Thursday, May 6, 2010

5 reasons why your training can fail

People fail to reach their training goals more often than reach them.  There are 1 metric buttload of reasons why.  I can only cover 5 here.  Mainly because I only want to cover 5, and no more.

1.  Poor planning -

I think this is generally the culprit of all failed training programs.  I ask people how they will reach X and Y goals or why they are doing X and Y and they don't usually know.  I think of the analogy about the guy getting in his sailboat and just drifting out to sea without ever plotting his course.  Death awaits.  And so does the death of your program if you plan poorly.

Somali pirates will in fact, take over your crappy training plan and kill you.

2.  Unrealistic goals -

If you're 300 pounds and want to lose 100 pounds do not plan a 6 week diet for that.  If I tied you up in a cave and just brought you water and a slice of bread each day it might happen then (oh hell I just created the next fad diet.  The cave diet.  Lose all the weight you want in 6 weeks in the comfort of your cave.) but in all seriousness, be realistic about goal setting.  If you just deadlifted 500 after 10 years of serious training, you're not going to deadlift 600 in the next 6 weeks, or even 6 months more than likely.  Plan on deadlifting 505 next.  If you want to gain 10 pounds of mass you're not going to gain 10 pounds of lean mass without gaining around fat at a 1 to 1 ratio.  Understand the amount of calories you will have to eat and how hard you will have to work, and for how long, in order to do that.  Realistically 10 pounds of lean mass is a difficult chore for anyone besides a novice, in a single year. 

This guy will not be Jay Cutlers size in 90 days no matter what he does.

3.  Lack of motivation -

This person has the opposite disease of person #2.  Motivation doesn't come from a speaker or book or whatever.  It comes from within you wanting to change something for yourself.  Motivation will wane if it comes from an external source that doesn't have a significant place in your life.  If you want to quit smoking, for example, you won't quit until you WANT to quit.  And I mean REALLY want it.  This is an identifiable trait.  I have found that determined people are excited about talking about their goals.  They will tell you without you asking.  The wanna-be might mention "I really wanna quit smoking" in a passing kind of way.  This is generally not a motivated person.  If you are honest with yourself you'll know if you are ready or not.  Until you are, don't even attempt it.  It's better to bob about in a sea of uncertainty and save your energy than to paddle half ass and waste the small bit you do have.  When you make a goal you'll know if you are serious or not.  Again, be honest with yourself, that will tell you what you need to know.

4.  Too much information -

People say you can never know too much.  Boy that isn't true.  There is more paralysis by analysis regarding training and diet nowadays than ever.  Of course the net is to blame for that.  No carb, low carb, carb-cycling, south beach, weight watchers, atkins, on and on and on.  Then there is a training program for every possible body you could want.  From a beach body to looking like the Hulk, all in 60 or 90 days or whatever.  After a while someone trying to do honest research and make a solid plan could get information overload.  There are some basic truths we know about eating and training.  These things are for certain. 

If you take in fewer calories than you use in a day you will lose weight.  If you are certain you meet this criteria (and I mean FOR CERTAIN) and are not losing weight, talk to your doctor.  This is a basic physiological fact.  So if that is not working you may have another issue that you may need help with. 

If you eat more than you are using you'll gain weight. 

Everything else is up for discussion.  So any good weight gain/weight loss plan should start at what you're doing at the table.  Keep your plan simple and start with calories in vs out and go from there.

5.  Life -

Sometimes you just gotta play the game...

Let's face it, life happens.  Sometimes you are doing everything right, and life just interferes.  But lets be straight about what that means.  I'm not talking about the things you are supposed to be doing like going to work, being a good father or mother or husband or wife.  That's what you are SUPPOSED to do.  I'm not talking about you saying how busy you are and just can't find the time to train or eat right.  Or getting nicked up in training or are tired of being sore.  For the love of God suck it up.  I hate excuses.  No, I'm talking about LIFE like your child gets sick and is in the hospital or a death in the family or you have to relocate or lose your job or are in an accident.  Things that REALLY impact your life.  In this case, pick up where you left off when you can.  No one can plan for these things obviously and it's far more important to take care of those things when they come up than worry about training at that time.  When my wife had her hip replacement I got to the gym when I lifted when I could and never worried about it.  Taking care of her was more important and now she's 110% (literally as she has never had a sound physiological until now) and things are better than ever.  Remember in the grand scheme of life to leave behind a legacy bigger and better than lifting weights and being fit.  At least kill someone or make a sex tape that people will remember.  That will keep you on the map for a lot longer than being in good shape.  


  1. So Paul why is it you have to get fat to gain muscle if you don't mind me asking?

  2. You don't have to get "fat" but it can happen. In a mass building phase you have to have a surplus of calories. There isn't any getting around that. If you pay a lot of attention to your bodyfat and the rate the scale moves, you can minimize fat to muscle gain. In the winter I can't do as much conditioning as I like and I have a terrible sweet tooth so my bodyweight (and fat) tends to climb during that time. If I lived in a better climate I would stay leaner year round more than likely. Hope that helps.

  3. Thanks for your response. I have heard it before and read it in practical programming for strength training. I don't know if you have heard of it. But its training is all centered around squatting and such so its good stuff. If you don't mind I would like to play devils advocate here and pose a few questions.

    So if I may, why do you need a caloric surplus if for one muscle is made mostly out of water?

    Also a pound of muscle is a lot bigger then most people realize (think of a pound of steak). Why wouldn't the body just take from its readily available fat stores? Since muscle doesn't have a lot of calories and does not burn a lot of calories either (~5 a day) so why not take from the fat stores. Even a 10 pound increase a year which is probably only to be expected from a novice. Doesn't have much more then a kilogram of protein in it. And not much else except a whole lot of water.

