Progression: Why It is Not Linear

By Sarah Leahy, CPT – August 1, 2021

There are few things that make you feel as accomplished as making progress in the gym. Whether it’s a strength goal, a body composition goal or just looking your best, seeing improvement is such a huge part of why we work so hard. But let’s face it, progression is not linear, and we all hit plateaus and can get off course along the way. 

It’s a concept that’s been drilled into our heads, and for good reason: Consistency is key. What do you do when you just don’t have the energy to go all in or your workout isn’t great? Maybe you aren’t hitting the numbers you had planned for that day. Maybe your schedule is packed and you can only fit in a 20-minute session. That consistency of getting it done, even if that means just doing what you can, will help keep you moving forward, even if it’s a slow climb. The key is realizing that fitness is just like life. You are going to have good workouts and average workouts, and even a few bad ones. You aren’t going to be getting big wins every time you step foot in the gym, and that’s okay. Continuing to move forward and give it what you’ve got that day is enough. 

What if you fall off track completely on workouts, nutrition or both? Whether it’s a single day or a couple weeks, the most important thing is getting back at it. It’s hard not to feel like we’ve completely ruined any progress made when we aren’t 100% with our fitness regimen, and it’s so easy to compare ourselves to athletes and trainers on social media. Let’s face it, there will always be disruptions, whether self-inflicted or not, that momentarily throw you off. The most effective way to handle those disruptions is to jump back into your fitness routine as soon as you can and not beat yourself up for being human. 

There will also be times when you are sticking to your programming, hitting the gym, doing the work and still hitting some plateaus on strength progression, weight loss or weight gain goals. This can be a frustrating place to be, but everyone’s been through it. There’s a reason powerlifters have deload weeks, and bodybuilders have different training phases. When you hit a wall and feel stuck with your fitness goals, take a step back and assess what might be contributing to your stalled progress. Sleep, water intake and properly fueling yourself before and after your workout will make a huge difference in performance as well as body composition goals. Stress management is also a very important piece of how your body responds and adjusts, and it’s one of the most overlooked parts of a health regimen. If you’re stuck, take a look at what you’re doing outside of the gym and how it may be negatively impacting your sessions. Sometimes the key is paring it back, taking a deload or rest and adjusting your programming. 

To stay motivated as you work toward your goals, remember that progression is not linear. You’ll have ups and downs along the way, you’ll hit PRs as well as plateaus, you’ll have good workouts and bad, you’ll have a weekend full of beer and pizza. None of these things make your goals unattainable. Just get back at it, adjust your programming when needed and stay the course as consistently as you can. The resilience you gain from getting back at it and moving forward will make you stronger in and out of the gym.


Leahy is a Minneapolis transplant in East Austin and a certified personal trainer, award-winning interior designer and former gym owner. She offers in-person and online training with an emphasis on strength training and building confidence in and out of the gym. Leahy’s passion for strength extends to your business, with a full offering of gym design and business consulting services.


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