Can you keep a secret? I can’t, I’m lousy at it. My loose lips have sunk many a friendship.
Read on because I’m at it again.
There are health professionals out there in cyberspace who claim to have secret methods for you to lose fat, gain muscle and to get your best body ever. All you need to do is hand over some cold hard cash and it’s all yours for $49.99.
Most health professionals (that I know of) go about selling their stuff the right way, so they can change lives and make a living to support their families.
However, there’s a small minority trying to make a buck any way they can by using dubious claims and slick marketing tactics. I’m not going to name names, because they know who are.
These types of things give the health industry a bad name like Bon Jovi gave love a bad name but, I digress.
However, I’m going to let you in on a little-known secret that seems so obvious that you’ll be smacking your hand into your forehead repeatedly saying ‘why, why, why didn’t I think of that.’
Are you ready?
Everything works. Yes, even the Thigh Master.
However, there’s a catch. After six weeks or soon after it will (probably) stop working. The question then becomes, what happens now? This is where a lot people get stuck and then resort to doing crazy stuff to keep the results gravy train going.
No one really tells you those newbie results will eventually disappear like magic.
Why is that? And it’s not magic, it’s actually science.
It’s because of homeostasis. The body, no matter what you throw at it, likes to support a stable internal environment. That’s why no matter how hot or cold it is outside; your body likes to maintain a stable internal temperature of 98.6 degrees.
You can mess with homeostasis (for a while) and get some great results while the tool remains shiny and new but after a few weeks the body recognizes the same stimulus and will shut the door on your gains.
To keep getting results, you need progressive resistance and that’s something a lot of these shiny toys lack.
However, I don’t blame you for being attracted to something that’s sparkly and new. We’ve all been there and done that when we’re trying to get in shape because it’s easy to be seduced by the incredible results they show.
Furthermore, according these ads, it’s as easy as one, two, three to get sexy and ripped but that fantasy land couldn’t be further from the truth. Getting in shape is really hard work and it’s a lot more to it than holding a vibrating dumbbell.
Sorry to burst your bubble.
And if you’re serious about being in shape and are sick and tired of being led down the garden path with all these toys, gadgets, diet books and bio hacks then you need to start focusing on two things.
- Progressive resistance training
- Eating more like an adult and less like a child
Although I’m biased because I love lifting weights and the multitude of benefits it brings, any mode of exercise is great if you enjoy it and do it regularly. However, for the sake of staying in my lane, resistance training is the focus here.
When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of nutrition, these four suggestions are a great place to start.
- Eat more colorful vegetables
- Eat less cheap sources of carbohydrates
- Avoid fats made in a lab
- Eat adequate protein
Nutrition is a touchy subject in which a lot of people dig their heels in but (I think) most people will agree on the four points above.
Instead of standing on my soapbox, I reached out to some health and fitness experts so the next time you’re stuck in your health and fitness journey, these tips and tricks below will keep you progressing so you’re not being lured away by the latest toy, no matter how good it looks.
On the resistance training side, you can (usually) divide people into two camps
- Losing weight
- Gaining muscle
And to do either of those things over time, you need to shake things up occasionally. Andy Van Grinsven, a strength coach in Nashville Tennessee uses density circuits to break a fat loss plateaus.
Andy explains “a density circuit you do a series of exercises back-to-back against a master timer of say 8-12 minutes. This could be anything as simple as bear crawling, kettlebell swings and complexes.
The idea here is to complete as many rounds as possible before the timer goes off. Keep the weight a little light and encourage a safe pace to keep the heart rate elevated. With density training, the goal is to cut rest periods shorter each week.
For example, if after a set of squats, we’re resting 120 seconds between sets, the following week we’ll cut the time to 90 seconds.”
This is a little more difficult than the shake weight, sorry.
However, if your goal is to build strength, mass and look better in front of a mirror, Andy has your back (and front) too.
“I’m a big fan of deliberate pauses/isometric holds, like paused squats, paused bench, paused deadlift variations, or isometric holds in a row. In these exercises you pause in a certain position and hold for a 3-5 count before finishing the rep.
I’m also a fan of cluster sets. A cluster set is when you a lift for 2-3 repetitions, rest a bit (10-20 seconds), do 2-3 more, rest a bit, do some more, then re-rack the weight.”
Cluster sets best done with strength exercises such as squat, deadlifts, pullups and bench press. This is a pretty intense technique to build strength and muscle, limit this to two exercises per session and no more than 10 total cluster sets per session.
