3 reasons why your workouts aren't working

Let me tell you a story about two workers.

The first worker sat in a well-designed loft - a rustic bohemian love shack if you will. Tons of windows allowed sunshine to glean into his space. He left his door open throughout the day so he listen to the conversation his neighbors were having.

His free spirit carved out days that weren't planned but ruled by spontaneity. Inspiration was his motivation and if he didn't feel enlightened he choose to seek activity to occupy his mind - cafe visits, phoning a friend, or having a spot of tea were the usual time-fillers.

His environment was graffitied with feel-good frames. In his kitchen hung a poster that read "Everything made from Love." 

In his writing room, a motto on his pin-board said "Everything is going to be ok. You have the power. Let greatness find you."

And this is the atmosphere in which he produced his work. Arbitrary squirts of effort dedicated to his craft that he always returned to not as satisfied as he thought he should be.  It turns out while his life was "balanced," his work was sub-par.

The second worker rented out a space in the back of a nail salon. Nobody would ever know this space existed, unless of course he notified them where he worked.

A desk, a pull-out couch where he slept, a $400 flat-screen tv, a mini-fridge, and his typewriter were the components of his space. He showered at the local YMCA and dined at Linda's cafe every morning for breakfast.

But his situation didn't break the insatiable thirst he had to make his work just right. He rose at the same time everyday and followed his routine.

Once he entered the pocket, even the nail salon employees who were known to peak in to say hello every now and again, understood that he wasn't to be bothered once he started working.

He didn't mind that the tiny, single window provided little light into his apartment. He had a fire in his belly to produce something great - he was a single-minded man who had an incredible ability to get his work done. He showed up everyday.

When this man retired each day, he was proud of his work. He leaves enough room at the end of the day to enjoy his evening meal, talk with friends and to watch the ball game - this is enough rest for him to get up and do it all over again the next day.

Now, when it comes to your health and fitness, which worker do you most relate to?

If you lean towards the latter - the man in the nail salon - good on you. Keep on keepin' on as they say.

But if you humbly answered that question and admitted to yourself that you're like the first worker - unfocused, casual, lackluster in results, uninspiring - then you've found the right article.

What follows are three reasons why your workouts aren't working. I also equip you with practical solutions to rectify the situation because there would be no point in highlighting what's wrong without giving you tools to fix it.

Before you go on let me say this: I am not condoning martyrdom when it comes to exercising. Rather, I'm encouraging you to forge a spirit of consistency. 

Without the willingness to do this, the best advice in the world won't even make a dent. However, I believe you have that posture of steadiness within you, it's probably just dormant - lets wake it up.



1.You don't show up

The most important ingredient in any training program is attendance.

You must show up - that's the first step. Overlooking this simple fact immediately dooms you for frustration.

Worker number one shows up when he feels like showing up. He allows every little distraction to consume him. Often times, he'd rather cling to anything but what he should be doing. It's a brilliant way to justify busyness that leads to nowhere.

Worker number two shows up whether the muse makes an appearance or not. He follows the advice that the former improv teacher at Stanford University Patricia Madson preaches. In her book, Improve Wisdom she says this:

Just show up. Move your body toward your dreams. Go to where they’re happening–the gym, the office, the yoga class. Be there physically.

Stop resisting the fact that you have to take your tail and put it where something can happen. In your case, it's heaving yourself into the gym regardless how many distractions you wrestle with.

Many writers often say, "I don't like to write. I like to have written."

You could say that exercising has a similar ilk. You always feel better after you're done. 

There are a few tactics to get yourself into the gym:

  • Set it as an appointment: Put it on your daily to-do list and treat it like you would a doctor's appointment.


  • Bring in accountability: This will do two things. One, it brings external expectations into the game - someone is checking in on you. Second, you have skin in the game. Meaning, anytime your hard-earned dollar is invested, you're more apt to do the things you know you should do.



2. You don't have a plan to follow

The narrative goes like this: 

"I'm not seeing any progress."

"What does your training program look like?"

"I'm really not following any particular program right now. I just do what I feel like doing."

The disconnect is obvious right?

But the person in that example is too close to the issue to identify that not following a program is like heading into the woods without a map.

The Drift is does not discriminate. It consumes without a conscience. 

Take myself for example.

Whenever I venture out and try to train exclusively on my own with no other guidance or input, I become vulnerable to The Drift: Ending up in someplace I hadn't intended to go. 



Ideally, you get a coach that designs a program that fits your needs and your goals. However, the web can also provide you with programs that work.

Secondly, choose one focus to determine your training program. Is your goal general physical preparedness? Do you want to get really strong? Or is fat loss your aim?

Having a framework to follow also reserves willpower. Having to think about what you need to do for your workouts every time you head to the gym isn't the best use of mental energy. 


3. You don't have a bedtime

I know what you're thinking: "Another piece on sleep? Jeez."

But sleep advice is like the advice your parents shoved into your ear when you were 18 years old: "Johnny, be sure to put away 10% of your earnings for the rest of your life in a decent growth money market account. By retirement you'll be a millionaire."

At 18, you rolled your eyes. At 35, you say, "Damn, if I had only started when they told me to."

Sleep has a similar story-arc but it's less obvious until it can't be ignored.

The reason why sleep is so critical is because it impacts the hormone environment. When you skimp on sleep, your hormones go sideways causing all kinds of negative effects.

Your body will produce more ghrelin (this is the hormone that tells you when you're hungry) and less leptin (the hormone that tells you to stop eating).

It's like a bartender living in your system who has whipped up a cocktail of hormones that make you feel hungrier all day and influences you to eat more at each meal. This is not the best look for anyone; even for those who have the discipline of a Spartan soldier to make it to the gym. 

You can't out-exercise screwed up hormones.



If you're currently getting less than four hours of sleep per night, bumping that up to seven or eight  hours sounds like trying to jump away from your own shadow.

Instead of making a huge attempt to increase your sleep by several hours, bump it up in increments. Aim to get 30 more minutes of sleep each night. Once you've added 30 minutes, tack on another 30 and continue until you get around the seven to eight hour range. Here are a few practical ideas:

  • Set a bedtime: Most of us set alarms to wake up and it works. Well, the same method can be used to go to bed. I've found that there is a lot of garbage time at night. You know, things like watching another episode of Bloodline at 11:30 P.M. Scrolling IG for 34 minutes in bed. These types of things cut into your sleep time. Shave down the garbage time at night, and instead, hit the sack.


  • Plan your day the night before: Juggling your to-do list for the next day mentally is a surefire way to hinder your sleep quality and quantity. Before bed, write down your to-do list. By doing so, you take your to-do list from your head to paper. This can relieve you from the racing thoughts, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep. 


  • Supplement with magnesium: Magnesium calms the sympathetic nervous system which can assist in falling asleep at night. Magnesium is also shown to be a detoxification of cortisol - the stress hormone produced in the adrenal glands. Higher cortisol levels affect sleep quality and supplemental magnesium fights against this. 75mg-100mg per day with a meal is a general starting prescription.



Wrapping Up

It's time to make your workouts work for you. Charles Poliquin says:

“The rule is: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.”

The three reasons why your workouts aren't working have solutions that aren't fancy or revolutionary. They are basic solutions to your chronic frustration.

The second worker in the opening story showed up, followed his plan, and embedded enough rest to allow execution to take place the next day.

Me and you, must follow the same tactics in order for our workouts to work for us.