This is a question I am surprised I’ve never mentioned since it is asked so frequently. I decided to look around for answers to this question by personal trainers, and I must say I was disgusted at the results.
First, I was surprised that trainers thought this question could be answered without any further information from a specific person asking the question.
It is not really a clear-cut question. What does someone mean by “easier?” Is easier the same thing as easy? We may never expect our workouts to be easy, but we may feel justified in expecting them to get easier, in some ways, over time. So, this is not a very specific question, although it may seem so. There is one fundamental question I can address before I get started: Does working out get easier? Yes, it absolutely does, and it should. Do not confuse challenging with difficult. The more advanced you become, the more you will WANT to be challenged, and the easier rising to those challenges will feel.
But, let’s say we take the question to mean this:
I find each workout just as challenging as my very first workout. Just as exhausting. Why?
This seems to be how most of the trainers I found answering the question were interpreting it. And their answers were quite consistently wrong! The most common take is that your workouts SHOULD be just as challenging today as your first workout was, say, 3 years ago! This from people assuming the person was under the guidance of a trainer!
So, a person who has been trying to get in shape for a number of years, should still feel just like the first day, when the mere thought of exercising caused them to breathe more heavily? How silly.
The reason most often given is that if your exercise is progressive then the body never adapts. I am so very surprised that basic exercise physiology is not a part of any of these answers. If your body never adapted you could never progress.
The body adapts to progressive overload by “overcompensating.” This means you have a ‘reserve.’ It also means that when you repeat a stimulus, plus add a little more, you should be able to handle it quite well. So, you have to add enough of a stimulus to further challenge the body and give it a reason to adapt further. But this should not mean that you are just as exhausted as the first day!
Most trainers took this question as an excuse to say “that is because I do my job right and exhaust you.”
Absurd. Although your workouts should continue to challenge you, and some workouts will be harder than others, you should not feel as if you are not getting anywhere! Instead, you should begin to feel the results of your hard work in the form of greater stamina, greater strength, better coordination, etc. Instead of workouts being a grueling and exhausting torture session, they should be rewarding.
It is up to you to choose when to push your body to extremes, but if your body always seems pushed to its extremes, then your workouts are running you, instead of you running them. It is not that your workouts should be a walk in the park, but that you should feel ready to meet the challenge of each new session, and eager to exceed your previous level of work.
The idea that your journey to “getting in shape” should never actually include feeling like you are in shape is a bit daft, don’t you think?
What Are Some Reasons Why It Feels Like Your Workouts Never Get Any Easier?
This question is more difficult to answer than it may seem to be at first glance. What do people mean, precisely, by “doesn’t get any easier?” This may depend on your perspective and your physical and psychological tolerance for exertion. If you expect a progressive fitness routine to be a tiptoe through the tulips, for example, you may be experiencing your workouts differently from those who expect a higher level of difficulty. So, we can’t provide exact answers to this question because it is a vague question.
If we were interviewing a person, and they ask this question, we should ask them to clarify what they mean. Still, assuming that the meaning of the question is what I describe above, we could guess at some reasons for this feeling.
1. Your Workouts are Inconsistent and Are Not Reliably Progressive
I would venture to say that most people when they ask this question, do not really mean that their workouts are NEVER easier, but that enough of them feel exhausting and over-difficult to make it seem as if this is pretty much all the workouts.
It could be that many of the workouts are not adding to what has come before, so could be considered maintenance, and then others add way too much, and so are exhausting. This yo-yo back and forth between a maintenance stimulus and over-stimulus could certainly result in the overall perception of “this just never gets any easier.” This does not mean that you can never “go for broke” in a workout. But, if you do this, you should expect to feel more tired.
The rest of the time, you should be adding a moderate amount to what you did last time so that your fitness level is progressing. This way, you should feel tired, but not beat down after each and every session. Remember, easier does not mean the same as ‘easy.’
2. You Are in a State of Over-Reaching or Over-Training
Your workouts are always too much, always have been too much, and you never are quite able to recover. This is not likely to have gone on for a long time, as this kind of thing would cause most people to simply stop exercising, as the results of this punishment negatively affected their lives.
It is actually fairly difficult to reach a true state of ‘over-training’ but many factors besides exercise affect your overall results, including adequate nutrition and rest. Workouts that never get any easier could then be the result of doing too much too soon and falling short in other areas that govern recovery. It is always easier to add things to your exercise program than to take things away.
3. You Exercise Too Intensely Too Often (Frequency is Too High)
This is obviously related to number 2 above, as you could be doing too much too often. However, even workout sessions that would ordinarily be an adequate stimulus, without enough recovery time, could become too much. So, if you are one of those people who has been told to hit it hard every day, and you always feel as if it is an uphill battle, cut back to three times a week or so and see how things go.
How you do this will depend on the type of exercise you prefer. You may need to rearrange your routine, but don’t try to stuff everything you previously did throughout seven days into three days! Pair down your exercise list to a minimum number of essentials (based on your goals). Do essentially the same or similar volume on the exercises that you choose to leave in, see how things go, and add more volume if needed or desired.
4. Your Eating is Inconsistent
One day you eat a truckload and the next you forget to eat most of the day. You don’t have enough energy on board to fuel your workouts. Or, you’ve been trying to lose weight and you’ve cut back calories so much that your body cannot perform during your exercise sessions. You see, most people talk about exercise nutrition in terms of getting nutrition to gain muscle, or to recover from exercise. Hardly anyone talks about it from the other direction, fueling exercise!
You’ll need to look at your eating habits, make sure you are taking in enough calorie energy to meet your performance needs, and try to take in those calories on a somewhat more regular basis. I’ll admit, this is a problem for me! Left to my own devices (without conscious effort) I’d be doing an intense workout one day properly fueled and the next time I’d be using similar intensity and volume virtually fasted! Yes, this would make it seem as if your workouts never get any easier.
Let’s Be Clear: Expect to Be Tired
And sometimes, expect to be exhausted. Here, I am talking about feeling as if each and every workout is the same level of challenge as if you never become better prepared to meet the challenges of your exercise routine. When stated that way, it probably now seems obvious that all your workouts should not feel just as tough as your first ever exercise session.
However, there is another mistaken idea to dispense with, the idea that each workout should be the same challenge, and you should subsequently always feel the same level of fatigue, etc. I have seen coaches making statements such as “Your workouts should never be exhausting. If they are, you are doing something wrong.”
This type of statement is just as absurd as the statements I began with, above. The level of fatigue you feel is based on many factors, that change not just weekly, but daily, and are not only governed by what you do, and how much you do of it. If you feel unduly exhausted after a workout here and there, it does not mean that you are doing everything wrong. It is not that complicated to realize that sometimes you’ll be more tired, and sometimes less tired. If you feel exhausted after each and every workout, this may mean you should cut back. On the other hand, if you never feel exhausted, you may need to be a bit more aggressive. There is no use in trying to dial in some optimal training level at all times.