What To Do When Your Workout Stops Working

What To Do When Your Workout Stops Working Hero Image
Photo: Dasha Libin

Whatever your fitness goals might be—physical strength, weight loss, balance, that stubborn pistol squat—every one of us hits that point when it feels like you're not getting there fast enough. You’re willing to put in the time to create the body and state of mind you really want, but something’s not clicking. And that can be frustrating and discouraging.

The good news is that just because it’s not working now doesn’t mean it won’t ever work. In fact, some of my most successful moments were the result of many, many training sessions—not just one or two random hours. The truth is that it’s different for everyone: A pistol squat took me three months, a pull-up took me eight months, then five pull-ups came only two months later. My black belt in Jeet Kune Do took 11 years, while my brown belt in Brazilian JiuJitsu took 10 years.

But one thing is for sure: It took a program—a REAL system of training—to get me the results I wanted. A scientific regimen, not just random exercises. So, here are a few simple steps that might help you defeat that ugh moment and get you back on track and excited about your journey.

1. Take a planned recovery week of rest.

Most people don’t associate resting with muscle growth and definition. After all, you only grow muscle and burn fat when you are working out, right? Wrong!

The truth is your body doesn’t assimilate new muscle while you are working out. It’s actually the exact opposite. It breaks down muscle tissue, then when you rest and refuel properly, your body will build new tissue in its place.

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Take a week off if you train every single day, feel exhausted, and are not sleeping well. After a week off, try this approach: Train three to four times a week at most, but add more weight or intensity to the workouts.

2. Upgrade your workouts: strength-train!

If you're always doing cardio, then you must add weights to your workouts. Weight training can be the very thing holding you back from your full potential. Weight training can be kettlebells, body weight, suspension training, dumbbells, or anything else you can lift up and put back down.

3. Try super sets.

A super set is when two exercises are performed in a row without stopping. When you start doing these for the first time, you will find that your endurance may be lacking, but before long you will learn to love them.

For (lower body) legs and glutes, I like to do a hip-bending and a knee-bending motion back-to-back. Some ideas:

  • Dead-lift and walking lunges
  • Kettlebell swings and squats
  • Lateral lunges and single-leg dead-lifts

4. Add HIIT workouts to your routine.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another unique option to help mix things up and stimulate fat burn and lean muscle. It's a form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT sessions may vary in length from 4 to 30 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved athletic capacity and condition, glucose metabolism, and fat burning.

5. Work new exercises (the ones that scare you) into your workout.

Pistol squats and pull-ups are just two examples of things you could add into your program to help you beat plateaus. If you’re always lifting heavy weights, try pistol squats or wall-facing overhead squats as non-weighted, muscle-activating alternatives.

If it's your upper body that's in need of some major stimulation, add in pulling motions like pull-ups, chin-ups, or uneven pull-ups. Sometimes just changing up your grips can stimulate the muscles and get you out of your workout funk.

6. Use slow negatives to build strength.

Adding slow negatives to any workout or motion can help you get out of your workout rut. How it’s done: After you perform a pull-up (or an assisted pull-up), lower yourself down in a slow five count instead of an abrupt motion. This can also be done as you bring yourself up over the bar, but it's far more difficult.

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