After a holiday season full of indulgence, you are motivated to start 2020 off on the right foot.
Regardless of all that enthusiasm, most New Year’s resolutions fall off by mid-February.
The statistics are grim — according to U.S. News & World Report, 80 per cent of New Year’s resolutions fail before Valentine’s Day.
I have worked with hundreds of men and women, many of whom have shared similar stories of setting goals to improve their fitness, failing to reach them and being left to blame their lack of willpower.
Your willpower is not the reason you’re not achieving your goals. The problem is the unrealistic plan of action.
Luckily, this year you’re going to do things differently with a better approach.
This is the year you make sweeping changes and love the way you look, feel and perform.
Toss aside the pink dumbbells, scrap the fad diets and let’s do this thing right. And it starts with lifting heavy weights.
Thanks to the popularity of Crossfit and celebrities such as Kate Upton adopting weight training, it’s becoming more commonplace as a means to lose weight.
But there’s still many who won’t step foot in a weight room for fear of putting on too much muscle.
So, let’s dispel that myth right off the bat.
Muscle is very hard to put on.
You could deliberately make every effort to bulk up and end up getting toned instead.
(Yes, the changes you want would come fastest if you attempted to put on muscle, funny enough).
Any muscle you do gain is gradual so there will always be plenty of time to adjust the plan if you’re fearing size gain.
But don’t confuse the burn in the gym and the pump that follows with actual muscle gain. It’s not that immediate.
But here’s why you should make building muscle a focus in 2020.
Muscle helps get (and keeps) you lean.
As Charles Staley wrote in an article for T-Nation, there are a host of benefits to working to put on muscle.
The training required to build additional muscle requires calories and carbs, both to perform, and also to recover from.
Once put on, this new muscle requires you to expend additional energy on a daily basis simply to maintain it.
When you have more muscle, all activities are easier to perform, making it likely that you’ll do more of these activities, which of course, requires additional energy.
Gaining as much muscle as possible has a powerful impact on metabolic rate. Do it for the carbs if nothing else (lol).
With that theme of 2020 in mind, here are five things to do less of this year and get better results.
1 – Don’t Be Scared Of Getting Bulky (Hint: It’s not that easy to do)
I’ve worked really hard over the years to get women to focus on getting strong, but a lot of them still fear lifting weights because of this myth they’ll end up looking like a steroid-filled bodybuilder. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
Heck, look around your commercial gym and see all the men actively trying to bulk up who aren’t getting anyway (they should get a coach ;)). It takes a lot of time, effort and food to add appreciable size.
You won’t get “toned and tightened” (for lack of better words) if you’re using super light weights and never challenging yourself.
You will see those changes over time when you lift weights relatively heavy for you.
Use weights that allow you to do between 8 and 15 reps per set on average, ending up close to failure on the last set.
2 – Stop Focusing Only On Weight Loss
If your goal is weight loss, you’d actually benefit from focusing on fat loss, and the way to do that is a good diet paired with weight training and less fixation on the scale itself.
The optimal way is to lose MOSTLY fat and MAINTAIN (or even gain) muscle. This sets you up with a higher BMR than if you’d just starved yourself to reach a number, and you’re less likely to rebound that way.
You do this by pairing a calorie deficit with strength training and a side dish of cardio. Plus, weight training can double as cardio if done in a way that challenges you.
When you’re lifting heavy (relative to your own strength again) and moving your body through space, your heart has to work just as hard as it does on the treadmill.
That isn’t to say that cardio doesn’t deserve a place in your workout routine. But it shouldn’t be the only focus.
3 – Stop Obsessing Over Your Abs
Breaking news: everyone has a six-pack; you just have to whittle away enough fat to uncover it, and that’s typically driven by diet.
With heavy strength training, your abs get a ton of work as it is. Try squatting without bracing your abs (actually, don’t, because you’ll fall flat on your face).
If you want to train them to improve your core strength, simply finish your workout with an exercise or two for a handful of sets in the 15 to 20 rep range a few times a week. No need to dedicate an entire day to abs.
Take caution when training your abs with weights, too. Oddly, I see a lot of this in the gym. But the waist is comprised of muscles and muscles respond to heavy weights by getting bigger gradually over time, so you may be hurting your cause if a thin waist is the goal.
Stick with bodyweight ab exercises or machines that allow you to do 15-30 reps per set at a moderate weight.
4 – Spend Less Time in Group Fitness Classes
Remember, you want muscle in 2020 for the reasons listed above, and excessive aerobic exercise isn’t building you up in that fashion unless there’s a weight component.
By all means, keep doing it for the cardio and social element, but you’d benefit from spending a bigger chunk of your time lifting weights and walking.
This is particularly relevant for women in menopause who have lowered progesterone and estrogen. Your body can’t handle the stressors of high intensity exercise classes for long durations like it may have been able to in your 20s and 30s. You need to manage stress and take a “less is more” approach to exercise.
For more on the approach I’d recommend for women in menopause, watch this video
5 – Don’t Punish Yourself With Exercise
Exercise shouldn’t be used as a tool to burn calories alone.
In fact, even if you track how many calories were burned during a workout, it’s often wrong.
A study at Stanford University took a look at seven different devices to check their accuracy. The results showed that the most accurate of them was off by an average of 27 per cent and the least accurate by 93 per cent.
The bigger issue? Many users think they can “eat back” the calories burned from exercise. Do you see the problem with that? The number isn’t accurate to begin with, and that’s now how metabolism works anyway. It’s not a simple input:output mathematical machine. The human body is complicated and no one is the same as another.
The point here is this – exercise to better your day-to-day life, not as a punishment tool to lose weight.
There’s a mountain of evidence linking weight training to improvements in strength, mood, anti-aging and metabolism.
There’s no better example of this misguided viewpoint of exercise than the recent backlash over Peloton’s holiday ad—depicting an already fit-looking mom who is just a little too excited to get a stationary bike for Christmas.
Optics being what they are, I think the ad is completely misunderstood. Many have cast the husband as an abusive partner who forces his thin wife to exercise obsessively in order to shed a few pounds.
Seriously? That is how limiting people’s view of exercise is – it is seen as a vehicle to lose weight and nothing more. But an active lifestyle is about so much more than that.
It’s about reducing stress and increasing productivity. It’s about respecting the body we live in to treat it right. It’s about mental and physical health.
The actor, so far as I could tell, was enjoying the bike for her own reasons, to feel strong, gain energy and confidence. It’s not about weight loss – or at least, it doesn’t have to be forever.
Maybe that’s what gets you started – shedding weight to lose some pounds and fit your old pair of jeans – but the “promised land” of fitness is something completely different.
The promised land is where exercise becomes a part of your identity – where you can take on any challenge life throws at you.
Exercise is the launching pad to a life fulfilled in many ways.
The majority of my clients are committing to fitness for themselves, because of its health benefits, allowing them to get off pharmaceutical drugs, reducing blood pressure and anxiety, and lowering the risk of disease.
The nice thing is, when you approach fitness in this way, the weight loss takes care of itself and you end up loving the way you look.
So, this year, go lift more weights and thank me later.
Mitch Calvert is a Winnipeg-based fat loss coach for men and women like his former self. Obese in his 20s, he now helps clients find their spark and lose weight the right way and keep it off for life. To inquire about his all-new Beach Vacay Belly Blast coaching intake this month, visit workwithmitch.ca