When I first start training a client I typically introduce them to what I consider to be the four components of a good fitness program: Consistency, Effort, Nutrition, and Rest. 99% of the time, if a client is not achieving the goals that they’ve set for themselves, one or more of these components needs to be altered, tweaked, or improved in some way.
1) Consistency - By this I mean that you workout on a regular basis over an extended period of time. You need to decide how often you can workout (and for how long each session) and then stick to that schedule as much as possible. The only way to stimulate your muscles to higher levels of growth and strength is to regularly challenge them. By regularly, I mean at least 3-4 times a week over a period of months (and years).
2) Effort - This component goes hand in hand with Consistency. If you’re working out on a regular basis, you’ve got the first step down. Now, you need to make sure that you’re putting in the effort and challenging yourself while you’re exercising. A workout is called a workout because it’s “work”. Your heart rate and breathing rate should increase, your muscles should fatigue, and you should sweat. The people I see at the gym strolling on the treadmill while yammering away on their cell phones or the people in the weight room just going through the motions with a bored look on their faces, are not putting in the effort they need to in order to achieve their goals. Obviously, some workouts will be harder than others (when you’re feeling better or stronger and want to push yourself) but all of your workouts should challenge you in some way. The only way to spark growth and strength gains and force your body to adapt is to challenge your muscles and do it on a regular basis.
3) Nutrition - For me, this item includes everything you put in your mouth outside of the gym. It means eating smart, keeping your protein high and your fat intake low. It also means taking all of your supplements on a regular basis and at the appropriate times (i.e. some supplements are designed to be taken before working out, before or with meals, etc.). Be sure to do some research if you’re unsure about when to take a particular supplement.
4) Rest - This is ostensibly the simplest component as it literally involves doing nothing. However, getting the proper amount of rest is a very important part of any training program and overtraining can be very detrimental to your gains. A general rule of thumb to follow is to allow at least 24 hours of rest in between working the same (or similar) bodyparts but listening to your body is probably the best thing to do in order to determine if you need more rest. Signs of overtraining can include fatigue, delayed muscle soreness, eye twiching, and more.
If you find you’re not achieving the goals you’ve set for yourself, take a look at these elements in your own training program and see if there’s anything you can improve upon.