There’s not much that’s more frustrating than going to the gym and not seeing the progress that you are looking for. In my article, 6 Reasons Your Diet and Exercise Routine Aren’t Working, we talk about why that might be the case. This article will show you how to avoid that trap in the first place, and make the best use of your time.
Some people do better with strictly planned workouts for the next week, month, or even year. I’m one of these people. I like to know what exercises I’m going to do, what weight selection I’m going to use, and how many reps I’m going to do at that weight before even starting my workout. Other people prefer to do workout challenges or make things up on the fly depending on what they’re in the mood for. Neither way is wrong, but the important thing is to have a base workout you can do to measure your progress. If your goal is strength, it’s a pretty easy one to measure. Did your key lifts go up? If yes, then you’re making progress. If not, then it’s time to look at revamping your workouts for better results. If your goal is improved conditioning or endurance, then you should be timing the workout as a whole, plus your rest times to make sure you’re able to get through quicker while maintaining your strength. I suggest testing your base workout every three to six months so that you’re not doing non-productive workouts for too long. If strength is your goal, you can get away with testing every six months, but if conditioning or endurance is more your game, I’d look at three-month intervals for your test.
Another aspect of making sure your training progresses is actually knowing what you’re training for. As the saying goes, “You can’t chase two rabbits.” Are you training for strength? If so then you need to be keeping the majority of your reps in the 1-5 range with the weight in the 80-100% of your one-rep maximum. This has been proven optimal for gaining strength. Just remember, the longer you train in the upper thresholds of what you’re capable of, the bigger the chances are that your training will wear you down. If your goal is increased muscle mass, you should be looking more towards the 6-12 rep range with your weight in the 50-80%. There are obviously exceptions to this rule and there are more advanced protocols to help you build muscle, but as a general rule, this is what you’re looking at. Anything over the 15 rep range is normally used for endurance, but again, this is a generality. Now, if you’re training for fat loss, the common misconception is that you should do higher reps, and turn your weight training sessions into cardio. This actually isn’t a great idea, and here’s why. The majority of your fat loss is going to come from your dietary choices. As you restrict your calories and lose weight, your body will happily gobble up all that hard-earned muscle. You have to give your body a reason to hold onto that muscle, and that reason should be because you’re lifting heavy weights. Heavy lifting will force your body to hold onto all the muscle it can, so it doesn’t get crushed under a heavy set of squats. This will help keep your metabolism higher as your weight decreases.
Nutrition is a make or break for your progress, no matter what your goal is. Whether you want to lose fat or gain muscle, I recommend starting by finding out what your approximated caloric needs are with this handy dandy calculator and then adjusting. If you’re fairly sedentary, and looking to lose weight, try dropping your calories by 250 and getting in 250 calories worth of extra activity (running, lifting, chasing a toddler, etc…) to make up the daily 500 calorie deficit needed to lose one pound of fat per week. There are times to take a more aggressive stance than this, but if you’re just starting out, that is how you should start. If you start off by cutting 1000 calories a day or more and doing marathon workouts, you might initially lose more, but you’re going to be likely to stall out sooner, and then where do you make further adjustments to make progress? Likewise, if you’re trying to gain weight, try adding in 250 calories a day, split between protein and carbohydrates in order to gain muscle. If you follow this for a while and then hit the plateau, you can make further adjustments, but giving yourself room to do so is what will keep you progressing farthest.
Again, whether you’re looking to lose fat or build a statue worthy physique, you need to be sleeping. Studies have shown that people who sleep less than 6 hours a night are more likely to become obese than people who sleep 6-9 hours each night. Don’t try to go overboard on sleep, either, as sleeping more than 9 hours each night can cause similar obesity issues. Get a solid 7-8 hours each night and enjoy the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Now, if you tend to have trouble going to sleep at night, my suggestion is to cut all activities needing a screen to 1-2 hours before bedtime. You can also try meditation to calm down before bed. I will tell you from experience, that getting riled up on Facebook and yelling at people who disagree with your political, dietary, or religious preferences is not a great way to prepare yourself for a good night’s sleep. If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at sleep and the benefits, or the problems with sleep deprivation, take a look at this article about sleep.
It can take years to build the body that you have an image of in your head. Realistically, it might not even be long term attainable, based on your genetics. You might be able to get damn close, but you have to realize that perfection is best left to the Photoshoppers and magazine editors. I don’t say this to discourage you. I want you to work as hard as you can, and be strong and healthy, but be aware that what you have in your mind as the ideal body might only be a possibility in edited photos. With that disclaimer, the most amazing transformations generally take a bare minimum of 6 months for fat loss transformations, and those looking to slap on 20-30 pounds of muscle without taking steroids are probably looking at 2-3 years to make those gains. If you don’t see the results you want in 30 days, that doesn’t mean what you’re doing isn’t working, it means that you need to be patient and keep plugging away day after day, week after week, and month after month. You might even be looking at it year after year. Don’t get discouraged, and make sure that you are making progress, but don’t expect to get to the end result quickly. Enjoy the journey.
Putting it all together
Despite wanting to achieve different goals, the workouts for most people should be relatively similar. Three to five resistance training sessions each week, 2-3 high-intensity cardio sessions (HIIT, complexes, sprints), and 5-7 low-intensity sessions (walks, leisurely bike rides) should make up most of your training schedule. If you’re looking to gain weight, you need to eat above your calorie requirements. If you want to lose weight, you need to eat below your calorie requirements. Make sure you’re getting ample rest, and plug away each week. It’s not easy, but it’s simple.
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