By: Nicholas Meisch
So you’ve decided to try to get into better shape. Better health comes in many shapes and sizes, with some people trying to lose weight, lose size, or gain muscle, or simply improve any number of their various statistics. Run faster, jump higher, squat more, squat more often? Sure! It could be bodybuilding, crossfit, marathons, ironmans, hiking or climbing, and honestly the sky seems like the limit whenever you initially find something you are passionate about, which is great at first. Over time things get more difficult, losing weight gets harder, getting stronger or faster occurs at infantismal rates, sometimes going months or even years without progressing. You begin to get frustrated. You change tactics time and time again, varying your sleeping patterns, nutritional intake, and programming style to little (if any) avail.
So, what do you do when you lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel? When you start feeling miserable and stop loving what you used to enjoy? You start resenting attempting to do even a fraction of the things you did before, despite the level of effort.
- What do you do?
- What can you control?
- What CAN’T you control?
- What can you change and improve on?
We’ll start with some of the more basic answers. Sometimes little things can make a huge difference so we look at what we can improve upon; off the top of our heads:
- Are you eating enough?
- Are you eating properly?
- CAN you sleep more?
- Is the sleep you are already getting GOOD sleep?
- Is your body repairing itself properly?
- Are you giving it a chance to do so?
Each piece can cover a variety of things and if you feel that something is going on, it’s never a bad idea to look into it. Don’t just check WebMD. See a doctor or hire a trainer to assess imbalances and things of a similar nature.
The first option is seemingly the most obvious one. Are you getting enough calories, and are the calories you’re getting optimal for you to achieve your goals? If your goal is to get as strong as possible, avoiding carbohydrates or undereating are things you want to avoid. America seems to have a problem more-so than a lot of the rest of the world, specifically in the area of things that are low-fat, or no-fat, or reduced-fat, because of the misnomer that fat is bad for us. Guess what, water is bad for you if you have enough of it. Fats aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, acts as an energy source, and provides insulation for your body, so avoiding them as much as possible tends to not be a great idea. If simply losing weight is the goal, you need to assess where your intake levels should be at a relatively healthy level, and start from there. There is no black and white answer for most of these things and everyone will ultimately do what they think is the best option for themselves but it never hurts to have a second opinion to see how optimal or sub-optimal your plan is.
It might just be time for a change of pace. If you excel at one specific thing but come up short somewhere else then you may need to shift focus to balance things out. You might also change programming tactics if you’ve sort of “outlasted” your current approach. 5×5 Stronglifts is a great example that often works fantastically for beginner to intermediate weight lifters looking to gain strength but eventually that person is going to need something more tailored to whatever their goals may be so they look into things like Cube Method, GZCL or Wendler’s 531 or perhaps they feel that they’re strong enough and they’d like to focus on something else, so they adopt a Dorian Yates style program while bumping their cardiovascular activities up with the time they save.
Sleep is a huge factor in allowing your body to recover and in the case of hard training, should often be used in conjunction with myofascial tissue therapies to ensure tissue longevity. Avoiding getting that bodily repair in can lead to connective tissue problems down the road, which young lifters might scoff at but for others that potential damage is right around the corner and will be hobby-ending when it comes into play. The best starting basis for getting the best sleep is typically done by checking off a checklist.
- Is the room dark enough?
- Will the curtains keep enough light OUT?
- Are your electronics turned off, to the best of their ability?
- Are there any other soft glows in the room?
- Do you have the proper support, physically?
- Is the room the proper temperature for you?
All these things seem like they might be fairly straightforward but admittedly a lot of people never seem to consider them. The presence of scoliosis or kyphosis, for example, mean that certain sleeping positions are specifically worse for people with the condition. Front-to-Back scoliosis, for example, has a tendency to mean that the individual should not sleep on their stomach. For side sleepers, a sturdy pillow is usually advised between the knees to prevent strain from being placed on the outer, upper hip. The same sort of scenarios apply for people trying to correct posture issues or get the best blood and air circulation throughout the night. Foam rolling, graston technique, and other voodoo flossing work to treat muscle and joint immobility and/or pain. The idea is to relax semi-permanently contracted muscles or bunched up and knotted tissues, and improve circulation. I strongly suggest that anyone with specific muscle or tissue issues look into it.
