As a personal trainer, I hear every excuse people can come up with as to why they aren’t getting the results they want. I’ve just learned to accept the fact that it’s one of the necessary evils and comes with the territory.
As with any other job, there are aspects that are less than appealing. That is, of course, unless your job is to personally oil up Jessica Alba before every one of her photo shoots. That obviously wouldn’t suck.
A few weekends ago I attended Dr. John Berardi’s “G-Flux” seminar. During the two day event, there was an overriding theme of discovering “limiting factors” that really stuck with me. That is, what factors really limit you or prevent you from being able to reach your goals? What tends to be the real culprit?
The objective of this article is to dig deeper. People like to make excuses. And below I want to discuss what you may or may not be doing to fix five common issues that I encounter on a regular basis. We’re going to find the limiting factor and stop making lame excuses.
1 – “I Never Have Time to Train.”
People always claim they never have time to train. While most will attribute this to work or family obligations (or if they’re really lucky, their significant other has the libido of a porn star), I like to attribute it to… television. More often than not, that’s the limiting factor.
I find it rather comical that people never have the time to train, but are able to tell me who won American Idol or what happened in the season finale of Lost.
It’s amazing how certain people can never find the time to get to the gym, but have all the time in the world to watch their favorite television shows. Proof? A few stats from Dr. Berardi’s seminar:
- The National Human Activity Survey (n=8000): Subjects watched on average 19.8 hours of television per week.
- American Time Use Survey (n=58,000): Subjects watched on average 21 hours of television per week.
That’s a sample size of 66,000 people, which makes for a fairly accurate representation of what people are actually doing with their extra time (read: sitting on their ass). This doesn’t even take into account all the hours we spend online watching other people make asshats out of themselves on YouTube. Although this is pretty funny:
Anyone who tells me that they don’t have time to train at least five hours per week is flat out lying. There are a total of 168 hours in a week. Asking someone to perform at least five hours of exercise per week (in and/or outside of the gym) isn’t much to ask. Trust me, you can make the time.
2 – “I Can’t Get My Deadlift/Bench/Squat Numbers Up.”
I wrote an article not too long ago titled The Rule of 90%. In it, I go into detail on why I feel trainees should incorporate more lifts above 90% of their 1RM into their programming, not only to improve strength, but size as well.
When a more “advanced” trainee approaches me and mentions that he’s stuck on a certain weight with a particular lift, I can almost guarantee his limiting factor is that he hasn’t been incorporating more lifts above 90%.
(Side Note: For beginner trainees, I’d be more inclined to check their food intake and/or overall programming. Most just need to eat more and shy away from the bodybuilding/body-part split routines.)
To recap, lifts above 90%…
- Increase total muscle fiber recruitment.
- Increase recruitment of higher threshold motor units (which have a greater propensity for growth).
- Increase rate coding (rate at which motor units fire).
- Increase synchronization between muscles (improved inter and intra-muscular coordination).
- Make girls want to hang out with you.
Bonafide stud in ten years
All of the above help to improve one’s neural efficiency. Getting stronger is all about making the central nervous system (CNS) more efficient at allowing the brain and spinal cord to better communicate with motor units/muscle fibers to get the job done. In short, improved neural efficiency allows you to lift more weight, which last time I checked, is a pretty cool thing.
The rule of 90% is a beautiful thing because it can work for those who are solely looking to improve pure strength or who are just looking to add muscle mass. If someone’s goal is to get his bench press to 315, he’ll get there infinitely faster using more singles above 90% than he would using a protocol such as 5×5 (which uses submaximal weights).
Additionally, for those who are more into aesthetics and not too concerned with strength, I ask you this: Who do you think will be able to do more reps of 225 on the bench press (and presumably add more muscle mass), someone who can bench 315 or someone who can bench 250? It’s the former. In a nutshell, getting stronger will “potentiate” future mass gains.
How to Set-up a Single Session
In the original article I explain that you should limit your sessions using the rule of 90% to 5-7 per month (one ME bench day and one ME squat/deadlift day per week). I also describe how to set up a basic full-body weekly plan for those who’ve never used the rule of 90% before. However, what I didn’t really discuss is what a typical single session should look like.
For the advanced lifter, each session is an opportunity to hit a new PR (personal record). Lets use the bench for this example. Assuming original PR is 300 pounds, the goal for this training session is to get five lifts at 90% and above:
305×1 (PR! But it was a grinder. The girl on the elliptical is impressed though.)
At this point the trainee has already gotten two lifts above 90% (275, 305), which would mean he needs to get three more lifts in to get to the goal of five. The objective now is to stay at or slightly above 90% (usually in the 90-92% range) and focus on bar speed and actually not miss any lifts.
From there, the trainee will continue on with his accessory work depending on his needs and goals.
3 – “I Still Can’t See My Abs.”
This is going to be a true case of tough love. What I’m about to say is going to ruffle a few feathers, but it has to be said.
