Overcoming Frustration: Celebrating the Invisible Improvements

As a gym owner and CrossFit coach, I have frequent conversations with clients about their goals and motivations. I want to know why people come to the gym, and what keeps them coming back. A client’s “why” is so telling—it impacts performance, results, and my approach to coaching.

Last week I had a conversation with a client who has trained with us for a couple of months. This client, along with so many others I have spoken with over the years, had big expectations of her new fitness program: she assumed she would rapidly shed pounds. She expressed frustration that this hadn’t happened for her yet. After all, working out is tough stuff. It’s intense; it’s a sacrifice. Where were the results?

In the moment, I didn’t have a snap (or tactful) answer for her. She admitted she doesn’t come to class as often as she needs to, and likes to drink beer and not eat healthy foods. (I didn’t need to tell her that diet and consistency were her best first steps; thankfully, in the course of our conversation, she came to that conclusion on her own.)

But the conversation continued to rattle around in my brain afterwards. There was more to her success than attend more and limit the beer. When my clients have concerns and goals, they become mine. Here is what I wish I shared with her in that moment, and what I want to share with those who come to the gym with the desire to lose body fat. That’s a huge percentage of the gym’s clientele, too: fat loss is the primary goal of most people joining gyms today. And coming back to the “why”—that goal is a worthy one. Our American lifestyle and nutritional habits have created an ever-increasing obesity epidemic.

Clients, here’s what you need to know as you start your fitness journey: tying your victory solely to a number on a scale every morning is short-sighted and incomplete. Intangible and immeasurable improvements will be taking place, and you can’t ignore them! They are part of the victory. Numerical results will come…but there is a lot going on in the meantime.

There are three elements of fitness which are the building blocks of fat loss: stamina, strength and movement/flexibility. If you are engaged in any type of exercise program worth a damn, you’ll be improving these elements along the way and likely not even realize it. These invisible improvements are easy to take for granted. But, we see them in the quality of our lives over time. Isn’t that what fitness is ultimately about—our quality of life? We overlook the big picture too often.

For example, let’s say you are frustrated that you have started exercising hard but you haven’t yet seen a 5-pound reduction on your scale. Maybe a perspective shift is in order. Has your stamina increased so you have the energy to play with your kids after working a long day? Has your increased strength helped you care for an elderly loved one? Are you more comfortable with certain movements? In these scenarios, body weight doesn’t matter, but increased fitness does. These invisible improvements are valuable, and part of the victory we were talking about earlier.

So, let’s get to why people fall short of reaching their weight loss goals. The three invisible improvements are achieved more quickly than fat loss because they need to be. To optimize your ability to burn fat, you need the by-product the three invisible improvements produce: work capacity. Work capacity is the ability to do increasingly harder work for a longer period of time. As our work capacity increases, through the steady improvements in strength, stamina and movement/flexibility, the number of calories we’re able to burn during a workout also increases.

People fall short of their goals because they don’t stay the course long enough to reap the benefits of their increased fat-burning capability. The invisible improvements need time to set in and kick your body to the next level. So, if you’re focused on burning fat and are frustrated because it’s not happening, or you’re thinking of hanging up your Nanos for good, stop. Your body has been hard at work adapting to get to the point where you can most efficiently work to make that happen. Keep going!

In today’s immediate gratification mindset, it can be difficult to be patient and have faith our actions will eventually lead to our desired outcome. But, but for health and fitness results, trusting the process is the only way.

You’ve heard me say it before, and this is how I’ll conclude. The best mindset about fitness is one in which we celebrate how far we’ve come, and be grateful we have the ability and opportunity to go farther.