1. Get your nutrition sorted
Nothing new here, and if you thought anything else would come first then I’m sorry to disappoint but this is the big one. I don’t care how many times you go to the gym, unless you’re Michael Phelps and train nigh on six hours per day, seven days per week then no routine and no amount of gym visits will get you into shape if your diet is out of whack (eating too much, eating too little, eating the wrong things).
What you eat is looking/feeling good 101. You’ll hear various numbers bounded about, but generally I’d say that 70%-80% of your results will come from how you’re eating, whether that be for gaining weight or losing it.
There’s a lot to say on this subject, but I want to keep this article brief, so start by reading this article: Nutrition 101
2. Ditch the endless, steady state cardio (unless you love it)
The only time this doesn’t apply is if you’re training for an endurance event, or if you just really fucking love doing cardio for extended periods of time. Otherwise, drop it. It’s the least efficient way of getting into shape and most people hate it, which only reinforces this false belief that exercise needs to be dull or something to dread.
3. Do some resistance training
There are so many reasons why you should be doing some form of resistance-based exercise, whether that be weight lifting, kettlebells, band work or even just bodyweight stuff.
- Burns calories while you’re doing it
- Burns calories 24 hours AFTER you do it (and the heavier you go, the more you burn)
- Increases testosterone production in men, which in turn helps with (ahem), “vitality”
- Helps you gain muscle, which burns more calories even when you’re resting
- Helps keep your bones strong
- Helps keep YOU strong (you won’t find opening those pesky jars quite so difficult)
Need I say more? This applies for both males and females. Women, stop worrying you’ll get big and bulky lifting weights, YOU WONT due to the lack of a key ingredient called ‘Testosterone’. Gaining muscle is difficult enough for men, but women will find it even harder without dedicating a large portion of their life to the pursuit.
Start by concentrating on compound movements (squats, deadlifts, bench press, dips, overhead press, chin-ups, rows) to get the biggest bang for your buck.
4. Change your mindset
Typically, there are certain unhealthy mindsets that people carry around with them when it comes to the subject of health, getting into shape and generally looking good that tend to lead to a cycle of self-sabotage, guilt and an overall feeling of helplessness.
The main one, perpetuated by women’s magazines specifically far too often, is the notion that people should be concerned with “losing weight” instead of “getting into shape” or a multitude of other, far healthier phrases. There is a distinct difference, and when people choose to chase a number (which fluctuates daily anyway) instead of more useful measurements (like a combination of body composition, relative strength and how they feel) they end up doing themselves more physical and mental damage in the long run. Done the wrong way, weight loss will only leave you in the same shape you’re unhappy with, just smaller, weaker unhappier and weighing less.
Other destructive mindsets include the “I want it all now” and “I’m going to do this for a short period of time and then I won’t have to do it again” mindsets. Instead, aim to implement and cultivate small habits that eventually become a way of life, instead of being effort inducing, soul sucking events. For example, one place to start could be for a person to replace all of their carbonated drinks with water. It’s a small habit, but once implemented it can create drastic results, especially if the person is a compulsive pop/juice drinker. Try it out, your body and wallet will thank you.
5. The basics will give you most of your results, everything else is just a distraction
Apply the Pareto Principle, aka the 80/20 rule which states that 20% of something is responsible for 80% of the results. Essentially the basics, when applied consistently, will get you most of your results. When it comes to health and fitness these include:
- Choosing a solid, sensible and tested routine.
- Progression. Over time you need to be lifting more weight, lifting for more reps, running further, running quicker etc.
- Nutrition. Get enough of the good stuff and not too much of the bad stuff.
- Recovery. Get enough sleep and make sure you give your body enough time to rest between workouts.
- Adjust your plan periodically based on YOUR results and experiences.
Summarised: Train. Eat. Rest. Repeat. Week in and week out. Focusing on the basics will give you 80% of your results.
Trivial details include thinking along the lines of the following:
- Do I need to eat every 3 hours?
