Spring has sprung and despite fears of a fourth wave and a lacklustre drive to vaccinate, many people are dreaming of a sunny December holiday. One can’t be blamed for imagining sun and pool and beach — there hasn’t been a normal holiday since the summer of ’19.
That being said, there is a very real risk this won’t be a normal December either. Despite that, anecdotally, many people are gearing up to get into shape.
To be clear, there is no single standard of what “in shape” is. “In shape” is whatever you want it to be and no-one has a right to determine what that is for anyone else. I strongly advocate for the driver behind a fitness or transformation programme to be health and performance — aim for a healthier BMI (body mass index), aim to improve your cardiovascular fitness, aim to move better, aim to become stronger and aim to eat well. The aesthetics will be a natural by-product if all of those variables are taken care of properly.
Last week I was asked: what is the number one thing that has worked for me in getting and staying in shape? The question astounded me for two reasons. First, other people have far more impressive “six packs”, and secondly, one would expect most people to realise that those who are in shape eat well and exercise.
The disclaimer would be that no two bodies are the same. What works for me may not work for you. Investing in a reputable trainer is the best money you will spend.
It must be because we live in a quick-fix world and a pill-popping culture, but most people start out by asking what they should take.
In my early 20s I entered a USN body makeover challenge — one where you buy a box of supplements and they give you a workout programme. I didn’t finish it — or rather, I didn’t send in before and after photos. The pack was made up of whey protein, a few other things, and a fat burner. Did I change shape? Yes. I honestly cannot answer how much of the fat loss was as a result of taking a fat burner or because I was watching what I was eating and exercising far more than I had been.
A decade later, and out of shape, I hired a personal trainer and plotted a “transformation”. I planned every meal for almost six months, and did not take any fat burners. The results were astounding, six pack abs and all. It had nothing to do with taking any kind of supplement and everything to do with other variables that we are about to get into.
Twenty years ago, I followed a classic body-part weight training split, with a few days of steady-state cardio. This was the base for my 20s. Nothing magical, but probably how most people in the world still train today. In 2012, I enrolled in a personal training course and it bored the you-know-what out of me, as it perpetuated that old-fashioned methodology.
In my early 30s, my training changed drastically and I have maintained this training philosophy since. A functional, strength-focused programme built on the fundamentals of movement patterns first. It is built on barbells, dumbbells and kettlebells. It places a priority on movement. This is highly effective because it builds muscle tissue, and by sheer exertion, burns fat. To learn how to exercise like this, you must employ a coach — don’t try to copy a video as you will get it wrong. This advice is for your safety and to get the most benefit from the training.
Since then, and depending on whether I felt the need to “shape up” a bit, I would introduce varying amounts of high-intensity interval training, and in the past few years have added running. Have I kept six pack abs every month since? No — because one gets lazy … but throw out the ice cream, start running more and viola, magic happens.
The last question is: what should I eat?
This is perhaps the most mind-boggling of the lot, because healthy eating and diet-related content is about the easiest to access. Everyone has at least a working knowledge of what good food is, what bad food is, and what overeating is and what undereating is. It doesn’t matter whether you follow a Mediterranean diet, a banting diet or believe in the virtues of whole carbohydrates, there is a dietician or nutritionist who can help you build a good eating plan. Invest in one.
I’ve tried all eating styles and they all work if followed properly, and none work if followed half-heartedly or only when it suits you — which accounts for most people in the world.
The answer: Diet is the foundation and without this you are not building anything. Most people understand they should “do cardio” but adding strength training will, in my experience, shape things like never before. Google the health benefits of strength training for men and women — it’s a no-brainer.
Nothing will work if you are not consistent, week after week, month after month. Finally, supplements are there to supplement — and not replace — diet and training. If you’d like to be in shape by December, clean out your pantry, hire a trainer, and exercise often and hard.