Have you ever had that conversation where you discuss what you’d do if you could go back in time?
What things you’d do the same and what things you’d do differently if you could start again?
I often ask myself if I could go back to my very first day in the gym what I’d do differently…
Obviously, this whole concept hinges on the idea that I’d go back in time and still know everything I know now.
If that was the case, then I’d do a lot different but as they say, hindsight is twenty twenty and there isn’t much I can do about it now anyway.
For you, however, things are different.
If you’re new to the gym, are planning on starting soon or are somewhere in your first year or so of training then here are some things that I wish I’d known, and you need to know.
These are things that would have quite frankly made the world of difference.
In an attempt to help you learn from my mistakes here are the 6 most important things I wish I’d known when I started working out.
The Importance Of Calories
I was so caught up in the trends of the time;
Eating loads of protein
Not eating carbs at night
Confusing my muscles
Eating 6 meals a day to stoke my metabolism
That actually knowing how many calories I was eating simply didn’t register. If it had then I’d have gotten a lot closer to my goal physique, a lot quicker.
However, as much I wish I had a time machine, I don’t.
BUT my ignorance doesn’t need to be yours too.
Pay attention and pay attention now.
Calories will be the true determinant of your success, as you simply cannot build muscle or lose fat without having your nutrition on point.
The first order of business here is avoiding my mistakes, to do that here are a few quick and dirty but effective calorie calculations;
Fat loss = bodyweight in lbs x 12
Muscle building = bodyweight in lbs x 16
Always remember that no matter how hard you try you cannot out-train a bad diet.
The Importance Of Macronutrients
Following on from point 1, once you know your daily calorie intake the next part is your macronutrient intake.
Its true, calories are the main factor in whether you’ll lose or gain weight, BUT macronutrients will determine whether;
It’s mostly muscle that you gain, not fat when in a calorie surplus
It’s mostly fat that you lose, not muscle when in a calorie deficit
To do this you need the correct distribution of macronutrients as it’s this that will determine your overall body composition.
The 3 macronutrients are;
Protein – important for muscle preservation, repair and growth
Carbohydrates – the primary energy source for the body and brain
Fats – vital for proper regulation of hormones in the body
A general rule thumb, you want approximately 0.7-1g of protein per pound of bodyweight depending on whether you’re losing fat or building muscle (you want a higher intake when losing fat and lower when building muscle).
When it comes to fat most people will do well with an intake of 15 – 30% of their daily calorie intake.
As for carbohydrate, they will make up the rest of your remaining intake after protein and fats have been accounted for.
You Don’t Have To Be Miserable For It To Work
There is a common misconception in the fitness industry that you need to be miserable to succeed, you need to suffer to get the body you want and that there’s no alternative.
How do I know?
I lived like this for a long time.
I pushed through the daily hunger pains, ignored the discontent at my lack of progress and convinced myself I should give up, only to start again once I’d tricked myself into believing it would be different this time.
I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again.
Suffering through your fitness journey like this is BULLSHIT.
It’s also the reason most people don’t reach their goals, choosing to quit when things inevitably become unbearable.
This isn’t to say that you don’t have to;
Train even when don’t feel like it
Control your nutrition
Get out of your comfort zone
Embrace a level of suck
Settle-in for the long haul
BUT it does mean you don’t have to hate the process as you go.
You can absolutely do all of these things whilst still;
Having the flexibility to eat out and enjoy social occasions
Sticking to your diet with ease
Trust me when I tell you that eating to meet your goals when working out doesn't have to be a chore.
You don’t have to eat a diet of steamed chicken and vegetables.
In the end it comes down to this…
If you hit your daily calorie and macronutrient goals then you have a large degree of flexibility in what you eat and can absolutely include the things you like.
I feel it’s important to say that I’m not advocating eating only these foods all day, every day because I’m not.
BUT if you get the majority of your food from nutritious sources with a smaller amount coming from foods which are less nutritious but you really like, you’ll have no problems.
The bottom line is that a diet you enjoy is infinitely easier to stick to.
Sexy Doesn’t Work In The Long Run
How many times have you been told;
You can get abs in a month
You can lose 4, 6, 8 or even 10lbs a week
You can gain 5, 10 or even 15lbs of muscle in a month
How many times have you been seduced by the quick fix, fallen for the fad or opted to take the supposed shortcut?
How many times have you given it a go, only to come out the other side disappointed, fed up and on the verge of swearing off fitness once and for all.
I know for me the answer is, “too many times.”
This is because these eye-catching, sexy headlines are exactly as they sound… too good to be true.
You see the truth is sexy doesn’t work in the long run.
All sexy methods do is take you further away from what you want by ingraining bad habits, promoting unrealistic expectations and generally leading you astray.
It’s often said the only thing you’ll lose using sexy methods is your money.
Look, I don’t want to rain on your parade or burst your bubble but;
Rapid weight loss
Rapid weight gain
Abs routines, products or supplements
Anything promising you seemingly amazing results in a short space of time
These things are all a waste of your time.
What works is consistent progress towards a goal through the use of effective but sustainable methods.
I know it doesn’t have that sexy ring to it, but this is what works and the sooner you can learn from my mistakes and adopt this mindset the better.
