If you would have told me a couple of years ago I would be in the free weight section of the gym doing heavy deadlifts – I would have laughed. Then asked you what the hell a deadlift was? (Don’t worry if you don’t know yet either).
What I’m trying to say is my fitness journey has been fairly recent. In truth, I’ve spent more years struggling with my health and body confidence than I’ve spent feeling in control of it.
I had to learn everything I know now, making mistakes, backtracking and starting again. And I’m still learning, making mistakes, backtracking and starting again but that is all apart of the journey.
But what I’ve discovered on the way is that success on your fitness journey is essentially dependant on whether you have the six following elements down:
- A clear purpose and motivation – know your fitness “why”
- A solid understanding of fitness – get clued up
- An intentional strategy – having a plan nailed down
- Continued diligent practice – get started and keep going
- Gradual improvement – progressive overload
- And measured progress – tracking your fitness
Put like that it seems fairly simple but in practice a lot of us struggle with multiple pieces of the fitness puzzle which in turn leaves us demotivated and unenthused. Below are my top tips for succeeding with each element so you can finally “smash” your fitness goals.
Step 1. Know Your Why
There are numerous reasons why exercising is good for you; it can help with weight loss, helps you build muscle, reduces stress, increase energy and happiness – just to name a few benefits. These are all great aspects you might enjoy once you get into working out.
But what’s your reason for exercising?
Do you want to lose fat?
Do you want to accentuate your curves?
Or build muscle?
Do you want to run distance event or improve your endurance?
Do you want to be stronger?
Maybe you want to be faster or more agile?
Furthermore, what is motivating you to achieve this?
Knowing our intrinsic motivations can drive us towards our goals in a more purposeful way. Try to dig deeper, beyond your first answer; is there something else prompting this goal? What is the bigger picture? What impact will be fitter and healthier do in your life?
For me it was that I wanted to get fit to lose weight, so I that I could increase my self-esteem and do better in my relationships, personal life and career. My “why” was more than weight loss, it was about me being confident and growing in areas of my life that are important to me.
However for you it might signify having the energy to play with your kids or supporting your family or it might represent the strength to be independent & assertive in your life.
Using self-help exercises like the “5 Whys” can be extremely useful for finding purpose and emotional commitment for your goals. Once you’ve uncovered your motivation, focus in on it – use it to push you through those hard workouts, long runs and anytime you feel like throwing in the towel.
Step 2. Get Clued Up
Most of us were not equipped with an understanding of healthy eating or fitness. And I, like most, had just a few science lessons on a balanced diet and although I had 12 years or so of physical education classes, I never really gained any practical knowledge on health & fitness in school. I didn’t pick that knowledge up at home either so I remained ignorant for majority of my adult life, following “health” fads and BS I picked up from magazines and newspapers.
So when I’ve decided to lose weight and get healthy over the past years – I didn’t have a clue how to be fit and healthy. I just had vague ideas of salads, green smoothies and running on the treadmill.
If you are looking to improve your body or become fitter or healthier, you’ve really got understand your body, your health and exercise. Once you are armed with the knowledge only then can you start to make a plan. Otherwise you’re aimlessly hoping to stumble into good health.
Here’s an analogy:
Susan decides that she wants to be rich in the future. Her goal is to become as wealthy as she possibly can.
But before she even gets started racking in the cash, she’s got to learn about finance, how money works and how people become rich. If she doesn’t fully understand her ambition, her goal to get wealthy isn’t really achievable goal; it’s just a simple wish.
And fitness and health is the same. Because education gives you the intellectual tools to reach your goals.
I’ve listed some great sources of information below that continue to help me in my fitness journey below. And of course, this blog has always got your back too ;-).
Step 3. Nail Down the Plan
So when I decided to lose weight and get healthy – I did what I think most women do when it comes to exercise; endless cardio, some classes and aimless sets on some gym machines.
You need to be intentional on your fitness journey. Once you have your foundation of knowledge, you can build a plan. An effective plan will be:
- Consistently achievable – It has to something you can successfully accomplish on a weekly basis. It can’t be so drastic because after that initial excitement fizzles, you won’t do it again. Sure the 30 Day (Insert Body Part or Exercise here) challenge sounds great now but after the first couple of days will it still be?
- Challenging – Might sound like a contradiction but change come from pushing your limits. The aim is to find that balance that’ll allow you to adhere in the long term.
