How to Succeed in Your Fitness Journey to Becoming the Body Beautiful

It’s very probable you’ve already read a dozen such blog posts as this. Go on, open another browser tab and look at some new shoes. You’re already bored of what I’m about to say. Except you can’t possibly know what I’m about to say because I’m unhinged. I’m the Martin Riggs of fitness. You might need to Google ‘Lethal Weapon’. And you’ll want to skip Mr Gibson’s less than savoury historical remarks. I digress. Yeah, I’m a Kosher Riggs. When he was lovable.

Where was I? Oh yeah—this isn’t another motivational blog post with the bog-standard rules about getting fit and how to do it in 5 reps. Nope. I can’t lie to you about all that nonsense. Getting fit isn’t a bloody soundbite—it’s a mission. And it’s not easy; if it was, everybody would be in good shape and I wouldn’t feel the pressing urgency to write more blog drivel. But I am, so lace up your gutties* and stare with utter disdain at those bronzed Instagram airheads. It’s time for a ride.

*Gutties (noun): Scottish slang for sneakers or training shoes

To quote Chuck Palahniuk, “You are not a unique and beautiful snowflake”. Well, if you are, you probably suffer from a genetic birth disorder or life has otherwise altered your capacity for activity. I can say that without fear of reprisal—I have my nerve damage and use a leg brace. I’m still not unique, though. Mobility impaired, but otherwise I still have goals. And all humans have the same initial propensity to achieve those goals. So, what is it that makes it so damn hard to be just like Dwayne Johnson or every other body beautiful icon?

Time. “Time is the fire in which we burn” (Delmore Schwartz, though, more famously used in a Star Trek TNG movie). Today’s a day of stealing quotes. To achieve an incredible physique takes time. We’re not simply talking years of toil. It’s the hours per day, days per week. If you want the physical appearance of a demi-god, you better hope you can work out for 2-3 hours a day, 4-6 days a week. The exquisitely honed forms you see on the big screen, or more likely these days, on your own streaming device, are a product of fantasy. Fantasy and investment. I have nothing against Dwayne Johnson. In fact, I hope he reads this, learns I have a book in the works and wants to play the title character. He’d actually work. Dwayne, or Jason Momoa. Henry Cavill would be great but he’s white. Damn shame, Cavill’s a PC geek like me that does weights. But the lead role is dark-skinned. Come on guys, email me…. Anyway, what Hollywood provides to us as perfect body image is practically unobtainable for the average Joe and Jane. You have a 9-5 job, maybe kids. A small yappy dog that needs walking. You need to fit in your online gaming/gambling/shopping addiction. In short—time is of the essence. Let’s not forget, most folks don’t have a home gym. Even if you do, it’s probably not fit for purpose. Nor will it give you the scope of activity to make you worthy of your seat on Mount Olympus. That means going to a gym. Good god, the thought of it… A public gym. The fact that most celebs that look awesome train for hours a day means time is the first barrier to your own success. So, how do us mere mortals achieve our goals?

Get Realistic. Get used to being a homogenous humanoid flesh sack. You need to look at the life you have now and decide what time you can sacrifice to the gods to allow you to focus on your physique. If you can only offer one hour a day, three days a week, you’ll need to rein in those aspirations. Or, take a lot of steroids. DON’T DO THAT! In fairness, even pro-bodybuilders (who absolutely do use anabolic drugs) train for 2-3 hours per day, 4-6 days per week. And they train hard. If you don’t feel comfortable with the idea of vomiting after each workout, you’ll never be a proper bodybuilder. It’s incredibly icky. So, you need to be realistic about what you can achieve. Even if you don’t desire the build of a condom stuffed with walnuts and you decide upon a simple six-pack, you’re in for a shock. ALL muscular stereotypical templates require huge sacrifice. So, you ask, what can I achieve?

