Realistic Expectations

Following my last post, I received a variety of comments and questions. Much of the feedback touched on beginner gains and realistic expectations. For instance, several readers attempted to counter my entry by stating that they had in fact made rapid gains as a beginner.

I will start by saying it is great to read about early improvements, but I’ll add that I am not suggesting otherwise. On the contrary, a beginner is able to make faster gains than he will at any other point in his life. When you enter the weight room for the first time, you could almost look at a barbell and gain strength. Anyone who transitions from a life of inactivity to one of deliberate and repeated physical exertion is naturally going to improve.

I preach a message of patience and consistency not to suggest that you won’t make early gains, but instead for encouragement once your rate of improvement declines. No one continues to improve at the same rate indefinitely. If we did, we would all continue to set new world records. The reality is that it is much easier to gain strength when you are weak. Once you have developed a moderate level of strength, it becomes much more difficult to continually improve. An already strong athlete who is training to become stronger must be patient.

Anyone who has trained for any amount of time has hit a sticking point that was difficult to surpass. In the words of the late, great Mel Siff,

“The inevitable reaching of a ‘sticking point’ in training is one of the single most frustrating experiences in the life of any athlete. It may lead to loss of form, loss of interest, decrease in motivation, the unnecessary or premature reliance on anabolic substances, an endless search for plausible ergogenic aids, injury or even the end of one’s sporting career.”

Rather than pretending that such barriers do not exist, I would rather be brutally honest from the onset. There is no viable reason to deceive a knowledge seeking adult who wishes to better himself physically. Since when did deception become a motivational tool?

Perhaps I am in the minority, but I do not consider it discouraging to uncover the truth. Isn’t that what we are after? Beginners should never be fooled to believe that dramatic results are a few weeks away. Yes, they will make early gains, but let’s be realistic when discussing the extent of those gains.

Isn’t it more discouraging to start with unrealistic expectations and then find out otherwise as the weeks and months pass? If the fitness industry ever wishes to legitimize itself, the first step is to eliminate the deceptive marketing campaigns. You will be hard pressed to find any other industry with such a misleading marketing style. A used car salesmen won’t tell you that his vehicles can fly, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nutritional supplement that promises human levitation.

In summary, I encourage you to defy the odds. Don’t train to be average. Strive to reach levels that go beyond what is realistic, but don’t be discouraged if it takes longer than expected. Significant results take time. There are no shortcuts. Training shouldn’t be viewed as a sprint. It is a continuous journey with many potholes along the way. There is no reason to panic and assume something is wrong just because you’ve hit an obstacle or temporarily stalled. The best of the best have bad days and hit sticking points that can be physically and mentally taxing. It’s all part of the process. If it was easy, everyone would do it.

Rather than pretending that there isn’t a challenge ahead, let’s prepare for it each and every day. When the time comes that you hit an obstacle, you will be better prepared if you knew it was coming. And when that sticking point rears its ugly head, realize that it will not stand up to the test of time. That is when patience and consistency truly come into play. If you stay on track and continue to grind, the obstacle will eventually fall. You just can’t lose focus and start hopping from one program to the next. Be patient. Be diligent. Learn to embrace the grind. Welcome it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

That is how real results are earned.


  1. Great post Ross! I’ve lurked in your forums for quite a while, and have learned a lot. One thing I’ve learned is like what you were just saying. You make a lot of progress fast when you first start you program. The self-discipline has to kick in when your gains inevitably slow down. You have to prepare for this, and know that as long as you stick with it, making minor adjustments if necessary, your program will work. Thank you for doing what you do and keeping me going…

  2. Always felt that the best things to do when you reach a sticking point are a 7-10 day or break, or maybe switching things up a bit, say like go from low reps to high reps, change exercises like bench press to incline press etc.

  3. Yesterday, I forced myself off the couch to go work out. I felt sluggish, weak, and my lower back was acting up. I finally threw in the towel, licked my wounds, and came home, living to fight another day. Thanks for the last two posts. Fitness is a lifestyle, not a quick fix. Every day that I’m willing to run my 48 year old body through the ringer(sometimes feeling like a champ, sometimes not), I know I’m investing in both my present and my future. Even when I don’t perform well, I’m certainly doing something most men my age are simply unwilling to do.

  4. I read another post on t-nation recently about this, I think by Christian Thibaudeau. The claim, roughly, was the early gains are mostly neural, in large part because they are easy. Once they are exhausted, to continue to adapt to imposed demands, the body must actually build stronger muscles, tendons, bone. That is a much, much slower process. So when you hit a plateau, you are still making progress, but of an invisible sort. At least invisible to the usual measures of strength.

    So stay the course. Your work will pay off eventually.

    Fair statement?

  5. Embrace the grind. A tough pill to swallow. Accept the suck. Flip it on it’s head. All of a sudden a new source of motivation has presented itself. Maybe physically the fatigue is still there, but the inner voice to continue on screams loud. Tomorrow is another day. Some days are better than others. That’s just how it goes.

  6. great article, perfect timing, i have been training in calisthenics for nearly 2 years now, i’m 45 years old and picked this training 1) because it’s fun and 2)precisely because it’s hard, i mean it will probably take me 3-4 years to get a straddle or full planche that will last for 2-3 seconds!.
    the joy of this process is the constant battle with myself and this growth is the true reward,someone once told me that the real meaning of the term kung fu was to “sharpen the knife daily” an apt description as it’s easy to knock great chunks of a raw lump of iron but to bring a blade to a razors edge takes subtlety and careful insight.
    thank you for your continuing inspiration and should you wish to check out my training on youtube my channel is : calisthenicsVsage.
    many thanks,

  7. Thank you very much Ross and thanks to the other commentator! The right words to the right time! For me. I’am now motivated again 🙂

  8. “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable”
    “Embrace the grind”
    So true, thank you for clearing this up and setting some realistic expectations. You have to love the process, not just the outcome.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *