There is more than one way to skin a cat, and the same applies if you are trying to change your health, and how your body looks for the long term. In this article I want to let you in on the things that I have seen be most effective for the many members that have successfully achieved a life changing transformation as they come through the doors at ACLAÍ.
The very first thing is to consider what it is you actually want to achieve. This can be a pretty big challenge, and in my experience almost always requires you to set aside a few unfortunate misconceptions that have come from the good old ‘fitness industry’. Namely, you need to let go of the notion that there is a ‘quick fix’ to your health and body composition issues. Your current state is a function if your habits and behaviours over many years, and you need to give yourself at least a year if you want to really effect a long term change. You also need to drop the massive focus on the weighing scales. Bodyweight should not drop dramatically and linearly, so constantly weighing yourself on the scales is setting yourself up for failure. On top of this, if you are training correctly, you will add some muscle mass, and this will affect your weight on the scales. At the end of the day, if your clothes fit better, you have more energy, and you are stronger, more mobile and healthier, then the number on the scale does not seem so important. Liberate yourself from the shackles of the scale! The next misconception on the chopping block is the notion that strength training will cause you to ‘get bulky’. This is incorrect. Strength training will help make you stronger, more mobile, and HELP you burn the excess body fat. The right strength training program will help keep you on your feet for years to come, and help your body maintain its function as you age. On food, forget about eating like a rabbit, investing in some magic supplement, or having to put yourself through endless torture. To make it happen, you need to build some foundation habits that you can maintain, and do them consistently. At times it can be challenging, but ‘going on a diet’, or starving yourself you should do not. I will discuss the required mindset a bit further on in the article.
That’s the pre-emptive strike on some of the most common mistakes that I see out there. Now for the good stuff. Aside from adopting the correct mindset, there are three things that need to come together for you to achieve long term success with your body transformation.
1. Strength Training
As I see most of out members for the first time in-situ at ACLAÍ, it serves as a great ‘operation command centre’ for the transformation, so the first thing we can get in order is the strength and conditioning training. Performing the right type of strength training exercises three times per week is a great start. It will make you stronger, more balanced, and really get the system fired up for the fat loss that lies ahead. One of the biggest advantages of using strength training as your main training method is that if performed correctly, it will keep you healthy and provide a great foundation for an active lifestyle. It is an incredibly sustainable method of training, and when under the guidance of a professional coach, it serves a great purpose, and you can keep progressing pretty much forever. In contrast, weights machines, cardio equipment, and common high intensity forms of training all fall down at some stage, whether its due to a lack of purpose, unsustainability, lack of mental stimulation, or a seriously limited capacity for you to make meaningful progression.
As a side-note, I really see a huge flaw in the model of the commercial gym when it comes to delivering the goods for you as a member. The business model of the commercial gym is pretty much based on providing a large number of relatively safe-to-use equipment with the instructions written on them, put a ‘qualified’ fitness instructor in the room, and get as many people as possible to take out a membership. The problem is that the ‘qualified’ person often has no more that a part-time course under their belt, the equipment does not actually help you become functionally stronger, and the fact that the model is based on getting large membership numbers pretty much ensures that you will not get an expertise based service, and the skills of an expert coach to help you actually achieve your goal.
2. General Activity Levels
Now that you have an idea of what kind of training you should undertake, the next issue on the agenda is your general activity levels. This is AS important as the training that you do in the gym, and if you get it right, you are taking one of the biggest and most important steps towards achieving your goal. A great starting point to give you an idea of where you are currently at with your general activity levels is to download a pedometer app onto your smartphone. I have used one called Pacer, and found it to be very user friendly. If you don’t have a smartphone, buy a cheap pedometer for ten bucks and clip it onto your belt. Your goal should be to hit 10,000 steps per day.
Due to the sedentary nature of many of our jobs, having adequate general activity levels can often seem like a huge challenge, however where there is a will there is a way! Go for a walk first thing in the morning, after work, or at lunch time. Tag little walks on to some of the events that are already in your routine. For example, park a little further away from work and walk the rest. Get to the gym early, and do a 20 minute walk in the fresh air before you hit the strength work, cycle to work or the shops. Link up with friends and organise a weekly walk, and plan activity based weekends. If you are serious about changing how you look and feel, then building a more active lifestyle is of the utmost importance. It does not have to start with a bang, or a big investment in new equipment. Just go out and move.