Next up come things that are not so easily identifiable, things like having specialized blood work done, getting a full metabolic panel, assessing vitamin and mineral deficiencies, or any hormonal or glandular issues that may be present. Lots of things sound like outright common sense when they are brought up but they have to be brought up to begin with. Do you tend to avoid milk? Do you rarely go outside? There’s a good chance that you’re deficient in Vitamin D. Are you having issues getting proper amounts of restful sleep and optimal nutrition? You might have low hormone production. Various issues in your vitamin, mineral, and hormone levels can stem from lots of things within the body. Low vitamins or minerals may be something lacking in a person’s diet or they may be issues with the body’s actual ability to produce or use the substance. The same goes for hormonal production, where the person in question might have alarmingly low testosterone levels from extreme lack of sleep, for instance. Poor diet, inactivity, sleeplessness, or adrenal problems can all contribute to these things.
Personal Experiences and Moving Forward:
Next, let’s say you get all your ducks in a row. You’re sleeping better, you’ve got your nutrition on point, and your programming is optimized. A few weeks pass and you feel better, and then a month or two, and you stall out again. You ask yourself why you’re doing the things you’re doing, questioning their benefit to your improvement and to the achievement of your goals. I’ll use myself as an example, and offer up a minor introduction so we’re all on the same page. Hello! My name is Nich, and I started weightlifting and training before I could drive, close to 12 years ago. This, at the time, was before things like Crossfit and foam rolling were commonly mentioned. I’ve had shoulder and posture issues for years, and in Spring of 2009, a week before St. Paddy’s day, I tore an unknown number of connective tissues in my lower spine. Now let’s fast forward to June of 2015, when I FINALLY began graston/FuzionFT3 therapy in conjunction with hiring a trainer for mobility, another for imbalance correction, and learning to perform myofascial release on myself with various objects. The idea being that in roughly 5-8 years (32-35), most of the connective tissue in my body would be junk, my cartilage would be mutilated, and I very possibly might have to give up weight lifting if those issues came to fruition. Every injury I’d ever had had never been properly recovered. Shoulder issues, back issues, hip and knee issues, and the lot. Every time I’d accidentally fuck something up, I’d do my best to find a work-around and keep training, which would cause problems and imbalances of which I was not aware and the next injury would compound those things with the new issues and so on until I reached a point where I was told that I have only slightly better neuromuscular connections in my body than someone who is paralyzed.
The therapy began, tissues got forcibly re-lengthened out and then made to stay and then worked on. One day at a time for roughly 40-60 minutes a day outside my actual training I am attempting to repair my body. The changes were quick, and in some cases drastic. I lost the ability to perform compound movements for a few months because my muscles wouldn’t communicate during the lift. Over 3 months in and deadlifting is awful and a chore. My squat is only recently coming back and I’m supposed to ignore any sort of front delt or pectoral exercises, because the tightness in them both is the cause of my posture and shoulder problems. I lost hundreds of pounds off lifts, watching my powerlifting totals slip away 1 week at a time. It might seem absurd to some, but at first things north of 500 became challenging, then 400, and finally down to the 200-300 range, which is essentially my warm up weight from a year ago. I learned that after lengthening the tissues in my forearms, not only has my grip suffered, but it has gotten so bad, that as of Labor Day, attempting to eat 4 rolls of sushi with chopsticks is near-physically impossible for me, because I cannot generate enough pressure to hold a piece of sushi between the chopsticks.
So the problem now is how to move forward. When you find yourself looking toward the goals you want to achieve, and wondering if it’s possible to get there, and wondering if it’s worth it to try. Fixing this stuff is not fun, or pleasant, and learning how to approach the subject with an entirely new perspective is something that, admittedly, is proving challenging. The goals I held previously seem off the table, like they’re near impossible to achieve, and it leaves you wondering what to do next. So when you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can’t envision yourself achieving the goals you set, what do you do? Change the structure? Dig your heels in, and grit your teeth? It’s an answer to a question that I’m still seeking. If anyone finds it or knows it, I and others going through similar and often times much worse experiences await an answer. ImgurFit is a great starting place, where everyone is welcome to bring questions and concerns. We’re a forum that is never short on people who are willing to lend a sympathetic ear, and that’s often an incredible tool to have at your disposal. The only definitive ideas I have right now are “be patient” in your progressions (these things and these changes take time), do your best to find the silver lining, and remember that you don’t have to try to take on seemingly insurmountable tasks all on your own.