Fitness Magazine

8 Things That Could Be Holding Back Your Progress In The Gym

By Lyndsay @balancebrunette

After months under lockdown, many of us are feeling less than confident in dressing for the summer. While you may already have booked appointments with your favorite nail technician, hair stylist, or beautician, you’ve also reached the limits of what working out from home can do for you. You know that it’s time to (safely) hit the gym again. As more and more gyms reopen their doors, you’ve likely already started getting back into the swing of things, pumping iron and pounding rubber on the treadmill.

8 Things That Could Be Holding Back Your Progress In The Gym

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But for a lot of us, returning to the gym also means returning to familiar frustrations and roadblocks. You may have hit a plateau both in terms of your motivation and your progress. You feel that something, somehow is holding you back… but you can’t put your finger on it. You’re showing up to the gym regularly. You’re steering clear of the tempting fatty, sugary and salty treats when you go shopping. You’re trying to make healthy choices. Yet, you can’t help feeling that you’re going nowhere.

Hitting a Wall? Or Self-Sabotaging?

First up, it’s important to know you’ve hit a wall rather than thinking you’ve hit one. Our perception is the lens through which we view our reality, after all, and when tel, ourselves we’re not taking progress our bodies start to reflect our internal expectations. This is why it’s so important to weigh, measure and take photos of yourself regularly. These activities (while they may be uncomfortable for you) will give you hard data against which you can measure your subjective experiences. So you can know for sure whether you’re hitting a wall or just listening to the self-saboteur (who we all have living in our minds) that keeps telling you to give up, hit the sofa and order pizza. 

If, on the other hand, your progress at the gym has begun to stagnate, you need to ask yourself some serious questions about what’s really holding back your progress. It could be one of these 8 common culprits!

Two Little Words… “I Can’t!”

It’s easy to underestimate the power that the mind has over the body. But the Mind Muscle Connection is something that’s been validated by scientific study. The more we concentrate on engaging our muscles during our workouts, the more likely we are to push through performance barriers and see the gains we want in our health and appearance. Be honest with yourself, now. How often have you actually been thinking about engaging your glutes when you dip into a squat? Or thinking hard about what your biceps are doing when you curl a dumbbell? If you’re not thinking about what you’re doing and engaging your mind as well as your body, you may find that you’re coasting your way through your exercises. 

Worse still, your mind can start actively working against you. Especially when it utters those dread words to you… “I can’t”! The mind will always give up before the body. And achieving great results often means drawing on the little reserve of energy and willpower that you never knew you had to push past your limitations and keep going. 

Your Competitive Streak

That said, you can go too far the other way; pushing yourself a little too hard in all the wrong ways. The most common and egregious example of this is when your competitive streak stops providing you with motivation and actually starts to harm your progress. Yes, a little healthy competition can bring out the best in us. But if we focus too much on what other people are doing (whether it’s our friends posting their achievements on social media or comparing ourselves to the person working out next to us in the gym) we can do ourselves a huge disservice. 

When you get too competitive, you stop thinking about your own goals and it all becomes about appearances. You want to appear to be lifting more or running further than everyone else. And this inevitably means you take shortcuts. Of which, sloppy technique and poor form when lifting weights are the most common. You pile on the weight and invariably sacrifice technique for the sake of appearances. Not only will this fail to engage the muscles properly allowing them to develop, it can also put you at risk of injury. Never lift so much weight that you can’t perform the full motion necessary in a controlled way.  

Your Clothing

Speaking of range of motion, it’s absolutely essential that your clothing allows you to move freely so that you can carry out the movements necessary for all your exercises. This may mean that you wear different clothes depending on what you have planned for each workout. Yet all-too-often we choose our clothing based on its appearance. 

Don’t let your desire to look good at the gym inadvertently hold you back in your workouts. Choose clothing that give you flexibility and breathability, so you can walk the fine line between form and function. 

Your Diet

It’s been said time and time again… you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Nor is a gruelling workout a good enough reason to treat yourself to a big bowl of ice cream or a bacon double cheeseburger. Yes, cheat meals are a thing. No, you shouldn’t chastise yourself for falling off the waggon every once in a while. Nonetheless, you need to remain disciplined in your dietary habits if you hope to see the progress that matches your efforts in the gym.

Of course, in an age where there’s so much advice on dieting (most of which is just thinly veiled advertorial advocating a specific product or fad diet) it can be hard to know what constitutes healthy eating. Especially when there are so many foods that are marketed as healthy yet contain all kinds of hidden sugars and artificial ingredients that do our bodies way more harm than good. 

But if you’re looking for a good rule of thumb:

  • Eat food (not processed food-like substances)
  • Don’t eat too much
  • Eat mostly plants
  • And don’t forget to keep your body hydrated

While you may need to change your macronutrient intake in line with your changing goals, the above is good advice for everyone.  

8 Things That Could Be Holding Back Your Progress In The Gym

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Your Insomnia

A good diet and regular exercise are cornerstones of good overall health. But in your zeal to lead a healthy lifestyle, don’t forget the importance of rest. Sleep is extremely important, not just for exercise, but in maintaining a healthy mind and body. While you’re asleep your body is hard at work carrying out countless repairs inside and outside. Including rebuilding muscle and other tissues damaged in exercise so that they can grow back stronger.

Without a good night’s sleep, your gains may be limited. And you’re also much less likely to feel energized and motivated to work out. If you’re struggling to sleep, there are numerous natural ways in which you can help yourself to nod off without resorting to sleeping pills.  

Your Independence

You’ve always been fiercely independent and a true autodidact. Why rely on someone to help you, when you can teach yourself to do virtually anything. But while this may have stood you in good stead throughout your life and career, trying to do it all on your own may be self-defeating. 

If you’ve plateaued when exercising on your own, maybe you need the advice, support, expertise and motivation of a personal trainer. They may be able to identify where you’ve been going wrong, help you to better plan for success and make you more accountable for your own progress. If your budget won’t extend to PT sessions, however, enlisting a friend or colleague to act as your gym buddy can help by making you more accountable. 


If you’ve been sticking to the same exercise regimen week in and week out for the past 6 months, there’s a good chance that your workouts have become boring. And while you may think that you’re getting stronger and fitter (because they’re so much easier now) the reality is that you’re just coasting through your exercise regimen. It’s time to shake things up and try something new. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Will you be sore? Maybe. But it’s the best way to prevent yourself from lagging in motivation and progress. 

Your… Discipline?

No, that’s not a type, dear reader. In your efforts to be disciplined in your diet, don’t lose sight of the fact that food is supposed to be enjoyable. There’s no point preparing perfectly nutritionally balanced meals if you have to choke them down. You’ll find yourself gorging on fast food within a fortnight. Instead, work on finding the balance between food that excites you and food that nourishes your body. And don’t be afraid to throw the odd cheat meal in there. 

It might provide just the kick your metabolism needs. 

Thank you for reading!

8 Things That Could Be Holding Back Your Progress In The Gym

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