- If I don’t have my shake 30 minutes after I finish my workout have I missed out?
- What’s better, 1.25g protein per pound or 1.37g/lb, or 1.5 g/lb.?
- What’s the best angle for incline bench press?
- Should I do barbell, dumbbell or ez-bar curls?
- I ate carbs after 6pm, will I get fat?
Etc. etc. etc.
If you start to find yourself stressing out over these minute details then feel free to slap yourself back into sensibility, or alternatively Google ‘Hamsters eating burritos’ to distract yourself.
6. Track as much as possible
At first this may seem like a massive undertaking, requiring a Herculean-like effort to track your calories and write everything down, but believe me when I say that it makes progress so much easier to not only gauge but also plan for. It also helps to clarify to yourself that x+y=z, that: “when I do x (eat good food) and y (eat slightly below maintenance calories) that z (body fat loss with minimal decrease in energy and mood) definitely does happen”. This in turn helps give you a confidence because you know exactly what’s going on with your body.
Having a day where you feel a bit ‘chunkier’ than normal? Just check your numbers. If you know that you’ve been eating the same amount of calories consistently because you’ve been tracking them, then you can be confident that it’s probably just the mirror playing tricks with your mind, or maybe just some water weight because last night you chose to get your carbs from that tasty white bread, instead of the the brown rice you know you should’ve had.
If however, you decided to overindulge at cousin Vinny’s Birthday Bash last night, that’s cool. Just ease off the carbs the next day and drop your overall calories and you’re golden (unless you’re bulking, in which case now is an ideal time bring out the hangover pizza with extra meat).
It’s a lot easier to see where you’re going right or going wrong when you put everything down on paper. Luckily there are some awesome websites and apps out there that make the process a lot easier:
- MyFitnessPal – A massive library of user entered food data where you can track your calories, macros and weight.
- Fitocracy – Those of you who like computer games will love this. The idea is that you create a profile and then track your workouts. For each workout you get points which then level you up. There are also achievements you can earn which help keep you motivated, and the site in general just makes tracking workouts a lot more fun.
This is SO important but quite often such an overlooked aspect of not only getting the most from your training, but also for your day to day health and wellbeing.
How many times have you busted your ass in the gym, stressed about eating enough/not too much and spent your hard earned moolah on some shiny new supplements, only to look at the clock just before you hit the hay and weep after realising you have to be up in 5 hours time?
We’ve all been there. Whether it’s because our lives are so hectic or because we’re sure that we’ll watch “just one more episode on Netflix”…
There’s a lot to say about this subject, but essentially getting enough sleep and making sure to unwind at times to keep your cortisol levels low (reading, yoga, meditation, creative activities, going for a walk or just sitting outside on the grass) is beneficial on so many levels. It not only improves mood, but it helps with muscle gain and fat loss and can extend your life and increase the quality of it.
Here are some basic things that have really helped me get a refreshing night’s sleep:
- Make sure you wind down before bed. Get a routine in place that enables you to avoid electronic devices an hour before you lay your head down.
- Do something that helps take your mind off of tomorrow’s worries. Examples are: writing down your thoughts in a journal, reading or my favourite, meditation. This will help to clear your head so that you don’t spend two hours staring at the ceiling.
- Don’t drink anything a couple of hours before bed. One main complaint I hear from people is that their need to get up during the night to take a trip to the porcelain throne disturbs their sleep.
- Supplement. I normally try and avoid going straight down the supplement route because I believe a lot of people can improve their quality of sleep with just the points above. However, sometimes supplementation can help you get back on track. Supplements I have used and swear by are: ZMA, 5-HTP, Huperzine A and when I’m having trouble feeling even remotely tired, Melatonin. I’ll discuss these in greater depths in a future article.
So there you have it. If you keep these points in mind then you’ll find it hard to go wrong, as well as save yourself hours, weeks or even months of spinning your wheels.