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4 Reasons Your Workout Isn’t Working For You

exhaustedwoman-450x338You know what’s not cool? Workouts that don’t work. That aren’t fun. That don’t make you excited to hit the gym, the trail, or the yoga mat.

Trust me, I know. I’ve totally been there, competing in figure competitions, dabbling in powerlifting, and grinding away doing hours of cardio every week, just trying to find something that worked for me.

And I know I’m not the only one. At Girls Gone Strong, we regularly get emails from women who feel frustrated, hate their training, and aren’t getting the results they want. No wonder it feels so hard for them to stay consistent with their training!

In order for your training to be effective over the long-haul it needs to meet these four criteria:

  • appropriate for your ability level
  • effective for helping you reach your goals
  • fun and enjoyable for you
  • fit your unique schedule

Trying to find something that meets these criteria can be a huge source of frustration.

It has taken me years to figure out how to design a training program that is all-encompassing, but, even though it took a while, I did figure it out. I got there.

You can get there, too, and I want to help you. Here are four must-follow tips when it comes to crafting a program that will truly work for you:

1. Be Honest About Your Ability Level

First and foremost, you must choose both exercises and a workout protocol that match your ability level. If it’s your first day in the gym, you don’t need to be doing reverse band two-board bench presses with chains and a two-second pause, ya know??

Even if it’s not your first day in the gym, you need to respect your individual capabilities and choose exercises accordingly.  Choosing an exercise that’s too advanced for you is like putting a first grader in a calculus class and expecting them to benefit.

molly-double-kb-deadlift-350x375If you want to deadlift, there are countless deadlift variations from which to choose, and I promise you it’s possible to find one that you find both appropriately challenging and fun. You’ve got Kettlebell Deadlifts, Romanian Deadlifts, Trap Bar Deadlifts, Conventional Deadlifts, Sumo Deadlifts, Single-Leg Deadlifts…the options are endless.

It’s also important to keep in mind that every day will be slightly different for you depending on what’s going on in your life and with your body. Some days I rock out 20 reps of the dumbbell bench press with the 50-pound dumbbells, and other days I feel like eight reps might crush me.  Keep in mind that life stressors, nutrition, and sleep all have an effect on your gym performance.

Listen to your body and if you notice that something in your workout isn’t feeling right, or you just “don’t have it in you” today, it’s OK. Give it a rest and choose something else. Live to fight (and get stronger) another day.

2. Pick a Goal

This one sounds pretty obvious, right? But you’d be surprised how often I see women whose main goals are looking better, feeling better, and feeling healthy and strong—and they are grinding themselves to a pulp with two-a-day workout sessions every day, intense WODs six days a week, or ultra-marathon training.

To be perfectly clear: If that is what you want to do for your training, then by all means, do not let me stop you.

However, if that is you, it’s important that you are honest with yourself and acknowledge that your main priority is running that ultra-marathon—not necessarily to feeling and looking your strongest and healthiest.  Different types of training lead to different physical and performance results.  Training for a figure competition looks vastly different than simply training to look better, feel better, improve your health, and feel strong and capable.

molly-loaded-prowler-450x338So what does that type of balanced training look like? Here you go:

  • Strength training two to four times a week, generally lasting 45 to 50 minutes
  • High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)/Metabolic Conditioning one to two times a week, generally lasting five to 20 minutes
  • Moderate Intensity Cardio (MIC) one to two times a week, generally lasting about 30 minutes, with your heart rate at 120 to 140 bpm.
  • Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) Cardio, whenever possible. This is any kind of leisure movement you enjoy—from yoga to hiking to biking to walking—and should be restorative, not strenuous. Your heart rate should remain below 120 beats per minute, and this activity should be relaxing, and not stressful to your body. This also includes general human movement like taking the stairs, standing instead of sitting, etc.

Keep in mind that some of these days can be combined to allow for two to three full days off each week. Of course, nutrition, sleep, and stress management also play a huge role.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that those strength workouts, HIIT workouts, and MIC workouts won’t look the same for everyone because you must take into your account ability level (see above!), and our next consideration, which is making sure it’s fun and enjoyable for you.

3. Mix Things Up to Make It Fun

molly-tgu-snowleopardpants-350x375At GGS, we believe training should be fun.

Seriously—how likely is it that you’ll keep training over a long period of time if you hate what you’re doing?

Not very!

While your training program should follow sound training principles with smart exercise selection, intelligent set-and-rep schemes, and an effective overall layout to help you get the best results, you should always have options to choose from to ensure that you enjoy what you’re doing.

You can do this by:

  • having options to sub exercises in and out of your strength training program in case you’re “not feeling” a particular exercise that day or you’re missing the necessary equipment
  • taking advantage of all of the different options you can use for your HIIT and MIC. You can use the track, the treadmill, the bike, the pool, a dumbbell circuit, a sled…whatever you enjoy. The options are endless.
  • designing your overall program so it contains more of what you like, and less of what you don’t. Don’t love strength training? Then don’t plan to do it four days a week. Two is sufficient to build and maintain lean mass, improve your insulin sensitivity, and improve your bone density if you do it right. Hate cardio? Just throw in a short HIIT session and a MIC session 1 day a week instead of planning to do it more often (because you won’t stick with it, and you’re just setting yourself up for failure), and try to get in more movement throughout the day. Don’t stress yourself out thinking you have to do it four days a week if you hate it.

This will ensure that you’re consistent over months and years, which we all know is the key to long-term success.

4. Be Realistic About Your Schedule

Telling yourself you have to workout six days a week when you know you only have two hours a week to devote to exercise is a recipe for feeling like an utter failure. Why would you do that to yourself, when you can plan to train two hours a week and feel like you’re nailing your goals?

If you’re not sure how to set up your workouts based on your schedule, use this template as a guide (while keeping in mind your goals and what you think is fun, of course). This is a template for someone who wants a balanced training program to look good, feel good, and improve their health, who also enjoys a mix of strength training and cardio.

Balanced Training Schedule

Obviously, you can see that I am extremely passionate about building training programs that match my clients’ ability levels and goals, and keep them having fun in the gym—all while getting them the exact results they want with minimal time and effort.


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About The Author: Molly Galbraith

Molly Galbraith, CSCS is co-founder and woman-in-charge at Girls Gone Strong, and creator of The Coaching & Training Women Academy, home for the world's most comprehensive, evidence-based, women-specific coaching certifications. A former figure competitor and powerlifter who has dedicated the last 15 years of her life to helping women achieve their goals and feel more comfortable and at home in their bodies. Learn more about Molly on her website and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.