Ah, the New Year – the gyms are packed, shopping carts everywhere are loaded with fresh produce, and running shoes are flying off the shelves…that is, at least until mid-February.
Now, as much as I'd like to have the gym to myself again, I'd much rather see a larger percentage of the New Year's resolution crowd stick around for the long haul this year.
Most people know what they want and, vaguely, what they have to do to get it. What they're missing is a solid plan of attack. So this is your year to make your fitness-based resolutions come to fruition and here's how you're going to do it.
Evaluate Your New Year's Resolution
Often, people struggle with their New Year's resolution because the goals themselves are faulty – too numerous, too far-fetched, too complicated, etc. To combat this, take a step back, evaluate your resolutions, and edit as needed:
Set one main goal – If you decide that you're going to save $10,000, be more outgoing, visit your parents more often, and finally “get into shape” this year, you'll likely experience sub-par results in every category. Decide what's really important to you and commit all your resources to making that shit happen.
Make it a good one – Ready for the cheesy “S.M.A.R.T.” goal spiel? Bear with me, it's helpful here.
S. Your goal should be specific. How much weight do you want to lose? Want to bench press 1.5 x your bodyweight?
M. It has to be measurable. Deciding you want to get below 10% body fat is better than simply “ripped” or “shredded”.
A. It should be attainable (but not too easy). Are you likely to place in the men's 100 meter sprint in the next Olympics?
R. The goal should be relevant to your life and the direction you're traveling.
T. You must set a time of completion. Want to gain 30 lbs before football tryouts? Great!
Example New Year's Resolution – Freddy may say, “I'm going to lose 20 lbs of body fat by June 1st since I plan to spend most weekends at the beach this summer.”
This goal passes all the tests. He states exactly how much weight he wants to lose. There are tools available to measure his progress. 20 lbs is a reasonable amount of body fat to lose in the time available. Freddy is interested in improving his health and appearance, so the goal is relevant to his life. He's set a deadline of June 1st. Nice work, Freddy.
Plan of Attack
Write it down – Once you've decided what's really important, write that single goal down. When it's written down, it becomes real and it's easier to make the commitment to yourself. Get out a piece of paper right now and write your clearly defined New Year's Resolution on the first line. Really, write it down.
Break it up – After you've written your main goal down, dissect it into smaller pieces. So if the plan is to lose 20 lbs by June 1st, then you need to lose about 1 lb per week starting at the beginning of the year. Give yourself checkpoints along the way to gauge progress. Breaking your goal down into smaller more manageable pieces gives you some mental relief and increases your ability to track progress.
Lay out your plan – What are you willing to do to achieve your goals? Losing weight is a worthwhile mission, but if you don't commit to taking action, whatever you've documented is pretty much meaningless.
(If you need help determining what should even go into your plan, take a look at my Training and Nutrition Cheat Sheets. These list out the most important things to keep in mind when altering your body).
Okay, your paper should now look like this:
“I'm going to lose 20 lbs of body fat by June 1st.
To achieve this goal, I'm going to lose 1-2 lbs per week.
To accomplish my goal I'm going to…..
1. Go to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to lift weights and go for a jog on Saturdays.
2. Grocery shop every Sunday morning.
3. Prepare lunches for the week on Sunday evenings.
4. Stop all mindless snacking at work.
Actually enact your written plan – No explanation needed.
Tracking Your Progress
This is where the battle is won or lost. Don't be afraid to be honest about where you're at in the beginning – the worse your starting point, the more impressive your results will be.
Here are tools you'll want to help guide you:
- Scale Weight – Not the most important thing to track closely, as it can change drastically from day to day and can lead to some obsessive micromanagement, but still useful. Your best bet is to make the conditions as similar as possible (pick the same day of the week, wake up, use the bathroom, step on the scale in your underwear, and note the weight) and only check about once or twice a week. Don't freak out if it hasn't moved in the desired direction. What you want to do is look for long-term patterns (btw, MyFitnessPal will graph this for you). If your weight doesn't budge for 2 weeks, then it's okay to make some changes to your diet or exercise plan.
- Measurements – Get yourself a flexible tape measure. I've been stretching one like this across my biceps for more than a decade and it looks good as new. Body measurements are better than scale weight because they help show changes in body composition. Even though scale weigh may be the same from one month to the next, it's good news if your arms have increased 1/4” and your waist is down an inch.
- Body Fat Measurements – There're many ways to go about this, including underwater weighing, skin fold calipers, and bioelectrical impedance. Underwater weighing is the most accurate, but it can be expensive and not everyone has access to it. Bioelectrical impedance (handheld device) is cheap and easy, but not the most accurate. That leaves us with the trusty skin fold calipers. This is a cheap test to have performed at most gyms. Better yet, you can get your own calipers and do it yourself (you'll need help for a couple of the measurements). You can buy a pair for yourself, or if you order your supplements through bodybuilding.com you can choose them as a free gift at checkout (score!). As far as accuracy goes, I tested the bb.com pair against the industry standard Lange Caliper and they produced the same measurements every time. After you take a couple measurements, plug the results into an online calculator and it'll spit out a body fat percentage. Nothing to it.
- Photos – Always take “Before” pictures at the start of any new diet or exercise program. Progress is hard to detect when you're living in your body 24/7. The best motivation is seeing photographic evidence of how far you've come. I wish I would have taken pictures at my worst, but I was a little camera shy at that point in my life. Try to keep all the variables the same, including clothing, lighting, and posture. We wouldn't want to create any “infomercial special” before and after shots. (Just in case you didn't know, those are often taken on the same day but they manipulate the variables listed above, and then some).
- MyFitnessPal app – When I first started tracking my diet, I used to hand draw rows and columns and proceed to fill it in with everything I ate for that day. In the evening, I would get out the calculator and crunch the numbers. Luckily for you and me, there's a thing called MyFitnessPal that will do the tedious work for us now.
- Training Journal – This is one of the most important things you can have in your gym bag. It's unlikely that you'll remember sets and reps exactly from a particular workout a week ago. Since your main job at the gym is to beat your previous performance by just a little bit, you need to know what you're aiming for. I've found these Moleskin notebooks hold up to being tossed around in a gym bag the best.
Visualize – Imaging every tiny detail of the body you want, and what you plan to do with it. Are you going to lie on the beach and tan your abs? How about stretch out the sleeves on your t-shirts? When you get in the car, exhausted from the daily office grind, take a few minutes to remind yourself what you're working toward. Then head to the gym instead of going home to sit on the couch to watch other people have fun on TV.
Set reminders – Once you have your plan laid out, you need to keep the goal fresh in your mind. It might seem crazy, but stick post-it notes to your bathroom mirror, refrigerator, and front door. Use motivational quotes, written goals, pictures from magazines, or anything else that gets you fired up and focused. You can even hand write your goal, take a picture, and make that your phone wallpaper. Running on a treadmill, deadlifting a heavy barbell, and turning down birthday cake is hard enough, you need the end result clear in your mind.
Get started now! Even if you don't have every aspect of your diet and workout regimen planned at the moment, a 15-minute walk on the treadmill is better than an hour on the couch. You're motivated now and this is the most important time to get the ball rolling.
See you on the beach!