When it comes to health and fitness most people are all or nothing. They are either generally underperforming or they go all in and decide they need to lose weight, start a fitness routine and improve their health right NOW! For most people this is a bit too much, you should just focus on one element initially and then add in the others as you progress. While these three facets are similar, in that many actions will help all three goals. They are also significantly different enough that the merging of the goals makes the strategies you use ineffective or unnecessary. One of my roles as a personal trainer to ensure the methods you use, are accurate for your specific goals.
An example of this confusion can be seen from the advice to expend energy through aerobic training to lose fat vs what you need to do to get fitter. The former has almost no limit to how much you could do, e.g. even if you ran a marathon I could still say why don’t you walk a bit further to burn some more calories. While running faster (i.e. getting fitter) is almost entirely related to how fast / hard you train and how you vary your training programme over time. The health advice around exercise is based off research where people did 20-30 minutes aerobic activity. This again influences fitness advice as everyone thinks they need to do at least this amount to get any benefits. This is once again not true, you can make nice fitness gains on 10 minute aerobic sessions.
This is not the only area and influence that causes you to follow unnecessary programmes or behaviours. Most fitness advice is influenced by the largest group or highest achievers in that field. Most running advice stems down from marathon runners and most muscle gain methods are derived from professional bodybuilders. The result of both is that you believe you need to put in a lot more time and effort than you actually need to do to get fitter or grow muscle. I think most people I work with are surprised by how little they need to actually do to get fitter when you use targeted techniques.
Getting Specific With Your Fitness
A big issue with fitness is that the different areas of exercise are almost stand-alone events which need to be addressed in different ways. For example, you can go on as many jogs as you like but this will not help to build muscle. Likewise, doing yoga every day will not help your aerobic fitness. This means we need to clarify what you mean when you talk about your fitness.
Another issue is that the term ‘feeling fit’ is not an absolute concept associated with specific measures but an individual term related to how you feel, based on your feelings today compared to how you felt previously. This also often includes how you look in the mirror as well as your general energy levels during the day.
For me it is important to really specify what you are including under your evaluation of feeling fit / fitness. Imagine you successfully commit to exercise twice a week for a month. At the end of this period you are getting less out of breath, are stronger, have more energy all day and feel more flexible but the weighing scales are the same. Most people would probably feel their fitness efforts have been a waste of time yet you did amazing with your fitness, everything has improved! The lack of change in weight has nothing to do with your fitness. Therefore, you should celebrate and continue the good work you did to get fitter while investigating the issues behind losing weight (food intake over a week vs behaviour patterns around food vs overall movement levels). The flip side to this is that you may not care about actual fitness and just want to lose body fat. As you do not need to any traditional exercise to lose fat despite what most people believe you could just get in shape through walking and addressing your behaviours around food. Many of my clients have lost a lot of body fat with very little in terms of ‘real exercise’.
Fitness Requirements for Life
I believe everyone should do fitness and exercise because of how great you will feel and because it will optimise your health and allow you to remain functional into later years.
The following should be achieved by everyone regardless of situation.
-Squat to 90’
-Perform a 360’ lunge.
-Be comfortable supporting/moving your own body weight, e.g. getting up off the floor.
-Walk up a hill without getting out of breath.
On top of that, most people (but not everyone) should be able to –
-Lightly jog for 10 minutes without joint pain
If you are fairly fit, or were in the recent past then the above should be relatively easy to do. Your objectives would be
-(Re)Establish an exercise routine covering aerobic, strength and flexibility in some form.
-Address your weakest areas under within your fitness profile.
-Take everything to the next level up (for you).
For both of these objectives you can normally make a miraculous change within 4-8 weeks. This is especially true if you have done no exercise for years. The body is desperate to move and will quickly respond to an exercise programme. This can also be done without any of that traditional killing yourself approach most people mistake as fitness training.
For people who are already quite fit it is harder to tell you exactly what to do without seeing you but you can also transform how you feel very quickly also. The key is targeting your weaknesses once you are back into a routine and then introducing more sophisticated training methodologies into your programme. I have discussed this previously around my fitness profile test.
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Photo – In the pool when I was in Wales last month before the football. While not mentioned above, I do believe everyone should learn to swim just incase they fall in the water!