Progress Isn’t Always Linear

During a conversation with one of my nutrition clients last week, it dawned on me how often the topic of progress arises in both nutritional and personal training sessions.  It’s not only something that I often think about myself but speak about with clients on a regular basis.  Let me digress for a moment to explain.

A few minutes into our weekly call, my client (let’s call him Tom) went on to tell me, “overall my nutrition has really gotten a lot better, both at home and at work…however my workouts are suffering a bit.”

I could hear the upbeat tone in Tom’s voice begin to trail off when he got to the workout part.  Prior to this revelation, Tom had mentioned that his wife was unexpectedly in the hospital.  So it was no surprise to hear that his consistent workouts were a taking a back seat.

“That’s great to hear that your nutrition is much better; I’m excited about that!” I went on to tell Tom, “you know, this is life and unexpected things are going to come your way from time to time.  You’re going to have weeks where everything will be on point and weeks where it won’t be.  Progress isn’t always linear but as long as the effort is there, that is what matters.”

Tom and I went on to discuss this a bit more.  You see, society has taught us to believe (especially in the health and fitness industry) that if you aren’t progressing every single week or adhering to your plan 100%, you are FAILING.  And let me tell you, this is wrong on so many levels…and here’s why:



Just as I was discussing with Tom, life is full of unexpected (and sometimes expected) events that will get thrown your way whether you like it or not.  During these instances, it’s not always easy to keep a consistent day to day routine.

Anyone who has ever moved, got married, had a baby, changed jobs, lost a relative or close one, got divorced, became injured, (or insert any other major life moment), can tell you that during these moments, a nutritionally sound diet or hitting the gym four times a week may not be top priority for the time being.

When life gets thrown your way, it may not always be easy or a top priority to food prep every week, make super shakes every morning or workout four times per week.  And that is OK.  However, what this doesn’t mean is that you should throw caution to the wind and abandon your healthy eating habits completely or not workout for a month.

progress isn't always linear
Sometimes progress can look like this.

Instead, focus on what you can do and what routine you can stick to at a minimum.  Maybe this means you can only make it to the gym twice this week.  Make those two workouts count.  Or maybe it means for the sake of convenience you don’t have time to make dinner so you are going to pick up food on the way home from work.  Guess what?  You can still order out healthily.

Going back to progress isn’t always linear, the same applies here.  If you’re out of your “normal” routine for a few weeks or even a month but still doing the best you can, it may not be reasonable to progress greatly through your workouts.  Instead, you’ll probably just be maintaining your strength.  And this is perfecting fine, because you’re still doing your body a service.  And when your schedule resumes to normal again, your body will be ready to start making progress again.


It’s Just Unrealistic

The thought that progress should always be linear when it comes to working out is just unrealistic.  Typically when someone is new or just getting back to working out or has a lot of weight to lose, progress can be rapid in the beginning phases.  Since exercise feels new to the body, it can be typical to see quicker results in the first month or so.

While results are always great to achieve, it can be easy to feel frustrated when the results slow down or come to a halt.  You may have weeks or even months where the scale doesn’t budge or measurements remain the same.  What this means is that the body is getting comfortable and it needs a push.  Progressing your routine, mixing up your workout or dialing in your nutrition further can be what it takes to get things moving again.

linear progress
Hitting a plateau? It may be time to increase your weight, reps or sets.

The same goes for weight training.  You won’t always be able to increase the weights, reps or sets of an exercise every single workout.  There may be some weeks where everything remains the same in terms of your workouts before you can progress to heavier weights, increased reps or additional sets.

Sometimes you need more practice with your current routine or a particular exercise before you apply progressive overload.  This is important because if you’re working on your coordination with your bench press (for example) and you progress the weight too soon, you’re setting yourself to fail if you can’t fully control the bar.

Sometimes you may have a day where everything just feels really heavy.  Lack of sleep, change in nutrition, increased stress levels, change in hormones and water fluctuations are all variables that can cause some workouts to feel harder than others.  Not every workout is going to feel like your best and that’s just the reality.


The Big Picture Matters

Progress isn’t always linear and once again, that’s OK.  You’re not a failure if LIFE happens and your workouts are less in one given week.  You’re also not a failure if your nutritional plan does’t go exactly as planned.  What does count is your effort to create a level of consistency.

Consistency is what will make you successful in the long run.  So even if you workout twice a week for two weeks instead of your normal four times a week, you are still working out, you are still consistent.

progress is not always linear

Try looking at the big picture.  Will you be eating well and working out in the next month?  How about the next year?  How about the next five years?  That is what is important.  While you won’t always have continuous results from week to week, month to month, you will if you remain consistent over time.


Written by Sophie DeHenzel
Progress Isn’t Always Linear

Photos Courtesy of (top to bottom): Sergey Peterman/, buso23/, zsirosistvan/

About DeHenzel Training Systems: DeHenzel Training Systems offers In Home Personal Training and Nutrition services throughout Northern Virginia and Washington DC.  Aside from in home, personal training is also available at the office gym or outdoors at a local park.

Within Northern Virginia, we service Loudoun, Fairfax and Prince William Counties including: Alexandria, Annandale, Arlington, Ashburn, Burke, Centreville, Chantilly, Fairfax, Falls Church, Great Falls, Herndon, Lansdowne, Leesburg, Lorton, McLean, Oakton, Reston, Springfield, Sterling, Tyson’s Corner, Vienna and Woodbridge.

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