Skip to content

Paralysis by analysis: 10 reasons why you're not making progress

Paralyse durch Analyse: 10 Gründe dafür, dass Du keine Fortschritte erzielst

Think less and train more. These are words to live by if you are the type of exerciser who thrives on details but never makes progress. I can't tell you how many pointless Facebook discussions I've witnessed between coaches and exercisers discussing minimal details that will make maybe a 1 to 2% difference when it comes to body composition and strength.

Sure, 1 to 2% can make a noticeable difference when you're competing against the best in the world. However, chances are you're not competing in Mr. Olympia, you're just a recreational athlete who wants to look good naked and impress a few people with your strength performances.

At the end of the day, remember one thing - it's not about doing fancy and fashionable things, it's about relentlessly applying the basics until you become a master of the mundane.

If you struggle with chronic over-analysis, then you should read on. It's time to change things up and stop treading water once and for all.

1. program design

Have you ever met one of those guys who are literally married to their program? These guys can literally tell you exactly what percentage they will be moving on squats three weeks from today.

Now don't misunderstand what I'm saying - program design and periodization are both very important to ensure long-term progression. But what are you going to do if you feel absolutely knackered or bad and your program includes a session of deadlifts at max effort?

Let me guess - 3 scoops of pre-workout booster and Metallica on max volume? That might work once or twice, but you'll quickly find out that this kind of strategy is anything but sustainable in the long run.

If you want to make gains for the rest of your training career, you need to learn to interpret your body's signals correctly and respond to them appropriately. Despite what most motivational images will tell you, your body isn't lying to you and it's not always about punishing it even harder. On the contrary, I think you should be more concerned about your recovery than your training if you want to ensure the best possible growth.

2. technique

I am a technician by nature, which means that this trait is ingrained in my personality in some way, but I also try to combine the right technique with an adequate level of intensity to ensure that my priorities remain balanced.

Technique will always have its place and justification, but it should be reserved primarily for sub-maximal training. Once you get into the 90%+ range, then you need to remember one thing (in the case of deadlifts): "Pull more and think less."

Of course, you should work to continuously improve your biomechanics through a variety of internal and external cues, but you need to choose your words carefully as these cues are very individual in nature. Many cues can be misinterpreted and overused, as I will explain in more detail below.

3. personal inclinations and preferences

No, your muscle group split is not superior to any other training style, regardless of how many PubMed links you provide. Science is great, but you shouldn't try to force a square peg into a round hole just because a study says one method is better than another.

One of the most important aspects of program design is how much fun you have exercising and how well a program can be maintained over time. However, most people don't realize that these components are inextricably linked. In other words, you will be able to stick with a program longer if you enjoy what you are doing.

There will always be scientific research to support one side or the other, but when push comes to shove, if you don't enjoy what you're doing, you won't be motivated enough to make exercise a habitual part of your life.

4. supplements

Here's an earth-shattering thought: what if you actually listened to your body and got more sleep instead of abusing tons of pre-workout boosters to get you through another mediocre training session?

Not to mention, if you need a pre-workout booster to get you motivated to train, it might be time to rethink your goals or maybe even your attitude towards the gym.

I hate to break this news to you, but supplements are only responsible for roughly 5% of your body composition changes. You can't compensate for a poor lifestyle, inadequate recovery or miserable biomechanics with supplements.

5. intensity

You're probably lazier than you think. Let me clarify something - laziness is largely a societal result of mechanization combined with our ingrained tendencies to produce as little effort as possible.

Your body is a master of homeostasis, which is why it won't expend excess energy when survival is the primary goal. But not only that - we also tend to overestimate our efforts during exercise and underestimate our calorie intake (1, 2, 3).

In other words, there's a good chance you're eating more than you think and that you don't know your physical limits because you've never tested them.

As I mentioned above, program design needs to be based on having fun while training, but at the end of the day, it's not just about what a person wants, it's also about what they need to do to get there.

