It’s that tiiiiiiime agaiiiinnnnnn.
Everybody who either goes to or works in a gym knows that January is a big month. Parking gets a little thinner, the bench press gets a little more crowded and unsure members flock to the cardio section as if the treadmills were a superhighway to Kate Upton.
Additionally, chances are high that you may have picked up a copy of a popular fitness magazine giant that suggest you can put on “8 lbs of muscle in 8 days!” or “shed 12 pounds in two weeks!”.
Great. Now we have people with unreasonably high expectations and no plan of how to execute it without any fault of their own. All of that semi-structured chaos generally does one of two things to people just starting on a “plan” for themselves.
- You either get flustered and leave the gym altogether, probably for the last time in 2012.
- You use “what’s available” and put in a half-assed workout that didn’t really do anything.
Is this you ? Fear not. I have a solution.
The way that I see is there are four stages of goal planning and strategic initiatives.
Strategic whhhaaaat?? (sorority girl voice)
- Lifestyle Change
Let’s take a target goal of 25 pound fat loss. We want something that’s measurable so that there is no grey area towards progress. Grant it, most of you reading this might not want to lose that much but we’re just using it for illustration. If you have a strength goal of say a 400# deadlift this article will serve the same purpose. You wouldn’t walk into the gym and slap 4 bills on the bar and expect to do it, nor would you expect to lose 25 pounds in a week. At least I hope not.
Further, if your goal is to lose say 5-10 pounds then just extrapolate these time frames backwards and you’ll have an idea where you need to be. The point we are trying to illustrate is that goals take time and you need to set realistic targets along the way. No one builds a house from the top down, you start with the foundation and then build on it.
Okay, corny fitness cliches aside.
Each phase of your goal is going to be broken down into four realistic, attainable dates where you can maintain positivity and know exactly where you currently stand towards your success.
A dramatic adjustment in lifestyle behavior is not going to fully take in the first few weeks you start if you’re deploying a pedal to the metal strategy. You have to be patient and understand that it’s going to come in bits and pieces.
1. Immediate: 2 Weeks
It’s critical that your goal in this first few weeks be strictly changing your daily habits. You can’t just blindly say that you want to lose two pounds the first week and then have no idea how you’re going about it. Work forwards, not backwards with your goals. For example, at this stage you would sit down on Sunday night, grab a notebook and jot down the following.
- Go to the gym three times this week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday
- Track all of my meals every single day
Boom. That’s it. I am realist and understand (read: know for a fact) that it is not realistic to adapt to a resolution or change cold turkey. If you can, then congrats but most people might last a week or two before they fall apart and wake up face down in a dunkin donuts box in some shady back alley with no recollection how they got there.
For example, this is NOT what you want to set as an action item your first few weeks.
By committing to exercise three times per week you have room to adjust should your schedule should you happen to miss a day. You have a “failure grace”. If you set the goal at five days and missed one, then you would feel as if you were failing towards your goal and that’s not what we want.
You want to feel as if you are hitting EVERY goal along the way.
Additionally, by simply tracking your food intake you are not putting the pressure to follow healthy dieting. All you should aim to do in the first week is get an idea of when you eat and what you’re eating so you can see areas you need to improve, with focus on the following:
- am I eating breakfast?
- do I “graze” throughout the day (most people underestimate this)?
- am I eating way too many carbs with each meal? (more on earning your carbs later)
- Do I snack before bed without really knowing?
Until you write everything down, it’s impossible to project and quantify changes you’re going to make. You gear yourself up to make the short and long-term changes during this period.
2. Short Term: 3-12 Weeks
Things turn up a notch after the first two weeks. The honeymoon period is beginning to come to an end as you continue to feel out how you an adapt to your current lifestyle. You’ve now had the chance to see what’s going into your body for a full week, all on one clean page for easy analysis.
In this timeframe, it’s also safe to project and set a goal for how much of that 25 pounds we want to lose in the first few serious weeks:
Your short-term strategic initiatives would look similar to this.
- Go to the gym four imes per week
- Go grocery shopping for one-week supplies at a time
- Plan and cook meals on Sunday for the following week
is 7-15 pounds a wide range? Sure it is, but realize that the human body is not really an exact science. Everyone is different and weight is going to come off at different rates for different people (this point will be reiterated). Split the difference if you want. The point is that you aren’t walking blindly into that 25 pound fat loss and you take it in bits and pieces to give yourself reasonable and attainable goals.
