Top 3 Reasons People Fail Their Fitness Goals

I used to make an art out of failing. It seemed each time I set after a goal, I found a new and inventive way to lose sight of my goals and give up. I’ve tried losing weight and actually gained weight in the process. I’ve made aggressive lifting plans and become weaker. It turns out, I wasn’t alone in feeling nearly every fitness or health plan I previously made was an unmitigated disaster.

A survey recently published questioned participants about their New Year’s resolution goals for 2017. As you would expect, a large number of those surveyed had goals which related to their heath, weight, or fitness. In fact, the survey found that 39% of people have a goal centered around health/weight/fitness.

Of those who set goals on new year’s, 59% of them “fail” to meet them. Even worse- only 58% make it out of the first month with their new goal. We have goals in fitness, health, and weight loss, but admittedly we fail and fail quickly.

Here are 3 of the biggest contributors to failed fitness goals and how to overcome them:

1. It's harder than we expected

Dreaming big is easy, but when it comes time for action, we are often in for a rude awakening. When starting a new workout routine, it’s common to experience heightened muscle soreness. Usually the first 3 weeks of a new routine include a heavy dose of soreness on a daily basis.

We’re also not ready to be hungry around the clock, nor are we ready to be considerably more tired than normal from our workouts or from eating less. To make matters worse, our motivation from the time we set the goal is usually rapidly declining, and without some very early positive results we’re likely to be discouraged.

Combining hunger and soreness with being tired makes for one unhappy camper. Add to the mix declining motivation and that can be all it takes for someone to call it quits. So what can we do?

Being sore and hungry early in your new journey can be a tough early obstacle to overcome

How to adjust our expectations and be well prepared

In the early stages of your new diet and workout routine, you should be over prepared. Plan each workout well in advance. Have a plan to handle soreness proactively: stretch immediately after your workouts, and include “passive stretching” such as hot baths and walks on your off days to get the lactic acid cycling in your blood stream.

Hunger is tough, and you’ll need to get comfortable being in a state of mild hunger. Over the first 3 weeks your stomach will actually shrink, and the hunger along with it. While you wait for the hunger to dissipate, drink water before and after every meal. A lot of water. Also have filler snacks such as almonds, celery, apples, and carrots on hand when hunger strikes.

2. Setbacks

How easy it is to envision being a success! We’ll weigh “X” and we’ll look like we always wanted with the six pack, and perfect beach body. It’s great to sit back and see ourselves knocking out our goals as easy as 1, 2, 3. What we don’t see while envisioning our success is what it looks like when we hit bumps on the road of our journey. In our minds we have our plans in black and white. We failed or we succeeded. The truth is, no long-term goals are met without a fair share of setbacks along the way.

Being our toughest critics, we see short term failures as predicters of long term ultimate failure. Too often we write ourselves off because our weight went up a pound or two, we ate some things we shouldn’t have, or we skipped a couple workouts.

I tell my clients “It’s not about the exception, it’s about the rule”. Consider what you do the majority of the time “the rule” and the minority of the time “the exception”. If most of the time you are on track and things are going as planned, then forgive yourself when you’ve stumbled or things didn’t go as planned.

Sometimes we make great plans that don't allow room for real life to kick in

Being Prepared for "The Exception"

Your plans need to have enough flexibility that you are forgiving of short term setbacks:

  • Like that day when you saw cookies in the breakroom and said “I’ll just have one….one-ish”…which quickly became 5-ish.
  • Or the time you said you’d take the day off from exercise and it became a whole week.
  • For me- the time(s) I said I’d have “just one scoop of ice cream”. I lied. I had ALL the ice cream.

Accept that you will hit a few bumps along the way. The only way a short-term failure becomes an ultimate failure is if you choose to give up after you deviated from your plans.

As you evaluate yourself, be realistic. “Is what happened today the exception or the rule?” If setbacks have become the trend, then take a step back and evaluate your approach; is there something which has come up repeatedly which you need to fix to be successful?

More importantly, if your setback is an exception, forgive yourself and move on to the next day as though you’d been on track all along.

3. Not Seeing the Results We Expected

Be honest, how many times have you eaten healthy for a day then returned to the scale the very next day expecting it changed? Have you lifted hard for a week then returned to the bench expecting your max went up? 

Losing weight, getting fit, and making healthy changes are not convenient. When we go through the effort of changing things up we want to be rewarded with results, almost immediately. We evaluate our success on such a short timeframe that we can’t give our bodies time to react to the changes. Our timeframe to evaluate big changes should be in months, not days.

In my nine years doing this, I’ve had days where I eat perfect and the scale goes up. I’ve had weeks where I work my butt off and my rep max on bench actually goes down the following week.

We don't always get the results we hoped for early on in our new routine

Setting our Expectations

We need to keep a few things in mind. To start, it’s important to remember that we don’t know exactly how our bodies will react in the short term to changes. We aren’t sure if a few changes will take a while to impact our bodies, so we simply cannot expect immediate results. It’s possible to be on the right track, but not giving ourselves a fair amount of time to see those results. It is also important to remember that long term goals need short term companions.

Our short-term goals should revolve around very specific measurable results on a 3 to 4 week timeframe: For example, “Can I do more pushups now than the 25 I could do 3 weeks ago?”

Be fair about how you will evaluate yourself on true success or failure. Try to remove emotion out of your evaluation of yourself as much as possible. Allow enough time for your body to see the changes you are hoping for. Most importantly- don’t be impulsive. Commit to a time frame during which you will stay on the program regardless of any results. If we’re consistent, we can accomplish just about anything over the long haul.

About the Author-Chris

Chris Johnson is the founder of Cerus Fitness. Chris's personal journey in fitness started nearly 10 years--and 70 pounds--ago, when he was overweight and seeking to make life changes after a series of short lived attempts using unsustainable techniques. Chris is a Certified Personal Trainer who has worked with professional and amateur athletes since 2010 in a variety of fields: boxing, basketball, football, marathon running, triathlons, obstacle course racing, kick-boxing and others.