People from all walks of life start a new exercise and/or diet routine for a variety of reasons, but when you get down to the bottom of it there are really maybe 4 or 5 MAIN goals that people want to accomplish and they look a little something like this…
Get healthy in body and mind to live a longer and more fulfilled life.
Lose fat and gain muscle (aka “tone” up) (aka “look good naked”)
Person-Specific or Doctor-given goals (such as being able to play with young granddaughters or grandsons, be able to run a 5k or complete an arduous hike, build bone density to protect from breaks, improve balance to protect from falls, etc…)
Get healthy in body and mind to live a longer and more fulfilled life
I believe this should be an underlying goal of every single person who is working out and watching what they eat. As long as you are consistent with ANY workout routine and somewhat healthy with your eating habits, congratulations because you have already achieved this goal. Yes, ANY routine that you follow and stick with will make you healthier and happier. The benefits of regular exercise are countless, but a few are
lowering your risks of many types of health conditions and diseases
strengthen the heart and decrease resting heart rate
build muscle and increase your resting metabolism
Improve your mood and self confidence
Boost your energy during the day and help you sleep better at night
So to achieve this goal, all you need to be doing, is SOMETHING! Something will always be better than nothing, and you are always lapping everybody on the couch. Find something you love doing, and stick with it! Combine that with healthy eating and you’ve already got a recipe for success. Even if you don’t lose a bunch of weight… even if you don’t go through a major transformation… you ARE getting healthier and you WILL live a longer and more fulfilled life.
2) Lose Weight/Fat
Rather than describing the goal from number 1, this is what I most commonly hear people say they want to achieve when starting an exercise routine. I wish it were #1, but in our society come as no surprise that everyone wants to look like the models they see on TV and in magazines and online. To put it bluntly, being skinny or losing a lot of weight or fat does NOT make you healthy (Yes, it certainly can in certain situations; say for example a man with diabetes loses weight and is no longer diabetic, or a woman loses enough weight where she can now walk without experiencing pain). Unfortunately, too many people's idea of “healthy” are the ultra-skinny models who are anything BUT healthy because of the extremes they go to in order to achieve that look. Okay sorry rant over… now onto exactly what it takes to lose weight/fat (in a healthy manner!).
It is really quite simple to lose weight, and most people definitely over-complicate it by thinking they have to workout 7 days a week and eat nothing but carrots and kale… this couldn’t be further from the truth! All you need to do to lose weight, is burn more calories throughout the day than you ingest through your diet, and you need to do it consistently over time (this is the key!). You can choose to do this by exercising more times each day or week (therefor increasing calories burned), reducing the amount of calories you ingest, or a combination of both. In almost all cases, a combination of both will give you the fastest results. Honestly that is it! Simple, right? In theory, yes… in practice, not so easy (as many of us know) but entirely possible!
The first step for everyone should be identifying their weakness, or what is causing them to not lose the desired weight. In most cases, its food. That is why I recommend people use the free app Myfitnesspal to track their food intake to make sure they aren’t going overboard without even knowing it, because that happens all the time!
Health conditions that may prevent you from losing weight aside, all it takes to lose weight is to burn more calories throughout the day than you ingest.
3) Gain Weight/Muscle
Much less common than wanting to lose weight, but there are still plenty of people out there who are trying to gain weight and/or muscle. People with some extra weight to lose look at these people with envy, but in reality it is damn near impossible (or so they think) for some people to put on weight!
But again, turns out it's really quite simple to gain weight, and most people over-complicate it (and over-spend their money) when trying to do it. All you really need to do is constantly ingest more calories than you burn each day, and you WILL gain weight, 100% of the time. You should be looking for calorie dense whole foods and again tracking your intake with Myfitnesspal to ensure that you are getting enough day after day. If you are currently on a 2000 calorie/day diet and aren’t gaining any weight, you should up that to 2500 and see if you start to pack on the pounds. If not, up that to 3000 calories and see if it works! It's hard work to gain weight, don’t get me wrong. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like there's enough hours in the day to get all of the calories in… but that is why planning ahead and meal prepping is super important (as always)!
