When it comes to exercise, there are few things more frustrating than not getting the results you’re looking for. You put in hours at the gym each week but have nothing to show for it.

A lot of people may not realize that what you do outside of the gym is just as important as what you do inside. For some people, the problem is what they’re putting into their body, while others it’s how they treat their body post workout. Whether you’re trying to improve your physique or increase your max on the bench press, there are a couple of things you need to consider if you want to get the most out of your workout routine. Here are four reasons you’re not getting the fitness results you desire and how to get over these hurdles with help from registered dietitian nutritionist, certified personal trainer, and owner of nutritionandfitnesspro.com, Joey Gochnour:

1. Muscle Recovery

Yes, there is such a thing as spending too much time at the gym. In order for your muscles to grow, they need time to rest in between workouts. It’s relatively simple. If you’re sore from yesterday’s workout, how can you be expected to strength-train with as much intensity today?

Building muscle is a science. The soreness you're feeling post workout is caused by minor muscle ruptures known as micro-tears. As these minor injuries are repaired during rest periods, the muscle becomes larger so it is able to handle the stress that initially caused the tear. This process is commonly referred to as hypertrophy. When you are recovering from your last workout, don’t think lying on the couch while watching TV will do the trick. To help speed up and maximize your muscle recovery, consume a diet high in healthy carbohydrates, protein, and fat; stay hydrated; stretch out sore muscles to promote circulation and reduce muscle tension; and get a good night's sleep to give your muscles the rest they need.

“If your muscles are fatigued from something else you did yesterday or too close to your last workout, you won't be able to work them out intensely,” Gochnour told Medical Daily. “You will notice you won't be able to do the same amount of weight or repetitions (reps) safely if the muscles aren't recovered.  For example, some clients will put a triceps or arm day too close to a chest workout day. Since triceps are used in chest press movements, they won't be as strong during your chest press because they are still fatigued from triceps day.”

2. Protein/Eating Right

What you eat before and after your workout can make all the difference when it comes to achieving your goals. This means a diet complete with carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. For your pre-workout meal, make sure you’re getting a healthy portion of carbohydrates in the form of brown rice, oatmeal (not instant oatmeal), whole wheat pasta, black beans, or quinoa. Although many fitness experts will tell you to get that protein shake in you within 30 minutes of leaving the gym, you should really be getting a serving of protein at each meal via lean meats, egg whites, legumes, and nuts.

That doesn’t mean you should skip out on the post workout protein shake. According to research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 20 grams of protein is optimal for stimulating muscle growth after resistance training. Lastly, don’t be afraid of fats when it comes to workout nutrition. Focus on healthy fats, especially those found in fatty fish, olive oil, avocados, and peanut butter.

Gochnour:

Those lifting weights need more protein than the RDA for most sedentary Americans, which is 0.8 g/kg protein per day.  Protein for active people can range anywhere from 1.2-1.7 g/kg protein per day, depending on how much breakdown there is.  If someone is new to working out or is trying something new, there is more breakdown than someone who has been working out regularly, so their protein needs will be higher. Additionally, more calories are required for those who workout.  This is good to hear for those both trying to gain muscle or those who want to lose weight while eating more food during that process.  Eating right is something you have to be consistent with. You can't just do it after the gym.  It is something you have to do 90 percent of the time.

3. Plateau

The dreaded strength-training plateau can be tough for anyone looking to build muscle. Just when you’re starting to get the results you were hoping to accomplish, you hit a wall that you can’t seem to get over. A person’s body tends to plateau after it has adapted to the usual amount of stress it experiences during weight training. The only answer is getting your body out of its comfort zone by switching up your workout routine. You can achieve this through a couple of workout modifications.

For starters, increase the amount of weight you’re training with. By adding more weight or more reps, you can successfully get your body out of its comfort zone by making it work harder. Remember, soreness is a tell-tale sign of muscle growth. Second, you can focus on the eccentric phase, or negative portion of the workout movement. For example, while hitting the bench press, slow down the dropping of the barbell to your body and speed up the concentric phase of the workout when lifting it up. When all else fails, switch up the variety of your workout to bust through that plateau. A repetitive workout routine is what usually leads to a plateau. Break this by switching the order of exercises, the type of exercises, or the combination of supersets. Keep your body guessing!

Gochnour:

A plateau can be for a number of reasons. For very few people, it is because you have reached your genetic potential and your body is obeying the laws of physics for the amount of weight and reps it can do at your size. For other people, oftentimes you are afraid to lift heavier weights because you will lose repetitions. This is the natural progression, however.  You have to try to lift heavier or you never will. Others are doing the same thing and getting the same results.  

This is not a plateau as much as the fact that you have adapted to your current training regimen.  If you want more results, you have to change something to cause a stimulus for change in your body. If you have questions on how to modify your routine to increase the results out of it, consult with a qualified fitness expert. Remember the FITTE principle: frequency, intensity, time, type, enjoyment. Intensity is where you will get the most benefit out of a modification, as if you go too frequently, you will not recover; if you go too long, you can risk overuse injuries, and if you switch the type of exercise, you are not systematically producing overload on your body.

4. Improper Form

Maintaining proper form during your workout routine isn’t only about getting the most out of your trip to the gym, but also staying healthy. The progress you make in the gym is often dictated by the quality of your workout rather than the quantity. This is why it becomes important to start off on a weight you can manage to help get your form down.  

A crucial mistake that many amateur weight-lifters make involves their spinal alignment. Keeping your back properly aligned is key to performing the exercise appropriately while avoiding an injury. You should only feel a strain on your back when you are specifically targeting that area of your body. To make sure you’re keeping your back out of the workout, use a wall to keep your spine in alignment while performing exercises like barbell curls or lateral raises. If need be, practice each workout without any weight to make sure your form is not suffering.

Gochnour:

I see this a lot.  For example, if you are attempting to work your upper back and are doing a bent over high row/transverse abduction (rear delt), most people don't bend over enough to get their back parallel to the floor, so they're really just working their upper trapezius instead of their rhomboids and posterior deltoids. I also see people holding a dumbbell while standing vertically and swinging it in the transverse plane thinking they are working their rotator cuff.

You have to have the resistance in the plane of movement to apply resistance to the movement. With this mentioned rotator cuff exercise, the dumbbell's resistance is down toward the ground, so the muscle doing the work is the biceps isometrically (same length), not the rotator cuff (rotating the arm in the transverse plane). With the squat, I see people trying to push through their knees primarily instead of through their heels and gluts, so they aren't working their butt as much as they could. In general, if you do improper form, you may be compensating by recruiting muscles you are not intending for that exercise.