Spot The Signs Of Junk Training Early To Prevent Your Progress From Grinding To A Halt

We’re all guilty of going through the motions occasionally. But if you’re doing the same old usual routine of sport, fitness or strength training you may well be just treading water rather than making headways, or even worse, going backwards in the current. And ‘more’ doesn’t always equal ‘better’ – in fact, if you’re if you’re overdoing it, or simply doing too much of the wrong thing, you could be doing serious damage as well as putting a halt to any performance gains.

You’re Not Seeing Results
The most obvious sign you’re doing junk training is if it’s not leading to any tangible results. Of course, progress takes patience – up to six week according to this study – so results can’t be expected straight away, but whether you’re looking to improve cardiovascular fitness, strength or body image, consistency is key.

‘No matter what the goal is – increasing strength, fat loss or athletic performance – improvement takes time,’ says personal trainer Joe Peat. ‘You need to be consistent, patient and put maximum effort into each training session. The journey is not linear; not every session will feel great. My most successful clients are those who turn up to training when they’re tired, stressed, not feeling 100% and still do their best to stick to the plan we set out.’

Injury Setbacks Keep Hitting You
Injuries can be a result of bad luck. A bike fall, a sprained ankle or, more often, poor training. ‘Over 80% of injuries are due to a training error and are very predictable,’ says Merrell ambassador Dr Andrew Murray. He suggests three rules of thumb to reduce your risk of injury:

  1. ‘Increase the intensity (how fast you are running, or how hard you are trying) very gradually, week by week.’

  2. ‘Increase the volume (the amount of training) gradually: by 5% to 10% per week maximum.’ That means if you were bench-pressing 80kg for sets of 8 one week, then you should increase the load to no more than 88kg the next week – and it’s likely to be much less of an increase than that.

  3. ‘Consider biomechanics.’ Dr Murray gives the example of running, where you should consider ‘external biomechanics: integrate new shoes slowly, introduce hillier routes gradually, etc’ and ‘internal biomechanics: running more efficiently by doing some strength work to help make you faster and less prone to injury.’

‘You need to be consistent, patient and put maximum effort into each training session’

You’re Just Too Fatigued
The odd lacklustre session is inevitable. We all work, we all have other stuff going on, we all get tired. Fatigue, though, is a different beast, and can be a sign of something more serious: overtraining. ‘The classic signs are: not being able to hold good performances, poor sleep, variable attitude and decreased sex drive,’ explains Dr Murray. Although he does note: ‘many other illnesses, including depression, could also cause similar symptoms.’

But before you go ahead and declare to the world you’ve just been working too damn hard, be honest with yourself, because as Dr Murray says: ‘if you haven’t done very much, it’s not overtraining!’

If you are flat out, however, and suffering as a result, it’s all about getting back to basics. ‘Winding back on training and prioritising good-quality sleep and nutrition will build the foundations for a full recovery,’ says Dr Murray.

‘You will find your motivation when you identify the important goals you want to achieve’

You’ve Lost Sight Of Your Goals
‘One of the major challenges many people face is managing their goals,’ says sport psychologist Professor Andy Lane. ‘We might have ambitions to run a marathon, but might also harbour ambitions to get promotion at work; or we might have the marathon goals, but the goal of having to stay employed to feed our family might mean working longer hours.’ When two goals collide, one tends to get sidelined – and in the case of family versus training, the latter is always going to suffer. But there are ways to manage these situations, as Professor Lane says:

‘First, it might be that losing sight was due to goal conflict, so identification of the conflict is needed. Try to identify areas of conflict and when you have these in front of you, ask yourself a serious question as to whether one goal should be prioritised over the other and, if so, make an order. This will help you prioritise when you need to make a choice of what to do. If not, and you can’t simply drop a goal, learn to identify spaces where you can focus the entirely of your efforts on that goal.’

You’ve Lost Motivation
Peak motivation often only exists in fits and spurts: the first two weeks of a new workout routine or training plan. Yet even when your hell-bent determination begins to fade, it should be possible to keep sight of the bigger picture – those goals mentioned above – and stick at your training. Problems arise when motivation wanes and, with it, the quality of your training.

‘If you feel you have lost your motivation, look at what you are doing and identify the goal those actions serve,’ suggests Professor Lane. ‘If you are on Facebook a lot, for example, ask yourself if the goal of keeping in touch (if that is the goal) is worth all the time. If you reduced activity on that goal, you could use that time differently. For many people, I encourage people to be motivated to rest, as getting better sleep helps performance and direct motivation on parts that matter. You will find your motivation when you identify the important goals you want to achieve, and then stop doing tasks that eat away energy to achieve that goal where you can.’

You’re Finding It Too Easy
In any form of training – from tennis, to mountain biking, to synchronised swimming – if you don’t challenge yourself, you won’t adapt and get better. ‘That’s fine if you are happy with what you are achieving,’ says Dr Murray, ‘but the human mind loves a sense of purpose, and the opportunity to improve.’

For Peat, minimum targets are as important as maximum effort: ‘I talk about improving not only your maximum loads for a given rep range but also your minimums,’ he says. ‘For example, a client training for strength may have a maximum load for a back squat of 100kg for five reps, and their minimum may be 90kg for five reps. I encourage my clients to at least turn up to training and do their minimum weights. Over time these minimum weights increase, as do the maximums. These people are the most successful, because they turn up and do the work.’

WHAT NEXT? Stuck in a rut with your training? Read RSNG’s guide to building a high-performance mindset.

Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.