Athleticism. To weigh as much as a normal man or woman and look ‘fit’ is the pinnacle of fitness aesthetics. To be a man-mountain requires a hefty weight penalty. If you and Dwayne had to cross a rickety wooden bridge, I’d make him go second. Though, of course, that would prove awkward unless he wanted to wrestle and you brought a gun. Point is, being light and looking good is achievable. Imagine not having to turn sideways to walk through a narrow doorway. See? There are benefits to not being built like a brick shithouse. Making your ideal physique an achievable goal is the first step on your fitness journey. Dreams are wonderful things but you need to understand they are only dreams. So very few of us get what we want. But, if you can focus on something you can actually achieve, when you get there, you’ll feel on top of the world. But… it still requires graft.

Effort. You’ve scheduled your training time. You can do 4 hours a week. Guess what? Yup, those four hours must count. You want to look amazing? You’ll need to work out until you feel so far from amazing it hurts. If you wanted a health outcome, that’s great. It’s so easy to be healthy you practically only need to walk at a brisk pace for 30 minutes a day. Whoop! Bronze star for you. Healthy and looking ‘okay’? All you need is mediocre effort with some push ups, squats and what-not thrown in. Silver star for you. If you wish to achieve the Gold award, you need to put in some top-level effort. Again, people who look good, no matter how odious they are, train hard. If you can only train for four hours a week and you want maximum return on your investment, you need to train near maximum as well. But what is maximal effort?

Failure. I’ve not quoted someone for quite some time. Let’s quote Mythbusters. Particularly Adam Savage.

Failure is always an option.

But more, in application of effort in exercise, failure is everything. Now, I’m not suggesting you die on a treadmill or burst into flames on a rowing machine. That’s not failure—that’s voodoo. But to push your body until it cannot complete a set of 10 reps… that my friend, is failure. And it means you have pushed the system beyond its energy or strength threshold. What does that mean? Apart from being really sore for a day or two, it means you pushed the limits to the point your physiological feedback mechanisms will try to compensate. Whaaaaat? Yeah, it’s a bit technical. However, in brief, when you ask your body to perform beyond its limits, biological mechanisms will be put into play that will try and adapt to the new stress. The way your body adapts to physical stress is to become ‘fitter’ for that purpose. You become stronger, or develop more endurance, depending upon the training stimulus. Sounds awesome. But there is one massive caveat.

Fuel and nutrition. If you don’t know already, athletes and bodybuilders have the most boring and dull diets. Body fat and muscle mass are intrinsically tied to the stuff you cram into your mouth. You don’t need any supplements to look good. I mean, that’s a separate article and by god that industry is the devil. Stay well away from it. But you do need to eat well. A diet rich in lean meat and starchy carbohydrates is essential. More, you‘ll need to dispense with the pleasures of cheesecake and pizza unless your calorie expenditure is higher than the GDP of a small nation. In short, if you want to look really good, your diet needs to become really strict. As in, awful and dull strict. I also need to address the vegans among us. A vegan diet is incredibly beneficial if done well but it is a challenge. Anyone who says otherwise is a stooge. But if you choose that path (and I absolutely praise you for it) please do your research. Now, you train hard and your diet is good. What next?

Patience. We’re not building Lego here. The only things that grow fast are plants, fungi, and national debt. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day. Of course it wasn’t—that’s a stupid expression. My garden fence wasn’t even built in one day. Idiots. Not my contractors, the philosopher that came up with the Rome example. A city, in one day? That’s just lame. Patience is required. I’ve mentioned calorie burn rate in previous posts. I’ll not repeat them here. Yeah—go trawl through my blog. I took the time to write it, you can take the time to find it. The penultimate challenge is being patient. Building muscle takes time. Burning fat takes time. Fine tuning your diet to get that balance takes time. In short, ironically, it takes a long time. And the farther you are from your goal, the more patience you’ll require to get there. It will be worth it. Yet, there’s a niggle bothering you. I said patience is the penultimate challenge. As Yoda said: There is another.

