There are plenty of outstanding strength and conditioning coaches in the world who are inherently more qualified than me to discuss weight training, diet, conditioning and fitness topics. That being said, I have learned a few lessons over my 20 years (holy cow… has it been that long?) years of training. If there is an area I feel fairly well-versed, it’s in how to help break people into fitness and assist beginners with the earliest stages of their training careers. I leave the advanced stuff to the aforementioned experts (several of whom I have linked on the left-hand side of my blog).
So without further ado, here is my super swell lists of tips for people who are fairly new to strength, conditioning and fitness or just never got themselves into a good groove for it.
- Don’t over think things. I am always amazed in this modern world at the extent to which people get themselves mired in paralysis by analysis for things that really can be approached so much more simply. While strength training requires good technique, it’s simply not rocket science. You simply don’t need an elaborately crafted training program with uber-precise training parameters for quite some time. You need a tried-and-true program that focuses on the basics and doing them very, very well. And by basics, I definitely mean something that involves weight lifting. Oh and if the program focuses on “Super Shredded Abzzzz!” please avoid it. I’m begging you.
- Make changes in increments. If you finally find yourself a good program (whether for your training or your diet), give it time to see how things work. For your training, that should be at least 8-12 weeks before you start tinkering with things. And when you do change things? Don’t do it wholesale. The beautiful thing about being a beginner is that you will have tremendous success early on as your body responds to the new training stimulus. This will eventually diminish over time, but enjoy it in the early stages. Same kind of notion with your diet. Do it for a good chunk of time (maybe around the same 8 weeks) to see how it goes and if things are not progressing as you may like, change one thing at a time. If you throw out everything all at once, you will never really get an appreciation for what in particular was holding you back.
- Supplements are nice… but not necessary. I am a fan of nutritional supplements. I take a multi-vitamin, fish oil and essential fatty acid capsules and use protein powders. I find them all incredibly useful for me to be sure I get in all the proper nutrients I need, especially since my life can be a bit hectic. But if you went without supplements of any kind and just ate well? You would be totally fine. In fact, the more exotic a supplement gets, the less I personally trust it. There are just plenty of companies out there looking to get you to buy their Super Black Nitric Boom for some obscene amount of money… and if you put that same money into putting exercise equipment in your house, you would get FAR greater benefit from it all.
- Find one hardcore thing to do. This is something I have come to appreciate more and more over time, especially for someone who might be a little bit newer to training. You should find one activity or exercise that is off-the-beaten path for you. Maybe it’s sprints down at your local high school track or car pushes in an empty parking lot or even some really hard interval training. Heck, it might be for you that you have never done barbell squats and now you are doing them. Hardcore will be different for everyone.
The reason you really need to do one hardcore thing is that there is something incredibly empowering for newbies to have something that makes them feel badass. It builds confidence and lends a little to developing a swagger to your training that will really keep it moving in a positive direction. Remember – start with one hardcore thing, not seven because then you will not be badass… just sore and overwhelmed.
- Eliminate your single crappiest habit. As you might be able to tell from my hints, I’m not really big into taking people new to fitness and putting them into a level of change equivalent to Navy SEAL training. It’s just not necessary. It’s far better to leave people wanting juuuuust a little bit more and keeping them interested when they know they can do a little bit better. So, figure out what the crappiest and least healthy habit you have it and work on eliminating it pronto. Smoking? Ditch it. A habit of mindless snacking on pork rinds dipped in sour cream? Umm, it’s gotta go. Insane amounts of regular soda consumption? Switch to diet. You get the idea.
- Use me as your role model. I am incredibly sexy. And I am also super smart… and humble… but mostly sexy and super smart… and not to be taken seriously very often.
I could probably make a longer list, but in keeping with the general theme above, it’s best not to overwhelm people. Manageable chunks… and my uber sexiness. It’s all you need.
