Back in the day, it was easier to avoid the message that “lifting heavy changes your body, ” but lately it seems that most fit pros and enthusiasts have finally hopped on board. Whether you've decided to test the waters with Crossfit, finally hired a trainer, or simply do some workouts that you find on the internet: you're lifting heavy, you're loving it…and you're not seeing these “miraculous” changes that everyone seems to be promoting. What.is.the.deal?
Here's eight reasons why you may not be seeing results yet:
I'm sure this is insulting to most people reading this. I mean, of course you're lifting heavy enough. It's a heavy weight, and you feel the burn when you lift it. Every body part requires a different weight. So if you're using only one or two weight sizes, for your entire body – then it's not possibly heavy enough for every area. A dumbbell of 10-12 pounds may be excruciatingly heavy for your smaller muscle groups like rear delts, but most ladies can lift much more than that for a back, chest, or leg movement. If you're able to go beyond 12 reps on most exercises, it's probably time to increase your weight.
Don't think that you hard-core-iron-heads are exempt from this one. Sometimes, vets, we can be just as likely to get comfy with a certain weight. Are you're cranking out 25lb dumbbell rows, just because it seems heavy enough for your 10-12 rep range? Or because it's the highest weight available? Could you possibly go up to 30 or 35? Who cares if you can only make it to six to eight reps before you fail? Accept the challenge — if you can do it with good form — and work your way back up to 10 reps. If you can't make such a huge jump, add some weighted gloves and increase by only two to four pounds at a time rather than the entire five. Either way, find your max for that number of reps, and then push past it. The only way to continue to see changes is to continually challenge yourself.
We'll often hear from ladies who are lifting and aiming for fat loss say things like “I must be doing something wrong…I should have lost ‘X' pounds/dress sizes by now”
Ummm…Says who??? ;) How do we determine how many sizes we should be up or down within a year? I pray not by the same industry standards that tell us to “eat-less-than-you-need-to-support-your-body-in-a-comatose-state” for weight loss?
Sure…there will always be tweaks that you'll want to make, but if your butt looks freakin amazing – take a moment to accept that, rather than be overly concerned about the number on the scale OR inside of your jeans.
Too many of us are still being held captive by our scale weight…or some other tracking method that doesn't take into account the type of changes that are happening. Case in point: my pant size can vary from a size two to TEN in about 60 seconds (yet look just as lean in either size). How is this possible? My butt has seriously gotten so high that it ranges from one extreme to the other, based on the rise (and brand) of the jeans. If your body shape is changing, maybe it's time to switch brand manufacturers. It sucks, but sometimes must be done. Trust me, you will see how great you look in clothes that fit. Every fashion book/expert on the market (that's worth a darn) will tell you to stop giving two hoots about sizes. This is because no matter how small you are, sizes will vary — per person — in fit. FIT is everything.
Confession time: The other day, I went out in frustration over all my older, lower rise jeans that weren't fitting. Taking my own redundant advice — I bit the bullet and bought the exact same jeans in LARGER sizes to make sure they fit over my butt. Listen…the size was WAY larger…would you know I had FIVE people tell me I need to STOP losing weight when I was wearing those jeans?! I have gained over 10 lbs (apparently all in the bootay)!! But wearing jeans that FIT ME (note…did not say jeans that “I fit” into to) FIT, baby. Get clothes that fit, forget the rest. By the time you can squeeze into jeans from over a year ago, they're probably outdated anyway :P
Yeah, yeah…we're all tired of this excuse. But let's face it. If you're lifting, you're retaining water. Sometimes LOTS of water. The more you lift, the more water you'll retain. If you're doing tons of HIIT, then consider it the cherry on top of your water-retention-sundae. Until your body gets familiar with the workout, when you start retaining a bit less. But then you change it again. And retain more water. It's an ugly cycle. But not really. It is what it is. Ladies, we really have to get over this whole “water weight” thing. The more muscle mass you build, the more water you'll begin to retain at all times. This really isn't such a bad thing, but rather a sign that things are going well…as you'll see here. But this does mean that you'll have to give those scale dreams a rest, and focus on all the goodness and shifting that's happening with your body. When it comes to lifting, things will occasionally appear to get worse before they get better. I just consider it the “labor pains” of muscle delivery — a tad “painful” when it's happening, but most of us wouldn't trade that muscle baby for the world once it arrives. ;)
Side note: If you're totally convinced/upset/depressed that your pants are getting tighter, perhaps you need to cut down on low rep squatting for a while? Work your lower rep squatting in in phases, so that you still get the muscle building benefits, but aren't constantly retaining water. But, if you adore your 5×5 deadlifts or what have you, just accept that you may be retaining some serious water…and invest in jeggings.
