The Biggest Roadblock to Weight Loss

 In Articles

The job title personal trainer is synonymous with “body problem solver.” And there’s no bigger issue to solve than the problem of weight loss. Call it a great mystery. We’re at a time when information is at the touch of our finger tips and yet we struggle to get fit. Believe it or not but the solution to the problem is a lot simpler than you make think.  

                While I am in fact a personal trainer, I call on a non-fitness expert to help explain what I think the problem is. Dr. Stephen Covey isn’t an exercise scientist, strength coach, or clinician. Let’s consider him an educator – and while his teachings don’t cover fat metabolism, they can still apply to the world of fitness and help you step your game up. Dr. Covey is all about being on your “A” game, and if you take away one thing from this article, it should be his book “The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.” You can read that to learn about being more productive in everyday life; in this piece, we’ll talk about making your gym time more productive.

                Stephen is all about priority management, and he argues that you’re pretty much spinning in circles by doing the wrong things the right way. Basically, we spend a lot of time on things that give us a low return on investment. His best example, and something that I’m going to steal to help figure out this weight loss puzzle, is that of the glass jar.

                Imagine I give you a really, really big empty jar. Your job is to fill that sucker up to the brim but you can only use three things:

-Big rocks



Are you literally going to go scour for sand, find it, and carry it in your hands back to the jar? How many handfuls do you need to fill it up (or how many trips before you just flat out quit)?

Sadly, this is what most people do. Especially when they’re in the gym.

Instead of filling the jar, let’s say the goal is to lose 50 pounds in 30 days. It’s an extreme goal, but let’s pretend we’re in extreme circumstance. Should you reach said goal, you win a million dollars. What are you going to do?

Buy some organic apples and call it a day? Spend all day researching supplements? No, you’re probably going to lace up your shoes and start sprinting up and down your street, ASAP. You’ll do whatever you can to drop those 50 pounds.

Most people aren’t under such tense circumstances. So they don’t really fill up the jar with any urgency, or the stuff that matters most (thanks again Dr. Covey).

Being in this profession, I get asked a lot of questions. I mean, a ton. Have you heard about this supplement that my cousin took and oh, what do you think of this diet that he swears by?

95% of the time, these questions can really be translated to: how do I get maximum results with minimal effort? That’s really all people are asking about. Is there a shortcut? Getting in shape has to be a whole hell of lot sexier than just the boring basics, right?

No, not really. When I work with my clients, I’m trying to get them to fill up the jar with as many big rocks as possible. Here’s what they are:

                (Big Rocks)

                5 hours of purposeful exercise per week

                7-9 hours of sleep per night

                Eat home cooked meals 95% of the week

                Hard work

That’s it. Now, I’m not saying this is all you need to do to get in tip top shape. If you want to make a living modeling swimsuits, you’re approach is going to be a tad more involved. But when’s the last time you nailed 5 hours of hard training week to week? How long did you last? If it was less than six months, then it’s not likely your results stuck around for long.

 When I first graduated college, I thought people were hiring me for a very precise scientific approach. It took time for me to realize that clients just needed someone to push them. It was a big rock problem.

The issue here is that most people scoff that it’s really that simple. But it is. The problem is that the execution is hard to master. Take the working out. The first month at UEFP is usually red hot for a client. By month two, they’ve missed a few sessions and by month three, it could be possible for some to go AWOL. Being consistent is hard to manage, especially when your phone can keep you entertained for hours.

 If they are consistent at the studio, getting them to perform homework outside of UEFP is another battle. Then there’s sleep. I don’t want to act like a parent- even though I am one – but it would be nice if clients had good sleep hygiene. I have clients who go to bed at 2am and wonder why they’re gaining weight. And it’s not like their burning the midnight oil to cure world hunger. They’re on Facebook or playing Xbox.

Believe it or not, just doing these things will get you 80% of the results you want. It’s when you get into specifics – I want to add 50 pounds to my deadlift, I’d like to see visible abs – that you need to start filling that jar up with sand and pebbles. But honestly, most people don’t want that level of fitness. There’s nothing wrong with that, but problems arise when you want to drop a dress size but can’t be bothered to go for a walk.

It may go back to that idea of “getting maximum results with minimal effort.” It should come to no surprise that a lot of people don’t like to workout. Given the choice between swinging a kettlebell or slamming a pizza, most are going to go with the pizza. Or they’ll swing the kettlebell and then pound the pizza because they “worked the calories off.” But I have clients who spend a huge chunk of time on pebbles and sand, which is a bummer, because we all get the same 24 hours to work with. Rather than workout, they wonder how much Vitamin C to take or who makes the best bottled water. I once had a client that use to skip workouts to watch powerlifting videos on YouTube. This person couldn’t workout because they were too busy….watching people workout (true story).

It may help to clear up what makes up the pebbles and sand.


Basing each meal around a protein (and it doesn’t have to be an animal protein either)

Vegetable intake

Essential fatty acids


Water intake (I’m assuming most people drink some water per day, hence why it’s not a big rock. I’m talking a specific amount here – like “X” amount of body weight in ounces)



Calorie cycling

Carb cycling

Arguing on social media about what diet is best

To prove my point, I’ll return to all those questions I get hassled with. Here’s a few examples:

                “Do those patch things you wear on your arm really work?”

                “How often should I go KETO?”

                “What do you think of treadmill desks?