Relapse. It will happen. You’ll see gains for a while and then they’ll stop. You’ll question your approach. You’ll doubt your application, your desire. You’ll say, “Ah, screw this!” and then plunge head first into a pizza laden with so many toppings the delivery guy pulled a groin strain delivering it. Pizza first, then a cheesecake, fifteen beers and a night in the garden arguing with squirrels and fighting sparrows. Never fight sparrows, their sheer numbers will overwhelm you. And the squirrels will steal your smartphone and take candid pics and send them to your mum. That’s the worst part of relapse—we’ve all been there. Your geographic location may require a change of animal voyeur. I pity those with bears for neighbours. Or raccoons. Or skunks. I saw a Skunk while on vacation in downtown Vancouver once. Truly weird.

But don’t worry. Relapse is normal. In fact, as a fitness professional with 26 years-experience, I can say that if you don’t relapse, you’re a liar. It’s human nature to question the futility of endeavour. But it’s also human nature to overcome that doubt. I mean, look at you now, you’ve read almost 1800 words of drivel posted by a guy you don’t even know. By the gods, you must have some crazy mental stamina. I know you will succeed.

Ultimately, the key to achieving fitness success is to understand the challenges you face and to ensure your aspirations are practical. Set yourself a realistic goal. Set aside a few hours a week to work on that goal. Forgive yourself your slips and relapses and climb straight back on that unruly steed. You’ll get there in the end; you’ll ride onto the savannah of success. And in that amber sunset, with the hot breeze on your face, Dwayne might even be there too. He’ll pat you on the back. Say how well you’ve done. And you’ll both stare into the sunset. Just don’t look at his arms. Or his shoulders. Remember, you achieved your goal. But you’ll never be Dwayne.

Weight Loss Shortcuts – A Harsh Truth

Let me spoil the moment. There are none. I figured a rolling intro about what you can and can’t do would be unfair. At the end of the post the message would be the same—there are no short cuts to losing weight. Well, of course, there are; however, those would be dependent on what I mean by weight. An arm weighs a fair few pounds. A leg even more. That old saying, ‘an arm and a leg’—well, that would be a shortcut. Not very practical. Not very good at all.

So, to explain why there is no shortcut, you need to understand the basic facts. One pound of fat (a very small volume of blubber) contains approximately 3700kcal. Your mileage may vary on that amount depending where you read, but that’s closer to what I learned at University. One pound—3700kcal. Got that number logged in the jogger’s noggin’? Good, because, as Hudson says so eloquently in Aliens, ‘stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.’ Running a marathon—a 26 mile slog—will consume roughly 2700kcal for your average 11-12 stone (154-168lbs, or 70-76Kg) runner. That leaves spare change on that 3700kcal. Now imagine the feeling. You’ve completed the challenge you pestered all your friends about; and, pestered further for sponsorship to raise money for that puppy shelter. What do you do? You celebrate. A great meal, cake, lots of cake, and maybe some fizz, or beer, or wine (or all of them). In your moment of celebratory glory, you shovel 3000kcal of joy down your throat. And, let’s be honest—you deserve it. I mean, it’s madness, running on a road for 26 miles. Sheer madness. You need something to make it feel worth your while.

Given the marathon example for calorie burn, you see that one measly pound of fat supplies all the energy you need to run one event, with change to walk home afterwards. If you understand physiology, you’ll be shouting at me about energy debt (EPOC – excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) but I’ll get to that. In the meantime, consider the lard family. There are 14 pounds in a (UK) stone. Fourteen marathons+ of energy in one stone of bodyfat. Working in gyms for 25 years, I’m used to hearing the plea, ‘I need to lose a stone in four weeks’. One stone of that useless (it’s not actually, but let’s pretend it is) button-popping soft body armour contains about 52,000kcal. Let’s look at that. 52,000kcal in one stone. Four weeks = 28 days. Divide them. Go on. Be afraid. It amounts to a daily kcal count of 1850 (rounded, no pun intended). To lose one stone in four weeks, you need to dump 1850kcal per day. Yikes.

