Friday, 30 January 2015

Strategies for Change

Change is a difficult thing.  January is the month where people say to themselves “this is the year, this is the time I’m going to become healthier, fitter, leaner, stronger, faster”.  Unfortunately the harsh reality is most people give up their new year’s resolution before they even reach February.  What I’m going to talk about in this post is, starting of your health and fitness journey.  What can you do to make this time, your time?

Set a Goal – Take some time and really think about what you want to achieve in the next year/month/week/day, and set yourself some goals.  Write them down, make them real.  A good idea is to buy a whiteboard, stick it up in your room and write down a list of weekly, monthly and yearly goals.  Then just rub them off as you smash them out the park.  There is a theory that by sharing your goal with friends it makes you more accountable, and thus more likely to achieve them.  The opposing theory is that the satisfaction you get from voicing your goals, can hold you back.  This is well illustrated in this 3 minute ted talk.  Link.  There is validity to both theories so have a think about, and work out which you think would be best for you, after all these are your individual goals.

You may have a general goal to lose weight, or gain some muscle, or get a bit stronger or maybe even a mix of all three.  This is good, but you also need to be more specific what is it going to take for these goals to be achieved.  For example, if you have started lifting weights one of your goals might be to get stronger.  Break that down define what you would consider strong, maybe you want to back squat a particular weight, or lift a high percentage of body weight.  What this does is it makes your goal measurable.  You can step into the gym and rep out 140kg and leave knowing you have achieved the specific goal you set.  Make your goals ambitious but achievable, be realistic.  If you’ve just started lifting weights you probably won’t be deadlifting 250kg, in the first year, but 100kg is very achievable. 

Action Plan – Having a set of goals doesn’t necessarily guarantee progress or change.  Once you have your goals you need to think about what it’s going to take to achieve them.  To illustrate this I will use one of my 2015 goals, I’m coming of a fairly serious knee injury and I want to strengthen my legs, so my goal is to be able to back squat 1.75Xbodyweight.  In order to achieve this I know I need to do the following.
  •       Get in the gym and back squat heavy, minimum once per week.
  •          Fulfil my nutrient requirements to add functional muscle mass.
  •          Use other variations of the squat (front, zurcher, OH squat etc.) and other leg strengthening exercises to complement the back squat (deadlift, lunges etc.)
  •          Train smart i.e. don’t reinjure my knee.  Listen to my body if it hurts stop or rest.

There isn’t anything too deep here, it’s just the basic things I know I need to do to work towards this goal.  Now I am about to start working towards this goal, I plan to do some research or ask advice, to look at more specific strategies (rep ranges, rest periods, nutritional principles etc.).                   

Baseline Measurement – In order to assess how far you have come, you need to know where you were.  There are an abundance of easy ways of doing this, which can be specific to your goals.

Nutrition – write down what you eat in an average week, or a few days from the week.  Then look over it, or get a trainer to have a look at it, and pick out the key areas that you, or they feel needs addressed as a priority.  This will allow for small progressive change, which I will cover in more detail next.

In the Gym – Start timing runs, counting reps, establishing maximum lifts.  Push yourself to your current max, know your limits, so you can recognise them later when you leave them in the dust.

Body composition – If you’re looking to lose weight or gain muscle, take some really basic body measures.  Don’t rely on the scales!  Yes they can be an indication that you’re going in the right or wrong direction but your body weight does not define your physical fitness, body composition or health.  I have competed in Muay Thai and at times have been obsessed with the number on the scale leading to a fight, and for me it wasn’t a healthy attitude.  There are a number of factors that affect the number on the scale besides fat mass: muscle mass, hormone imbalances, fluid retention just to name a few.  Get a tape measure and measure your waist, thigh, upper arm and hips.  Or an even easier way is to take some pictures or take note of how clothes are fitting, and actually use those to monitor how your body shape is changing as you make progress. 

Small Progressive Change – Probably the biggest factor that causes people to give up their resolutions is, they try and do too much too soon.  You’re coming off a holiday that tends to involve a lot of indulgence, a glass of wine or five, a few mince pies etc.  It’s unrealistic for most people to overhaul their entire diet and lifestyle right off the bat.  So once you have your baseline assessment, use it to make small, progressive changes.  My personal philosophy when it comes to nutrition is we need to eat more nutrient dense whole foods.  Put simply if it grows in the ground or has a face go for it, and I probably eat 80-85% that way myself at the moment. 
Maybe you are someone who doesn’t eat breakfast, therefore you tend to reach for unhealthy snacks before lunch.  Your first change could be to get up 15 minutes earlier and have a bowl of cereal.  Or maybe at night that’s when you reach for the biscuit tin, well instead you could try some low fat yogurt with honey to satisfy your sweet tooth.  Now these might not be considered the “absolute ideal” but its progress and you can build on that.  Make 2-3 small changes every 2-3 weeks, this will allow them to transition from changes to habits.  This way you are not following some blanket fad diet, you’re taking what you already do and you’re building from it.  

If your house needs redecorating you don’t demolish the whole thing and start again, you pick a room and bit by bit you start to work on it.

Sorry this is massively cheesy, but still quite appropriate

Seek Advice – It’s very easy to go online and get completely lost in all the information out there, regarding nutrition and training.  In my opinion its worthwhile finding someone who knows what they are talking about, and ask for their advice.  If you need to hire a trainer, I know they can be expensive, but if you find the right person that money is essentially being soundly invested into your health and happiness.  I personally can’t think of a better investment to make.  Despite just starting, I’m hoping this blog can develop into a good free source of information, and positive advice.

My 2015 Goals – I’ve talked about goal setting and sharing your goals.  I think it is only fair I share with you the list of things I am working on achieving 2015. So here we go!
  • Complete my master’s degree with a 70% or above average.
  • Travel to Thailand, and train Muay Thai for at least 3 weeks.
  •  Back squat 1.75xbodyweight
  • Deadlift 1.5xbodyweight
  • Get a job within the nutrition industry 
  • Read more books, minimum 1 book per month
  • Get 5,000 views on this blog

 It can be daunting setting of on a journey like this, especially if you feel you have a long way to go.  Being able to see progress is huge motivator.  Using the strategies I’ve talked about is a great way to identify the changes you need to make, and to monitor them effectively.  “It’s not a diet it’s a lifestyle”, it’s a massive clique for a reason.  Embrace the grind, achieve your goals and feel fantastic! 

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