- Convenient – Convenience often is at the heart of lot of our everyday decisions. Although that sleek cycle studio across town sounds amazing BUT after a long days work will you really drag yourself across town do my weekly workouts? Do yourself a favour and make plans that are easily accessible. This especially important in the beginning of your fitness journey when you are trying to build a habit.
- Efficient – Work smart – use your time and resources efficiently. Essentially figure out which exercises and tools give you the best bang for you buck. A few examples:
- Compound exercise work more muscles than isolation exercises
- HIIT cardio typically last 15-20mins but burns the same amount of fat as 45 minute LISS cardio
- Kettlebells are extremely versatile workout equipment that can be used in multiple ways for workouts
- Supersets & Trisets can cut down workout time as they allow you to rest one muscle group but work an alternative muscle group
- Variety – is the spice of life. Switch up intermittently, although consistency gets you gains, variety keeps you from getting bored
So with all that said, let’s make a plan – check out my guide to workout planning here.
Step 4. Get Started (and Keep Going)!
Intention without action equals exactly diddlysquat so just get started. Don’t wait for that “perfect time”, believe me it never comes!
Block out time in your calendar for workouts and when that time comes, do them! Don’t allow yourself to skip a workout session more than twice in a row. Working out is one of the hardest habits to build so that initial groundwork in staying with the routine is absolutely critical.
When I got started at gym some of my biggest fears were that I might:
- Feel out of place because of my fitness level
- Look stupid or silly
BUT the gym is not just a place where only buffed-up bodybuilders and elite track stars hang out. It’s where people of all levels of fitness come to improve themselves. You are not out of place because you have a reason for being there just as much as anyone else. You won’t look stupid because you’ll be clued up with a great workout plan, the correct form and effective exercises. And regardless of all that, failure can be asset, we can learn from our mistakes and improve but only if we make an attempt in the first place.
Step 5. Progression
It might not seem like it in the beginning but trust me it gets easier. With practice you’ll be breezing through some of the exercises you found challenging or difficult at first!
However you need to keep challenging yourself – that means when your routine gets easier, level up! Progression (or progressive overload) is the key to long-term improvement in fitness. If you want to continue losing body fat, getting faster, gaining muscle or endurance – you have to gradually increase the demands you place on your body. Without progression you’ll plateau which is not ideal unless you purely enjoy working out for the fun of it.
There are so many different paths to progression, you can…
- Add more reps or sets to an exercise
- Add more weight or increase the resistance
- Perform an exercise with less rest in between sets or sprints
- Perform an exercise or distance in a shorter period of time
- Increase time under tension or perform reps slower
- Perform cardio for longer
- Perform an exercise with better form or a with more of a range of motion
- Progress onto a more advanced version of an exercise
You don’t have to progress on every exercise for every workout but you should see some sort of progress overtime. Don’t worry if progression slows down as you get further into your fitness journey, this means you are no longer a newbie!
If you are just beginning, the best way to fail quickly is to do too much, too soon. It can be easy in a fit of motivation to be a bit too enthusiastic and plan a routine that will quickly result in burnout.
Sure that 30-Day Sit-Up Challenge sounds fantastic now but how about in 1/2 weeks time? (You might catch yourself twitching at the mere mention of anything to do with your core).
Start with a simple practice and build on it. For instance I started with 3 days of 20-30 minutes of Full Body workouts from YouTube at home. From there I progressed to a small cheap gym I attended 3 times a week using mainly pre-set and machines. Then onto a more advanced gym that I now go to 5 times a week using primarily free weights.
Step 6. Tracking
Essentially tracking workouts is a measurable way to summarise your progress. I track each and every workout, every exercise, set and rep. I can easily forget what I lifted/how many reps I completed/how far I ran last week so logging workouts, keeps me on track with my progression and goals.
However a workout log is more than just a tool for recollection and analysis, it’s hugely motivational as well; it’s a record of every milestone you’ve passed, achievement you’ve made, every personal best. You can review it periodically and see how far you’ve truly come. It’s your proof when energy/motivation/self-esteem is low that you can do this because you have done this before!
Some people track the old school way on paper and pad however (as with everything else) there are plenty of apps you can use too. You can use your log to note your workout plans and record metrics such as:
- sets and reps
- Resistance level
But you can also use it to note how you felt on the day or how the exercise felt etc. I use an app called WorkIt, just because that what I used when I started – it has a library of exercises, countdown for rest periods; it can track weight and body measurements as well.