Eating more will make you gain weight, now you need to ensure that you’re following a proper exercise routine to make sure that you’re putting on muscle and not just fat! You should aim to gain weight at the rate of .5-1lb per week if gaining weight and muscle is your goal. Any less than that, you should up your calories. Any more than that, and you should reduce your calories. Simple, right? Again, simple in theory but much harder in practice! But if you’re willing to do what it takes then stick to it and you’ll undoubtedly be seeing results in no time.
4) Lose fat and gain muscle (aka “tone” up) (aka “look good naked”)
Many people start a new exercise routine with no specific goals in mind, they simply want to look good naked, and I can’t say that I blame them. Usually what this implies is that they want to “tone” up their entire body. Muscle tone, or definition, can be achieved by first having muscle, then losing the layers of body fat that cover the muscles to make them more visible.
There is one glaring problem with trying to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time… one requires a calorie deficit and one requires a calorie surplus… so what do we do?! Well, hate to say it, but losing fat and gaining muscle at the same time just isn’t a viable option for the majority of gym goers because of this inherent problem.
Now that's not saying that the combination of both is impossible to achieve. For a complete beginner who is just stepping into the gym for the first time it is entirely possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time, and this is because they didn’t have much muscle to begin with. However, once you have been doing it consistently for a while it becomes much harder to keep adding more. In order to further increase your muscle growth you need that calorie surplus… but to lose the layers of fat covering your muscles you need that calorie deficit. This is there where the idea of a “bulk” and “cut” cycles come from. If you go and ask any bodybuilder who does competition shows (the most extreme version I can think of, but useful for visualizing this process), they will tell you that they go through long periods of muscle gain (bulking- calorie surplus and lots of strenuous exercise) and then through long periods of fat loss (cutting- calorie deficit and lots of attention to diet while maintaining muscle mass as well as possible). The reason they do this, is because they simply can not gain muscle and lose fat at the same time!
It's a difficult concept to describe to someone, but it is entirely legitimate (again, unless you are a newbie and have either no muscle mass or a lot of body fat to begin with). Sucks, doesn’t it? That's why most of us consistently find ourselves in a state of limbo, do we bulk or cut or maintain? The vast majority usually maintain current appearance, because the other method involves so much time and effort. I have personally been there, bulking during the winter then dropping 30lbs in 3 months to see what I could accomplish… and to be quite honest it sucked! Now I pretty much maintain year round and find it much easier (and I can still have a social life).
You can certainly tweak some aspects of your routine to a certain extent to build more muscle (do each body part twice a week, do more reps/sets, etc) but eventually you will plateau and if you want to keep building strength and muscle you will have to increase your calories which will eventually lead to a little unwanted fat gained. Once you’ve decided you’ve had enough with that added fat and you want it gone, you’ll have to decrease calories to lose it while still trying to maintain your muscle mass by continuing to lift heavy on a calorie deficit (very hard to do) and will eventually end up losing some muscle mass. A cruel, vicious cycle :)
So if you are new to the game, you should by all means be able to lose fat and gain muscle at the same time. But if you’ve been at it for a couple years, or even a couple months, that process becomes much harder!
5) Person-Specific or Doctor-given goals
There are certainly other goals that people have in mind when starting an exercise routine. The most important step in these goals is always the very first step, just get started. Assuming you are following a well-programed and well thought out routine, you will eventually reach your goal. The key here is to not just go at it blindly! Please contact a qualified professional and describe your exact goal then work with them towards accomplishing them! If you are someone who wants to run their first 10k race, it doesn’t help much if you go to the gym and only do resistance training. Alternatively, if you want to increase muscle mass it doesn’t make much sense to go to the gym and only run on a treadmill!
For every different individual goal there is a different methodology and training program that should be used to reach them. Want to discuss your goals with a trainer at Fitness Fusion? Take advantage of our free assessment and make sure you are on the right path to achieve those goals! We are always here to help, so please don’t ever hesitate to reach out with questions!
Thanks for reading! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or e-mail me!