Can it be done? Yes, but it’s extreme. Without considering EPOC (I said I’d explain later), you’d need to run 19 marathons in four weeks to burn 52,000kcal. One stone, four weeks… 19 marathons. Go back and read the title of this post. It’s right there. So, you’re depressed, I get it. I’ve got a lockdown belly. Probably have an extra 7 pounds of blubber around my waist. I’ve got a bad leg so cardio’s out for me. I’ll need to watch my intake to work on that. Do some mind-numbingly boring resistance training. Maybe buy some heavy cans of beer. Lifting a heavy bag, laden with beer, is still resistance work. I’ll get it where I can find it. Leave me be.

Now, in truth, I wouldn’t recommend people try to aim so high as one stone in four weeks. Our industry tends to recommend 1-2 pounds per week. A more manageable 3700-7400kcal/week, or 530-1050kcal/day. How can you drop 530 kcal from your diet, every day? Want a picture to help?

Isn’t it fun learning how bad things are?

The easiest way to do this is to lower your intake AND start doing more activity. Altering your diet will bring faster results but long term you need to make sure you do it right. Dieting is a bad word. It’s very much like exercise in that respect. Neither of them is fun and I assure you, people who go on about either need to find a more pressing concern. If you want free advice—drop 250kcal from your daily intake, or in food friendly language, something as trivial as a few less biscuits a day. Look at the pictures above… they have meaning. You can Google other munchables, and there are plenty of websites that can match calories to foods.

What about activity? Yawn. Well, if you manage to drop 250kcal from not chowing down on that packet of crisps you definitely didn’t need, you can burn off 250kcal in about 30-40 minutes of moderate activity. And that’s over the whole day. You don’t need to rack those hours in at the gym. Four, ten-minute bouts would do. A brisk walk to buy your beer. A brisk walk back. Or, don’t buy that beer (heresy!!!). Housework, a spot of gardening, chores, or if you do have a fetish for Lycra and sweaty pavilions of pain; sure, go to the gym.

Simple choices make the most difference and you don’t need to brag to (or bore) your friends about your new gym routine. Just one piece of advice—don’t do things you would never normally do; you’ll probably fail. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it. Imagine Nike’s evil twin’s plan for marketing: Just Don’t Do It! Make it simple, make it achievable. Don’t commit to failure.

Now, I said I’d mention EPOC. Very basically, when you burst into a high energy mode, your body lags behind with the energy delivery system. Ever wonder why when you stop running, you pant for ages afterwards? Energy debt. So, when you perform a long duration, moderate to high intensity activity, your body keeps ticking at a higher rate long after you stop. EPOC: excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. The harder you push, the higher the debt. It’s the theory behind HIIT training. But HIIT classes only work if you actually train at a very high intensity. If you book two classes back to back—you’re doing it very wrong indeed. Go home instead and climb the stairs for 30 minutes, you’ll get a work-out and keep the Chihuahua company.

It’s good to remember that the above number: 500kcal/day deficit (less food, more activity) will drop ONE pound of fat per week. Double the effort to make it two pounds. That’s still seven weeks to lose a stone. You want to lose two stone? You need a long-term game plan. Or, at least, you need to commit to that change. Shortcuts are for losers. I mean it. You can’t treat your body as though it’s a trash bin and then hope to fix it because you need to slide into that dress, or wear that tuxedo. Does anyone actually wear a tuxedo?

The best way to avoid taking shortcuts, is to avoid getting into that position in the first place. There are no quick fixes if your goal is to lose some weight. The silver lining is that when you get there, you know you can do it, so you can do it again. Though, that’s not encouragement to go on a yo-yo binge & diet plan. And running twenty marathons a month is also a bad suggestion. Common sense, long term thinking and you’ll be good in no time, I mean, months from now.

