Guest Post: 10 Reasons You’re NOT Making Progress In The Gym

Sexification Note: Today’s meaty post is brought to you by Jordan Syatt, an ambitious young man who I’m sure you’re going to be hearing a lot from over the next few years within the fitness industry – hope you’re ready to take some notes.


I have an issue. Actually I have a lot of issues, but that is neither here nor there. For some reason this one in particular has really started to get under my skin. Every day I get questions from family, friends, clients, Macedonian princesses, and other people of the sort (O.K. I lied about the princesses) asking me to explain why they’re not making progress in the gym.

The funny thing is every suggestion I make is apparently wrong. According to almost everybody their training is perfect, their diet is on point, and everything in between is absolutely stellar. What gives?

Well I hate to break it to you, but if you were doing everything perfectly than you wouldn’t be having this problem to begin with. More likely than not, you’re doing several, if not many things to keep you from making significant progress.

If you’re tired of making little to no improvement in the gym then check your ego at the door and take a gander at the list below. When you’re finished, set some time aside to reevaluate your current training and lifestyle habits to see if anything needs a change. Be honest with yourself. There’s no room for an oversized ego during this process. Consider the things you may or may not be doing that are preventing you from making the best gains possible, and come up with a plan outlining the changes that you need to make in order to succeed.

Oh one more thing…if you’re satisfied with making little to no progress then you need not read any further.

The List

1. You Don’t Have A Goal

However obvious this one may seem, I’m prepared to wager that most of you haven’t outlined a legitimate goal to center your training routine around; the key word here being “legitimate.” If you’re goal is something akin to “be healthy”, “lose weight” or “get stronger” then you need to dig deeper and think about specifics.

The key to a successful training program is creating an achievable and explicit goal. Anyone can lose weight or get stronger, but how many people can get to 6% body fat or increase their 1rep max deadlift by 100lbs?

By creating a specific goal you can customize any training program to get you there as quickly and efficiently as possible. This brings us to number 2 on the list….

2. You Don’t Have A Plan

I can’t tell you how much it kills me every time I see a guy go from one exercise to the next with no rhyme or reason behind any of his choices, other than that particular muscle isn’t sore and/or the exercise looks pretty damn fun. (In all fairness, bosu balls provide a great platform for party tricks).

I can’t possibly stress enough the value of a training program and its importance in making consistent progress in the gym. Let’s pretend that your goal (recall number 1 on this list) is buried treasure, ok? If we’re equating your goal to buried treasure than your training program is the treasure map; logically speaking, without the map there is absolutely no way you’re going to find the treasure. I mean think about…even Jack Sparrow needs a map. 2nd grade story time analogies aside, a training program is a prerequisite to being successful in the gym.

Make a training program that is designed specifically for you and your goal. Stick with it and follow it exactly as outlined until you get what you want. Repeat this process over and over again and reap the benefits of success.

3. Your Diet Doesn’t Match Your Training

This is when things start to get a little bit tricky. Without going into too much detail, depending on your personal situation and goal you need to either choose a diet that works with your training routine, or choose a training routine that works with your diet.

For example, if you’re an athlete with a fixed training schedule (let’s say it’s the off season and you have practice 6 days/week) than it only makes sense for you to modify your diet based on your training routine.

On the other hand, if you have very strict nutritional guidelines (i.e. large calorie deficit in order to facilitate fat loss) than you’re going to have to modify your training program to suit your diet.

Regardless of the situation, if you’re diet isn’t conducive to your training then you will never progress. Period.

4. You’re Not Doing The Most Productive Movements

This one is pretty straightforward. Depending on your goal there are certain movements that absolutely must be a priority in order to make progress. Generally speaking there are a group of exercises, or variations of them, which should be emphasized in every training program. These movements are compound or multi-joint movements and without a doubt provide the most bang for your buck. They are:

– Conventional Squat and Squat variations (Front Squat, Goblet Squat, Box Squat)

– Conventional Bench Press and Bench Press variations (D-Bell Bench Press, Incline Bench Press, Floor Press)

– Conventional Deadlift and Deadlift variations (Sumo Deadlift, Trap-bar Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift)

– Chinup and Chinup variations (Weighted Chins, Close Grip Chins, Pullups)

There are certainly other moves that have their place in every training program, but if you are, or have been neglecting any of the above movements, I highly recommend programming them into your routine.

5. You’re Not Warming Up

Plain and simple, if you’re not warming up before you train than you’re not training smart.

I can’t express how important a warm-up is in relation to success. Granted, different goals call for different training routines which require different warm-ups, but I have yet see a training regimen which does not necessitate some form of a pre-training stimulus.

I’m not going to take the time here to outline all of the benefits of a well executed warm-up, but suffice to say that getting the right muscles firing before you train can be the difference between a debilitating injury and setting a personal record.

Fewer injuries + more training time = greater progress.

