Every year during the first few weeks of January and February, my gym is packed with new people making New Year resolutions to be fit and healthy. Then by the middle of February the number of cars in the parking lot start to dwindle down, gym equipment starts to become more readily available, and the personal trainers start to spend more and more time sitting and texting on their phones.
Many people have issues sticking to their fitness resolutions past a few weeks because they don’t set realistic expectations and are going about working out all wrong. Instead of thinking quality, they are thinking quantity and that is where the problem arises. Increasing the number of hours at the gym may help a sedentary, obese person, whose act of just getting off the couch is going to help in weight loss, but for the regular person looking to lose the 10-20 pounds that has crept up on them, the real solution is to workout smarter not longer, and to set realistic expectations of about 3 months or more.
Below are the top 5 fitness don’ts to keep in mind when wanting to change body composition and the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant & Time-Bound) do examples that can help you stick to your fitness goals for the new year.
1. Don’t do so much cardio!
Endless hours a week on the elliptical or treadmill will burn you out and won’t give you the quick results you want. Instead look at mixing things up with lower duration (think 20-30 minutes) but higher intensity workouts (think intervals). Avoid the 50+ minutes of steady pace cardio if you want to improve your body’s ability to burn fat and build lean muscle.
An example of a SMART resolution DO: I will do 2 HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) sessions a week at 20 minutes each for 3 months. In 3 months, I will reassess and perhaps work on adding 5 additional minutes of HIIT to each session.
2. Don’t be scared to lift weights!
You will not get big and bulky by lifting weights. I actually want to get a little big and bulky and no matter how hard and heavy I lift, I have a difficult time gaining enough muscle mass to get bulky. My female hormones make it quite difficult to look manly, and instead weight training has made my cellulite disappear and I look more toned because I have muscle under my skin that holds it taught. If you are not building muscle, you’ve got fat holding its place. Fat is all wobbley and squishy, adding to the look of cellulite dimples under your skin. You can be thin, but if you don’t weight train, you probably have a higher fat to muscle ratio, making you “skinny fat”. Strength training is also crucial for bone health and overall long-term health, and will improve your body composition and help you burn fat faster as your muscles continue to burn energy even at rest.
An example of a SMART resolution DO: I will start weight training twice a week for 30-45 minutes a week for 3 months. In 3 months I will reassess and aim to add one additional day of weight training to my schedule.
3. Don’t forget that Diet is 80% of the game
I hear this time and time again: “You simply can’t out-train a bad diet”.
It is entirely true. No matter how hard you stick to your workout schedule, if you are eating junk and not providing sufficient fuel for your system to run on, you will not see any results. At the same time, don’t diet or think calorie restriction, but instead think of food as fuel for your workouts. Carefully consider the amount of each macro-nutrient (Carbs, Fats & Proteins) necessary for muscle building. Use a simple BMR calculator to calculate the amount of calories your body needs at rest, and from there calculate how much your body needs with additional training. Do not take in less calories than your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) requires but do switch bad eating habits for healthier options. Make sure you use a calorie tracking tool and track your meals everyday to get a better sense of what you are putting in your mouth along with portion sizes and servings.
An example of a SMART resolution DO: I will start to track my diet using myfitnesspal.com everyday for 1 month. I will cut out processed foods and will eat 3-6 meals every day that I have personally made at home, for 3 months straight.
4. Don’t waste time doing ab work!
Getting a thinner midsection comes from overall fat loss and not from doing 20minutes of ab exercises. Through compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, dips and pull ups and chin ups, you can engage your abs while strengthening large muscle groups that are going to burn fat even after your workout is over. Abdominal muscles are particularly sensitive to excess fat storage and so a tweak of the diet is what’s required to get those 6 packs coming through.
An example of a SMART resolution DO: I will include compound exercises that engage my abs in every workout session. I will learn how to do Barbell Squats, Deadlifts, Upright Rows, Kettlebell Swings, and aim to do 1 unassisted chin-ups at the end of 3 months.
5. Don’t spend so much time at the gym!
Your workout regimen should be relatively short but meaningful. Set a training schedule, go in with a purpose to have an intense workout, spend no more than 40mins to an hour there, and be sure to listen to your body and give it proper rest. Rest days and enough sleep are crucial to building muscle and balancing your hormones. Also, you will be less likely to get burned out if you give your muscles the proper rest they need. With that said, do not take more than 3 days off between workouts since you want to make working out a habitual ritual and should be scheduled into your weeklu schedule.
SMART resolution DO: I will work out 3 days a week, for 50 minutes each day. I will be sure to rest for a minimum of 24 hours between each workout and get 7 hours of sleep minimum each night (8 would be better, but for some, 7 hours is still asking a lot, small steps).
This March, I hope to see all of the January Resolution Makers still at the gym and feeling fabulous. I want to have a hard time finding space in the parking lot and want to wait for every machine and barbell before I can get ’em. Don’t be hard on yourself, real change takes real time and real effort, but everyone was a beginner at one point or other. Set attainable goals, ask for help every chance you get, and track your progress through photos and clothing fit. Do not use the scale as your only method of measurement and be sure to give it at least 2-3 months before you expect any changes (though I’m sure you will start to notice changes pretty early on).
To a Positively Strong 2014,