There’s a reason you’re not fit. chances are, one of the problems I’ll talk about below is yours.

I can’t overemphasize that training works. If you go to the gym regularly and nothing’s improving, you are messing it up. Here are four mistakes you’ll see every month in every gym, which usually lead to stopping workouts completely, and using some excuse like “My heredity is different.” or “It’s easy for others but impossible for me.” Wait! Before you quit, see if you recognize yourself here:

1.  No Plan. Not only should you come to the gym with a plan for that day, it should be within the framework of an overall plan. Day after day, people go to work out and do one of two things: a) Walk on the treadmill for 20 or so minutes, probably in the “fat burning zone” (Don’t get me started on that one…), or b) Walk over to the dumbbell rack and start doing biceps curls, which benefits your fitness just slightly more than sneezing. A month of occasional workouts later, they still look nothing like Brad Pitt, and they’re pissed.

Even a bad plan is better than no plan at all. And even a bad plan, followed to its conclusion, is better than a perfect plan that is not followed. It’s not hard to plan. The overall plan should look at least three weeks ahead, and should have a goal or desired result attached to it. It should be ambitious, but not impossible. It should progress in difficulty, asking your body to adapt to a stress.

Ninety-five percent of people seeking fitness or fat loss should do full-body workouts with weights two to three days per week. These workouts should feature exercises that are full range of motion, using all the major movement patterns: Vertical Pull, Vertical Push, Horizontal Pull, Horizontal Push, Hip-Dominant Lower Body, Knee-Dominant Lower Body, Trust Twistings/Stability and a Plank-Type Exercise. That’s eight exercises. Note the lack of curls.

Add to this a few days of challenging cardio (hint: strolling around the block is not challenging for very many people), and you’re rolling. Plan out three or four weeks of training, execute it, and see where you are. If you didn’t reach your goals, adjust the plan and get going again.

2. No Clear Goal. This one is related to the previous one. It’s really hard to get anywhere unless you know your destination. How many Olympians do you think “just want to be fit?” None. They want to go to the Olympics. I have a client whose 2010 goal is to lose 30 pounds by August 1 and to do a pull-up by then. Pretty clear goal. As of June 5, she had lost 24 of those pounds and could do 15 pull-up “negatives” (the starting point for pull-ups).

Give yourself a real goal that you care about. You’ve got to want it, not just have it on a list of things that might be nice. Make your goal clear and make it measurable. “Looking better” or “feeling stronger” are cop-outs. Finally, give yourself a time limit. You aren’t going to live forever, so get this goal checked off as soon as it’s reasonably possible.

3. No Persistence. “I’ve been working out for two months, nothing’s changed, I’m outta here.” As often as we hear this one, we might reasonably conclude that some people are just doomed to be fat. The truth is, we all respond differently to exercise and nutrition. There are many ways to eat right and exercise, and you’ve probably not yet found the right one for you.

Two tendencies are common among those who don’t see results: a) an attitude of entitlement, and b) an unwillingness to feel any discomfort.

Most of training is just “grinding it out.” This means that very rarely do you feel exhilarated after training, and you probably aren’t all that psyched most days you go to the gym. It’s work. If it were easy, McDonald’s would be a fitness center.

Do not stop. Dozens of people each year join a gym for the month of January, work really hard for three weeks, and then disappear for the next 49. They come back the next year the same way. Much better to get out of bed and just do a set of push-ups each day for a year than to make that mistake.

4. No Recovery. “I train every day, and my recovery is fine.” That’s a load of crap. No athlete can train anywhere near capacity and still progress in fitness without rest days. What you end up with is an ability to do mediocre workouts day after day. Training hard all the time is as bad for performance as not training at all. You get stronger during recovery, not during the workout.

Our athletes are required to take one to two full rest days per week (we allow stretching and mobility work), which are low-activity days. This means no chopping wood, building fences, etc. Additionally, we require an “unloading” period every three to five weeks, when the volume and intensity of training is pulled back by 25 to 50 percent. These cycles are in all training. If you don’t plan recovery into your schedule, you can bet your body will take it from you one way or another. One of three things happens to every athlete that doesn’t take recovery time seriously: 1) injury, 2) staleness (a physical plateau), or 3) illness. I guarantee it.

Remember, banging your head against a wall is always going to end with a headache. Step back and take a look at what you’re doing. Is it leading you toward your goal? If not, get off that road, and find one that leads you where you where you really want to be.

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