Weight Loss for Cynics

This post is longer than normal. And more serious, while still being cynical. Be warned, humour drought ahead.

There are two types of people in the world: Healthy cynics, and everyone else. To be cynical isn’t a bad thing. It’s a suspicion radar, a ‘ping’ that tells you to check something out. But you have to be careful. Cynicism works on a scale of human stupidity. Gullibility lies at one end; extreme paranoia at the other. I’m centre-right, only trusting what I can investigate, or what is clear common sense. Of note, Flat-earthers don’t belong on this scale. That’s another trip altogether, beyond paranoia and conspiracy. We’re not going there. But for reference, this is the family bubble:

Gullibubbles on the left, Cynispheres on the right.

The weight-loss industry relies on an individual’s gullibility. It doesn’t work well on cynics. Cynics tend to question things, read the instructions and discover the nonsense in the PR blurb. To illustrate, there is an incredible piece of marketing magic, universally used by slimming and diet products. It is this one single line (and to be fair, it is genius):

This product will only aid weight-loss as part of a calorie-controlled diet

What that actually means is:

This will only work if you change everything else as well

It wouldn’t work in car safety:

Keeps your family safe from accidents—as long as you don’t crash

Or for arms dealers:

This armoured vest will keep you safe—as long as nobody shoots you

Be a cynic. Read the labels. There’s also another word that is heavily involved in the marketing of any weight-loss or health supplement. One tiny word: May. As in:

This product may help you…  <and really, once they have said, ‘may’, you can insert any bunch of crap right here>

I mean, we can add the two monolithic quantifiers together and you’ll see how ridiculous the concept is:

This product may aid weight-loss if you are on a calorie-controlled diet

Well, pass me that burger Sherlock, hold the poop.

The industry relies on maintaining some semblance of mystery about weight-loss. It absolutely tries to bamboozle you with science. Except, as someone who studied Sports Science at University, and has spent 25 years in the fitness biz, I can tell you this: it’s all crap. What follows is known by everyone. My ageing Chinchilla understands it. My coffee cup knows it. It’s such a basic premise, the industry needs to polish it to make it sexy. But it’s not. It’s dull. And it’s a fact:

Consume fewer calories; expend more energy, and weight loss will follow

There are caveats to that statement but the basis is valid. So, if you had a stable but hefty weight issue, (i.e. not gaining pounds) all you need to do is obey the above rule. If you were getting heavier, you may need to cut even more calories, or do more activity, but the fact remains.

Instead of giving you the truth, the industry relies on pseudo-science. Pseudo-science is a special branch of science in the same way that astrology sounds like astronomy. In other words, it’s not science at all. PR companies will use terms they have often coined themselves, or they’ll float actual science but wrap it up in a shell of shiny nonsense. They need to do this because it makes it sound more legitimate. I mean, if you look at the logic of it all (or lack thereof), what the weight-loss industry is trying to do is sell you their calories, when all you need to do is cut down. Weight-loss should save you money, not cost more!

But that’s where the cynicism works, or more, it doesn’t for them. They need a gullible audience. And they can use special tactics to make you a little more susceptible to their marketing ploy. This is the sinister side of things, where you are socially manipulated to loathe yourself for having a spare tyre. Well, it used to work that way. Nowadays, social media fills that role. A whole host of awful people will gladly prance about to make you feel inferior. Shiny, plastic, vacuous personalities exist to make you question your own body image. It’s a trade-off for the ages: what was once done by weight-loss pros is now performed by social media bandits, all of them after your cash. And once you stare at that small phone screen and see buns of steel and glorious abs, you might cry a little into your chocolate fudge lasagne. So, you promise to be a better person and lose some weight. You turn to the industry, and it welcomes you with open arms. Nutrition companies will sell you expensive Bam-Bam Nuggets, filled with protein and despair. Online Personal Trainers will take your cash and give you a diet & exercise plan that they’ll say is personalised to you. Hint—if an online PT doesn’t communicate personally with email – there’s nothing personal about it. Regardless, nobody will tell you the truth. None of them care to educate you. Because they know that when you learn how to lose weight, their industry is finished.

