So you've been in the gym for a few weeks, you keep flexing after you get out of the shower, and you feel healthier and more energized. Everything is going great...and this is exactly when you are most vulnerable. When you first start out, everything is new, and you are optimistic. You know that this time, you are gonna commit, this time is the one. But then, after a few weeks, you start to get a bit tired of the same old routines. You dread the feeling of both doing the workouts and the soreness that usually follows. The burn felt so good in the beginning, the aching was a sign you were giving your all...but now it just feels oh so bad.
This is the killer of many a workout routine. It starts with a maybe a missed workout or two. Then, when you get back in the gym, you feel tired and don't really care to finish all your sets, or your rest between sets gets longer and longer. Finally, you stop going altogether, still relishing in the high of those first few weeks where you were optimistic and perhaps unrealistic.
While this is a reality that I myself have struggled with, I have been able to keep a semi-constant routine since I was in college. Now, my past routines didn't exactly make me buff, and there were a few lapses in gym attendance that caused me to start over several times, but hey, at least I kept it going. I also made the mistake of not educating myself in many of my past routines, and focusing too much on machines instead of free weights, which could have been the reason for my stunted performance. Also, my workout rate wasn't quite often enough to foster muscle gains, it just more or less prevented me from becoming weaker.
Now that I've made a bunch of excuses for myself, I'll try to share some things I've learned that may help you in your quest for a perfect beach body:
- Start Off Slow, Concentrate on Form: I've said it before but I'll say it again: don't go into the gym with guns blazing. You may be pumped for a new you, but don't burn out too fast. When you start slowly, it will be easier to foster solid form on your lifts, which will provide the framework for better lifting in the future and prevent injury. It also makes it easier to constantly improve, and improvement (success) makes you feel good, which will make you want to keep going.
- Make a Realistic Schedule: There is about a 100% chance you will eventually quit your workout routine if it doesn't fit in to your life. When I was in college, I would work out at about 9:30 or 10 at night, because I was at school all day and wanted to leave sufficient digestion time after I ate dinner. Now I am a working man and have to go to bed earlier (and I now do stuff at night other than study), so I had to switch to working out right after I got off work. I've read that you should work out in the morning to make it a priority, otherwise you just won't do it. If you are a morning person and/or can't do it later in the day, then go for it. I hate mornings and know for sure that a morning routine wouldn't last, so I don't do it. Remember, you just have to shoot for 3-5 times a week, and your sessions don't even have to be an hour. When you crunch the numbers, that's a mere 1.8% - 3% of your week. You can fit it in, you just have to want it.
- Beware the Workout Partner(s): When you start out, working out with someone sounds great. If they are about on the same level as you, then you can both motivate each other to do more, and especially for guys, just being around another guy or girl makes you want to try harder for ego purposes. This is all good and well in the beginning, but it can also lead to collective laziness. Even if you are on about the same level, one of you is definitely going to be more into it than the other one. After a while, the one who is less into it will start wanting to cut down on the workouts and leave earlier. If the other person doesn't have strong motivation, he or she will cave as well. I think working out with people can be beneficial, but you can't rely on them. It helps if you have your own way to/from the gym so that if they check out early, you can stay.
- Be Skeptical of "Fad Diets": To me, any diet that says you can't eat certain things or that you have to completely cut down on a certain macro-nutrient is trouble (I'm looking at you, low carb and low fat diets). Your body needs fat, protein, and carbohydrates to survive and thrive. It also needs vitamins and minerals. Experts will argue on the optimal ratio of the three macro-nutrients, but the bottom line is that they all need to be there. My rule for dieting is the same as my rule for workout routines: if you can't follow it for the rest of your life, then why bother? I like chocolate cake, I don't want to be without chocolate cake for the rest of my life, so I won't. Now, I don't eat chocolate cake every meal, that would probably be bad (or would it?), but every now and then won't kill me. Of course, what defines "every now and then" is a bigger question. This is where self control comes in. The best way, in my opinion, to stick with a diet is to reduce the chances for temptation. If you can't pass up chocolate cake, then don't keep it in the house. Likewise, just the act of cooking for yourself will cause you to eat healthier and will make you better able to monitor your food intake. Visit my cooking page for other reasons to cook for yourself.
- Don't Get Lured by Fancy Gyms: Gyms, in their purest form, are a good idea. They are places that have purchased a lot of expensive exercise equipment and charge you a small(ish) fee to use it for a little while. I've been living in apartments ever since college, so I usually just use the gym that comes with them since, hey, I'm already paying for it. My workplace also has a gym that I started working out at since it was pretty cheap. The problem with the big, shiny, "super gyms" is that they are, to some degree, just for show. They have a ton of treadmills, ellipticals, bikes, and machines for just about every muscle. Most of the time, the free weight section is off in a small corner, and it is usually the most crowded (because people who lift free weights are people who want results...and get them). When I took a weight training class at my high school, our gym consisted of squat racks, places to do dips and pullups, benches for traditional and upright bench press, a big rack of dumbbells, and a big open floor in the middle where we would do deadlifts, power cleans, etc. It was simple, and it was effective. It was where our football team lifted weights, and they went to the state championship (after I graduated, of course). The bottom line is that you don't need much to get results, so don't waste your money paying for a gym that has more than you need. My goal is to one day make a power rack to do squats and bench press with a barbell in my very own home, it is actually not very expensive when compared to a yearly gym membership. If you don't have the room to do that, then just try to find a gym that has what you need and no more. If you can't afford a gym, look into bodyweight exercises that you can do in your home, or do something like a playground workout.
- Lose the Earbuds: I used to work out with earbuds blasting my favorite tunes, but eventually I found that rocking out while working out didn't really help. At first, concentrating on the music helped take my mind off the discomfort my body was feeling, but after awhile I couldn't really concentrate on the music anymore, so it just became a noise in my ears. Doing something like lifting weights is a very strenuous activity that takes all of your concentration to do properly, so don't waste brain energy on your music, concentrate on your breathing and form. It also improves your situational awareness in the gym or outside, preventing you from injury or death. Lastly, I never really like when other people are in their own little world listening to their music, it just seems kinda rude, and if you want to get their attention you must wave them down.
These are just a few tips that hopefully will help you stick with your workout routine. Just remember, though, that it starts and ends with you. You will have to be the one that decides if you are going to stick with it. It won't be easy, but that's okay, because nothing in this world worth having comes easily.
Unfortunately it won't end either. It needs to become a part of your life as routine as eating. Sure, it can change, and it should. Doing the same workout for years on end will more than likely make you and your muscles pretty bored. You may also need to tailor it as your body changes due to age or injury, but the main goal is to keep doing something.
One final thing to consider that should make you excited: if, on any given lift, you can increase the weight by a mere 5 pounds per week, then you can improve by 260 pounds of the course of a year! Now, you may hit a wall somewhere that will diminish your progress, but the point is that it doesn't have to happen all at once. If you can only lift the bar now, don't fret, because slowly but surely you can make tremendous gains, all you have to do is stick with it, and keep pushing yourself to improve.
Hope you enjoyed this series, let me know in the comments if you liked it or disagreed with it.
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