Have you ever joined a gym and been disappointed that you didn't shed five kilos in the first two weeks? You'd be surprised how many conversations I have with new clients about unrealistic goals. It's not because people are stupid or unreasonable but it's because they just don't know how long and what it takes to see physical changes in their bodies. Don't get me wrong, I've seen AMAZING results in a short period of time but the people that get these quick results have usually gone from zero to thirty with their training and nutrition without any shortcuts along the way (no weekend wines? Whaaaatt?)
My advice to people is don't expect any visible changes for six to eight weeks. For someone who is brand new to exercise, they may see results much sooner than this but if you're already fit and healthy then chances are, it will take longer to notice a change. I know, it seems unfair!
The actual fact is that our bodies do start to change straight after we work out (hence muscle soreness) but we may not see anything in the mirror for quite some time after that which can be really disheartening if you had expected quick results. You see the best indicator of a 'result' from exercise should really be based on feeling healthier, stronger and fitter but I know that our minds don't work this way. We want to see a physical change to know that all those burpees and lentil salads have been paying off. I get it!!
There are a few different factors that play part in the process of change and we have to make sure we are ticking them all off the list. Nutrition, for example plays a HUGE part in creating change in the body. I have seen the best results from clients that have made the necessary changes to their diet in addition to exercise. I know that's not what you want to hear but the expression '80% nutrition and 20% exercise' ain't wrong. Unfortunately for most of us, the nutrition side of things is the hardest part! I can tell you to do squats and push ups during a workout and you'll most likely listen but I'm not around for the other 23 hours of the day to smack that snickers bar out of your hand. To make the biggest change in your body, especially for someone who is already active, a healthy diet is a MUST.
The intensity of your workout is just as important as nutrition no matter what your goal. For example, if you're aiming to gain muscle mass then you should be sore after a weight training session and in order to do that you need to reach a certain level of intensity during your workout. You don't have to be 'I can't sit down on the toilet' sore but muscle tenderness is a true indication that you have 'damaged' the muscle fibres in order for them to grow thicker and stronger. If you feel as though you are never getting sore after a strength workout then it might be time to mix up your program or increase your weights. Before you start getting images of Arnie in your head, you won't get bulky unless you are lifting RIDICULOUS amounts of weight and shooting steroids into your arm annnnddd I'm assuming that's not the case. Talk to a trainer about your program and see what modifications you can make to increase the intensity of your workouts in a safe way.
The duration of your workout is not as important as the intensity (unless you're training for an endurance event) In fact studies have been done on shorter, higher intensity workouts achieving the same, if not better results than workouts that are longer in duration. Of course this depends on your goal but even long distance runners have interval training as part of their program in order to improve their overall performance.
Rest and recovery also plays a vital role in physical adaptations because your body grows muscle when you're not working out. Yep, it's actually when you're resting that you are getting stronger. In the gym is where you do all the hard work but it's when you're sitting on the couch watching back to back episodes of Gilmore Girls (guilty!) that your body is repairing the torn muscle fibres and growing stronger. The moral to the story? Don't neglect your rest days!! It seems counter productive to take a day off training but sometimes we do ourselves a disservice by over training and not allowing enough time for recovery and muscle growth. Any form of training relies on the same principles; you must work to a certain intensity and then allow your body adequate recovery to see strength and fitness gains. If you're thinking that you want to lose fat rather than gain muscle, guess what? The more lean muscle mass you have, the more efficient your body becomes at burning fat! Win win! No matter what your goal, here are my five key tips to make sure you're on the right track.
1. Track your workouts. If you aren't keeping track then you won't know if you're improving and it's very easy to fall into a routine and pick up the same pair of dumbbells every workout. Record what you're lifting and gradually increase that weight over time. For runners, try keeping track of your distance and pace using a smart watch.
2. Work to different intensity levels. You don't need to work at a 90% heart rate every single session. It's more beneficial if you can incorporate different types of exercise such as jogging, strength training and even yoga into your weekly routine.
3. Don't skip your rest days. A rest day doesn't always mean lazing about on the couch (sometimes it does!) A rest day can be going for a walk, stretching or doing yoga to allow your muscles to recover and repair themselves.
4. Don't cheat yourself. Make sure to always use good form when you're exercising and don't cheat your reps because it's easy to fall into bad habits. It's okay to move at a slower pace but try to maintain the level you've been working at even if you're not up to progressing that day.
5. Commit long term. Short term results have their place and it's always good to work towards a goal but keep thinking long term and you'll have a better chance of staying consistent rather than burning out. Commit to a long term goal and the short term stuff will happen along the way.
Results are the best motivation which is why so many people fall off the wagon early into a training program. We all want the same results we used to get when we were in our early twenties but the fact of the matter is, as you get older, it does get harder. What do you want to achieve and what do you need to do to get there? Figure it out, write it down and stick to it. Real change takes time and if you can stop focusing on your body shape (get off the scales!) and start focusing on the long term health benefits, you will find enjoyment in your training and eventually the results will come.
Here's to a happy, healthy and committed you,