So, how do you lose weight? Well, for only 50 bucks… Kidding! I’ll lay it out right now, right here. Professional advice without any sugar-coating or a plastic wrapper. This is weight-loss for a 21st century cynic. And, of course, none of it’s easy.

  1. Stop snacking. You’re a human being, not a cow—you don’t need to graze.
  2. Learn to appreciate hunger. Constant eating is bad for our bodies. Fasting is good.
  3. Become a Fibre fan. Eat more plant-based foods that require some effort. That’s why we have molars—to grind food into a more digestible pulp. Fibre also works wonders inside of you.
  4. Eat slowly, take your time. Your body has got a terrible ‘tank full’ gauge. If you shovel food, you’ll fail. You’ll feel fuller, if you eat slower. Drink water with a meal to amplify the boredom.
  5. Cut down on:
    • Sugar. Look at the food label. If a product has more than 10g of sugars per 100g, put it down. Sugar is nasty. Tastes awesome. It’s the crack-cocaine of the food world. You should feel guilty for splurging on the white stuff. Cut it out. Every time you eat sugar, a Unicorn dies.
    • Fat. If it sizzles and drips, it’s fat (or possibly plastic, and you should NOT eat that). Full of calories. When you eat fat, a cute Amazonian species goes ‘pooft!’. Actually, if you eat Brazilian beef (most animal fats come in meat form), you’re probably displacing animals and indigenous people.
    • Dairy. Cheese is basically just fat and protein. If you want to be weaned off it, think of it as though a cow pooped a solid block of milk. Milk Poo. The white dung.
    • Booze. My personal failing. I like beer. But booze is liquid food. Not very nutritious food. But, if you want very unhealthy advice, which if you follow, you’re a fool, and you can’t sue me—if you know you’re going to have some cans, reduce your calories elsewhere.

These are just a few things that will help. You need to work on all of them to succeed. Doing one or two should have an impact but follow them all and your chances are far greater. In fact, technically, if you do all of the above in good faith—I guarantee you’ll succeed. If you don’t, you’re not being honest with yourself.

There are a few more radical things you can do. I’ll call them the Nuclear Options. These are big red reset buttons that will require substantial life changes (and further guidance).

The Exercise Tactic. Eat what you want but exercise as if your life depended on it. Because it will. One hour of hard graft for your average Joe will expend about 750 calories (very rough guide). That will get trashed by a single Big-Mac meal. Or one-and-a-half choc-chip muffins.  You want to eat Snickers all week? Then run a marathon every day. (See what I did there?).

Calorie Arithmetic. Tedious, but methodical. Count your calorie intake—all of it! You’re liable to fail, because you’ll not remember ‘that small wafer’. Even though you ate fifteen of them. You need to count everything. But there are Apps that can help you. For average Joe, consume <1800 kcals/day. For average Jane, drop to 1500 kcal/day. AND, be active.

Learn to Cook. Seriously, it’s a manual task, so you’ll burn calories while you prep your own dinner. You’ll also find the goodness in raw ingredients and learn that plastic packaging doesn’t grow in the ground. Who’d have thought it? Potatoes aren’t cuboids. And Bechamel isn’t in Lord of the Rings.

Become Vegan. It’s very difficult to be a true vegan and be fat. Or have friends. Kidding!!! But seriously, as drastic as this is, it’ll work, but it needs serious commitment to succeed. Veganism is more than a dietary choice for many. Kudos to them for that.

Now, of course, I never said it was easy. That’s why you’re probably already looking at some weight-loss chocolate bars. Hey, guess what—it won’t work. Fads don’t work. If all you can do is remember the simple equation, you’ll have a head start. And you can save your hard-earned cash. Remember:

Consume fewer calories; expend more energy.

Prove the cynic in me wrong.