I probably get about a dozen emails a week from people I don’t know and have never worked with who reach out to ask me for fitness advice. Most of the time I have no problem with this and am happy to help, but here’s an example of the type of email I rarely reply to:
“Dear Sir, I need your help. I want abs. Please tell me what to do to get sexy body with six pack. I need loose weight. Tell me now what I do. Send me workout and foods to eat. Reply soon.”
Now I wouldn’t make fun of anyone just because they don’t speak English as a first language—although I love how the tone shifts from being extra polite to suddenly demanding a workout and diet plan outright. It’s like the guy got more impatient over the course of writing a three-line email. But that’s not the issue here.
My problem with an email like this is that it’s clear that the guy who wrote it hasn’t made any effort to lose weight on his own yet. He wants all the work done for him right here and now. If you have Internet access, which he clearly does, you can find hundreds of diets and workouts in seconds that will take you well on your way to any fitness goal. Yes, some of them will suck and there will always be new questions that pop up, but at least you’d be getting somewhere. He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about yet so he doesn’t know what questions to ask!
My point in sharing this is that the knowledge of how to change your body is easy to come by. A good coach will provide that knowledge, but his greatest value is showing you how to APPLY that knowledge to be successful.
What I’m really talking about here is CONSISTENCY. How do we get in the habit of doing the right thing—exercise and nutrition-wise—all day, every day, to see the results we want?
Here are some tips.
Most people already know that eating chicken and broccoli is going to help them see their abs more than pizzas and tacos will. I think that in 2015 we can assume that base level of nutrition education from 99% of the population.
The question then isn’t “what foods do I need to eat?”, but “how can I make chicken and broccoli taste better so I don’t want to kill myself three days into my diet?”
I always tell clients to pick 5 healthy, easy-to-make recipes (I usually provide them with a dozen or so options) that they will commit to mastering over the course of their first couple of weeks of training. When they get in the habit of cooking healthy food that fits their nutrition program and is easy to make, they start to actually crave it over the crappy food they were used to indulging in before. Convincing yourself it’s also just as convenient to prepare (or damn close) provides another mental boost that ensures compliance.
It’s not often that I prescribe squats, deadlifts, and bench presses anymore. They’re great exercises but I’ve come to the conclusion that most people can’t do them well, and the time and effort it takes to get them doing those lifts proficiently and safely isn’t worth it.
Don’t choose a program or write one for yourself that’s filled with exercises you think you have to do or that stroke your ego. Use ones you like or find challenging but are also in your power to perform correctly. This might mean no Olympic lifts or kettlebells, despite how cool they look on Youtube.
Your training is not about the length of one program or what you want to accomplish by the end of the year. You have to think long-term and what’s going to keep you coming back to the gym and keep you progressing. Nine times out of 10, it’s a lot better to work on basic pushups than it is to jump into a full-on bench press program. Because if you do them right, pushups alone are pretty good exercise for your chest, and there are plenty of varieties of pushups we can use to keep you gaining strength and muscle safely over a long period. If you’re benching heavy this month, and next month, and the month after that… you’re probably going to plateau or hurt your shoulder soon.
Set A Deadline
People who have a lot of weight to lose need to establish good eating and exercise habits more than they need to adhere to a strict number of calories and protein every day. They would obviously be better served by just learning how to prepare healthy food and committing to three days a week in the gym than they would trying to hit certain macros and weighing out their food. But that doesn’t mean I just wind them up with some recipes and a workout and turn them loose.
Leaving things too open-ended—as in “here’s your program, now go get lean whenever you can”—sets too relaxed a pace. There’s no urgency on the part of the client. No real incentive to take the process seriously (I’ve found this to be true despite the money they’ve invested). The truth is, we can take a gradual approach to fitness without taking a CASUAL approach.
You need to set a date that you want to accomplish something by—say, lose 20 pounds. I like giving yourself 12 weeks to do this. It’s not like a bomb goes off if you show up 12 weeks later a few pounds short of your goal, but it does help you focus your mind on getting something done as quickly and efficiently as you can. Then you’re not as likely to fall into the trap of eating right one day and eating like crap the next because the clock is ticking.
It also makes a game of it. A lot of people will see that they’re actually ahead of schedule after a few weeks and will want to work even harder to achieve even more by the end date. Just make sure you have something real and meaningful to end on—not just a weekend with a big cheat meal. You should plan to have some physique photos taken (if only for yourself), or attend some kind of party with family or friends you haven’t seen for a while (so you can blow them all away), or go on a beach vacation where everyone will see that your belly no longer hangs over your waistline.
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