If you're not seeing major body changes, it could be for lack of major body movements. If you're hitting the gym and only concentrating on biceps, triceps, and abs, you're putting a major ceiling on your results. Compound movements are the basis of most effective routines for a reason. They work in the actual way that your body works, strengthening your joints and tendons (in addition to your muscles), working multiple muscle groups at once, and burning more calories overall than an isolated move hitting the same muscle group would. Obviously, there's a time and place for everything, including isolated moves, but generally the newer you are, the more compound moves should be in your routine for best results.
As with compound moves, newbies should be doing more routines that involve the entire body, rather than just hitting one to two body-parts per week. The traditional splits that are seen in the bodybuilding community work extremely effectively…for veteran bodybuilders. If you are still in your first year or two of strength training, you would benefit from mainly full body splits. Not only do these types of workouts get the heart rate up higher, they also produce faster results. Generally speaking, the less amount of time you've been lifting, the more often you can work that body-part per week. A typical newbie routine could consist of up to 3 total body workouts per week, or 2 upper, 2 lower (alternating). The opposite often holds true for vet lifters who need more rest per part — hitting the body part hard, with higher volume, 1-2xs/week, max is optimal and prevent over-training.
Try not to compare yourself to anyone else. If you feel the need to look around for an ideal body goal to shoot for, make sure that it aligns with YOUR genetics, time, interest, and drive. Most importantly, note their starting point. There’s no point in shooting to look like a pro figure competitor, when you don’t have the inclination or desire to put in the time that they do. There's also no use comparing yourself to someone who has taken over a decade to attain their body, and bashing yourself for not accomplishing similar results in your first year of lifting. Hint: most women you see in fitness magazines, Instagram, or the internet — with any amount of muscle “tone” — have put in years of serious training and eating (and/or have been photoshopped…but I digress). Keep it real, and be the best that you can be. If you have a hard time discerning your best one year progress from someone else's five year progress – then you may need to get up close and personal with your “unfollow” or “unsubscribe” button. Don't keep images, magazines, or Facebook “friends” around that make you feel that you're accomplishing nothing. Surround yourself with pictures of yourself, and compare new pictures of yourself to the ones from the beginning of this journey. (But please don't compare pics of your 40 year old self to pics of your 15 year old self…that's just plain freaky)
Love it or hate it, without consistency, none of this will ever come together. If someone lifts, gets frustrated because the results aren't coming fast enough, and then goes back to cardio madness, they will be convinced that nothing is working. Repeatedly lowering cals in a muscle building phase, or under-cutting rest periods in a strength phase, or only sticking to a workout for a couple of weeks before switching “back” is a recipe for disaster. Trust the process. As mentioned previously, most lifters with ultra defined musculature took years, upon years, upon Y.E.A.R.S. to develop. Getting frustrated because you don't look like a person on a magazine/DVD cover, your personal trainer, or (fill-in-the-blank) WFBB Pro, after completing a 4-12 week program will not make the process go any faster. In fact, it makes take wayyyy longer. Think of your journey as a college degree, every time you “change your major” you tack on time to your journey. If you plan on seeing some impressive results, you've gotta buckle down, make the decision, and stick.with.it. Constantly doubting, and thinking that things aren't working — creates the exact environment you're expecting.
It's really hard to put your lifting progress on a timetable. Especially in the first year or so of lifting when you're getting the most coveted results of any lifter: newbie gains. losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time. It will never again happen in your lifetime of lifting, but it can't be measured by typical dieting methods of measurement. You may sit still with your weight or go through “clothes getting tighter” phases for the entire first year, but let me tell you…the progress that is happening is UNreal, and will blow.your.mind. It's just sad that so many of us come from a dieting standpoint and expect things to be so perfectly linear, that we never see results of all the hard work we put in come to fruition. We get scared, run back to “old” methods, and then when those methods “appear” to be working – we assume that it's because we went back to the old stuff (cardio/circuits/super restrictive eating/starving), not actually understanding that it's results of lifting that were there all along. So then we keep doing the old stuff, thinking that it will only get better, only eventually undo the results, and put ourselves back at square one.
Vets: how long did/has it taken you to see results? Any tips for a newbie or frustrated lifter that's just not seeing the results they want?