A few tips and considerations to help inspire you for the year ahead. Did you fail to achieve your new year’s resolutions in 2017? Make sure you start 2018 on the right foot!
1. Set yourself achievable goals
I always say it's important to be realistic with your fitness goals. Not only to aid your own motivation, but to ensure you don’t get discouraged and give up on your goals entirely. One way of doing this is by breaking down your main goal to smaller, achievable goals. Additionally, the more measurable your goals are, the better. For instance, if you want to lose weight then setting an achievable amount to lose within 6 months is a good start, and then working out from there how much weight you need to lose on a monthly/weekly basis to reach that goal. Also, don’t forget that you’re allowed to re-evaluate your goals and adjust them along the way!
2. Celebrate successes
Building on the above, it’s vital that small successes along the way are celebrated. This doesn’t necessarily mean treating yourself to a massive cheat meal every time you drop down half a kilo on the scales, but giving yourself a motivational pat on your own back and enjoying the results you’re seeing. It may sound silly, but you really are allowed to feel good about yourself and any progress you’re making!
3. Stop comparing yourself to others
It’s great to have goals and an idea of where you want to get to in regards to your physical appearance, but it’s also easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to those who are on a completely different journey to you. In an age of a distorted and unrealistic body ideals being thrown at us in every direction, it’s not difficult to be discouraged by it all. But don’t be! Take a look at what you’re fed via social media, and make an effort in eliminating anything that makes you feel bad about yourself. You don’t have to follow that supermodel on Instagram if seeing their “perfect” photos are distorting your own body image, regardless of how much you look up to them. With so much time spent on social media, we need to remember we can create our own, uplifting spaces filled with people that motivate us, not discourage us. It’s just about being honest with yourself. Don’t torture yourself needlessly!
And as another example, if you’re looking to stack on muscle in 2018 then don’t be discouraged if progress is slow, but celebrate any progress that is made regardless. It’s about the journey and ensuring you’re enjoying yourself along the way, too. We’re all different with different body types, and progress for some in some areas might be quick but with others it may be painfully sluggish. Keep that in mind!
4. Count your calories
I used to think counting calories was an absolutely crazy thing to do, and only for those completely obsessed with maintaining a certain appearance or losing a certain amount of weight. I was very wrong. 2017 was the year I started counting my calories, and it’s been vital in helping me reach my own goals. Whether you’re looking to lose body fat or build muscle, it’s all about calories in versus calories out. And if you’re not keeping track of the calories you’re eating, then you’re pretty much just guessing, right?
I got myself a Fitbit and paired it up with the My Fitness Pal app, and that’s helped me get a pretty clear overview over the amount of calories I burn versus those I eat. Heart rate and activity trackers such as Fitbit won’t always be 100% accurate, and there is some evidence that suggests they overestimate the amount of calories burned. But they can be very good indicators, as long as you take the readings with a pinch of salt sometimes. I’m not going to track everything I eat every day for the rest of my life - but with continued tracking I’m getting good at guessing roughly how many calories I’m consuming with each meal. And one day I’ll be able to keep things in check without having to track anything!
5. Count your macros
Alongside calories, I’m also tracking my macros - the split of calories across fat, carbohydrate and protein. I aim for 40% carbs, 30% fat and 30% protein on training days, and on absolute rest days I drop the carbs down a little while eating the same amount of fat and protein as I would on a training day. The 40/30/30 split, called the zone diet, seemingly yields good results for a lot of people, but that’s not to say it is for you. It depends on factors such as the type of exercise you do, the intensity of it and your own body composition. My main advice is to ensure you get enough protein in, a decent amount of good fat and, unless you have a specific reason to do so, don’t completely shy away from carbs either.
A lot of people claim to lose weight from low-carb diets, but I would argue it’s not necessarily because they’re eating less carbs - it’s because they’re eating less calories overall. Just imagine dropping 100 grams of carbs from your daily diet: if these calories aren’t replaced with fat or protein then you’ll be in a calorie deficit, meaning you will lose weight in the long term. A lot of the diets you hear and read about will have the same principle at heart - creating a calorie deficit.
6. Choose form over weight
It's all well and good being able to squat 200 kgs, but if your form and technique is off those squats aren't ever going to live up to their full potential. Say that you’re only going down about half way and not deep enough - the range of motion will limit the muscle-building potential of the squats. If you’re not doing an exercise properly, drop the weight down and work on your technique before going heavier. It’s not always about how heavy you lift, so don’t let your ego get in the way of proper form.
7. Work on your mobility
I’ll put my hands up right away and say that I have done a very poor job at keeping myself flexible and working on my mobility so far in my life. I made sure to change that this year, and got myself some decent foam rollers to use at home as well as adding daily (or, almost daily) flexibility work into my routine. Not only will maintaining your mobility and flexibility help you reach your fitness goals and new personal bests, but it will help reduce the risk of injury and any possible issues cropping up later in your life. Ensure you stretch every muscle used after very session, and do it properly. And get into foam rolling - it’s painful at first, but your muscles will thank you in then long run!
8. Switch it up
Exercise doesn't and shouldn't have to be arduous, painful or boring. Try new things! And if it’s not for you, that’s absolutely fine - no one is forcing you to go back to that Zumba class you kind of hated. This year I discovered how much fun boxing and pad work is, and some of my clients absolutely love it too. It’s also a great workout for power, agility and cardiovascular health. Make 2018 the year you try that new class you’ve always wanted to try, or the year you search up new workout routines. Just make sure your technique and form is on-point!
9. Push further, and change routines around regularly
Ideally, you should aim to do a little better with each session. Whether that’s by increasing the weight by a couple of kilos, doing an extra few reps, going for a couple seconds longer or running just a little bit faster - aiming for any improvement is good! The body tends to adapt quickly, and needs progressive overload to keep improvements happening. Don’t forget to switch up your routine every 6-8 weeks, especially if you’re hitting a plateau in terms of weight or reps. You don’t have to switch out every exercise with a new one, but if you for instance have been doing flat barbell bench presses then consider switching to incline ones to hit the chest slightly differently, or using dumbbells to iron out any muscle imbalances.
10. Have cheat meals, not cheat days
It’s easier to bounce back from one “bad” meal as opposed to a whole day of eating badly. It’s too easy to get into the mindset of “I had that one slice of cake so I may as well have another” - but there’s a difference between consuming 200 calories of mostly fat and sugar versus 400 calories of mostly fat and sugar. Which one will cause the least "damage"? Of course, the first one. This is also where you can be flexible: if you know you’re going out for a meal in the evening, you can always keep your calories, fat and carbs low in the day so you can be less worried about what you consume that evening, and not always have to pick the boring salad!
11. Take care of your mental health
We tend to spend a lot more time looking after our bodies than we look after our brains. Taking the time out to ensure your brain is in a happy, healthy state is just as important! It’s just about finding something that works for you. After a few false starts a few years back, I’ve incorporated a Headspace session into my daily routine, and it works well for reducing the amount of noise in my head, for a clearer focus and a happier mind. Mindfulness or meditation might not be your thing, but simple things such as ensuring you get enough sleep and relax time, and spending quality time with friends and/or family will no doubt be beneficial to your mental health as well.
Here’s to a happy, healthy 2018!