We're midway through January and already the gym is quietening down, there are fewer runners on the streets, and traffic on the morning commute is returning to its pre-Christmas state as cyclists revert back to the warmth and comfort of their cars. Year after year people lose momentum and by February most have forgotten their 'New Year, new me' goals. Why is this happening?
It's fair to say that (some) personal trainers, gym chains, supplement brands and fitness magazines make unrealistic claims as to how much muscle you can add and how much fat you can lose in a short period of time, created to part you from your money.
Firstly, you have to be realistic in terms of your expectations regarding what's actually achievable. People become disheartened, frustrated and ultimately give up when impossible goals over impossible timeframes aren't achieved.
There are lots of training programmes, special diets, fat burners, etc. out there for you to use, try, rave about, criticise, pick up and drop again. Why complicate things? There are some really simple, realistic, achievable rules that you can adopt inside and outside of the gym to change your lifestyle for the long-term, and for the better.
Variety is key - To change you, you must progress your gym training. If your training is the same week in week out - same weights, same exercises, same sessions - then you'll also remain the same. As long as you progress something each session be it the weight you use, the number of reps you do, the number of sets; then your body will continue to adapt and change.
Worry about you - When you're in the gym, the only person you should be concerned about (unless someone starts to have a heart attack) is you. Ignore the exercises other people are doing, what weights they're lifting, how bad they look or how good they look. Ignore the pretty girl or guy training across from you. Get on with your session and reap the benefits.
Be positive - Keeping a positive mind-set and avoiding negative thoughts, whether your own or projected by others, is imperative. Successful people are those that react differently to failures. It may be difficult, but when things don't go your way, try laughing, try to see the funny side; pick yourself back up and go again. No-one ever achieved anything worthwhile by being successful first time. Failure and hardship is the route to real success.
Be uncomfortable - Like Royal Marine training, you can never be in your comfort zone in the gym. If you are, you're coasting, and your muscles are finding the session too easy. This will in part be a wasted session. Tweak one of the variables - tempo, weight, rest etc - or add a drop set or rest/pause set. The only person who loses out when you take it easy is you. You can never get time or a session back. Treat each session like it's your last. Time is the only commodity we all have a finite amount of. Use it well.
Find a training partner - A partner, simply by being there, will make you work harder (unless they're they are just trying to persuade you to hit the pub). Whether it's down to healthy competition or more of a commitment to train, working with a partner will motivate, encourage and inspire you to achieve more than you could alone.
Intensity is key - Without intensity your sessions are no better than a slow jog around the park. They'll raise your heart rate, burn a few calories, but won't help you progress past the point you are at. Make your weights sessions intense by slowing the movements down and squeezing the muscles. Don't use momentum or gravity to help you. Use the muscles throughout and make the session hard.
Failure - This goes hand in hand with intensity as a way to make the session intense. Increase the weight, up the reps; lower the rest to get to a point where you can't do what it is you're trying to do. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it's a simple fact. Making your body fail at what its doing means it then fights to adapt to that failure to be able to do it in the future. You just need to keep making things tougher.
Mental fitness - During training you will develop your mental strength. You will overcome tiredness, push to 15 reps instead of 12 because you want to beat what you did last time. You need to teach yourself to push harder, even when there's nobody there to make you.
Be active - Go for a walk, play some sport, walk to work instead of driving. Don't get stuck in the rut of lying in bed, sitting in a car, sitting at a desk, sitting at lunch, sitting at a desk, sitting at a car, sitting in front of the TV, going to bed. Research indicates this may shut off genes involved in fat burning. Equally it's been shown that our metabolisms don't slow because of age, they slow because as we age we become less active and allow them to. Stay active and keep your metabolism high.
Stop weighing yourself - I don't believe weight is a good indicator of a transformation (bodyfat down and muscle up), yet it seems to be everyone's obsession! Muscle weighs more than fat so if your fat decreases and muscle increases, you may ultimately weigh the same, but you'll look fit and lean. Measure around your waist, chest, arms and things. Take photos with your smart phone. These are FAR better measures.
Bad days - A bad day of eating or a heavy night on the booze - ingesting well in excess of your calorie needs, especially if alcohol is involved - doesn't just cancel out one good day, it cancels around four good days. Don't make life boring, but think of the consequences. It used to be nights out, cake, ice cream etc were once a month celebrations. Not every weekend. If you want results, you may have to cut back.
Energy Balance - Energy balance is crucial to fatloss or muscle gain. If you are training and eating less Calories than your body needs, you'll lose body fat. If you are training and eating more Calories than you need, you'll gain muscle. Use a smartphone App like MyFitness Pal to track your Calorie intake and make sure you are sticking to what you need for your goal. You can't out-train a bad diet. So if you are training hard, but not paying attention to nutrition, you won't see results.
If you're looking for a little more help then the Haynes Body Transformation Manual has a 12-week workout plan, nutrition advice and tips on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I'm also always encouraging my clients to try to take up a new sport at this time of year. If you enjoy the sport then you'll be keeping fit doing something you love. The Haynes Triathlon Manual and Running Manual have everything you need to get started, so give them a go - if they're not for you, try something else, there's plenty out there. Additionally, if you're looking for something really challenging and motivational, the Haynes Royal Marines Fitness Physical Training Manual might just be for you. All of the manuals are available from the Haynes website. Good luck!