Why Your Workout Plan Is Failing You

Lego Marching

This is a post from NF Team Member Taylor.

“Just start Starting Strength!”

“This 14 week workout plan is all you need!”

“Bro, get on this sick 5-day split!”

When we hear from newbies who feel completely overwhelmed, this is often the advice they’ve been told: “start this plan and don’t look back!”  Or worse, they’re told “start this plan” by 10 different people from 10 different sites with 10 different plans.

We get a lot of “I’m so freaking confused! HALP!” emails.  

Don’t feel bad.

We’ve all been there.

It’s just like playing a brand new video game:  We run through the tutorial levels, get out of the newbie zone, and only THEN do we venture off into the world and grind to level 50.

Fitness is no different: If you’re a fitness newbie, you probably have no idea what you need to do or where you need to begin.  So, rather than following the strategies employed by level 10s, level 20s, or level 50s, we need to understand the mechanics of the game first, and put the right strategies in place that work for us at OUR LEVEL.

Here’s how to stop worrying about what plan to begin, and how to START having success and see positive changes from day 1 of “I’m going to get Healthy.”

What video games teach us about habits

DK

Whether you are looking to revamp your diet, rethink your sedentary lifestyle, or go on an epic adventure around the globe, you start at level 1.

If you’re playing Super Mario Bros or Halo, you don’t get to start on an expert level unless you already know what you’re doing. Try to start on hardcore or legendary while you are still trying to figure out the controls and it won’t be long before you end up like Jim in the Office playing Call of Duty.

None of us start out playing like this guy. 

If you’re BRAND NEW, you need a tutorial level! That “newbie island” of sorts to learn the ropes in a safe environment. Once you get your bearings, you can start upping the difficulty and fight more bad guys.

“DUH! I know I should not jump into a big program!” you might say.

Are you sure? The entire fitness industry is so polluted that you may not even realize. Take a look at some of the best selling fitness programs or DVDs and you are bound to find complicated programs with TONS of exercises. I won’t name any names, but I bet if you think of some popular fitness programs off the top of your head, you’ll realize that the programs many people choose end up throwing beginners right into the game. On hard mode.

Starting with a workout routine with 20 new exercises is madness! You’ll have poor form, struggle, probably not have a lot of fun, and potentially even hurt yourself.

Being Level 1 isn’t exciting in video games, but it’s essential.  You kill rats because you know that by doing so you’ll eventually end up slaying dragons.

Being Level 1 isn’t exciting in fitness either, but it’s essential. You need to be boring sometimes and “kill rats” because that will allow you to one day do handstands, pull ups, and stuff like this.

Ideal World vs Reality

Matrix

In an ideal world, once someone realizes they are unhealthy, they immediately stop eating crap. They start eating healthy, nutrient rich foods to perfectly support their goals: muscle gain, weight loss, or to become the next TV superhero. They make sure they are regularly eating a deficit for weight loss, or eating a surplus for weight gain.

In reality, we we go on crash diets and rebound. We try the recent fad and find that we’re miserable, unhealthy, and back where we started.

In this ideal world, once someone decides they want to gain weight or lose weight, they immediately get on a great program, designed for beginners, and find something that meets their goals. They would then stick to that plan, 3-5 days a week, for months and months. They earn a “perfect attendance award.”

In reality, the average person looking to start has been filled with fitness “knowledge” from the mainstream media, commercials, fitness magazines, and infomercials which tells women they get bulky if they lift anything more than 1 lb and encourages guys to “get huge” by doing this sick 95 day split with 19 bicep variations! We follow the plan handed to us by a bodybuilding magazine or a trainer who is far too advanced, essentially setting our difficulty level to “Legendary” and then getting dropped into a world full of monsters.

In the ideal world, newbies quickly upload all the information they need to be successful…straight to their brains. Yep. Just like Neo. From gym etiquette, to fitness jargon, to how to perform every exercise with perfect form, they are now the masters of health and fitness.

In reality, the gym is #*%)@*% intimidating. Habits are hard to build. And just deciding you are going to try to get healthy or put on muscle is a freakin’ victory in itself.

We aren’t in a dream.  We aren’t in the Matrix. We aren’t in a video game.

And worse, in real life the situation is often more dire than complete ignorance. Often, many of us are starting from a deficit: misinformed and demotivated.

Maybe there’s a better way…

Starting a “plan” might not be the best bet

notebook

OK, so we know that when starting something, whether it be saving for your future or getting healthy, you need to start by getting your feet wet…not by jumping in face first.

This may work for cold pools and oceans, but you’ll have no such luck with new health and fitness habits.

  • The number one reason most people don’t get healthy isn’t because they don’t know what to do, it’s because they can’t follow through.
  • It’s not that they don’t have the perfect program, or they aren’t doing the right exercises, it’s that they aren’t doing anything consistently.

