eating Doritos for dinner, and breakfasting on leftover pepperoni pizza. Ask any Olympian, and they’ll tell you that they put huge amounts of thought and effort into making sure they’re eating clean and sleeping properly. Here are a few simple steps to improve:
1. Dial in your pre/post workout nutrition and cut the crap (sugars, highly processed and fast foods, trans fats, etc.).
2. Get seven to nine uninterrupted hours of sleep per night. Staying up late playing video games and waking up early for work the next morning is recipe for a training disaster.
3. When training, often more is always less. You might think that if training three times a week is good, training six times a week will be great! The same logic suggests that if five sets of five reps will improve strength a little each day, then maybe ten sets of five will increase it by twice as much. Right? Wrong. Unless you’re a genetic freak, doubling everything will actually stall your progress and leave you over-trained, fatigued and unmotivated. You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to see results.
4. Follow the Law of Diminishing Returns and find out what works best for you. Experiment with different set/rep schemes and different programs. Document your progress and recovery. Emphasize your recovery just as much as you emphasize lifting weights and you’ll make progress.
5. Your environment has gone stale
Whether you’re training in a sweaty rustbucket or an ultra-luxe studio, the same old spot can start to get old after a while. One option to spice up your training is to visit a different gym. A new training atmosphere (people, music, smell, air conditioning, etc.) might be the thing you need to get motivated again. If that’s not an option, start taking a workout class to supplement your program—you’ll be surprised how many spandex-clad women can kick your ass in kickboxing.
Hell, with a little imagination and a few simple workout tools, you can make any outdoor space into your own gym. Buy a sand bag and a kettlebell and find a park with a monkey bar set. You’d be surprised how much you can kick your own ass with just a bag, bell and a bar.
Get the results you’ve been training for and enjoy working out again.