With the new year fast approaching, it’s time to prepare for the "new year, new me" season. Don't take that the wrong way, I actually love this season. It’s refreshing to watch so many people take action to better themselves. I'm rooting for all of them and look forward to seeing their growth. After more than a decade in the gym it's encouraging and it gives this OG iron addict some extra motivation.
Unfortunately, the actions taken by the majority of this crowd are based on old, outdated and misguided protocols. Their "plan" usually involves an extremely calorie restrictive diet and bout after bout of dreaded "cardio". Neither of which are effective or sustainable in the long term. Thus this crowd usually goes extinct by March. There are much more effective ways to achieve your weight loss goals. Ways that don't involve you hating life for 60 minutes everyday while plugging away on an endless conveyor belt. Ways that don’t have you eating like a bird.
Cardio is King, right?
Eat less and move more, simple right? Well yes, but to an extent. While these cardio kings and queens will see some success in the beginning, they will ultimately plateau once their body adapts to this new activity. Depending on how overweight they are, they may be able to sustain consistent weight loss for a few weeks or even months but at some point the results will stop. Leaving them feeling defeated. Too little calories, too much dreaded cardio and not enough results to compensate them for the pain. They quit.
So what's the answer? I'm glad you asked. That's simple too. BALANCE.
Strive for Balance
Start slow. Don't cut your calories in half and add in 7 days of boring cardio right out the gate. Take your time. If this is to be sustainable it needs to be a gradual lifestyle change and not some fad diet you "do" for a few months. Fads don't last. Take the time to build something that works for YOU. For life.
I’m going to highly recommend joining a gym. Most people don’t have the motivation to do at home workouts constantly. Joining a gym and paying a membership fee means you have some skin in the game. Plus being around other people attempting to achieve the same goal as you is motivating.
Try This Instead
Keep your diet the same for the first couple of weeks and just add 3 days per week of resistance training. Depending on your level of experience this may mean lifting free weights or using the machines at the gym. Most gyms have staff members or trainers that can show you how to properly use the equipment. Use these first two weeks to get familiar with the equipment and become comfortable using it. You should be doing full body workouts. Your workouts should last 30-60 minutes. Keep your set and rep counts to 3-4 sets and 8-12 reps of each exercise. Do one exercise for each body part. Legs, shoulders, chest, back, triceps and biceps. If you can’t do 8 reps you’re using too much weight and if you can do more than 12 you’re not using enough. The goal is to challenge your body and force it to adapt. After a couple weeks you can add another day of resistance training bringing your total to 4 days a week. Be sure to have at least one off day in between your training days. Your body needs time to rest and repair to build muscle. After another week add 20-30 minutes of cardio after your workouts and one additional day of cardio only. That’s 5 total days of working out per week, four lifting days and one cardio only day. Shoot for 30-60 minutes of cardio on the cardio only day.
Diet is Key
You can also start making changes to your diet as well. When I say the word “diet” I’m simply referring to the foods you eat and not some specific plan you see on late night TV. Make small changes at first like cutting out snacks between meals or eating smaller portions. If you eat out regularly for lunch try bringing healthy meals from home instead. You wallet and your waistline will thank you. Cut out all the processed junk food and replace it with wholesome foods like chicken breast, fish, Turkey, eggs/egg whites, fruits, veggies, low fat dairy and whole grains. The key is to make small gradual changes over time and not all at once. Weight loss, done right, is a marathon not a sprint.
Weights vs Cardio
If weight loss is your goal, why am I suggesting weight lifting? Great question!
I’ll let you in on a little secret that’ll change the way you look at weightlifting. The more lean mass, aka muscle, you have the higher your metabolism will run. So whether you want to look like Arnold in the golden era or you just want to burn some fat and fit in those skinny jeans again, your primary aim should be to build lean muscle. Cardio absolutely has its place in your fat burning arsenal but it’s not your primary weapon. Building a good solid foundation of lean muscle will make burning body fat that much easier for you. This is why I stress prioritizing building muscle through resistance training for fat loss. And ladies, you won’t look bulky from lifting weights. It takes years, great genetics, and copious amounts of PEDs for anyone to build muscle like a bodybuilder.
Cardio on its own isn’t an effective long term solution for burning fat. Long rounds of steady state cardio, think 60 minutes of walking/jogging on a treadmill, can actually lead to weight gain! You read that correctly, cardio can make you fat. This is because long bouts of cardio raise your cortisol levels. Chronically high levels of cortisol lead to increased fat stores, reduced muscle mass and lowered T3 levels. T3 is the primary hormone that’s responsible for your metabolism. Low levels of T3 cause a lower metabolism. Couple that with high cortisol levels and reduced muscle mass and your body begins storing fat. Talk about counterproductive.
I’ve seen so many people come and go over the years They show up with this burning desire to loss weight. Their determination is so contagious you can’t help but be motivated yourself. Sadly that fire inside of them is more like a flash in the pan, but it doesn’t have to be.
Remember to take your time and build a solid foundation. Slow progress is better than no progress. Prioritize resistance training over cardio. Building lean muscle will turn up your metabolism making it easier to burn fat. Don’t go to extremes with slashing calories. An overly restrictive diet will have you feeling burnt-out and depleted. Cardio absolutely has its place so be sure to incorporate it into your routine just don’t use it as your only option for weight loss.
Mix it up. Try new workouts and different forms of cardio. Most importantly, have fun! If you’re not enjoying yourself you won’t stick with it long term.