What’s up with people celebrating the fact that they have 5,000, 10,000, or even upwards of 15,000 posts on a forum? I see this quite often, and I just don’t get it. I find it odd that people make such a big deal that they have “x” amount of posts on an internet forum and then wonder why they haven’t reached all of their physique goals. Literally, they’re all talk and no walk.
JackedGunz: Hey everyone, this is my 10,000th post and it only took me 2 months!
I understand the sense of community and camaraderie we all get from various forums. Personally, I’ve learned quite bit by participating in various forums and I’ve also met a ton of great people. But please don’t complain that you still can’t see your abs if you’re celebrating the fact you have 15,000 posts.
This is akin to congratulating Paris Hilton for writing her ABC’s correctly or patting Lindsay Lohan on the back for being able to read Cat in the Hat without any help. It’s not that big of a deal, although this could be debatable in either of their cases.
For simplicity sake, let’s assume each post took one minute to type. Well, 15,000 minutes equates to 250 hours, which is roughly ten days. That’s ten days straight of doing nothing but sitting on your butt, typing. That’s why you don’t have abs. That’s the limiting factor.
It’s not shitty genetics. It’s not because you haven’t provided enough of a caloric deficit. It’s because you spend way too much time on forums celebrating the fact that you have 15,000 posts. Your time could’ve been better spent:
- Going for walks
- Doing some extra conditioning work (sprints, tire flipping, sled dragging, etc.).
- Playing tennis, basketball, softball, swimming, or kicking some ass in local Wiffle ball tournaments.
- Dynamic flexibility drills.
- Extra mobility work.
In short, stop posting and start moving.
4 – “I Don’t Have Time to Eat Breakfast.”
Yeah, right. It takes no more than two minutes to warm-up a bowl of oatmeal.
This one is simple. The limiting factor here is just pure laziness. I challenge anyone to prove to me that they don’t have two minutes to prepare something in the morning. And while the idea of eating a bowl of plain oatmeal sounds about as appetizing as a bowl of Brussels sprouts to some, throw in a few blueberries or an apple with some chocolate Metabolic Drive and you have a scrumptious meal.
Food for thought: There’s a plethora of data out there which shows that people who eat breakfast regularly tend to be significantly leaner than those who don’t. Additionally, eating breakfast has been shown to decrease cortisol (a hormone which tells your body to store fat) levels substantially.
Your mother was right, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Make it a priority. Get up earlier and quit making excuses.
5 – “My Shoulder Still Hurts.”
Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson will be the first to tell you that pain and/or asymmetry in the shoulder can be attributed to some sort of dysfunction in the scapular region 99% of the time. To help fix it, we know that overall structural balance in one’s programming should be a priority. (In other words, stop benching three times per week.)
Furthermore, we also know that including a healthy dose of scapular stabilization and thoracic (mid-back) mobility exercises is a must. Things like:
- Scapular wall slides
- Push-Up variations (closed chain movements like push-ups allow for the scapulae to move freely, unlike open chained movements such as the bench press).
- Face pulls
- Behind the neck pull-aparts
- Prone trap raises
- Foam rolling of the thoracic spine
Yet even when all of these things are taken into account, there are times when a trainee’s shoulder still may be bothering him. What else can be done? What if I told you that fixing your breathing pattern could very well be your limiting factor and may be the key to fixing your shoulder pain?
I learned this trick after listening to renowned physical therapist Gray Cook not too long ago. He brought up a very interesting point concerning how we breathe and shoulder dysfunction. But first, we need to find out a few things.
- Test your shoulder ROM (range of motion) for asymmetry. Make a fist with both hands and reach behind your back with both. Left hand internally rotates and goes up your lower back, right hand externally rotates and goes behind the neck. Have someone measure the distance between the two fists behind your back. Now do the exact opposite (left externally rotated, right internally rotated) and measure the distance. Someone with poor scapular stabilization and/or poor thoracic mobility will have a noticeable discrepancy between the two measurements. For certain populations (such as overhead athletes: pitchers, quarterbacks, etc.) a noticeable asymmetry would be perfectly normal and should be expected.
- Now take a deep breath. Seriously, go ahead, take a deep breath, I’ll wait. Did your shoulders rise when you took that breath? I’m willing to bet they did. Essentially, what you’re doing is telling your levator, upper trap, and rhomboid muscles (all of which elevate the scapula) to fire… over and over and over and over. No wonder your shoulder hurts! What you need to do is “reset” your breathing pattern to do more diaphragmatic breathing (breathe through your stomach). As Cook noted, we’ve lost the capacity to use our diaphragm correctly when we breathe. As you might’ve guessed, we need to fix the issue, but how?
- To do so, lie on your stomach with your hands on your forehead, palms facedown on the floor, legs straight. Now take that same breath, but through the stomach. Basically, your low back should go up, not your chest/back. Do this for three minutes, making sure each time that your lower back rises.
- After three minutes, re-test your shoulder ROM. Your shoulder ROM should’ve increased by a noticeable margin.
That’s All, Folks
At the end of the day, if you’re not making progress, dig deeper. Find the true limiting factors. Many times, it’s not what you think the obvious answer is. You may not like what you find, but at least you’ll know and you can stop making excuses!