How To Start Exercising Tomorrow And Still Be Going In Four Weeks
Creating A Successful Training Strategy
A successful training program would be one that will be implemented tomorrow and still adhered to in four weeks.
Provided it meets these two requirements, I couldn’t be less worried about whether it’s based on linear or undulating periodization, how maximal recoverable volume is being assessed, or even if it looks good on paper (actually, I like things to look good on paper). Implementation is way more important than any other principle of exercise science, yet it is often overlooked.
I wear two hats when it comes to training. One is the baseball cap facing backward while I train clients in the gym, and the other is a top hat that matches my lab coat for when I am developing strategies for online clients (note: I only wear the lab coat for Skype consults).
In the gym, I train clients with resistance training, metabolic conditioning, and some steady-state training. It’s a blend of training that can increase strength, mobility, and fitness, while also stimulating fat loss and muscle gain with the right nutrition program.
As I mentioned on Instagram earlier this week, that is the area I have practiced and refined my knowledge in, and I don’t vary it too much. You won’t find me doing any crazy kettlebell exercises or doing boxing training with my clients, because that’s not my area of expertise.
But that is not the only way my clients exercise, and there are certainly ways we can achieve body recomposition goals without using the above methods. In fact, I manage a number of clients who use different training methods instead of, or an in addition to, the training blend above such as running and other sports.
Despite never assigning a personal training client treadmill running, I have had helped online clients with running goals ranging from a work fitness test (5km), the New York Marathon (42km), and the Pennine Way (437km).
I also have clients playing a range of sports, at a range of levels, each with a unique set of training and lifestyle requirements.
As an Exercise Scientist, I can use the principles of human physiology, sports science, and exercise programming to manage their training load and progress towards their goals.
But the client who fascinates me is the person starting from scratch. They have no recent training, but they want to increase their fitness and improve their body composition. I want to set these clients up on the right path.
Even if they don’t train with me forever, or use my exact training methods long term, the benefits of getting them accustomed to correct exercise technique and explaining the fundamentals of exercise science can pay off in the long term.
However, not everyone is in a position to hire a trainer or some people hate gyms. For them and anyone who is interested, I am going to outline the requirements of setting up a training program that you will not only do tomorrow but keep doing next week. You can use any training method you like, just follow the principles outlined below.
Seek Mastery, Not Fun
Exercise is hard – your legs and lungs often feel as if they are on fire and your trainer just keeps adding fuel to the mix. To make matters worse, the next day you awake from a much-needed sleep to find those previously burning muscles are now rock solid and feel as if they have been stabbed with one-thousand pins.
While many people find exercise enjoyable or rewarding, don’t go in there expecting it to be ‘so much fun’. The rewards of exercise come from making progress towards mastering a skill or fitness capacity, instead of the training itself being a pleasurable experience.
I have more clients leave the gym happy after a tough session where they achieved something new, than after a session where we chatted and had a good time. Despite telling me ‘they will never speak to me again’ after the hard session, it’s common to report being happy with progress or feeling good for the rest of the day, as we recap during the warm up of their next session.
Besides, my conversation is not worth $130 per session.
At the beginning of any training regime, you will make progress just by turning up and trying to do a little more than you did last time. The body makes rapid adaptations during the initial stages of new exercise, which is a great motivator for new trainees.
This means you don’t need to be too scientific about your training. If you turn up and push yourself to a level of fatigue, next time you try that it should be a bit easier or you can go a bit further. You often have a choice between easier and further, always select further.
Feeling Comfortable In The Gym, Mentally
Before we get to the point of making rapid gains in the gym or running around the lake, we need to get comfortable being seen attempting to achieve these goals. Getting a client comfortable in the gym is the most important aspects of private coaching.
I start my training sessions with a 5-minute warm up on the exercise bike, and this is particularly important for new clients. The idea is to get them exercising, yes, but also comfortable in the gym environment. Many people avoid gyms because of the stereotypical figures such as meathead personal trainers, selfie taking fitness babes, and the monster powerlifter who might consume you for a mid-workout snack.
