Despite our greatest intentions, few people seem able to maintain fitness consistency long enough to achieve any noticeable body changes. While failure often results in the negative reviews of popular diet programs or the classic late winter scramble to try to get out of that hastily signed new year’s gym contract; is it truly the gyms and the diet that are to blame? After all, they are just tools. We are always looking for the latest, greatest, new fitness or diet “trick” or secret that will help us finally achieve the fit looking body we have always wanted, but we might be looking at it wrong.
It is my belief that most people fail because they are focused on the physiological concepts of body change and do not account for the psychological adaptations that are required on a typical “get fit” program. Here are several pillars that I believe are fundamental for developing true consistency.
Enforcing a Positive Mental Connection
It is extremely critical that during the first few weeks of you new exercise program that you do not jump the gun and push the pace too intensely. Engaging in strenuous, nauseating workouts in an attempt to get in shape quicker is a sure fire way to blow through all your motivational reserves within a couple of weeks. We aren’t even factoring in the physical aspects of injury that could, just as well be a major factor.
When you are not fit, relying on will power and motivation to push yourself through to fitness does not happen. This would be the equivalent of taking a bright young algebra student and throwing him into a high-level calculus program. How quickly would this student become frustrated? How quickly would he fail, despite his intelligence or his want to learn? He simply has skipped too many steps. This is what happens if you try to attack your poorly fit body with an onslaught of aggressive, advanced workouts. You will soon begin to associate everything about fitness as a negative; everything from the smell of your gym to the sound of the music, to the trainers and the environment.
Your mind will not associate these things with positives but instead negative, painful, sickening experiences because you have conditioned yourself that way. I have been a strength coach all my life and studied Exercise Science and trained high level athletes and I assure you, even when training advanced people there is no such thing as a “puke index”. If you are getting ill and dizzy during your workouts, then they are being improperly prescribed.
Enforcing a Positive Mental Connection requires one to take it slow. Start out in such a way that you leave the gym feeling like you could have done a bit more. Will you burn as many calories as you would have if you did the combat cross Fit class next door? No. But that’s not the point. You must think long term. It is absolutely amazing what you can condition the body to do if you take the appropriate steps necessary. But please, the “overnight health nut” approach is one of the most evasive myths in exercise. Not only are you not ready physically, but neither are you ready mentally.
The super fit are not driven by will power or disciple, but instead by deeply ingrained habitual patterns that they have developed over years. But if you are new to exercise and clean eating, it’s important to realize that YOU will be driven by motivation in the beginning because you have yet to establish any healthy habits.
What are some will-power sparring techniques?
Group training. These classes come in all types and fitness levels but because of their inherent trainer-driven format, you are not pushing yourself through an intense group training class but rather are being led through it. Although physically challenging, motivationally, it can be much easier.
It has been my experience that when newbies are left to the own to put themselves through a solo workout, they simply do not know the right level to which they need to push themselves in order to see results without overdoing it. Group training is simple. You only need enough motivation to get in your car and go. You don’t have to think about how many reps or sets or abs or this or that. You just show up and follow the leader.
Nutritional focusing. Although many would like to believe that the details are what’s making them overweight, this typically isn’t true. The reason you’re overweight is crystal clear and large, but just like exercise, if we were to, overnight go from fried chicken and cookies to all veggie and kale shakes, we wouldn’t last a week. Instead, focus on one negative nutritional habit, single it out and defeat it.
What should you start with? How about sugar? The average American consumes roughly 100 pounds of sugar a year. Instead of going all carb crazy and fat gram crazy for just one month do nothing but focus on removing all added sugars from your diet. Don’t even count calories. Not yet. People are often shocked when they lose ten or twelve pounds eliminating just added sugars.
Starting Easy. Forget the old adage “No pain, no gain”. What’s more appropriate is the saying “No Brain, No gain”. Stop it with the “get fit or die trying” mentality and begin slowly, easily. You need to pick the appropriate level of group training class that doesn’t leave you completely wasted nor has you vomiting in the first ten minutes. Remember, it is these early weeks where you are developing a mental connection to exercise. The experience will either be horrible or positive. I’ve said this before, there is no hurry, and you can always try to push a little harder next time or begin slowly increasing the intensity and you will get stronger, and fitter. But put yourself in a position to where you’re always feeling about ready to dial the intensity up, instead of feeling like you need to take it down.
My first coach once said new clients are like fragile eggs. You must handle them with care. I always have my beginners leaving the gym feeling like they could do a little more. Having them nauseously limp out proves nothing about how good I am as a trainer. What will determine that is if they actually come back and continue my services, and actually see results.
Remember the NEAT principle
NEAT stand for Non-Exercise Activity Training. It’s essentially the science of activity outside a traditional gym or workout scope. Scientists are finding that it is our daily NEAT levels that have huge impacts on our weight loss goals. I believe this can further help build physical activity as an ingrained habit. So, yes park your car farther and walk more. Walk on your days off, take up gardening, or martial arts or other activities.
Look at Failure Differently
Many people look at that cheat on their diet or a missed workout week as a failure. They get depressed and often just wrap things up completely and chalk it up as another failed attempt. But I wouldn’t look as these mishaps as failures but instead just as stumbling blocks towards your fitness goals. A nicotine study done several years back concluded that it took patients on average seven attempts to quit smoking. They would stop then fail, stop then fail, but those who truly desired to quit eventually were able to break the addiction.
