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phys ed

It’s been said that “showing up” is the not-so-secret key to career success. I’m not sure if that’s entirely true – there are countless factors outside of our control that hold sway over our ultimate fate – but I get the idea. I often use this line of thinking to help clients who are struggling to make room for exercise in their lives: Whatever your particular goals may be, I guarantee none of them will come to fruition unless you actually invest some sweat equity.

Now if simply showing up was all it took to get in shape, trainers like me wouldn’t have a job. People wouldn’t become frustrated with their lack of progress, everyone with a gym membership would be jacked like a Marvel superhero, and no one would ever wonder if working out is a waste of time. If you’ve been showing up on the regular but still aren’t seeing results, consider the following subtle methods of self-sabotage that are all too common in the fitness world.

You’re not following a program

Imagine yourself on a road trip. The sun is shining, you’re cruising down a winding, two-lane blacktop with the windows down, tunes cranked. Your destination? Who knows? You’ve got no map, no GPS, no idea which direction you’re even heading – you just know you’re on a road trip and you’ll end up somewhere eventually.

Sounds pretty aimless, doesn’t it? And yet, this is exactly how most people treat their training. They show up (bravo!), maybe they stretch a little, maybe they jump on a cardio machine, maybe they throw some weights around. They have no plan – they’re not following any sort of structured program, and they never make any progress at all. Frustrations mount, towels are thrown in.

I spent a good portion of my 20s floundering for this very reason. I would either engage in completely random workouts cribbed from old copies of Men’s Health, or – just as bad – I’d jump from program to program without ever completing any, never allowing my body to rise to new challenges because I was always stuck in intro phase limbo. It wasn’t until I started committing to well-designed plans created by actual trainers that my body and my abilities began to grow.

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You’re not tracking your workouts

This proposition is closely related to the previous one, but tracking your workouts is so important – and so overlooked – that it merits a heading of its own. In fact, if I could only choose one success tactic of weight training to promote, this one would be it.

A program is a plan that outlines where you’re heading. By tracking your workouts (i.e., writing down the reps, the sets and the weights for each and every exercise), you’re adding details to the big picture. You’re providing a record of what you did today which then informs what you will be doing tomorrow. Lifting weights is a numbers game – tracking your workouts removes any guesswork from the equation.

There are lots of methods for tracking workouts. App-based training programs typically come with tracking features built into the software. I prefer the old-school method: a pen and notebook. My training journals run deep – I track my moods, my effort, my anxieties. It’s a lot cheaper than therapy, and it helps to keep me motivated for my next workout.

You treat weekends like holidays

I think it’s safe to say that everyone knows if you want to lose weight, you need to watch what you eat. This doesn’t have to mean carefully counting calories and measuring precise portions at every meal – you can accomplish quite a lot just by eating a little more slowly and paying attention to your body’s cues. A little bit of discipline in the kitchen can lead to very big changes when you step on the scale.

But even the most disciplined dieters tend to lose sight of their goals once the clock strikes 5 p.m. on Friday. More often than not, those “few beers with the boys” turns into a bacchanalian smorgasbord. Next thing you know, you’ve consumed a few days’ worth of calories in a single evening.

Let’s ignore all the ways in which booze destroys the brain and body and focus strictly on its aesthetic impact: Alcohol contains almost as many calories per gram as fat. Not only that, but when we drink, alcohol becomes the body’s primary fuel source. Rather than burning carbs or fat, your body focuses on the booze because, as the song goes, “one of these things is not like the other.” I’m not advocating a straight-edge lifestyle here; just reminding you that everything we consume gets added to the caloric ledger – even on weekends.

Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ont.

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