At the very least make sure to incorporate the following into your warm-up:

– Myofacial release (foam rolling)

– Hip flexor work (leg swings, rear leg elevated static lunges)

– Scapular retraction/rotator cuff work (behind the neck pull-downs, band internal/external rotation)

– Glute activation work (butt bridges and variations)

6. Your Ego Is Too Big

As Henry Rollins wisely wrote in The Iron, “Most injuries involving the iron come from ego. I once spent a few weeks lifting weight that my body wasn’t ready for and spent a few months not lifting anything heavier than a fork. Try to lift what you’re not prepared to and the iron will teach you a little lesson in restraint and self-control.”

The weight room is no place for an ego. Ego’s breed poor form and lead to injury. Learn to love the iron and the hard work it takes in order to progress.

In the end you’ll be rewarded.

7. Your Form Sucks

You wanna know what really grinds my gears, (yes I love Family Guy)? Watching people who have no concept of what a good repetition looks like. It could be in regard to chin-ups, Bench Press, Squatting, or unilateral supine hip extensions on a physio ball; honestly I don’t care what the move is, but if you’re using shitty form then I want to hurt you.

This actually ties in really well with having too big of an ego. A lot of times people will use more weight and compensate by reducing their range of motion. Other people legitimately just don’t know what good form looks like, but considering you’re reading this I’m assuming you aren’t one of these people.

Among other things, poor form will inevitably lead to injury simply because performing an exercise incorrectly involves your body training a movement pattern that it wasn’t designed to do. This is why when people tell me “Jordan doing squats hurts my knees!!!” I respond with “No. Not doing squats hurts your knees. If you were squatting then your knees would be fine.”

Use proper form, stay healthier for longer, and make more progress. BAM!

8. You’re Not Adding Weight

When people ask me why they’re not making progress in the gym, one of the first things I ask them is what their 3-5 rep max’s are in the Squat, Bench, and Deadlift, or the respective variations. From here the response is either “I don’t know” or they give me concrete numbers (which are usually 20-50lbs heavier than their actual max’s, but that’s beside the point).

My next question to the people who actually have justifiable numbers for each lift is “How often do you try lifting heavier weight?” The usual response to this includes a scrunched up face filled with a look of utter confusion and ends with them saying something along the lines of “Well I’m not strong enough to go heavier yet.”

Let me explain something, if you’re not attempting to lift heavier weight than you will never get stronger. Period!

More weight = more strength and More strength = more progress.

9. You’re Not Recovering

No matter what your goal is or what your training program entails there are always rest periods. Whether the rest period is a couple of hours or a couple of days is irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make. Regardless of the frequency or length of your rest days, they are crucially important for your recovery and continued progress in the gym.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a powerlifter, a marathon runner, or a rodeo clown; if you’re training hard then a certain amount of recovery is absolutely necessary to ensure your body is ready to go hard when the time comes. Don’t judge…rodeo clowns have intense training programs, or at least I’d assume they do.

10. You’re Scared

I’ll be the first to admit that training can be scary and for a lot of different reasons. For some people there is a fear of getting under several hundred pounds of weight; for others it’s a fear of failure. Regardless of your fear or the deeper reason behind it all, learning to embrace your fear may be the best thing you can do to ensure you improve in your training.

Everyone has fears. No one is completely void of fear and each person has to deal with it on one level or another. However, the difference between those who make progress and those who don’t is the ability to recognize the fear without allowing it to take over their being.

Don’t let fear beat you. Feel it. Embrace the fear. Let it completely fill you. Only when you have fully acknowledged the fear and its presence inside you can you be free of it. To ignore the fear and run from it is to let it win. If you can accept the fear for what it is…an emotion, and continue to work towards your goals, then you will overcome it; you will beat it.

Beat fear. Make progress.

Summing Up

Before this article comes to an end, let us take a moment to recap 10 reasons you may be failing to make progress in the gym, shall we?

  1. You Don’t Have A Goal
  2. You Don’t Have A Plan
  3. Your Diet Doesn’t Match Your Training
  4. You’re Not Doing The Most Productive Movements
  5. You’re Not Warming Up
  6. Your Ego Is Too Big
  7. Your Form Sucks
  8. You’re Not Adding Weight
  9. You’re Not Recovering
  10. You’re Scared

I hope that each of you who read this can now take one step back in order to make 10 leaps forward. To be honest, that’s all training really is: breaking things down just to build them right back up, but even better than before.

Photo Credit: Ivan Walsh

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  1. Risto says

    If someone’s goal is to become healthier, how would one measure his progress?

    • says

      Aside from blood work and various medical tests, it’d be hard to really measure ones progress. The best way IMO is to cover all your bases is to get your lifting in, some cardio and make sure you’re eating a “well balanced” diet most of the time – booya!

  2. Dara aka D-breezy says

    I absolutely love love love this post. I recently gained a ridiculous amount of weight (massive stress eating), but I’m trying to get back into the gym. Lesson here: I need a routine! Thanks rogdeezy!


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