Why Exercise Programs Fail
Editor's note: Last week, fitness advisor John Romaniello provided insight into why so many people struggle with their diets. His article received an incredible response, but many readers had one common question: What about exercise? Is there a similar common mistake? So we went back to Roman and asked him for his solution. This was his answer. -Adam Bornstein
When people ask me why so many exercise programs fail, I like to start at the same place--with Colin. You see, Colin was a client who experienced really incredible results. He lost 18 pounds of fat and gained for 4 pounds of muscle in just 8 weeks. Not bad, right?
Well, it didn't seem as impressive after Colin went on to drop another 40 pounds while completely transforming his body over the next few months. While those results are fantastic, that isn't what sticks out in my mind when I think about his transformation.
The most interesting part of Colin's story is that despite working out for decades, this was the only time he ever saw consistent progress during the duration of a program.
You can see for yourself--Colin became a new man.
And now, at nearly 50 years old, Colin is in the best shape of his life. He jokes about being an "old man," but can out-lift guys half his age. The best part? Colin isn't a professional athlete, or a genetic freak. He's just like you--a regular person with a job and a family. While he's certainly dedicated, he had other responsibilities during his transformation, and he didn't make it the only priority in his life.
And, like you, this wasn't the first time Colin was hitting the gym; quite the opposite. Colin has spent years working hard and trying to look and feel the way he's always wanted. So what was different this time? And why were his workouts more successful?
The answer is progression. And while you think that would be obvious, most people only focus on progress, not progression. And those are quite different.
Even though he's been training for years, if you were to graph out Colin's results over the course of that time, it would mostly be a flat line, interspersed with a series of "blips" that were few and far between.
However, during the time he and I have been working together, he's made progress, week after week.
Why the change? Is it because I have some magic up my sleeve?
No--contrary to popular belief, I did not attend Hogwarts, I do not ride a broom, and I cannot do magic of any kind.
However, I DO get results that are well beyond the ordinary, and that does require a certain level of near-magical knowledge because it involves a simple "trick."
That trick, simply, is to avoid the mistakes that most people make.
If you can manage to avoid some of the more common mistakes, I guarantee you'll see your progress skyrocket. And one of the biggest mistakes, by far, is a phenomenon known as program hopping--which is when clients move from program to program to program, often without even finishing them.
Even when they do finish a program, these hoppers don't really think about the overall structure of their training as a whole, and move to whichever program seems cool at the moment.
Program hopping is the number one mistake that is holding people back in their training.
Now, let me just say that I completely understand the desire here: you want muscle, so you do a muscle building program; then you want fat loss, so you do a fat loss program. From a logical perspective, that does make a great deal of sense and things should go well.
Regrettably, logic and physiology don't always play nicely together.
Here's the problem: when you jump from program to program, these training methods often vary from each to a very significant degree. Of course, on occasion, that works out well, and the "change" in stimulus can lead to increased metabolic disturbance and force an adaptation. Translation: you lose fat, gain muscle, or achieve both at the same time. (Yes, it is possible.)
Unfortunately that's usually not the case. You see, your body is a tricky organism, and while variety definitely has a place, it's only truly effective if you structure that variety in a way that allows these programs to build off of each other. The truth is that in most cases, it's the opposite that occurs.
For example, if you perform a muscle-building program that utilizes very low reps, you'll increase strength in that rep range. (And, assuming volume is high enough, you'll gain mass). However, your strength endurance will drop--meaning, your ability to train effectively with high reps decreases.
After that program, you jump onto a fat loss program, and most of those programs require you to train with high reps; however, your body is now deconditioned with regard to such training. In order to do the program, you have to lighten your weights considerably. So, yes, you'll burn some fat, but you'll also get weaker.
You can see where I'm going with this. People seem to put a lot of thought (hopefully) into the program they choose--but all that consideration won't mean much if you don't put as much thought into the order in which you perform those programs.
Your solution is a concept known as "periodization" or the secret to progression.
This is a term that refers to setting up your training into specific blocks of time (or periods), with each period focusing on a specific fitness quality. The goal is to periodize in a way that allows the qualities you develop to build upon one another, creating a system where each period is more effective because of the ones that came before--this is known as ”progressive programming.”
If you set up your programming in the right way, you're consistently making progress because each week you'll be utilizing qualities developed the week prior to that. This is why Colin experienced such great results.
Instead of a series of two-steps-forward-one-step-back cycles, you're making consistent, forward and direct strides towards your goal.
Periodization and progression are worked into everything I design, and that's especially true with my new program, Super Hero Fat Loss.
You see, Super Hero Fat Loss is a 12-week program that's broken into 3 phases--each phase focuses on a different quality, as we discussed above. All of the phases are designed for fat loss, but approach and encourage that via a difference mechanism; this allows you to achieve all your goals. Here’s a strategy you can use that when utilized in the right way, can help build the body you want.
Phase One: Build Your Foundation
Whether you're a man or woman, gaining strength is essential to your goals (Don't worry ladies, gaining strength will not make you bulky.) While the first phase focuses on gaining strength, you'll also lose fat and gain a little muscle. This occurs because you're doing hybrid workouts that have a strength component with heavy weights early in the session (think 5 sets of 5 reps), and finishing your workouts with metabolic work, like complexes that combine 4 to 5 exercises all performed in a order without any rest. During the four weeks of Phase One, you'll always be challenging yourself and building strength, but never pushing too far to inhibit recovery from the fat burning metabolic aspects.
Phase Two: Emphasize Your Target
Muscular endurance might not sound exciting, but when done right, it's a technique that's very effective at burning fat. This is accomplished through the use of density training, where progression from week to week is based on doing more work in less time. For instance, you can group 5 exercises together and set a timer for 15 minutes. Establish how many reps you want to do for each move (let's say 10), and then do one set of all five exercises. That's one cycle. Keep going until time is up. The next workout, you'll still set the timer for 15 minutes again, but try to complete more cycles of the 5-exercise circuit.
Because of Phase One, you're now a lot stronger and more explosive; this allows you to use heavier weights during the fat-burning density workouts of Phase Two, which in turn means you'll be burning more fat and increasing strength endurance. In addition, the density based designed of the workouts themselves allows you to maintain a high level of absolute strength.
Phase Three: Combine Your Goals
This final phase combines both the strength-building aspects from Phase One and the endurance-enhancing aspects of Phase Two, adding in workouts containing elements that develop speed. The design of Phase Three requires you to call on each one of these qualities one day per week each--so during that phase, you'll continue to increase strength, burn even more fat, and build more muscle, SPECIFICALLY because your body has become more efficient (and proficient) at each one.
THAT'S the power of periodization and progressive programming--it creates a system wherein the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; the result is that each part of your training will benefit from everything else you've done prior.
This concept can be applied either to a single program, like the Super Hero Workout, or it can be applied to strategically moving from one program to the next. The real key is making sure you find a program that utilizes this type of approach and then stick with it for the duration and avoid the urge to hop from one program to the next.
After all, it doesn't matter how good a program is if you aren't patient enough to see the results. That itself is a reminder we can all use when exercising.
If you can avoid the mistake of running from program to program, and learn how to choose programs and schedule them in a way that builds off of each other, you will consistently make progress and have the results you want.