                “Should I eat oranges?”

                “What pills will shrink my waist?”

                You get a gold star if you discovered that none of those inquiries are “big rock” questions. No one is asking about how long they should work out, how far they should run, and what’s an acceptable rate of weight loss. If you really want to get in shape, hemming and hawing about the acidity of your blood after you eat yogurt isn’t going to do it.

                Which leads to the overall jist of this article: no one is putting any big rocks in their jar. Let’s look at an often overlooked aspect of training: the big, looming rock of hard work. Now, the words hard work get a little misconstrued here. When some hear hard work, they think of the local meathead taking up too much space at the gym. You know the guy: wear’s a hoodie while he works out, with gigantic headphones on his head while keeping a brooding scowl on his face. Maybe he slaps himself.

Hard work doesn’t refer to skill level: the diabetic who is seriously busting her a$$ on the treadmill is putting in just as much work as the young punk deadlifting 400 pounds. It’s all relative, but the point being is that the tasks you do in the gym are slowly getting more challenging. You’re not there to look at your phone or yap away to your friends- you put the work in and then you get on with your life.

                So while people are neglecting their big rocks, the spend all their time trying to full the jar up with pebbles and sand. We call this majoring in the minors and it leaves people’s jars pretty empty for a long time. When I do consults I get plenty of questions about sand and pebbles. I have clients blame their weight gain on bananas and literally seen others argue with friends on if they should eat an orange. Yes – passing on the Snickers bar to have an orange is a good choice to make, but if it’s the only effort you put in, you’re going to have a lonely, empty jar sitting on your shelf.

                Sadly, people waste a lot of time and money on pebbles. They clutter health food stores for supplements looking for magic potions, and I’ve heard horror stories of people emptying their checking account at the register of “Supplements R’Us.” I once had a client hire me along with a dietician and a chef to make her food. She rarely did her workouts and didn’t lose a pound. But after spending all that money, she felt that macadamia nuts were toxic to our guts (again, true story).

 Of course you need to have a healthy digestive system, and prebiotics certainly help. But it’s all for nothing if you’re crash dieting and avoiding the gym.

                To bring things full circle, I should explain the big rocks in greater detail. After all, adherence starts with clarity.


Rock #1 – Purposeful exercise. This is movement with intent, whether it be to get stronger, build muscle, or drop bodyfat. Parking far away from the store and not using the escalator at the mall are very admirable but they fall into a “sand” category. Again, that doesn’t mean we can’t use it to fill up the jar – but just doing that will take forever and a day to fill it that sucker up.

The golden rule here is four hours of purposeful exercise a week.  That means four hours clear up distractions – no phone, TV, or yapping away about your work project. Most of all, the workouts are progressive. Each time you repeat a workout, you’re doing more than you did last time. This could be more weight on the bar or a faster speed on the treadmill. Just strive to get better.

Once you’ve consistently done four hours a week for 3 months – that’s’ 48 workouts – you can either creep up to five hours or start messing with pebbles should you not be seeing the results that you want. But if you’re really sticking with all these rocks, you shouldn’t be running into a lot of issues.

Rock #2– Hard work. We covered that in Rock #1 with the idea that things should be progressive. Remember this isn’t a skill thing. Just because you’re not ready yet to show off six pack abs while you front squat bodyweight doesn’t mean you can’t work hard. As Jim Wendler said, it takes zero talent to work hard.

Rock #3 – Eat at home.  Certainly, my nutrition coaching goes into greater detail, but people are allergic to hard work in the kitchen. So they rely on takeout or claim they have a too many lunch meetings at work. The more you eat out, the less control you have over what you eat. The chicken you get from a restaurant is not the same chicken you thrown on your own grill.  Regardless of how healthy and a restaurant claims their food is, it needs to taste good in order to develop repeat business. That means huge gobs of sodium, cheese, and a whole host of other calorie dense things that can mess up your blood panel.

Rock #4– Have a bedtime! Like your protein intake, I’ve talked about the findings for good sleep habits. There’s actually research out there that’s shown that being sleep deprived is similar to having a blood alcohol level of a drunk driver. That’s your brain on a lack of sleep. You’re highly unlikely to make good food choices or be motivated to get all those workouts in (remember Rock #1) when you’ve been staying up all night. Sleep also restores balance to hormones like cortisol and testosterone – and hormones are the drivers to your mood, decisions, and overall physiology.

Things work best when you can get to bed by 10-10:30 pm. Yes, your friends will think your nuts for going to bed so early. It’s like being 12 and you’ve been grounded for not doing your homework. But this should ensure you get 7 or even maybe 8 hours of sleep. When that happens for a few weeks, you’ll discover your energy levels have skyrocketed and you no longer need that IV of caffeine.  You make better choices and your body is more capable of handling those tough workouts that promise to melt fat.

I know, I know – it can’t be this simple, right? Like I said, it’s simple but not easy to do. How many people do you know actually do all 4 things? I’ll tell you this: if you can focus on these 4 things for six months, your body will make changes you never thought possible. At that point, you can start scouring for sand and pebbles, but implementing these three things usually eliminates all those pesky issues people drone on and on about; sugar, gluten, antioxidants, etc. You’ll spend less time trying to figure out how to fill up your jar and more time enjoying your fitness.   

Recent Posts

hot to workout for the whole yearIs your diet bad?