Look I know how it is, I used to fall for trap after trap and;
Train 6-7 days a week even when I was tired and fed up
Not eat carbs in the evening or sometimes at all
Avoid all the foods I liked to #eatclean
Try all the latest programmes from the fitness mags
Do rep after rep of abs exercises
Buy all the supplements
I recognised the signs way too late, but you can learn from my mistakes and be aware that sexy just doesn’t work in the long run.
Instead you need to focus on the getting the fundamentals right over and over again;
Eating appropriately for your goal
Applying progressive overload
Getting good quality sleep every night
Allowing yourself time to recover between workouts
It’s not sexy nor is it necessarily easy but, it is simple and that means everyone can do it.
Your Motivation Has To Come From Within
I’ll be the first person to tell you that motivation comes in waves;
The build-up – where you gain the incentive and knowledge to make a change
The peak – where you’re most motivated i.e. the first few weeks of a new diet or workout plan
The break – where things begin to subside, your results begin to slow down, and you question whether the process is working
The drop – the pivotal point where most people quit when ironically enough you’re on the cusp of making more progress
You see if you hang in there after ‘the drop’ the process will run through again and you’ll seek out the information you need to overcome whatever road block you’ve hit;
How to overcome workout plateau
How to stick to your diet
A general lack of willpower or willingness to apply effort
Any gaps in your knowledge
The problem is that motivation is cyclical in nature and when you hit your lowest, most vulnerable point you end up telling yourself that it’s not working and inevitably throw in the towel.
It’s not until you reach this point that you’ll realise how important internal motivation really is.
This is because the motivation to look better, feel better or perform better is too often born out of outside influence;
You feel like you should change due to pressure from mainstream media
You’re told you should change by friends and family
Someone makes an off-handed comment which offends you and sparks a desire to change
You have a holiday or other event coming up and want to look good for a short period of time
Any number of other factors
Whilst intentions born from outside motivation are good intentions, they are also fickle and as a result are degraded by time.
As your feelings and memories fade so does the desire to change.
This is because the motivation was never yours to begin with.
It’s not until you want to do it for you, regardless of what other people think, say or do that you’ll be able to stay the course.
I truly believe you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, it doesn’t matter how sincere your actions are or how hard you try…you can’t force someone to be ready, including yourself.
This is as true for yourself as it is for anyone else.
For a long time I wanted to change how I looked because I thought it was expected of me, I felt like other people held a certain expectation of me as a personal trainer and I didn’t want to let them down.
I didn’t want to take my top off only for someone to think or say, “oh, I’d always thought he’d be leaner” or “he’s a personal trainer so I thought he’d have more muscle.”
I was trapped by expectation and desperate to fulfil the role I thought other people held of me, when in fact I had no idea what people expected from me and shouldn’t have even cared.
The truth is other people’s thoughts are none of my business and living my life trying to second guess and live up to them is a trap.
If you really want to make the changes you desire, then you need to stop caring about what other people think and focus on you.
You need the pain of staying the same to outweigh the effort required to change.
Once you hit this point you’ll have the incentive to push through even when motivation is at its lowest point.
Patience Is The Key To Success
This one’s quite self-explanatory but probably one of the most difficult to get to grips with for one main reason;
We live in a world where we can have almost anything we want instantly or as close to instantly as possible.
It’s the reason why we get annoyed;
When a webpage doesn’t load in 0.1 seconds flat
We get put on hold at any time
We have to queue to for any reason
Something we want isn’t available
We’re steadily becoming more and more conditioned to get what we want, when we want it and our ability to wait patiently is being eroded as a result.
We only need to look at people’s expectations of fat loss, muscle gain and the general time it takes to reach their goals to see this in action.
Don’t worry I’m not excluding myself from this, I too thought I could get abs in a month whilst building loads of muscle, but over time I came to an important realisation;
In the same way no one gets get fat and lazy in a day, week or month, you won’t get fit and active in such a short period of time either.
Yet even knowing this most people still choose to believe that they can achieve results in weeks or months and become sorely disappointed when they come to find out this isn’t the case.
It’s at this point that you’ll quit.
When in fact the reality is that superior results will be achieved and maintained over the long-term if you invest months and years to the process.
This is where patience comes in and plays such a big role.
You need to know that nothing worth having comes easy and that getting the body you want can take months if not years depending on your starting point.
I know it’s not what you want to hear BUT it’s what you need to hear.
Understand that patience is your friend and your journey will suddenly become a lot smoother.
There are 6 things I really wish I’d known when I first start working out;
The importance of calories
The importance of macronutrients
You don’t have to be miserable to succeed
Sexy doesn’t work in the long run
Your motivation has to come from within
Patience is the key to success
For a long time, I regretted these mistakes, considering it wasted time that I’d never get back.
I hated my mistakes for a long time, until I realised that it was my mistakes that helped me learn everything I know today.
It put me in the position to be able to try and help you avoid making the same mistakes, so you can reach your goals a little quicker than I did.
I discovered and it’s my hope that you do too, that every mistake is a chance to learn something and comeback a little smarter and more prepared than before.
Perhaps most importantly I learnt that it’s your past that makes you who you are and although you cannot change it, it doesn’t mean that it has to determine who you become.
Avoid my mistakes and if you can’t avoid them, then learn from them to become better.