    There is also the confusion about lean body mass and confusing it with muscle. when bulking you add a lot of water weight and that will show up as lean body mass.

    My reasons for questioning it is in hope it may be wrong. It costs money to eat more calories then you take in. Plus I developed high blood pressure from bulking. Now that I'm lighter its normal. Its also horrible for your conditioning to carry around extra weight. And its a freedom thing. I don't want to have to overeat to make the hard work in the gym count. If I have to fine I'll do it but its unfortunate. It easily gets in the way of life.

  4. This conversation is getting less blue collar than I prefer and more white collar, but I will give it a stab without referencing any science.

    You are correct about the bulking part and water. Generally a surplus of calories causes an increase in water both inside and outside of the muscle. This does some funny things to your appearance. If you are lean you will look like you have gotten bigger without gaining any more fat for a while. But there is kind of a gray area with bodyfat where you look similar, but have gained fat. A guy that is "bulking" can go from 11-14% and not look a whole lot different to himself. Not for a while anyway, and he will think he gained all lean mass but he did not. This is very common when guys apply "bro-science" instead of taking body fat measurements as they gain.

    The body doesn't want to burn bodyfat to begin with. It's a survival thing. The body is very adept at not using a lot of calories to do activity. Which is why you can be on the treadmill for an hour at a crisp pace and still only burn a few hundred calories.

    With that said, you can't force feed muscle growth. The body can and will only build muscle at a specific rate. That rate will be different for everyone of course. But guys who already have an appreciable amount of mass shouldn't be eating everything under the sun. I highly recommend this for young and very skinny guys because their body tells you that they are already burning a ton of calories through the day, and need more to gain mass.

    But if you already have a good amount of mass on you and aren't lean, eating more calories just makes you fatter. You see this in a lot of guys that get big and fat then diet down and weigh the same as they did before they started the "bulk". Once the calories go into a deficit for a long time, some muscle is lost along with the fat loss. This is inevitable for a natural guy. It is the reason why guys on AAS can diet and retain their mass.

    So long way around, fat takes a long time to be used for energy. The repair process I believe, needs a more immediate energy source to be accomplished. This is why a surplus of calories is needed, and generally it has to come from carbohydrates. I have used a high fat high protein diet before and could not gain mass on it. You have to eat carbs for mass gain, there is no getting around that IMO. So the best thing you can do is adjust calories upwards very slowly and gain mass at a slow rate. If it's 3-5 pounds a year, that's fine. It will be quality and your conditioning and health will have stayed intact.

    Sorry for being so long about that, just kind of came out as I went.

  5. You'll have to ignore my writing if it sounds white collar. That's just my writing style, and don't worry about the long post. I wrote one too and I don't mind reading it as that is what I am here for; to look for answers.

    With kids certainly an excess calories is a good idea. But they growing not just muscle but their organs bones etc are also growing. Juvenal muscle growth doesn't stop till sometime in your 20s so the eat big idea sure its a good idea because they need it anyway.

    You mentioned if you already have some decent muscle and aren't that lean that eating more will make you fat. Do you think that eating less when you already have a decent amount of fat on you will make you lose muscle or at least stall your progress till you start eating more again? If not then how lean do you think is too lean to be in a deficit of calories and still progress in training. I hope I said that correctly.

    I don't know if you have heard of brad pilon. He is the author of eat stop eat and how much protein. I have his how much protein book and he quotes a study done on surplus calories and muscle mass. There were 3 groups. One took in 2010 extra calories as well as 106 grams of extra protein. Another 2010 extra calories and only 24 grams of protein. As well as a placebo group that just ate normally. The 2 groups that ate more calories did gain more muscle. The one with less protein gained one more pound. But the one that was a placebo group still gained 3 pounds of muscle while losing 2 pounds of fat. Of course the 2 high calorie groups gained fat. Unfortunately he doesn't mention if the people were novices or not. Which I suspect they are. Since it was only an 8 week study. Now I have heard that novices are somehow special in that they can gain muscle and lose fat at the same time. No mechanism has been given to explain this phenomenon. Hopefully its just special pleading on the case of needing a surplus calories to gain muscle. It is rather strange. Doesn't it strike you as odd that the difference between a person who builds muscle and gets stronger and someone who spins their wheels hinges on whether they eat an extra cinnamon bun a day? Maybe not. You would get good idea of what I'm trying to argue if you check out one of john barban's podcasts on his blog on muscle building.

    There is a download button for the podcast. Free of course.

    My position isn't one or the other. I hope John Barban and Brad Pilon are correct. If they are it is one less thing to worry about. If they are wrong then well its unfortunate. More restraints and less freedom.

  6. ****If not then how lean do you think is too lean to be in a deficit of calories and still progress in training.

    That is something each person will have to make on their own. I've heard a lot of guys say there is a clear breakover point when they are dieting that strength falls off, and doesn't resume until calories are upped again.

    As far as the study, as you noted, if it were novices used then the diet part wouldn't matter so much. Newbies can do things like gain mass and lose fat in a way that advanced guys cannot. So without that knowledge in the study it doesn't tell me a whole lot.

    If gaining any excess bodyfat is an issue with you, you can most definitely gain mass fairly fat free but it will take longer, and you will have to pay a lot more attention to bodyfat percentage and your caloric intake each day and what it's doing to the scale.

  7. Amen to number four...My brain is gonna explode with all the information I read, I told myself to simply stick with the basics, as truth be told I am simply not smart enough to retain all this stuff

  8. Neither am I MTA. That's why I write this blog. To remind myself just to keep doing simple stuff. It works.