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Nothing will kill your progress like inconsistency. We live in a day and age of instant gratification and social affirmation. Part of this can be blamed on social media. Instagram in particular can put pressure on you to fret about results you aren’t seeing today. You swipe down and see pictures of fitness models and icons who look amazing in every single post, as if this is what they looked like every day of the year. This simply isn’t true. They also didn’t achieve that physique in a few short days, and they certainly didn’t do it by taking a magic pill or drinking a specific type of tea. They did it through hard work, consistency, and dedication—day in and day out—for weeks, for months, for years. You can do it too. So what are some common mistakes that might be holding you back?
1. Constantly changing nutrition and training programs
It is very important to give a particular nutrition and training program enough time to see the results. I’ve seen it a million times—people will jump from program to program always questioning if what they are doing is correct. Or they feel like there is some special trick or program that will yield crazy results, and they have to switch to something else for fear of missing out. As I said, there is no substitute for hard work and consistency. A particular program MUST be followed for a minimum duration of 4-5 weeks for training and 1-2 weeks for nutrition before making any modifications. The key word here is modification. Modifying a program does not mean changing it completely. Both training and dietary strategy should be based on progression on what you are already doing. Time and consistency will give you useful feedback or "data" which you can use to make small, incremental adjustments. You use that data to make appropriate changes, and then you must monitor the results.
2. Comparing your rate of progress to others
It’s natural to compare yourself to other people, but social media has turned this into a very serious problem now that everyone has access to what others are doing and looking like. Comparing ourselves to others in regards to rate of progress and/or achievements is completely counterproductive to your personal journey. We are all individuals with our own genetic capabilities and different life situations. Constantly comparing yourself to someone else can lead to irrational decisions and self-manipulating behaviors that sabotage your progress. The only thing we should be worrying about and comparing ourselves to is our own rate of progress and what we are doing to improve. Sure, we can learn from others, but getting upset about what others have and what you do not is not only envious, it’s a silly waste of time.
Here we go. Going out partying, drinking, and staying out late even one or two times per week can be a major setback. Just one night out drinking can take the body 2-4 days to recover. Alcohol is cytotoxic, meaning it’s toxic to every cell in the body. During this time your body is NOT going to be in the optimal environment to build muscle. Sure, there are exceptions to the rule and some people can make progress, but most cannot. Even those exceptional people that are making ground while partying will still not reach their potential or make the gains they could be making. If you are truly serious about making progress, then partying should not be in your schedule.
4. Varying sleep patterns
Sleep is probably one of the most important components to athletic performance, strength, and muscle gains. Without proper sleep, progress will be slow or at a standstill even if everything is perfect in regards to training and nutrition. Sleep and proper rest must take a priority. The amount of sleep one needs can vary from person to person, but if you are tired all day long and feeling flat with low pumps, then sleep might be what is holding you back. Rest needs to be programmed just like your training.
5. Too much extra physical activity
This is another important factor that many overlook. If you have a physical, job, like construction, you’re going to have a more difficult time gaining muscle. Yes, there are exceptions, but more will be required of you. Those who do have work that is extremely physical should probably only train four times per week to maximize recovery. Another factor is doing 2-3 different types of physical activity that creates a different adaptive response in the body. For example, if you are trying to gain muscle mass and strength but play basketball for two hours 2-3 times per week, results will be hindered. I see it as burning the candle at both ends. Anaerobic and excessive aerobic activity will become a hindrance. There is no way around it. So again, if you are serious about gains, then other activities (recreational or not) will need to take a back seat.
Stress could be the worst one of all. Everyone's response to stress is different and some handle it better than others. However, severely prolonged stress can wreak havoc on your sleep, hormones, appetite, nutrient utilization, and thus sabotage your results. It is important to minimize stress as much as you can in your daily life. Stress is a part of life and much of it we cannot control, but we can take steps to minimize it by the choices we make, the people we choose to hang out with, and of course how we internalize stress. We all know those friends who seem to never be stressed and handle things in stride. Part of it is the choices they made on how they choose to live their life, but a large part of it is how they choose to respond to stress.
So remember: if you are not seeing progress, make sure you are not making one of these common mistakes. Above all, stay consistent, stay focused, get rest, and find positive ways to manage daily stress. Do this and you will progress.