People don’t want to be judged by these stereotypes. More specifically, they don’t want to make a mistake and look foolish in front of these 'experts'.
The fear of rejection sabotages a lot of endeavours from public speaking to never launching a business, and it has also claimed many potential weight loss journeys that never began because of this fear. The key to overcoming this fear is inoculation - the more time you spend in the gym the less power it has. It doesn't even need to be time spent lifting weights, just time.
I have had 5-minute warm ups for new clients turn into 15-20 minute rides, as I progressively talk them through their initial discomfort in the gym environment. I wouldn't mind if the whole session was spent on the bike - if they come in, spend one-hour in the gym, and have a positive experience (or simply no negative experience), this will put them in good stead for future training sessions.
I also understand I can be intimidating. I am a 26 year old, in reasonable shape, some strength and experience in the gym, and a background in training and nutrition science. Essentially, I know enough to see what you are getting wrong. But the truth is I might be as fearful of your rejection as you are of mine - what if you don't like me or think I'm a bad trainer?!
I'm sure that has happened!
Resistance Training (Not Weights)
Resistance is that feeling that you don't want to do something. You convince yourself that you can delay it, or it's not worthy of you time.
Resistance can be overcome by motivation. In fact, there is a simple formula that determines whether you train or not.
If motivation > resistance, you train.
If motivation < resistance, you don’t train.
It’s that simple. Remember: no excuses, just reasons.
The most important thing that will get you to the gym tomorrow, and in four weeks time, is your motivation. If that grows to a level where it can consistently outweigh your resistance, you will still be in there.
I wrote about How, What, and Why last week on the blog and with The Integrated Insider - so I won’t cover that structure again - but having a Why is essential to sticking to your plan. The desire to achieve whatever you are working towards must exceed the resistance to exercising that will manifest. Every time desire wins out, you make progress.
There will be days when you haven’t slept much, get held back at work, kids are sick, it’s cold outside, or you just don’t want to. When these things pop up, and you start thinking about the gym, there will be a million thoughts running through your head: ‘OK well if I miss tonight but get up earlier tomorrow, but oh wait Sam needs to be at school…’
You end up feeling stressed about trying to replace the session in the future, but a sense of relief that you won’t be training today. It’s called procrastination. If you miss a session and are able to catch it up the next day, that’s great, but you probably aren’t the busy client I work with. For these clients, missing a planned session often means that session is gone forever.
But there is always a solution...
Just last week, I had a client who had an important phone meeting that was unavoidably scheduled halfway through his personal training session. Instead of cancelling or leaving early, he elected to train hard for 30-minutes before jumping on the treadmill and take the call there.
I hadn’t even contemplated that as possibility – my mind was binary, either train/don’t train – but we got a 30-minute session done and then burnt a couple of hundred calories on the treadmill to book. His motivation outweighed both the resistance and my small mindedness.
If you really can't train as planned, throw in a shorter workout - even if it's just 5 sets of 10 bodyweight squats or a 5-minute walk - and you will avoid those feelings of procrastination, stress, and guilt. It might not be the perfect workout, but it's a step forward.
I want you to start exercising tomorrow and still be doing it in fours weeks.
It’s the middle of winter in Canberra, and it’s freezing cold and mostly dark outside of work hours. Resistance to exercise is at an all-time high, as it has an inverse correlation with ambient temperature. To boot, I’m full and can’t take on new personal training clients, so I can’t take you into the heated gym and push you, for you.
So it’s all up to you.
All the reasons not to do it are there. But there will be someone who reads this and puts it into play. In four weeks time, they will be four weeks ahead of everyone else. Sticking to their program will become easier, because they have the results in the bag and have seen the value of putting in the work.
Remember: if motivation > resistance, you train. If not, you don’t.
You control your motivation and the resistance, so there truly are no excuses, just reasons.