One of the best parts of my job is isn’t necessarily when one of my clients sets a new Personal Record (they do it often, and it is awesome), but when things “click” for the first time:
- When they realize and recognize the why and how we do the things we do: why we deadlift, squat, and press often.
- Why making small improvements over the long haul is always better than smashing one’s head into the wall trying to force adaptations
- Recognizing the importance of bear crawling or core strength or nails their best hip hinge for the first time
I get chills. Nirvana, if you will.
I get chills when my clients and friends turn their “bullshit meter” on too: juice-cleanses work because they give you diarrhea, and you’re not eating food; “low carb” or Paleo doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work for you; techno-infused bootcamp classes won’t be individualized and will probably not give you all the results you’re looking for.
Sometimes it’s hard to discern the things that matter from the things that don’t.
So, let’s set the record straight. Here are things that matter to becoming a sexy beast:
- Consistency: the best workout in the world is the one you actually do, and do often. Woody Allen said it best: “80% of life is showing up”
- Progressive overload: pretty much any program out there works. What matters is the effort you put into your program consistently. In other words, you need a program, and you need to improve upon that program each week. To make improvements, you need to do more: add more weight to the bar than last week; add reps; or do both. If you did 5 push-ups last week, shoot for 6 this week. If you goblet squatted 50 lbs for 10 reps last week, try to get 12 this week, or try and get 10 with 55 lbs this week. Overload the exercise with weight, reps, or both. Rinse. Repeat.–>For Life.
- Specificity: you don’t get good at an exercise without actually doing that exercise. You learn to ride a bike by riding a bike. If you want to squat more weight, or build better legs and butt, then you have to squat and do it often. “Muscle confusion” is not a thing. Muscles don’t get confused; they fire or they don’t. They get better at firing when you apply the same stimulus to them often. That’s how we get better at doing things: our muscles “learn” how to fire in the right pattern at the right time. Attempting to “confuse” them with different stuff all the time leads to very little success, if any. Don’t try and mix things up all the time. While that sounds boring, it’s what works. Do you want results? Or entertainment? Use big, compound movements each and every week. Make small improvements. Rinse. Repeat.
- Calories In vs. Calories Out: the best diet in the world is the one you’ll actually stick to. Don’t pick a diet you hate: it won’t work for you and you won’t meet your goals. Whether that diet is “low carb” or Paleo or Twinkies doesn’t matter (please don’t eat Twinkies all the time). If you eat more calories than you expend, you’ll gain weight. If you burn more calories than you take in, you’ll lose weight, barring specific medical conditions. This is by no means 100% accurate, but it points you in the right direction. You can use a calculator to find out what your needs are. From there, adjust accordingly. Using this calculator, and based on my age, sex, and activity level, I need approximately 3200 calories per day to maintain my bodyweight. If I want to lose 1 lb of fat per week, I should subtract 500 calories per day (3500 per week = 1 lb fat). If after 3 weeks or so I’ve lost 3 lbs, I’m on the right track. If I’ve gained weight, I’ll subtract more calories. Track. Adjust. Rinse and repeat until you hit your goal.
- Sleep: inadequate sleep will ruin your efforts in the gym. Period. You’re not in high school anymore, and there’s nothing good on TV late at night. Get to bed early and aim for 7-9 hours of sleep.
- Stress: work is stressful. Relationships are stressful. Not getting to bed early, oversleeping your alarm, sitting in traffic to end up late to your important meeting is stressful. Training is also a stress to the body. It’s how we tell it to adapt. Manage your stress by getting adequate sleep and recovery between training sessions, along with other stress relieving activities like meditation or casual walks outdoors. Good stress management will allow you to make optimal progress in the gym.
Now, Shit that doesn’t matter:
- Fad Diets: or any particular diet for that matter. The best diet is the one you’ll actually stick to and like. Otherwise you’re wasting your time and bound for failure if you try to force-fit a diet that doesn’t work for you or your lifestyle. Within this category throw in juice cleanses or any other trendy bullshit on the market these days.
- Supplements: if supplements worked that well, every dude and chick in the gym would be freakin’ jacked and super lean. Most aren’t though. That should tell you something.
- The “Perfect Program:” like diets, this doesn’t exist. It never will exist. The best program is the one that inspires you to train and motivates you to be better. Program hopping (or worse, bootcamp-class-hopping like many do) is a sure-fire way to make very little progress towards anything. Remember Specificity (#3 above)? Getting stronger, building muscle, and losing fat requires dedicated focus on the process. Even a bad program followed perfectly is better than a great program followed poorly. Get on a program. Stick to it. Make progress each week.
- Mismatched Exercise: don’t focus your time on an activity that doesn’t directly benefit or push you towards your goal. For me, this is cardio: I have no plans to run any sort of event, not even a 5k for charity. If I have goals that aren’t “cardio” related, why would I waste time pounding away on the treadmill? Look at it this way: if you have 4 hours to train each week, with the goal of building muscle and strength, would you waste any of that time doing an activity that doesn’t build muscle or strength? No, you wouldn’t. I’m not bashing cardio: if you like to run because of the mental and emotional benefits, then by all means go after it. But don’t make the mistake thinking that cardio is going to make you look like Jessica Biel or Jennifer Aniston (ladies) or Wolverine or Ryan Reynolds (guys). Cardio is good for your health and for your recovery between heavy training sessions. It is NOT good for your fat-loss, muscle-mass building goals (this goes for both men and women: when the media says “mass” for guys, and “tone” for girls, they’re talking about the same thing: putting on slabs of muscle). Do cardio for health and fun. Crush weights for a superhero-like physique.
Don’t let the media, magazines, or celebrities make this more complicated than it is. Things are very simple if you follow the above advice. Get on a program and make improvements week in and week out. Adjust your diet according to your lifestyle, needs, and budget. Skip the supplements and juice cleanses. Eat the foods you like, in an amount that meets your goals. Train hard and with focus, make adjustments accordingly.
Dedicated to your life and your health!