Some of Australia’s top fitness experts provide honest advice on what you need to do to succeed in your 2018 fitness journey.
BEFORE YOU START
Set aside enough time
All our experts point to the need to block out your training and gym travel times in your calendar and book everything else in around them. That way you avoid clashes with important work meetings and personal commitments that have a funny way of derailing your fitness program. As Fitness First personal trainer Penny Walsh says, this is your fitness time — prioritise it. It avoids the single most common excuse trainers hear from their clients when they miss a session: “I was caught up at work.”
Make a plan
“Imagine walking into a busy gym and, instead of walking around aimlessly, knowing exactly what you have to do,” says personal trainer Ellie Silvers. Know what you should do by having a plan that’s tailored to you, ideally one created with the help of a trainer.
“Following an individualised, periodised program is one of the best ways to ensure progress, results and keep you on track,” Silvers says. “Seek the help of a trainer, or at least spend a few minutes writing out what you’re going to do during the workout, before you even get to the gym.”
Get help from the pros
There is a big difference between trying to figure out a training program yourself and having an expert create one for you. If you can manage an introductory course with a personal trainer, do it. Personal trainer Alistair Morrell says, “this is the one thing I wish I did when I started in the gym; a good trainer will fast track your learning curve and set you up for further success in the gym. As a personal trainer, I still have my own coach to help tailor my training to my needs and goals.”
You don’t have to stop at personal training, either. Personal trainer Stephanie Bruckner advises that you can “research and ask for help from professionals who specialise in the questions you want answered. Learn the best practice for your body and your goals. Go ask your doctor about what’s going on inside your body, a nutritionist or dietitian about your food, ask a personal trainer about what exercise will help achieve your goals and take the time to research these things and their foundations so you can make better decisions for you to build on.”
Set yourself goals, but keep it simple
If you’re just starting out, don’t get too caught up on setting strict goals for your fitness journey, because at this point they may be counterproductive. Researchers from Wollongong University and UNSW point out that strict goal setting — such as immediately wanting to see weight loss or hitting a precise number of steps per day — can be demotivating when you fail to achieve the targets. Instead, you should focus on doing your best, learning techniques and enjoying the experience.
If you’re going to set goals, make them simple, says personal trainer David Welch, basing them on things like how many squats or push ups you can do, or how long you can hold a plank, then aim to beat them four weeks later. “Once these goals are achieved then set new ones. Keep it simple. As time goes by you will slowly start to see the physical changes in your body that you’re aiming for,” Welch says.
Personal trainer Bree Wyatt agrees. “Stop over-complicating things. Don’t worry about fancy diets if you’re not getting your five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit. Or if you’re eating most of your meals out. Or if you’re drinking alcohol most nights. Or sleeping five hours a night. Once you can adhere to basic dietary and lifestyle guidelines, then start to worry about details,” she says.
Try a few different types of training to see what you enjoy
“While certain exercises or types of training will give you a better bang for buck, finding something you like is key to fitness success,” says Silvers. Bruckner agrees, adding that “if you find something you enjoy, you’re more likely to get up and do it. Yes, strength training builds a strong body and cardio helps build a strong heart, but if you’re just starting out, try something you think you’ll enjoy. Exploring the group classes is a great place to start learning. Then you can look into other forms of exercise which might help you achieve your goals faster.”
Do a class to take the pressure off
Bruckner has advice for novices who feel intimidated by the gym atmosphere and are uncertain how to get started. “Get to a Freestyle Group Training (FGT) class. You only need to muster up some courage once to attend the class, and your journey will start to unfold. Why FGT? These classes are big enough for you to not feel as though the spotlight is on you, but still small enough so that you don’t get lost in the crowd, and so the instructor can keep an eye on you to provide specific help to you and give you further recommendations.”
If there is one rule for fitness success that every single personal trainer notes, it’s the need to be consistent with your training. “Whatever you do, do it consistently,” says Bree Wyatt. “Don’t go crazy exercising five days a week then be too tired to train the next week. It’s like constantly restarting, over and over. Sometimes progress will stall. But if you keep at it, change will happen. And it’ll hang around. Change doesn’t happen if you quit.”
David Welch sees lots of what he calls seasonal members. “They purchase their membership and commit to training as hard as they can. They see small results in the first four weeks, but after doing the same thing for almost two months with no true plan, the results are not coming and they get frustrated and bored.
“They go from training five days each week down to two or three, and when winter comes they simply have a membership they pay for but don’t use. Then spring comes, they feel like crap, panic about how they look and restart their journey.” Don’t be this member, says Welch. Be consistent with your training.
Get comfortable with uncomfortable
Another common theme from our all of our expert trainers is to be prepared for some discomfort.
Wyatt says: “You have to challenge yourself. Becoming fitter means elevating your heart rate. Losing weight means a calorie deficit and some sort of food restriction, which isn’t fun. Getting stronger means lifting weights that feel heavy and might cause initial muscle soreness. And once it gets easier, you need to up it again.”
