10 Signs You Need A Workout Makeover
Why you’re not seeing results—and how to get back on track
When You Need A Change
Unlike fashion faux pas, sex slumps, and getting something stuck in your teeth, when it comes to working out, no one is going to step in and tell you when it’s time to step up. That means it’s up to you to know when it’s time for a change. The signs may not always be obvious, though. Miss them and you risk giving up on your workout altogether out of frustration, injury or simply boredom.
Here, experts give their tips on the 10 signs that indicate it’s time for a workout makeover—and what to do next.
1. You're always sore
Your muscles need recovery time or soreness sets in with back-to-back workouts. Professional athletes use a strategy called periodization, a systematic approach to training that prevents muscle soreness from overtraining, says Tom Holland, MS, CSCS, exercise physiologist and author of The 12-Week Triathlete (Fair Winds Press, 2011). “If you’re constantly sore you’re probably not taking enough rest days and not periodizing your workouts.”
Makeover approach: Follow one hard workout with two easy ones, suggests Holland. If you’re training for a marathon or sport, consider working with a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) to design a periodization program for you.
More from Prevention: Try These Foam Roller Exercises For Back Pain
2. You're sooo bored
More than half of new exercisers quit within three to six months after starting a workout program, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). “It’s often simply burnout and for many different reasons,” says Kay Porter, PhD, sports psychologist and author of The Mental Athlete (Human Kinetics, 2003). “Maybe you’re doing the same thing over and over or it’s no longer challenging.”
Makeover approach: Switch it up by working out at different times of the day, suggests Dr. Porter. Or exercise with different people. If you’re a runner, try a different route, or consider setting goals for yourself such as running a 10K. If you work out in a gym try a different fitness class or challenge yourself by using machines one time and only your body weight another, for example.
More from Prevention: Change Things Up With One of These 8 Fun Workout Ideas!
3. You're not seeing results
Hitting a wall with your results may happen because you’ve maxed out your genetic potential, says Fabio Comana, MA, MS, CSCS, director of continuing education for the National Academy of Sports Medicine. “When you first start training you’re so far from your ‘cap’ (potential) that your body improves by leaps and bounds.” However, as you move closer towards your cap you don’t experience these same adaptations as you did in the beginning.
Makeover approach: Consider the possible causes, says Comana. “Are additional stressors impacting your ability to recover, for example?” Try taking a few days off and see if you notice improvements. Consider working with a trainer to help you push through your weak spots, suggests Comana. And, make sure you’re not eating back all of the calories you burned.
4. You're gaining weight
You’re working out really hard and then suddenly find that your favorite jeans are feeling tighter than they should be. Sure, you can blame the dryer, again. But really, how is this happening when you’re burning so many calories? “Women often don’t realize that weight lifting can increase appetite,” says Amy Goodson, RD, board certified specialist in sport dietetics and the Dallas Cowboys Sports Dietitian. “If you eat more you’ll gain weight. You shouldn’t ignore hunger cues, but some nutritional tricks can help you feel satisfied without additional calories.”
Makeover approach: Goodson recommends:
1. Start the day with a high-fiber breakfast that includes some lean protein (e.g. cereal with low-fat milk).
2. Eat a protein and carb comba snack within 30 minutes of your workout (e.g. Greek yogurt with fruit).
3. Aim for five to six small meals a day focused on high fiber and lean protein at each. Find out for sure, how much protein do you really need?
5. You're skipping workouts
Maybe it’s raining out, the gym’s too crowded, or a big work deadline is looming, but you’re finding new reasons to skip your workout like never before. Why are you looking for excuses? “Look at what’s making you dislike your workout,” says Porter. “Are people judgmental at your gym? Is your workout location inconvenient?” (Are you telling yourself these 6 flimsy exercise excuses?)
Makeover approach: To avoid the usual excuses, make the focus of your training about something other than weight loss and fitness, says Holland. “Find a new goal and create a new reason to exercise. Consider earning money for a charity bike ride, for example, which is emotionally rewarding.” Or check out CharityMiles, a free app for Android or iPhones that tracks your mileage and donates money to your favorite charity.
6. You're too comfortable
Working out on autopilot makes exercise a no-brainer, but you’re only cheating yourself if you no longer break a sweat. “It’s not enough to just show up for your workout,” says Holland. “You’re wasting your time if you want results and you’re not going outside your comfort zone. You also cheat yourself out of the endorphin (feel-good brain chemicals) release that comes with vigorous exercise.”
Makeover approach: This can be difficult because you have to want to change, says psychologist Dr. Porter. “An easy way to get out of your comfort zone is by joining a group that’s doing new things, even a six-week special training class such as Pilates or Zumba.” Challenge yourself and you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment that will help you stick with it.
More from Prevention: How To Get Your Workout Motivation Back
7. You have an injury that won't heal
You ice it and rest it and your arm still hurts when you exercise. “Chronic injuries are often from overuse or repetitive strain,” says John Higgins, MD, director of exercise physiology at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. “Tennis elbow is a frequent chronic injury that can result from tennis or even repetitive activities such as typing, painting or using a screwdriver.”
Makeover approach: First, see a doctor to determine the cause of the pain, says Dr. Higgins. In the case of tennis elbow, poor backhand technique, a racket with the wrong size grip and too-tight strings may be root causes. “Strengthen and stretch the muscles and tendons involved in your exercise routine or sport to help prevent injury,” says Dr. Higgins.
More from Prevention: 8 Common Injuries You Can Still Exercise With
8. You're irritable
Snapping at your spouse and tossing and turning at night could be signs of overtraining, says Carol E. Torgan, PhD, exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. “It’s most likely if you also have an elevated resting heart rate and notice a drop off in improvements with training.” Too much intensity, workout frequency or a combination of the two without sufficient rest can trigger these symptoms.
Makeover approach: Keeping a training diary can help you discover the problem, says Dr. Torgan. Training diaries vary in the specifics but should include categories for mental states along with sets, reps, weight lifted and specifics related to your goals. Look for free journal templates online to suit your specific goals.
9. Your goals have changed
The reason you began working out may change over time and as you age. Maybe you initially wanted to lose weight and now you’re concerned about bone strength. Or you’ve been diagnosed with a health issue. “Any health-related new diagnosis, such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, etc., is good reason to readjust your goals,” says Pire. “Or your fitness-related goal may now be a performance-related goal, such as planning to run your first 5K.”
Makeover approach: Talk to your doctor about exercise if you’ve been diagnosed with a health issue that affects your workouts. A plan including resistance training plus impact training (jumping) was shown to maintain bone density of the spine, according to a 2011 study published in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment.
More from Prevention: Get A 5K Training Program
10. Your joints hurt
Jumping into your routine without warming up and stretching first makes it likely you’re going to hurt yourself, says Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, Md. “Even if you’re accustomed to working out but you change your routine, it can cause joint pain if you’re not warmed up.”
Makeover approach: Always warm up with 5 to 10 minutes of light cardio (like walking) and then stretch before you workout, says Dr. Wei. “Stretch again after your workout, focusing on the muscles you used in your workout.” Plus, regardless of the exercise or routine, start off slowly until you understand the mechanics, says Dr. Wei. “Crosstraining also helps. Don’t do one thing like the elliptical for an hour a day for six days a week. Switch to the stationary bike or other equipment a couple days a week.”
More from Prevention: 12 Ways To Break-Proof Your Bones