As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. When it comes to getting in shape, there are certainly many approaches out there. I am often asked what the best way is. Instead of giving a rock solid answer I thought it would be good to summarize some of the most popular methods people generally try and sum up for you the pros and cons of each approach
1. Calorie Restriction (no exercise)
This is probably the most popular approach by most attempting to get into shape. Apple diets, cabbage diets, and restricting the food you eat to small amounts are examples of these types of diets. Sometimes companies recommend supplementation to make up for the shortfall of nutrients in the diet, and the idea is generally to starve yourself for a given period of weeks. This type of approach is characterized by being hungry, low on energy, and feeling pretty crap most of the time. This is typically the approach fitness centers will take if they want to ‘change your body in just 6 weeks’, or whatever the tagline is.
Pros: Fast and dramatic weight loss over a very short period of time.
Cons: Habitual behavior is rarely changed; most people overeat after coming off such a restrictive diet. Restricting nutrients in your diet will compromise your immune system. Nutritional supplements can be expensive, processed, and putting the cart before the horse. It is a false economy to think that short-term weight loss is sustainable and healthy. You will end up back at square one if not further back very shortly after finishing your 6 weeks.
Recommendation: Can be used in very specific situations (before weighing in for a fight), but it a very poor choice for long-term health. Not a good place to start a new fitness regimen if you’re looking to keep fit for good.
Marks out of 10: 3
2. Intense Exercise/ Training (no nutritional change)
One of the latest fads to hit the unassuming public is the idea of exercising extremely intensely and building up the intensity of your exercise over the course of the program. This approach has also become popular with television based infomercial-esque fitness packages. This approach is characterized by doing burpees in your living room in front of your TV, or powering through a large number of repetitions while being screamed at by a military-like instructor.
Pros: You will feel like you are working hard, you will sweat a lot, and there can be an acute sense of satisfaction in finishing one of these workouts.
Cons: It is EXTREMELY hard to maintain this level of intensity for the long term. Form and technique inevitably come second to getting as many repetitions as possible done, or finishing the workout come hell or high water. Injury is often imminent, and it is not uncommon to physically break down as a result of this type of training over time.
Recommendation: Use with extreme caution, and under EXPERT supervision.
Marks out of 10: 3
3. Cardio-Based Exercise (no nutritional change)
This is the favorite of people in the 40-60-age bracket. Getting a bit of walking done with the dog and/ or friends in the evening is a great way to get out and about. If you are coming from a place where you have not been getting any exercise at all, regular walking is absolutely super! Losing weight through cardio-based exercise also comes in the form of jogging, cycling, and/or spending some time in the gym on cardio machines (e.g. the treadmill, crosstrainer, rower etc.).
Pros: This approach does not necessarily require any equipment, and can be done just about anywhere. Raising your heart rate will help keep the heart and lungs healthy, and it can also have a great social aspect to it as well.
Cons: There are essentially no cons to being out walking. If you are doing it for weight loss, it’s important to keep the pace up. Problems start to arise when people start jogging/ running without adequate core strength or with tightnesses that they may even be unaware of in their hips and ankles. This results in an uneconomical running pattern and inevitable injury. Cardio alone doesn’t not bring joints through a full range of motion or build muscle mass, (which you need in order to burn fat), and therefore does little for muscular strength, balance, or bone density. If you are going to be in the gym, hanging out on the cardio machines is a waste of time. Period.
Recommendation: Fast walking is a great way to get active especially if you are just getting back to fitness but make sure to build on your strength and mobility before starting to run/jog. Use your time in the gym more effectively that just ‘doing cardio’.
Marks out of 10: 5
4. Focus on Whole foods (no exercise)
When you start to move away from processed foods, and you start eating whole foods, you are on the right course. Eating meat and vegetables, and using nuts, seeds, and fruits to boost the nutrient content of your diet can achieve a lot.
Pros: Healthy unprocessed foods will keep you away from processed, high sugar, and high sodium foods. Long-term health is largely influenced by the foods you habitually eat. It can also have a very positive effect on your family and those around you, as they will probably start eating healthier as well.
Cons: It can take a bit of extra time to prepare meals. One of the biggest mistakes people make when starting to eat healthy is eating a LOT of fruit in smoothies and juices. This can hold you back from getting the results you want and can wreak havoc with your energy levels. Building muscle, doing strength training, and moving are key elements of long-term health. Focusing solely on nutrition will not address these issues.
Recommendation: Start eating whole foods right now! Be careful with your carb/ sugar based foods and time them around your exercise sessions. Make sure to take enough healthy fat on board, and spend time pre-preparing meals.
Marks out of 10: 6
5. Combined/ Systemized Approach
Combining a balanced and reasonable nutrition strategy, and implementing it systematically over time, along with a combination of strength training, and frequent low intensity exercise is by FAR the most effective way to lose fat and get in shape. No supplements, no insane exercise regimen, and no starvation. Integrating such a system into your life will bring you long term health, mobility, healthy joints, and allow you to enjoy life to the full. This approach should include strength training that is designed to bring your joints through a healthy range of motion, and tailored to suit your own needs and your current level of mobility and strength. The purpose of the program is to improve how efficiently you move. In a combined/ systemized approach, there should be room for changing the training sessions from time to time when you are under more pressure than usual. This is a long-term approach but yields the best and most abundant results by far.
Pros: Opens up an unlimited amount of potential in terms of your physical abilities, engrains positive lifestyle habits, and allows for deviations of course from time to time. This approach protects the joints, and is focused on building gradually over time so that your body has every opportunity to adapt to the load being placed upon it.
Cons: This approach will be the best investment in time and effort that you ever make, but it requires persistence, guidance, and effort. Many don’t like to hear these words when it comes to health and/ or fitness, but take it from me, if anyone is telling you otherwise, they are intentionally or non-intentionally lying to you.
Recommendation: Call ACLAÍ today or fill out this short form to set up a FREE consultation with and health and exercise expert.
Marks out of 10: 10 (deducting 1 point for the time and effort it takes, but it’s worth it).
This Article is by ACLAÍ Owner,and Strength and Conditioning Coach, Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS.
Ainle is strength and conditioning coach for the Cork Senior Football team, has worked with Adelaide Crows Football Club in Australia, lectured in the University of Limerick PE and Sports Science Department, contributed to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and also works as a tutor with Strength and Conditioning Institute, Setanta College.
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