Racked with guilt over our indulgent eating habits and lack of exercise, many of us signed up at the gym in January with all the best intentions to slim down, get fit and de-stress. Then, after three months, and gorging on chocolate Easter eggs this weekend, we see little change in our physique, feel disappointed and give up. What are we doing wrong? Victor Chan Bing-yin, a sales director at a software firm, says when he turned 40 last year he decided to shed the spare kilos and regain the level of fitness he enjoyed in his 20s. But he struggled to find the time to work out. 'I stay in the office late and often don't take a lunch break, so working out during the week is difficult,' says Chan. 'I have to work at a quick pace and ensure fast business turnover; I wanted quick results at the gym, too, but found little change in my weight over the two months I went to the gym. Now I go very rarely.' Kitty Leung, 27, who works in graphic design, says she joined the gym because she wanted to lose weight and look more toned, but after four months she felt bored. 'I started by doing 30 minutes of jogging each session but found it very boring so ended up doing only 25 minutes, then 20, then 15 as the weeks went by,' she says. 'It just felt pointless, and I didn't really know how to use the weight machines, so I ended up making excuses for why I couldn't go to the gym.' We all know exercise is beneficial. It helps us to maintain a healthy weight, deal better with work tension and develop a feeling of well-being, and it strengthens the immune system. It's also been shown to help prevent or treat high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, insomnia and depression. So to help you get your exercise routine back on track here some of the key reasons workouts don't work - and what you can do to tackle them. Unrealistic goals Fong Lap-yin, a trainer who coaches other trainers at gym chain California Fitness, says people often set themselves unattainable goals. 'People often come to me after years of bad eating habits and little exercise and expect to lose a lifetime of fat build-up in two or three months,' says Fong. 'This is impossible. You have to be realistic.' There are no quick fixes; exercise is a long-term commitment to maintaining health. It's also hard work so accept this or you may quit when the going gets tough. Avoid setting strict schedules which you may not be able to keep; plan to work out three or four times a week rather than every day. But do set a goal as this provides something to work towards, be it to lose weight, improve performance, or just to complete a set number of workouts in a given period. Success also depends on how badly you want it, says Zen Humpage, a personal trainer and martial arts coach at gym chain Pure Fitness. 'Getting fit can't be something you would like to do - you need to want to do it. There's good equipment at the gym, so use it, and if you don't know how to use it get the staff to show you.' Quantity over quality The body needs to be stressed long enough or hard enough to achieve a training effect. This is true of cardiovascular exercise as well as muscle building, so while walking on the treadmill for an hour may burn calories, you could make better use of your time by jogging for 30 minutes and doing some muscle toning exercises. As Humpage says, you need to break a sweat, but you also need some targeted muscle training, whether through weights or resistance training. When using the machines or free weights, the amount of weight you lift and the number of repetitions of each movement (reps) depends on your goal. Fong says for toning, 15 reps is advisable, but if you find you can get to 20 or 25 then the weight is not sufficient and you will not tone muscles or burn calories. It is only when your muscles feel tired and you cannot lift any more that they grow. For building muscles, 10 to 15 reps are ideal, while powerlifters generally aim for one to six reps. Overexercising Humpage says his rule is listen to your body and go with what you feel: 'If you don't think you can face a hard workout, go easy and just do some gentle cardio exercising.' Too much exercise can lead to exhaustion and increase your risk of injury. Some experts recommend working out every second day to give your body time to recover. Warming up for 10 minutes before each session prevents muscle strain and cooling down helps your circulation system recycle lactic acid which combats tiredness the next day. Fong recommends that newcomers start gently by going to the gym twice a week for a month, doing mainly stretches and cardio exercise. Then start going three times a week and increase your intensity. This should increase weight loss and develop firmer muscles. After two or three months, there is likely to be a marked improvement. 'Once my clients have to buy a new pair of trousers because their old ones don't fit, I know they are hooked on the gym,' he says. Not eating properly Proper nutrition is essential to health, especially when exercising because the body needs nutrients and more energy to fuel working out and aid the recovery process. Eat four to six small, healthy meals, including carbohydrates and snack on fruit whenever hungry. Extreme diets are short-term fixes and may even impair weight loss in the long term. Eating too little slows your metabolism, so when you eat normally again you're less capable of burning energy and it's converted to fat. Fong says he often hears people complain that they're eating so little and exercising hard but still look flabby. 'If you're starving your body, it takes energy from your muscles, so you don't lose your visible fat,' he says. 'But when your body isn't worried about when food is coming next, it burns calories and fat fast.' On the other hand, don't overestimate how much you should eat. Avoid alcohol, too, as it's high in calories. Sticking to the same routine Many people say they get bored at the gym, but Humpage says it's up to you to get roactive. 'There's more than just one universal workout - it's not just Arnold Schwarzenegger with dumb bells any more,' he says. 'So get creative - there are many gadgets and machines available.' You could also add kick-boxing, martial arts or aerobics to your exercise routine. Sticking to one routine can also reduce the efficacy of your workout. This is because your body gets used to doing the same actions and it's no longer challenging. Try using different machines for muscle training or decide to work harder than usual on your cardio training. Interval training - for example, running fast on the step machine for five minutes, then cooling down for two minutes and running again for five minutes - is another good technique. 'It's total stimulation for the body as it wakes up your system and mind, and burns more calories,' says Fong. Incorrect technique This is a problem especially when muscle training. Many muscles can be involved in one movement - for example, when pushing something your arms, chest, stomach and back may all work together. If you want to build a bigger chest you need to target just the one muscle or set of muscles. 'As muscle control is done by various muscles in the body, if you want to get a faster result you have to relax the other muscles and concentrate on the isolated muscle group,' says Fong. 'It can take three months to control the muscle.' Humpage says incorrect technique can also lead to injury. 'Many gym-goers are office workers who sit down all day and have postural distortions such as rounded shoulders. They don't realise they're hunching their shoulders when sitting at a machine doing an overhead shoulder press and this pattern overload can lead to injury.' He recommends you get a member of staff to watch you as you do lifts to check for postural problems and that you spend as much time as possible at the gym on your feet. Measuring the wrong results Some people are, in fact, doing well at the gym, but don't know it. This is because they rely on a weight measurement when what really counts is fat content. 'For example, if a woman is 55kg and she reaches her goal of 50kg but still has flabby upper arms, she may feel frustrated and aim for 45kg,' says Fong. 'But this is a bad cycle because it's probably muscle she's losing instead of fat as she isn't eating enough.' Measure instead your body mass index (BMI) which assesses the fat percentage of the body. Fat is bulkier than muscle, so looser clothing is another good sign.