Perhaps there was something magical about the eighth try but my question to you is, if those seven times they quit were truly failures, then why did they eventually achieve their goals? Those “failures” were actually necessary.They were stepping stones. So, don’t seek out failure but if you cheat on your diet or get depressed and don’t work out for a week, don’t call yourself as a failure. Just pick yourself up, dust yourself off and look at this as just a little side track. You can still pick it back up the following day. It’s no big deal!
Don’t be a diet/fitness hopper
This is very common for newbies and is typical in our instant satisfaction culture. You try low carb for two weeks and the weight isn’t falling off, then you have a friend and she went vegan and loved it, so you go all vegan for a couple of weeks and then unsatisfied with that, you consider giving the Paleo diet a go.
Same thing with exercise. One month it’s all about CrossFit, then next month, it’s Powerlifting but then you hear that it might make your butt too big so you move on to Olympic Lifting but it’s hard because you have to be like, really flexible. Then you decide to try bodybuilding, but that a lot of reps and there’s a lot of dieting and it’s really hard too. Hey, guess what? It’s all hard. Do yourself a favor and stick to something. Get really good at something in the gym. I don’t care if it’s power lifting or running or boot camp, and when it comes to diets, understand that most of them work. Pick out what works for you the best and stick with it. Moving from one philosophy to the next will do nothing but frustrate you.
Be wary of home gym investments
The home fitness industry is a multi- billion-dollar behemoth, selling everything from complete home fitness gym equipment to cardiovascular products to home workout videos. With a convincing promotional campaign, they have you believing that any of these items are a much better investment than the monthly gym fees.
The home fitness industry is based on the convenience of working out in your own home, and comfort as well. Well they’re not wrong on the surface. If you factor in fighting traffic and looking for a parking spot and dealing with the music and the atmosphere then, yes it sounds like they’re spot on, that is until you begin to look into the serious psychological issues that home fitness training has.
For one, our house is our home. We go there to unwind and shut the door from the world. We go there to eat and relax and sleep. You are essentially too comfortable. You associate the smells and the feel and the sounds with relaxation and being done with work. These issues make it very hard to move off that cushy couch and walk into your exercise room which usually is just a spare bedroom with a treadmill and some dusty dumbbells in it. This takes massive amount of will power and disciple.
Much more than perhaps working out in a gym where the sounds and the smell and the energy ignites your brain into thinking it’s time to work out. You’re not completely comfortable in the gym, but that’s not totally bad. You’re not there to sleep, you’re there to workout. Although it may be convenient, the very thing that makes working out at home sound enticing is essentially doom for a beginner. And when you factor in the incredible amounts of distraction when faced with working out at home, it gets even less appealing. The dog got in the neighbor’s yard. The U.P.S guy is at the door, the kids are hungry and need help with their homework.
For the majority of people who are new to fitness, working out at home is not a realistic idea. There’s a reason why there are virtually an endless supply of hardly used or brand new fitness equipment for sale every single day, everywhere. I’m not against investing in a home gym after you’ve created a habitual pattern for exercise. After you have developed this, it won’t matter how many distractions you get, with the power of a habit on your side, few things can stop you. But if you are just beginning an exercise program, please avoid spending large sums of money on home gyms or fitness products that, more often than not, end up as fancy coat racks.
How to put it all together
Ok, so now that your familiar and more prepared for the psychological issues with fitness and nutrition programs, let put it together. I’ve included a two month fail resistant program designed for the beginner in mind. This program is especially good if you have consistency issues with new diet/fitness programs. Please do not look at this program as “too easy’ or for amateurs and instead understand that unlike most attempts, you are instead attempting to develop ingrained habitual patterns.
Two month, Fail resistant program
Group training. 45 to 1 hour of group style fitness done 3-4 times weekly. This can be CrossFit, Spin, boot camp, walking club, running club or a personal trainer session. Pick out any style you want, the appropriate level of intensity and hit it. This is also a time to really improve upon your form with the basic exercises while in the class. This way when you are ready to work out on your own you’ll have good habits.
No solo sessions. Do not work yourself out. Do not even try to attempt any strenuous, intense solo workouts. Not yet.
Nutrition. Focus on eliminating all added sugars from diet. Only eat items with no added sugars. Eat a lot of fruits, veggies and lean meats. Watch out for processed goods, sports drinks, soda pop and condiments. The best way to shop is to hit the borders of the grocery store. The farther you get into the frozen, canned and processed the more hidden sugars you will find. Do not worry about carbs or fats, or even calories. Not yet. This does two things: reducing this much sugar will lead to weight loss and teach you to become a label reader. This is a first step in becoming more “calorie conscious” along the way. We are conditioning you slowly, by allowing you to single out one bad nutrition habit and defeating it before moving on.
No home-based workout. Working out at home takes too much will power at this point. If you get the bug to do something then go for a walk or do a group training class.
Increase N.E.A.T. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Training and is essentially your activity rate outside the typical scope of fitness or in the gym. How active are you when you’re at work, or home, or school? Try to walk more and take the steps instead of the elevators. Try to get up and stretch out of your chair every fifteen or so minutes. Do more yard work and labor type activities on your days off. Many Exercise Scientists believe how active we are outside the gym is just as important as what we do in the gym. Keep this in mind and also realize that continuously introducing small exercises or stretches into your day helps to further ingrain the habit-forming process.
Many will look at this two month program as “wimpy” or simply too easy to be worth the effort but believe me when I tell you that achieving lifelong fitness is in no way a sprint to the finish, it is a marathon. This is a first step. There is no hurry. Diet and fitness attempts don’t always have to end in frustration or a sense of failure. If the correct mental steps are considered along with the physical ones, you won’t be just losing five or ten pounds or getting a little stronger. Instead you’ll be pursuing habits that, when achieved, will last you a lifetime.