It’s also important to illustrate that quality weight loss does not come quickly. This is not a cleanse diet or some other dumb shit that strips off water weight and muscle to make the scale go down as fast as humanly possible. We want to set multiple goals along the journey, so there are multiple opportunities to congratulate yourself and fulfill an expectation.
To just say, “25 lbs” is too ambiguous to monitor and maintain perspective along the way, and might ultimately lead you to be disappointed with losing ten pounds in ten weeks, the exact situation you want to avoid:
Disappointment with great results that you deem marginal because you only view goals on the macro scale.
You should begin grading yourself on your nutrition tracking and aim for a 90% weekly success rate. This is easy to follow and should be done the following way.
Plan meals in advance so you’ll have the following meal schedule and foods already cooked for the week.
Breakfast – Eggs and Veggie Scramble
Snack – Mixed Nuts & Fruit
Lunch – Lean Protein w/ Veggies (Cajun Chicken and Butter Carrots)
Dinner – Lean Protein w/ Veggies (Steak Skewers w/ Green Peppers) – You can throw in a sweet potato if it’s post workout.
Now, all you have to do is either put a check mark if you hit that meal goal or an ‘x’ if you do not reach it. Divide the total number of meals by successful meals and you have your percentage? Is it 90%? If not, then try harder.
3. Long-Term: 13 – 24 Weeks
At this point, you will have seen some good results for yourself if you’re following your plan religiously. Routine is becoming the norm and you should no longer feel as if you are dieting. At this point, it’s time to truly assess where you are with your goal and adjust accordingly.
If you are behind where you think you should be, then examine your diet and ask yourself where you can improve. The initial ten to fifteen pounds will come off much faster then the final five to ten pounds. The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in after a while and you have to work harder and harder. If your progress has stagnated or your results have reached a plateau then chances are you can make little adjustments that can get you going again.
- Snacking too frequently with bad foods?
- Not getting enough protein?
- Still a carbohydrate surplus?
- Not tracking your meals?
The most common mistake at this time? Seeing weight loss and falling back into complacency. You’ll think, “I’ve lost ten pounds, I can ease up and start eating the way I want again”. If you want to keep losing weight then this is a fatal mistake.
In this period, you are fine tuning your plan and moving more quickly towards…
4. Lifestyle Change: 24 Weeks and Beyond
Somewhere around the five to seven month period you should expect to hit your goal if you’re going about it the right way. This is not to say that you can’t reach it sooner, you absolutely can. Once more, understand that the human body is quite different on a case by case basis and some people react to external stimuli change differently.
I’ve seen clients reach their goal in as little as one month and I’ve seen clients take over a year. It depends on a variety of factors, some of which are beyond your immediate control (body type, genetic disposition to muscle fiber type, etc.)
Once you reach your goal or are at least within range of it, you’ll notice that you have gradually and unnoticeably had a paradigm shift with how you view diet and nutrition. You begin to realize that you are not “restricting” foods so much as you are avoiding foods that serve no purpose. You’ll begin to understand the concept of fueling yourself rather than gorging yourself and you’ll no longer have the craving to swan dive naked into a pool of chocolate syrup.
The ultimate fitness and nutrition goal is to train yourself and your mind to implement permanent lifestyle changes. That is the only way you can maintain long-term success and bodily health. If you set out to lose 25 pounds as fast as humanly possible, you will not give yourself enough time to adapt changes necessary to keep it off long-term.
You’re slapping a band-aid on a bullet wound.
In summary here is what you should realistically expect with a brand-new program.
- Weeks 1-4: Make positive behavioral changes
- Weeks 5 – 8: Behavioral change efforts and initial fat loss(2 – 10 total pounds)
- Weeks 9 – 16: Continued behavioral adaption and fat loss (10 – 15 total pounds)
- Weeks 17+: Full behavioral adaption and continued fat loss (15 – 25 pounds)
Aim for behavioral changes you can fully adapt to after a few months and for the rest of your life you will enjoy a healthier, more fit version of yourself. I promise.