Many of my clients approach me with the same problem; they have tried to lose weight or get in better shape for years, and at times have succeeded, but then have put the weight back on or lost the initial muscle they built. I have always approached fitness from a performance perspective, and by improving performance, health and aesthetic will happen naturally. I appreciate, however, that most of my clients’ main focus is their general health and weight loss, perhaps for a specific event such as a holiday or wedding. The problem with having this focus is that it can lead people to approach fitness with the wrong mindset, resulting in them struggling to achieve progress and continuing to make the same simple mistakes. I shall try to break these down for you.
'Make small changes to your lifestyle, not drastic changes two weeks before a holiday.'
We have just come out of a period of the year where a negative culture of fitness encourages us to make these very mistakes: the ‘January Rush’. The ‘January Rush’ is an old cliché, where many individuals sign up to their local gym for the new year and increase their weekly training drastically.
However, they often drop out after a few weeks due to injury, or simply due to the unsustainable training plan that would never fit into their current lifestyle. At Dabbs fitness, we don’t encourage this mindset. We have found that as well as January, we also get a spike in clients pre-summer, around April time, when people realise that they will soon be on the beach. The problem with this is that, a bit like last-minute revision the night before an exam, you’re probably too late and what you’re doing is not going to last. Training becomes more about damage limitation than thriving and getting lasting results.
You wouldn’t take such a short-sighted approach with your career, or many other aspects of your life, so why would you look at, perhaps the most priceless part of your life – your health, in such a short-sighted way? This leads me to the first main mistake people make when approaching their fitness plan – sustainability.
'Instead of being the person who leans down before an event, become that lean person for life.'
Your health and fitness plan has to fit into your lifestyle. Find a coach who can write you a training program, tailored to your goals, written for your lifestyle. This is when you will start getting the long-lasting results. Foster et al. (2015) demonstrated in their study that over the course of eight weeks, HIIT style training was less enjoyable than more aerobic, or moderate styles of interval training. This enjoyment steadily decreased over the course of their study. This may explain why many people don’t enjoy the gym, and see it as more of a punishment, than a reward- a really unhealthy attitude to have. I love training, as I believe do most of my clients. If exercise isn’t enjoyed, it won’t be sustainable long term, and results will either be lost or not achieved in the first place. Find training that you don’t see as a chore. Find social, tailored training that you can pursue for years. Instead of being the person who can lean down for an event, become that lean person for life.
This study highlights a problem with the current fitness culture – only doing HIIT and circuit classes. These sorts of classes are all on the range at the moment, and there are many people who come to the seemingly logical, however incorrect, conclusion that only performing this type of training will burn the most calories, get them the sweatiest, and thus get the desired results.
There are a number of problems with this mindset. In large group classes, the focus is on quantity and speed, not quality. Nor is there enough coaching opportunity to improve movement patterns, such as the squat, and learning new techniques in a fatigued state is not the optimal way to learn. This leads to poor movement and injuries. With my PT and semi-private PT clients, we start at the relevant level and teach movement and proper technique first and foremost. This creates the necessary foundations of movement from which to build upon. This will strongly reduce the risk of injury in the future and enable you to train for life.
Once the correct technique is achieved, you should look at strengthening the patterns by progressing the exercises. You should aim for steady progression from session to session, so after a few months, you are fitter and stronger than where you started. You should also progress conditioning methods in the same manner, starting at for example 5x30s intervals on an air bike, progressing to 10x30s intervals. In large group classes, progression is rarely achieved; you start at point A and finish at point A. I recommend these classes to individuals who are looking for maintenance, however it is very hard to progress with group classes alone.
The last thing people tend to neglect is the recovery around one’s training. Recovery is as important as training. An interesting study by Church et al. (2009) demonstrated that when split into 3 exercise groups (low, moderate and high amounts of exercise per week) the moderate exercise group actually lost more weight than the group who exercised more. Interestingly the group who trained for longer actually had the same weight loss as the group who trained for the least amount of time.
'Recovery is as important as training.'
This can be due to the compensation effects of overtraining, and not being able to recover appropriately. One recipe for disaster I often see with people is combining high-intensity training, with low carbohydrate diets, especially when they are doing last-minute training for an event. There has been a lot of evidence, including a study by Gunzer et al. (2012), showing that performing high-intensity exercise in a low carb state, will greatly increase inflammation in the body. This may have knock-on effects on general stress levels, insulin sensitivity, immune system efficiency and also injury risk. If you wish to be on a low carb diet or perform ‘fasted cardio’, with the target of fat loss in mind, I would recommend doing lower intensity forms of cardio, such as longer slower cycles or running.
WHAT TO DO INSTEAD
Set Sustainable and Realistic Goals
– Agree both long and short term goals with a coach.
Follow a Progressive Training Program
– Follow a long term program, written for you by a coach. We write tailored programs for all of our Semi-Private PT, and PT clients.
At Least One Conditioning Session per Week
– This can be playing squash, football or a conditioning class. If you haven’t already, check out our weekly conditioning classes.
Learn Correct Technique
– Small changes can lead to big results. Find a coach who can teach you the correct technique.
Prioritise Recovery Methods
– Prioritise recovery methods such as nutrition and sleep. Make sure this is included in your training plan.
Enjoy your Training
– Lastly, make sure you enjoy the training. Take many small steps, and the results will take care of themselves.
Foster, C., Farland, C. V., Guidotti, F., Harbin, M., Roberts, B., Schuette, J., … Porcari, J. P. (2015). The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. Journal of sports science & medicine, 14(4), 747–755
Church TS, Martin CK, Thompson AM, Earnest CP, Mikus CR, Blair SN (2009) Changes in Weight, Waist Circumference and Compensatory Responses with Different Doses of Exercise among Sedentary, Overweight Postmenopausal Women. PLoS ONE 4(2): e4515
Gunzer, W., Konrad, M., & Pail, E. (2012). Exercise-induced immunodepression in endurance athletes and nutritional intervention with carbohydrate, protein and fat-what is possible, what is not?. Nutrients, 4(9), 1187–1212