If that sounds too intense for you and if you’re willing to put in the hard yards and make steady progress over time, Travis Pollen, a personal trainer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania has a method that’s right up your alley. Pollen explains
“Have a broad definition of progress. Many lifters tend to focus on their one-rep max. They test it often, and as soon as it stops increasing, they jump to a new training program.
The secret, which I learned from Bret Contreras and David Dellanave, is to expand the training focus to a wider rep range for personal records. In this way, you can hit a new PR every workout.
For me, my target rep range is five to ten reps. (But you should feel free to choose whatever your favorite rep range is.) Each session, I do a bunch of warm-up sets on my way to my test weight for the day. Depending on how I’m feeling, some days I’ll go for a new lower-rep PR (5-7 reps).
Other days I’ll shoot for a new higher-rep PR (8-10 reps). After the PR, I’ll do a couple of back-off sets as I’m warming up for the next exercise.
The freedom to go heavier or lighter depending on the day affords me the autoregulation I need to make progress every session, which has been incredibly rewarding.
Granted, the progress has been relatively slow – 10 pounds on a 5-RM here, 20 pounds on a 10-RM there. But I’m okay with that; progress is progress. Broadening my definition allows me to see it, track it, and stay the course,” says Pollen.
And if you’re making progress, you’re more likely to stick with the uncomfortable and shy away from the bright shiny shortcuts.
However, going hard in the gym all the time has its drawbacks, including muscle soreness, boredom and lack of sleep. If this has happened to you, Kevin Mullins an Equinox Master Instructor has an unusual solution.
“Take a day off from your traditional program and go for a long jog, walk or swim. The freeing nature of steady-state cardio is overlooked while people search for the Holy Grail of performance, fat-burning, and muscle-building…at the very least…we should see these sorts of workouts as RESET buttons,” says Mullins.
However, none of the above works if it’s not supported by what you put into your mouth. It’s easy to enough to cut calories for fat loss or increase calories for size, but what does this look like and what do you do when you plateau?
Derek Stanley, a nutrition coach with Stronger U has a solution for these problems.
“If someone is in a weight-loss plateau, it means one thing. Their current calorie intake is equal to or more than their calorie expenditure even if it’s the same intake that has helped them lose weight up to this point. The reason this happens is that our bodies are very adaptable.
As you lose weight, you need less energy to perform the same tasks every day, and you burn fewer calories during exercise. Not to mention, when you’re eating less, you also tend to move less subconsciously throughout rest of the day, so there are lots of things working against you here.
While the most obvious answer is to lower overall calories preferably from carbohydrates and fats, instead I have clients do a “diet break” and increase their calories for a couple of weeks, especially if they’ve been “dieting” for a long period.
This break can serve to offset some of the normal adaptations that come along with a calorie deficit mentioned above, but it can also be a much-needed psychological break from the rigors of dieting.
Then when we get them back into a deficit, they typically break right through the plateau, often at a higher calorie intake than what they were “stuck” on,” says Stanley.
Van Grinsven likes his clients to take a good hard look at themselves and their habits when they’re trying to lose weight. He hits them with this hard question,
“What, if anything, could you change that would make the difference?”
“If the answer isn’t obvious to them, then it’s follow-up questions about anything and everything they eat. Whether that’s a designated conversation or a food diary, I can’t help them unless I know what’s going on.
Sometimes simple substitutions make all the difference: eggs over a bagel for breakfast; a big salad (with light dressing) for lunch vs. their typical sandwich and chips; smaller portion sizes; different snacking options; or even removing that second glass of wine on most nights.
I help them tackle one habit at a time and I don’t try and overhaul their entire dietary life at once because that often isn’t an effective long-term strategy. We pick the low hanging fruit or the obvious issues and tackle those first, then move on to the harder decisions,” says Van Grinsven.
Both coaches suggest when you’re trying to gain weight adding calories to an already balanced diet in the form of calorie dense smoothie with nut butters, protein mix, berries, and leafy greens or a PB&J sandwich.
Shakes, nut butters and the occasional sandwich is a great way to add more calories to your current diet without feeling incredibly full.
The magazine and television ads selling diet books and exercise toys make it look and sound so easy. They claim you don’t have to change your lifestyle much to get outstanding results.
However, that’s not true and they eventually they stop working (if they ever worked at all) and then you’re stuck. It’s better to stick with the superior methods of progressive exercise and eating like an adult.
It will work out better for your wallet, waistline and sanity.