As I’ve mentioned here before, I went on a diet for around 10 weeks recently where I dropped 16 lbs., but basically kept (or even improved in some cases) my strength levels. It was a pretty interesting experience because I have not done anything approximating a formal diet for a very, very long time. However, I felt sluggish all Fall in soccer and just did not want to go through that for this upcoming Spring. So, I hired a nutrition coach (the excellent Shelby Starnes) to guide me to a lean, mean and uber-sexy new me. Now, I plan on writing a longer piece on this and maybe (just maybe) showing the before and after photos, but I cannot say I am super excited at the prospect of dropping my shirtless self on the Internet for all to see… at least not when I have a full-time job for a conservative Fortune 50 company. 🙂
But I did feel like there were a few quick hitter items before the longer piece, mostly because I notice I tend to write rather long and wordy blog pieces. So here are some things I learned along the way on my diet odyssey:
- Earn your carbs. This one is just something that makes a lot of sense once you give it a moment of thought. My diet was one of carb cycling, which meant I would have certain days of high carb intake, certain days of medium carb intake and certain days of low carb intake. The high or medium days would fall on days I was lifting… in other words, on days I was earning those carbs. On off-days or pure cardio days? Low carb all the way. This is a very simple change to make to your diet, but it works incredibly well.
- Carbonated drinks are a godsend when you are hungry. Shelby helped out on this one because he suggested having sparkling water drinks with Splenda because the carbonation made your stomach feel fuller, especially between meals. If you are concerned about artificial sweeteners, just use some kind of flavored seltzers. I mean, those taste awful to me and Splenda really doesn’t bother me in the slightest.
- Lift weights. This is not so much something new I learned, but I cannot think of how many people I know for whom a diet is cutting way back on food and then doing a ton of cardio. I can pretty much guarantee they will fall into a yo-yo trap with their diet and their weight will go back up when they finish. You should be lifting weights regardless for a lot of reasons (strength, bone density, improved lean body mass, better posture, etc.) but you need to maintain the good (lean muscle) while ditching the bad (body fat). So for the love of God, do some lifting when you diet. It’s a better long-term route to leanness.
- Weight loss is not linear. This is pretty much a direct quote from Shelby, so I am not taking any kind of credit for it. The point is that you may lose 3 or 4 lbs. one week, 1 the next, stay static and then boom! Lose 3 more in a week. It’s a rather unpredictable thing, so it’s critical not to lose hope when you are not losing the exact same amount of weight every single week.
- Create accountability. This can take on a variety of forms. For some people, it works well to tell family and friends so they will keep you on point or remind you when you slip. The idea is that the more public you make it, the worse off you will feel if you slack off. For me, it was hiring Shelby and it’s something I would strongly recommend to anyone. First, you have someone who will answer your questions and steer you back into line if you begin to veer off the path of positive progress. Second, it’s a little hard to claim the diet is “too hard” when you are dealing with someone who is a competitive level bodybuilder and who has eating discipline light years ahead of your own. Thankfully, Shelby is a reasonable guy and understands his clients have lives, will mess up at times, etc. I have hired coaches before on a distance consulting basis (for training, not a diet) and they tended to suck because they had such machismo issues, if things did not work as perfectly as they planned for you… well… then clearly you are not worthy of their time or their AWESOME level of knowledge. Give me a f-ing break. Obviously, this is not Shelby.
- It will be hard. Nothing too radical there, eh? You will be eating less than you are used to and there is little fun about that. For me, the hardest part tended to be less about my eating plan and more about the mind-numbing boredom of the cardio I was doing. Towards the end of my plan, I was doing 60 minutes of cardio 6 times per week. Now, if we are talking about playing basketball or soccer for an hour? Sweet. But grinding away on an elliptical machine with your stomach growling and the sick freaks in your gym leaving on a giant TV screen to the Food Network? Decidedly less than good times.
- You don’t need supplements… but they can be helpful. You don’t need to get too crazy. Fish oil is great for a variety of health reasons and a nice protein powder blend is handy, especially when you are in a bind for a quick meal.
So there ya have just a few quick points to ponder.