Fitness and the New Year – How to Survive and Thrive in the Gym for 2018

With the storm that is Christmas and New Year blown over, the dust has settled and you are by now hopefully fully recovered and ready to attack 2018 with a sense of vitality, determination and a highly motivated mindset. For many, one of the common New Year’s Resolutions is to quite simply “get in shape”, otherwise phrased as “get fit” or “tone up.” These generic terms are swashed broadly across the blank canvas of your “new year, new me” mantra and while the intent is good, it’s often the lack of a sincere follow-through that prevents people from progressing, or even beginning at all.

At first glance, it’s a daunting prospect to make a serious commitment to changing your outward body appearance. The insecurities and fears that plague many, quickly bubbles to the surface and self-doubt kicks in with questions such as “will I get made fun of or judged in the gym” is prevalent. Combine this with the fact that you’ll need to seriously re-think your current diet plan (regardless of your goal) and you can see why things can unravel rapidly.

On the left, before I set foot in the gym in 2012, on the right a picture taken in July 2017. You vs you.

I’m here to tell you a few truths. As an avid gym goer for the better part of five years, I can assure you that you won’t be judged for entering a gym and trying to better yourself. In fact, people are usually too engrossed in their own workouts to really care or pay attention to what anyone else is up to. The only exception to this is if you’re doing something that could be deemed unsafe to yourself or others. So it boils down to a simple fight; you vs you. It’s a long, hard-fought battle, but one that can result in victory, if you dedicate yourself.

Who Do You Want To Be?

Arnold Schwarzenegger during his peak bodybuilding years.

To begin the journey, Arnold Schwarzenegger provides the key question from his “rules of life” speech; Who do you want to be? (Go ahead and check this highly motivational video out here;Β here). Ask yourself, do you want to be the lazy person who drifts through life mindlessly scoffing junk food into their face as the latest Netflix show airs wondering why nothing is happening in their lives, or would you rather be the successful individual who works extremely hard in order to have the right opportunities presented to them? I’d guess the latter.

Define Your Vision

So why do people fail? In the main, it boils down to the initial motivation and goodwill of the fresh resolution quickly running out of steam if there’s no real plan in place. It’s vital to have it clear in your mind what your goal is. Refer back to the sweeping statements above. “Get fit”. What does this actually mean? Set a goal such as running 20km in a time that’s competitive. “Tone up”. Meaning what exactly? Define it. For me, I was clear in that I wanted to build muscle mass. I was always a skinny kid and found it hard to put on any real weight, despite partaking in plenty of sports and eating what I thought was a lot of food (more on diet later). So this may be your aim as well, or it could be taking off some excess weight ready for a summer holiday, whatever the case may be, get a clear set end goal in your mind.

Plan of Attack

With the end result now firmly established in your head, it’s time to mobilise the processes that will be needed to put together the masterpiece. Over the years, it took me a while to grasp that you need three main things to have a successful body transformation, namely training hard, good nutrition and plenty of rest. So let’s break down each category.

Training

Completing a set of lat pulldowns

Training is the fun part. It might seem hard at first and it will be a complete shock to your system if you’ve never picked up a weight before, but don’t be afraid of the DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness), it’s all part of the growth and journey. Which leads to my next point; using weights. A lot of people are hesitant to move around the iron for fear of ending up “too bulky.” I can assure you, completing a few sets of squats will not suddenly turn you into the Incredible Hulk. Instead, combining weight lifting with cardiovascular exercise, for example, will greatly enhance the rate in which you shed the pounds and will also aid in increasing your fitness levels on the whole.

Finding the correct training programme can be a bit of a challenge. The Internet provides us with such rich content (just look at this blog post) but it’s very easy to find yourself bogged down in a myriad of information which contradicts what you saw ten minutes ago and vice versa. My tip is to keep things simple. I was fortunate to have a best friend guide me in my first months and we were using a variation of a program called Starting StrengthΒ which enabled me to rapidly increase my overall strength whilst introducing me to the most important exercises out there; squat, deadlift and bench press. With that said, gaining size and strength may not be your goal and instead, you might be looking to achieve a more defined physique. I can highly recommend The Cutting Plan by Chase Perfection as I have personally used this to achieve a more lean look for the Summer of 2017 and it’s something I’ll be going back to for 2018 without a shadow of a doubt.

Variety is the spice of life and it rings true in the gym as well. Sticking to the same routine for excessively long periods of time will cause two things to happen. Number one; boredom. Remember where we spoke about the initial motivation wearing out? This is where changing your training plan every so often (12-24 weeks is usually when I try and mix things up) allows you to keep things fresh and fun, so don’t be afraid to experiment. Secondly, your body will get accustomed to what you’re doing and your results will start to plateau, which again will cause your motivation to drop. So think about engaging different variations of exercises every now and then.

Finally, if you don’t have a gym partner and you’re a complete novice, I would recommend putting in some hours with a personal trainer at your gym. They are experienced, friendly and dedicated staff who will be able to direct you in the correct way which will not only see you get the optimum development but also steer you away from injury, which can occur if you train alone without any guidance in your first few weeks and months.

Nutrition

Tupperware is going to become your best friend.

Eating the correct amount of calories per day which are comprised of the necessary macro-nutrients (macros) required in order to promote muscle growth or fat loss is something that can be demanding to say the least. I struggled for roughly two years before I was able to really get my diet to a place I was happy with, in that I was making strength and size gains whilst not resorting to a pizza or takeaway every night. So my lesson to you is simple; get your diet/nutrition organised and perfected as quickly as possible. You’ll need to eat more than you think as well, which is why “meal prep” is something to get into the habit of quickly. As an example, I come home from the gym and prepare my cooked meal for that night, as well as my second and third meals for the next day. The work you put in the kitchen can either enhance your training to whole new stratospheres, or it can hinder your workouts to such a degree that you’ll be caught “spinning your wheels”, i.e. making no progress. There are plenty of free to use calorie calculators online that can give you an estimate of the total calories and required macros that you’ll need, but ultimately a degree of experimentation will be required. In addition, there are thousands of recipes online that can provide alternatives to the usual chicken, broccoli and rice combination, so don’t get discouraged. A final point to make, going to the gym brought me the ability to be able to cook for myself, which is an invaluable life skill, so if nothing else, this is another great positive to glean.

And…Relax

Adequate rest is a must

The good news is, that you’ll probably be quite tired from this new lifestyle so sleep won’t be much of a problem! It is important however to note that a good eight hours of rest will be required in order to fully maximise the gains that you’ll be making in the gym.

Armed now with the tools and experiences that I have been through, make sure that 2018 is the year where you are able to follow through with your plans and make a real change – your body will thank you for it. Trust me. Finally, remember to be kind to yourself; you’re embarking on a life-changing adventure that will have its fair share of ups and downs so don’t sweat the small stuff, just stay dedicated, focussed and committed and you will get there.

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