The good news is, there’s an easy fix.

Instead getting overwhelmed with a huge new program, get with started small IMMEDIATELY, and then learn more as you go.

What does this mean for you?

1) If you are more or less sedentary, don’t go from working out 0 days a week to working out intensely 5 days a week. Show yourself FIRST that this isn’t something you are just going to do for two weeks and quit. It would be far better to stick consistently with a tiny 10 minute workout, than start a 5 day a week program and quit after two weeks. Before you start your new “ideal” routine, create your new identity: the you that makes fitness a priority and works out regularly.

Try out some basic bodyweight exercises – The Beginning Bodyweight Workout is a great start. If that’s all new to you, start even smaller, with some pushups and bodyweight squats. Do them every other day. Just do something and keep getting better at whatever you small thing you choose.

2) If you are a runner looking to get into strength training, start making small changes in your routine to incorporate your NEW routine. Don’t jump overnight from spending hours and hours outside running to only going to the gym. That’s jarring, and for many people, a recipe for failure.  Cut back on some of your running and add in basic bodyweight exercises. Maybe at the end of your new shortened runs, do some circuits of pushups, pull ups, and squats.

3) If your diet is out of whack, DON’T jump into a HUGE dramatic change overnight. Whether you are trying to gain muscle or lose weight, don’t make these changes overnight. You can’t jump into that “perfect plan” that everybody is recommending. That’s just not how we humans are built. Say no to crash diets or the quixotic 14-small-meal-muscle-building diet plan.  Even with big changes like a Paleo lifestyle, get started slowly. NF Team Member Staci, who’s been “playing” the Paleo game for 3 years can now jump into “expert” paleo mode, but she didn’t start that way.

Celebrate small wins and get yourself to make nutrition a priority.

What Your Levels Might Look Like

mario

So you just hit start on the Game of Life, and you’re itching to get started. Before we can get you to level 50, we need to get you to level 2 first. And then level 3.

Here’s an example:

Beginner zone:

Easy:

  • Start a basic body weight workout, like this one
  • Begin to learn the form for squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses.
  • Eat a healthy for lunch every day
  • Cut back on processed carbs.
  • Cut back on all sugar from your diet.

Medium:

  • Gym 3x a week plus and walk on your off days. Work on building good form with only a few big compound exercises.
  • Eat a healthy lunch and dinner during the week.
  • Work on some skill based bodyweight exercises, like handstands.
  • Start to eliminate grains, outside of foods like rice and oats.
Hard: 
  • Consider moving to a more advanced strength routine.
  • Incorporate some assistance exercises into your routine to support your main workout.
  • Add a new activity to your week, like yoga or a team sport.
  • Try going full Paleo or completely eliminating processed carbs and sugars.

And your “legendary” mode? If you’re into strength training, perhaps instead of powerlifting you explore olympic lifting, strongman, or gymanstics. A runner? Check out some Ironman races. Try out for Ninja Warrior. Who knows what you can become once you build a solid foundation.

Don’t go it alone

mario family

Games like the World of Warcraft aren’t fun because they let you grind incessantly to get better levels; they’re fun because they let you grind incessantly to get better levels WITH OTHER PEOPLE.

You have friends that:

  • Ask you to join them on raids.
  • Are slightly higher levels than you that can tell you the best places to hunt.
  • Are slightly lower than you who you get to mentor through the next cave
  • Yell at you when you’re not there to play.

Who is in your guild/party in real life?  Do you have these people who are yelling at you when you miss a workout with them?  People that are there to help you when you struggle?  Do you have people that YOU’RE helping?

Life isn’t a single player game – it’s a massively multiplayer real-life role playing game.

Don’t be afraid to get started. To pick your class.  Stumble and fall down.  Get back up.  Try new things. Find friends who are close to your level. And get weird.

What’s that you say? You don’t have any real life friends who want to join your exercise party?  Welp, now you got about 22,000 friends waiting to help, support, and push you.

Game on!

Train smart

Chess

Don’t spend time and energy building the PERFECT routine.  

There is no such thing.  The best workout plan is the one you actually do.

If trying the “all in” approach has repeatedly failed in the past, why not mix things up and try small victories and incremental levels instead?  After all, the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Don’t let a fancy program overwhelm and intimidate you. Just get started with something now, and after you find yourself heading to your workout like a robot, then hop on that awesome program.

The worst thing you can do is to continue to collect piles of underpants and sit on the sidelines, waiting for that perfect moment or that moment of clarity.

It doesn’t exist.

Hit start.

Put one foot in front of the other. Do something.

If you are currently afraid to get started, what’s holding you back?  Leave a comment and we’ll talk through it.

If you broke through the clutter and began, how did you do it?

-Taylor

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photo source: Mario, DK, Matrix, Mario Family, Notebook, Chess

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