A note on using running as a training mode for weight-loss; I personally think that it’s a bad idea. Going from couch-potato to runner-supreme can seem like a great idea, but I can tell you that this is NOT a sustainable way to exercise for most of us. Everyday, I see people out running the roads, and the unfortunate reality of this situation is that most of us just cannot run properly anymore. Yes, we sure have the bodies that are capable of running (I have read ‘Born to Run’ as well), but we have become so tight and weak that the function of running has left most of us nearly completely. What most of us is left with is a cumbersome waddle, that is going to eventually result in ankle, knee, hip, or back pain. If you really want to run, and keep on running, then start with a structured strength and mobility program that will restore your body to the place where you will not literally fall apart after a few weeks or months of running.
The third thing you need to get right for your transformation to be successful is your food, and I have 5 simple pieces of advice for you to follow to make this happen. Firstly, eat a quality breakfast every day. High protein and high fat breakfasts are my favourite (omelettes etc), but porridge made with milk and a banana chopped in is great too. Stay away from cereals and juices at breakfast time. Second, eat 3-4 meals per day after your breakfast consisting mostly of meat and vegetables. You should be able to get in a lunch, dinner, and something small before you go to bed. A great focus point is to hit a daily protein intake of 1.5-2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight (e.g. 2g of protein per gram for an 80kg individual – 160g of protein per day). You can ‘guess-timate’ that there is 20-30g of protein in a palm sized portion of meat. Third; eat your carbohydrate dense foods at the right time. The best time for you to eat your ‘carb foods’ is after your training sessions. Fourth, drink 2-3 litres of water every day. Fifth, make space for nutrition deviations once a week. I address the fifth point personally by sticking with 1-4 as best as possible until Saturday, and after a 2 hour training sessions, I go to the Douglas Farmers market and have some ice cream and whatever else I fancy. After that, I am back on course. The most important point about number 5 is that you cannot have a scheduled nutrition deviation if you were never really on course during the week in the first place, so be honest with yourself. Portion size varies from person to person, but if you are following the advice above and you find that you are not losing body fat then reduce the portion size generally.
So there are the three main things that need to come together for your transformation to be a success; Strength training, general activity levels, and food. Easier said than done says you, but how do you actually go about addressing the three areas that I have highlighted? Going it alone makes this a much bigger task, so I recommend enlisting the help of a professional coach. There is one thing however that you need to address, and that is your mindset.
Before discussing the required attitude, I want to share with you the things that cause launch failures when it comes to body transformation. Having too much information can result in failure. Not having an accountability structure, listening to the wrong people, being in a negative or unsupportive environment, and starting out with an unsustainable plan of action are all among the main offenders that can bring down even the most motivated person. Its great to find the motivation and drive to address your health, but it takes consistency to really achieve your goal.
Entering a ‘student mindset’ is a crucial step for you to achieve the results that you want. Once you get yourself into the right environment that will support you on your journey, its time to set aside the ego, and what you think you already know and learn from your teachers and coaches. Learn persistently, ask questions, stick with the program even when the going gets touch, and follow the instructions. If you are prone to double-guessing the advice of your coach, do it after 6 months to a year.
Another critical step to setting yourself up for success is setting your goal. Really, this should be one of your first steps, but seeing as it is one of the most important, I wanted to finish on this so that you can go and get stuck straight into it. Initially you might think that your goal is something like ‘Lose 5 stone’, but I know we can do better than that. Think about what motivates you to want to lose weight. Do you want to get back to playing your weekly game of golf? Do you want to be healthy enough to play with your children? Do you want to climb Mount Everest, or complete a 10km fun-run? Aim big, and build your goal around something positive instead of focusing on your weight. Personally speaking, I built myself a ‘vision board’ that I constantly see on my wall, and that I can change as my vision evolves. After you have established what really drives you, the work can begin on how to get there.
This article is by Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.