Training isn't easy, and there are a lot of reasons why people quit the iron game. I must say that if training was easy, then everyone would be big, strong, ripped, etc. But it's not; it's hard, damn hard. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Any results you achieve, you have to earn that all by yourself. No one can do the work for you, and that's what I love about it. I've always heard that the average life span of a competitor in powerlifting/strongman is about three years. Strength sports may not be for everyone, but I feel weight training should be for everyone. There are just too many positives for your health that come from lifting weights.
Why do so many people give up after only a few years?
I'm sure we've all been approached at some point by an older guy that's very out of shape that says, "I used to look just like you until (insert bullshit excuse here)." People quit because they are not getting the results they want.
Here are my top reasons why people stop making progress and quit.
1. Sticking to a Program for Four Weeks
Not sticking to a program is number one for a reason. It is the most common reason people do not get results. And I totally get it, too; sticking with the same program can be a bit boring sometimes, but slow and steady progression gets you results.
I always recommend a beginner lifter pick a program like 5th Set or 5/3/1 and stick to it for a minimum of six months. Learn how to stick to a program early on because it's honestly what can separate an intermediate lifter from becoming an advanced lifter. You can't expect to really see your progress over time by doing four weeks of one program and then hopping to another for four weeks, then another…
I've also seen many people with high-level coaches go off program. They change courses just because they feel good that day, screwing up their coach's long-term plans. If you hire a coach, you must trust the process and be coachable. Don't change things up because you feel like it.
2. Doing Random Workouts Every Session
As a gym owner, I ask a lot of my members what they are training that day. The ones who get where they want always have a detailed answer to their actions. The ones that hardly any results are the ones that shrug their shoulders and say, "Going to bench, and a few other chest exercises."
You cannot do a random workout every session and track your progress. I'm not saying you can't get some results with this approach, but in the long run, you will just be spinning your wheels, not knowing what you are improving on.
It has unfortunately gotten worse with what we see on social media. Many "fitness influencers" only show some random fancy exercise just for views and likes. In reality, what got them where they are is doing the basics for a long time, but showing that over and over on social media won't get them much attention.
3. Resting Too Long In Between Sets
Rest periods will depend on what you are training for, but I don't care what it is. You don't need to sit on your phone for ten minutes between sets. One of the biggest recommendations I can make to lifters is to time their rest periods. Most of the time, you are resting far longer than you really need to.
If your goal is hypertrophy, then a max of three minutes is all you need after a challenging set. You don't need to be Jay Cutler and take only thirty seconds, but set a timer and stick to it. I guarantee you will have a much better session and spend less time in the gym socializing.
4. Training With Distractions
Most of us have hectic jobs and lives, but I have seen more people talking on the phone during their sets. Now I don't care what you tell me; there is no way you are getting the most out of your set having a conversation with someone else.
Also, your training session should be an escape from whatever you have going on in your life. Shut your phone off and try being 100% focused on every set. There's nothing wrong with having a quick conversation between sets, but if that conversation takes you entirely out of the session where your body starts to cool down, then there is a problem. This is something I struggle with almost every session since I train in the gym I own. I've had to put headphones in and completely ignore anything else going around me while I'm training.
Consistency is everything when it comes to training. I would put money on the person who consistently gets better results than the person who works harder but constantly starts and stops. I understand complications happen in life, but training needs to be a top priority if you are looking to make real progress over the long haul. Occasionally, missing sessions is fine, but training for a month and then missing a month is pointless. I would rather see people get one session in a week rather than none. Something is always better than nothing.
6. Always Looking For Motivation
There are plenty of motivational videos for you to watch before training to get you hyped up, but eventually, that will all wear off. You need to look at your training as something you have to do, not just when you feel like it.
I have a sign in my gym that says "Discipline Over Motivation" to remind everyone that you don't need motivation to do anything. There's never a thought in my mind that I need to be motivated to train. Trust me; there are plenty of times I'm not motivated and would much rather go home and nap. However, I had plenty of great sessions where I did not feel like training when I first started. And likewise, I have had sessions where I was super motivated to train go completely to shit. So you can't always trust how you feel.
7. Always Looking For The Easy Way Out
The old saying when it comes to training is that you need to do the things you suck at, which sometimes isn't fun. There have been plenty of times in my training where I have had to take a step back to train a lift I'm weaker at or even lower my weight because my form was shit. You need to lose the ego and stop doing only what you think is fun or choosing easier exercises that will only stall your progress. This could also be as simple as slacking on your accessory work, a very common thing I see with strongman and powerlifters. Everything should have a purpose in your training, so you might as well give it 100%.
8. Training Through Pain
Most people I see don't train hard enough. However, some train too hard and don't know when to hit the brakes. I've been guilty of this many times in my training. Something will start to hurt, and I just push through instead of finding ways to work around it, making it worse. And then I'm forced to take time out of the gym.
I've gotten much smarter in my old age now that I know to simply change a few movements and angles, and I can still usually train the targeted muscle with no issue. For example, if benching with a straight bar hurts your shoulder, it might be time to try an American press bar, as a neutral grip tends to be easier on the shoulders. Don't be stubborn when you are injured; it will only worsen.
9. Training Too Easy
This goes without saying, but if you want serious results, you must push yourself HARD. Now I'm not saying you need to be crippling sore after every session because that will lead you back to number 8. However, you do need to take your top sets to near failure, and I mean real failure. This is why Dave does the Train Your Ass Off sessions to show people how far they really need to push themselves.
I know everyone loves using the RPE system, but many times when I see someone say it's a 10, they could have done more if they were mentally tough enough. This is one of the reasons why we see so many beginner/intermediate lifters say how each week they are hitting a new PR. Of course, you can hit a new PR each week when you are holding back all the time. Eventually, you have to hit that point where things are going to get uncomfortable, very uncomfortable. You will either embrace the suck or quit and use some weak excuse as to why you used to lift.
10. Making Too Big of a Weight Jump
You all know the saying, "It's a marathon, not a sprint." Or, as Dave put it once at a seminar, "It's more like a series of sprints." Either way, making too big of a jump each week is a great way to stall your progress or get hurt.
A lot of these reasons tie in together, as you can see by now. If your coach prescribes you a certain weight for reps, and you smoke it in training, THAT'S A GOOD THING! That doesn't mean you should add in a ton of weight and grind out an ugly set, or better yet, get crushed by the weight. Save it for the next week to continue making consistent progress.
The key to this is consistency with every aspect of your training. If you add five pounds to your lift or do one more rep each week, you will be pretty damn big and strong in a few years.
I honestly can't stress this enough from training people and owning a gym for almost 20 years: if you let your ego get in the way of trying to impress other people or thinking you need to be some Internet sensation acting like a fool for attention, you will get hurt. Unfortunately, so many new lifters need to learn this the hard way.
Did I miss any? Did I piss you off? Let me know by dropping a comment below!
Matt Mills is a graduate of the University of Connecticut, earning both his bachelor's and master's degrees in Strength and Conditioning. He is also certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist. As a strength athlete, he is an accomplished powerlifter with a best deadlift of 800 pounds. He is a middleweight pro strongman with best competition lifts of a 360-pound log press, 900-pound pound Hummer tire deadlift, and a 410-pound Farmers Walk. Matt is the owner of Lightning Fitness, located in South Windsor, Connecticut. He has worked with over a thousand athletes, helping them reach their fitness and nutrition goals.