Track your progress
Get a good sense of your fitness levels at the beginning so you can track your progress. Monitoring your food intake and tracking your performance and physical progress is paramount. “Weigh yourself, take full body photos and do your measurements,” says Silvers. It may also be a good idea to get a DEXA scan, a full body scan that shows your true body fat distribution, and is far more accurate than a set of scales. “Most people who stop exercising after a few months do so because they didn’t see results. Being able to physically see the changes you’ve made is one of the best ways to keep you motivated and on track.”
Try and track your progress religiously, says Wyatt. “Human recall is appalling, especially when it comes to food and exercise. We underestimate what we eat, and overestimate how much we move. So track these things honestly and without judgement for a few days. Then you can make educated changes. Usually people aren’t getting the basics right.”
Always train on a Monday
After spending most of the weekend at the beach, come Mondays, the last place most people want to go to is the gym. But that’s why Monday is the most important day to train, says Silvers, because it sets you up for a productive, successful week.
When it comes to the actual workouts, Alistair Morrell spells out some key principles you should follow when you’re just starting off, no matter how you train:
1. Lay the foundations: Build core strength and stability first. This doesn’t mean doing 1,000 crunches trying to get your abs to pop. Developing core control and core strength is fundamental to success and injury prevention. A good program should always include core work, especially for beginners. See our “Hard Core” workout with Memo Del Solar on page 40 for some movement inspiration.
2. Do compound movements: Big bang for your buck! Pick multi-joint exercises to build up the bulk of your workout routine and you’ll see the greatest improvements to your performance, strength, physique and body composition.
3. Full range of motion: Morrell encourages everyone to use full range of motion, no matter how they train. This will develop the muscles and make you more flexible without endless stretching.
OUTSIDE THE GYM
Be disciplined away from the gym
This is where most new members get it wrong, says Welch. The most common line he hears from clients is that they’re training so hard in the gym, but just can’t lose weight. But then he finds out they’ve been partying and drinking with abandon. “If you’re going out with friends for dinner, have a plan,” he says. “Check out the restaurant’s menu before turning up. That way you know what you’re going to order. If you want an entrée, don’t have dessert or vice versa. For groceries, order them on the weekend and then do a top up mid-week. This way you’re not tempted to get takeaway. Take your meals to work and try to avoid buying lunches every day from the food court.”
Make achievable diet changes
Don’t try and accompany the start of your training program with a massive change in diet, says Silvers. “Trying to make drastic changes to something as routine as your diet in a number of days often results in failure and demotivation. Instead, focus on saying “no” to the odd biscuit and track your food intake. You can log what you’ve eaten each day using apps like My Fitness Pal, or write down or take photos of your food. Better yet, send them to a friend or coach to keep you accountable.”
Do food prep
Prepare large quantities of food on the weekend. “One of the best ways to stick to your diet is by preparing in advance,” says Silvers. “Every Sunday, or whichever day suits, cook up 2-3 different protein sources, some complex carbohydrates — sweet potato and rice are good options— and have your vegetables chopped and cooked, separated into individual containers and ready to assemble each morning.”
Prep your gear the night before
One of Penny Walsh’s secrets is that she gets ready the night before. “I always organise my workout gear the night before, so in the morning I don’t waste time. It’s there all laid out and together.”
Always remember why you started
Every trainer says that when motivation flags, go back to why you started training in the first place. It will remind you of all the reasons you came to the gym.
Bruckner says you should “get really clear about how you see yourself looking, feeling and living in your future. This is a very strong motivator, especially during the time when the numbers you’re trying to achieve aren’t coming fast enough for you.”
But don’t make too much of motivation. Being totally motivated every day is unheard of, and feeling “pumped” every single day is not normal.
Switch from motivation to routine. That is, don’t think about whether you’re motivated to go to the gym. Just do it. Make a routine that just happens, one that you don’t need to think about.
Your progress will slow, be prepared
In fitness, what works for you now may not work for you later. This is why trainers explain that it’s good to change up your training, because your body will adapt and you’ll get to a point where your progress starts to chill. “Cut yourself some slack when you discover this period after lots of hard work,” says Bruckner. “Revisiting your goals will keep you clear and in love with the process, yourself and how smart your body is. Remember to not compare your chapter 2 with someone else’s chapter 8.”
Surround yourself with people who support your fitness goals
Bree Wyatt says “find an exercise buddy, get a personal trainer, see a dietitian. Surround yourself with people that will keep you on track. We’re all really good at fooling ourselves and finding excuses. It’s a lot harder to do when other people are counting on you.”
Be patient, consistent and persevere
For long term success, forget the idea of quick transformations, says Welch. “Long term results require consistency and patience. With the fast-paced world we live in, you must understand that life will get in the way, which will affect your results in the gym. You must persevere, get back in the gym, be consistent with your food and training and the long terms results will come. Don’t be fooled by the social media world — it’s just not real! Just focus on staying in your lane and running your own race.”