6. basics before supplements

So you've learned how to count macronutrients, read a few studies in the Journal of International Society of Sport Nutrition (JISSN) and competed in your first bodybuilding competition. That's great. But it certainly doesn't mean you know the full scope of nutrition, nor does it make you an experienced trainer.

The basics are pretty simple - calorie balance, food quality, satiety and portion control are all pretty easy to understand and teach. Yet most want to jump right into supplements, meal timing or nutritional biochemistry.

I've got news for you - if your life revolves around counting macronutrients, swolfies on Twitter and logging your workouts, then you're not even close to mastering the fitness lifestyle. Fitness should enrich your life outside of the gym, not distract you from it.

7th Frequency

I know you're a member of the #keinetrainingfreedays team and you remind everyone of this with your daily Instagram posts. However, you should know that giving yourself a workout-free day won't kill you. Not to mention, you might even start to get stronger if you make rest and recovery a priority.

However, I'm not talking about just sitting around watching Netflix either. Do some low-intensity exercise (e.g. a solid dynamic warm-up), get your diet in shape and make sure you get enough sleep.

8. training environment

No one makes progress at Planet one. Okay, I lied, I know a few people who train hard there despite the lack of squat racks and the terrible playlist.

What I'm really getting at is that you need to find a training environment that is conducive to your physical and mental growth. However, keep in mind that growth comes from discomfort and that your body is a master of homeostasis.

For example, I routinely drive an easy 45 minutes to train at a performance center across town. The equipment there, combined with the general atmosphere and coaches there, makes me want to come back despite the long drive.

Most won't find this type of environment at a commercial gym, which is why it's important to find like-minded people who are willing to push you.

9. training duration

As it turns out, the cortisol bogeyman is complete nonsense. You've probably seen a million articles describing the devastating effects of workouts that last longer than an hour, and to stick with the truth, this could actually be a problem in certain populations.

However, the vast majority of gym-goers posting on Facebook while working out probably need to train harder and worry less about a supposed "hormonal cascade" from excessive workout duration.

10. science

You too, science? It seems like everyone is an evidence-based professional these days. Cool, more power to you. However, we need to be careful that we don't get to the point where we can't see the forest for the trees when it comes to interpreting data and prioritizing specific variables.

For example, when discussing digestion and mixed macronutrient meals and their impact on nitrogen balance, it is often recommended that meals be consumed 3 to 4 hours apart due to the recalcitrant nature of protein synthesis (4, 5).

Let's consider this scenario for a moment - if someone is awake for around 16 hours, this would amount to a maximum of 5 meals if that person follows the lower end of the suggested meal frequency guidelines.

But what is this person to do if they need to eat 5,000 kcal on a daily basis and can't manage 5 meals of 1000 kcal each? Obviously, more frequent meals are needed to spread the calories throughout the day and ensure that this person achieves their performance goals.

Strength coach Dan John once said "The goal is to maintain the goal as the goal." Don't get caught up in the details of the science and overlook the larger principles of basic physiology and thermodynamics.

The anonymous on the spot kicker

The internet is both a curse and a blessing. You have access to extraordinary information, but often it can be quite confusing due to the conflicting studies and opinions of experts.

Again, I would like to quote weight training coach Dan John who once said "Repetition is the mother of putting it into practice." With all this information overload, it's time to take a step back and master the basics. Learn to love simplicity, as complexity risks a lack of long-term adherence to a program.

The vast majority of all exercisers will make the best improvements to their body development and strength by focusing on the basics - adequate caloric intake, multi-joint exercises, quality nutrition, sufficient sleep and improved lifestyle factors.

It's not about where you start, it's about where you end up and the path that gets you there. Don't make it any harder than it has to be.


  1. Difference Between Self-Reported and Accelerometer Measured Moderate-to-Vigorous Physical Activity in Youth
  2. Discrepancy Between Self-Reported and Actual Caloric Intake and Exercise in Obese Subjects
  3. Individuals Underestimate Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Physical Activity
  4. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training
  5. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?


Previous article The definitive guide to preventing muscle loss