6 Steps to Making a New Workout Plan When Yours Isn’t Working

No word is more hated in the fitness world than “plateau.” Whether it’s a runner trying to drop a few minutes at an upcoming race, someone battling with weight loss, or a lifter eager to get stronger, these stalls in progress are hugely frustrating. Figuring out what to do next can be daunting, so we enlisted the help of Adam Friedman, a celebrity trainer, conditioning coach, and fitness institute expert for Gold’s Gym. Before you get too excited, know there isn’t a magic formula that will guarantee results. “It’s one giant experiment,” Friedman said. “People kind of have to learn what their body can tolerate and what it can’t.” Though you’ll have to play around to find what types of workouts give you the best results, Friedman shared some pointers anyone can use to get their workout plan on track.

1. Put pen to paper

a workout plan

A workout plan | iStock.com

Once you’ve determined your fitness routine isn’t working, it’s time to start taking a much closer look at your life. It’s not enough to simply recall what you’ve been eating and how your workouts have been going because it’s too easy to forget about an extra snack here and there or a day when you cut your cardio short because you felt lousy. “I would start with journaling,” Friedman said. “A week of journaling about food, sleeping habits, and stress level. I would write down the workouts and what kind of weights you’re doing to really get an idea whether or not there’s something off in the program.”

This might go without saying, but be honest with the records you keep. If someone brings a plate of cookies to the office and you eat three of them, it has to go in the journal. Keeping track of these details, even if they’re a little embarrassing, is the only way to accurately get an idea of what’s going on with your health.

2. Balance strenuous workouts with recovery

An exhausted man after a workout

An exhausted man after a workout | iStock.com

Lagging results can tempt gym goers to double up on their efforts. Sadly, pushing harder isn’t going to do you any favors if you’re already making an effort to regularly challenge your body. Take high intensity interval training (HIIT), for example. These types of workouts can help you torch calories and boost your cardiovascular fitness, but doing them all the time is going to leave you wiped out.

Friedman explained HIIT sessions are just part of the whole picture. “It’s a really important way to improve someone’s cardiovascular conditioning to handle more stress, however, steady-state cardio actually has huge benefits as well because it helps to increase your cardiac output,” he said. While vigorous efforts are necessary to increase your fitness, so is recovery time.

The ratio of challenging workouts to more relaxed ones also varies depending on your specific goals. “If someone wants to run a marathon, they’re going to spend more time in steady-state conditioning,” Friedman explained. By taking a closer look at what you want to achieve, you’ll likely find it much easier to start focusing your workouts.

3. Consistency matters…


Sleeping | iStock.com

Everyone has a thousand different commitments, so success ultimately comes down to making your fitness a priority. This goes for workouts, nutrition, as well as getting enough shut-eye. “There needs to be consistency,” Friedman said. “With sleep, there should be a structure. Typically, you want to go to sleep at the same time and wake up at the same time.” Don’t believe it? Science is on his side. One 2013 study found women who stuck to a regular sleep schedule had a lower body fat percentage than those who were inconsistent.

Maintaining a structured workout plan also matters. For people looking to drop pounds, it may just take a bit of time. “It could take three to six months just for that to really set in and their body to lose it,” Friedman said.

4. …But keep your body guessing


Swimming | iStock.com

Maintaining a consistent routine doesn’t mean keeping the exact workouts the same. In fact, this is often what leads to a plateau. “People get stuck because they get caught in a program,” Friedman said. “They get very comfortable doing what they’re doing.” While such a rigid routine might offer some level of comfort, AZCentral.com explained your body adapts over time to perform the same exercises more efficiently. This means you’ll burn fewer calories and see diminishing results.

So how long should you stick with a workout routine before moving to something new? Friedman said, “I feel everyone should be changing up their workouts every three to six weeks.” Though that might sound daunting, they don’t always need to be massive adjustments. It could be changing a few lifts, increasing the weight you add to the bar, or swimming instead of hitting the treadmill.

5. Don’t underestimate the power of food

Healthy Foods

Healthy foods | iStock.com

If you’re feeling good about your exercise plan, nutrition could be where you’re falling short. Friedman said diet can account for as much as 75% of weight loss, so even the most rigorous exercise routine won’t save you if you’re eating junk. But once again, everyone is a bit different. “You’re going to see people who have to be really, really on top of their nutrition all the time in order to see results, and then you’ll see people who can eat whatever and still look amazing.” Unless you’ve been gifted the world’s best genetics, you’ll likely need to tighten up your eating.

Remember, a healthy diet doesn’t mean slashing calories or eliminating things you love. Cutting food intake too much will actually force your body into starvation mode, which leads it to do everything it can to maintain the same weight. “It needs to be done healthfully from the beginning, meaning they’re not depriving themselves,” Friedman said.

6. Remember it’s a process

personal trainer, gym, exercise

A man exercising | iStock.com

Probably the most important thing to keep in mind as you work toward any fitness goal is to be patient and stick to a program. “Nothing happens overnight and nothing is permanent,” Friedman explained. “You really have to work at it and work intelligently.” Even if you work with a trainer, a nutritionist, or both, you can’t allow yourself to become complacent. It’s about educating yourself and learning to make changes when necessary. Friedman said, “I have a lot of people who come to me and say, ‘Just give me a program and I’ll be good,’ but they soon realize it’s a lot more complex than that.”