You’ve been killing it in the gym, pushing your workouts harder than ever, but you aren’t making the progress you want or maybe none at all. You may be wondering what the actual fuck is wrong, and it could be a bunch of different things, but from my experience it typically comes down to diet choices and programming.

I always see posts about different supplements advertising that they are the key to pushing past plateaus and getting you back to making progress. I think most people fall for this just due to the fact they’re looking for the easiest way to fix their problem. I know I’ve fallen victim to this many times when I first started lifting. My nutrition would be lack luster and I’d just be in the gym randomly hitting stuff because I felt like it, but yet I thought this new powder or pill was going to make the difference. I’ve probably wasted thousands on supplements that really didn’t move the needle for me at all, other than maybe a placebo effect because I believed it would work for me. While I do love using supplements, I have cut back significantly from my younger days.

I’d say the nutrition aspect of any fitness journey, whether it’s just for lifestyle purposes or bodybuilding, is that most difficult part. We’re constantly bombarded with food advertisements and damn have they gotten good at making shitty food taste amazing. I mean seriously, how fucking good is ice cream?! I honestly believe in the pursuit of any goal, even outside of health and fitness, a good diet filled with nutritious, whole foods is a huge key to getting the most out of yourself. If your diet is filled with crap, your brain is not going to function as well as it can, you’ll have less energy, memory may be lack luster and the list could just keep going. So I think the first aspect to look at when you’ve hit a wall with training is to assess what your diet looks like right now and how you could change it. Let me make this completely clear, I DON’T GIVE A FUCK WHAT KIND OF DIET YOU CHOOSE. Just as long as it fits your goal and it’s something you can do consistently, that is what I care about more.

Take a good hard look at what you’ve been eating lately and see if you’re lacking in any areas or if you need to clean things up a bit. If you’ve not been preparing your food, or maybe you have been but still find yourself eating out a lot, this is a great place to start. Start eating with intention, hit the proper macros and pay attention to how your body responds to the better foods. The more you control all the different aspects of your progression, the more you can manipulate and make adjustments whenever they’re needed versus just guessing. The main way I like to sort out my diet, or anyone I work with, is taking everything back to fairly basic and removing any extras. You can’t get an accurate idea of how your body responds to certain foods if your diet is constantly rotating and switching sources or having carb sources that you don’t know what all was put in them. The carbs I tend to use to bring things back to basics are jasmine rice, oatmeal, grits and potatoes. In my experience, most people can handle these carbs sources relatively well and they don’t mess with digestion as much as some others. Oatmeal can be back and forth depending on if the person is sensitive to gluten or not, but there are gluten free oatmeal brands or it can be switched for grits or cream of rice.

Now, on the training aspect of things, ask yourself a question, how often do you go into the gym with a plan and know exactly what you’re going to do? Maybe you’re pretty good at this and you do a good job writing out your workouts and following them, but do you know if you’re progressing from last week? Do you have workout log? Do you know if you’re progressively overloading the muscle or are you just guessing and think you went harder this week than last? I can honestly say, I’m pretty good about having a solid idea of what and how I’m going to train that day, but the place I lack is logging down my exercises. Only excuse I give myself is I have the handwriting of a toddler. What I’ve learned to do for myself, and probably not the best for most people, is I stick to basically the same workout for a while and I’ve gotten pretty good at remembering the amount of weight I hit the last time, but this isn’t exactly a good thing for long term usage. I can’t remember what I did any further back than maybe a few weeks. I am able to make progress each week this way, but I have no long term stuff to be able to look and see my overall progress.

I also tend to notice most people go in the gym and each workout is different than the last. The same exercises may be used week to week, but they’re often in a different order, different rep range, different angle or machine, etc. This definitely helps keep things fresh and exciting, but can potentially limit your forward progress at some point. The whole idea behind muscle building is you have to give a bigger stimulus each time in order to get a response for the muscle to grow. If one week you start with dumbbell rows and you do 100lbs for 12 grinder reps and the next week you do dumbbell rows after 3 other exercises and get even get 90lbs for 12, it makes it hard to really see if you’re moving forward or not. Of course this method can certainly produce a muscle building stimulus, but you are kind of only guessing that it is working. Whereas, if you hit the same exercises, in the same order each week, you’d have a better idea of if you lifted more than the week previous.

I can hear the groans already. “So you want me to do the same workout every time I go into the gym?!” Yea basically, but it doesn’t have to be for a super long period of time. I’d say a range anywhere from 4-6 weeks depending on if you’re still making progress or not. I would just suggest focusing on seeing if you can lift more each week and turn it into a challenge with yourself to beat the last time, versus just focusing on the aspect of doing the same workout. Just to make it clear, I don’t mean every time you go in needs to be some dramatic increase in weight to say you’re “making gains,” but you should first find the rep range you want to work in, for the example let’s say 8-12, and work up to a weight that is fairly hard to hit for 8 reps, while keeping good form and use that weight until you can get 12 easily. Once you’ve done that, add more weight and repeat the process. Instead of just piling on weight indiscriminately because you feel like it and want to ego lift, focus on how well you’re moving the weight you’re using and if you can actually feel the muscle working with that weight. If you can’t feel it working and you’re just throwing it around hoping that you’re working the muscle, you’re doing it wrong.

I don’t want to keep rambling for too long and I hope you’ve all stuck around this long in the post. If you have, I truly appreciate you and hope you were able to get at least some nugget of information out of it. If you want more in depth conversation about this or any other topic, feel free to drop me a DM on Instagram (@nickbagley_npc) or sign up for coaching to get a fully customized plan to help you get to your goal!