It may shock some of you to hear a Personal Trainer saying that really, truly, exercise and weight loss are not rocket science.
Of course I want to promote my services and convince would-be clients that I can train them to achieve results they wouldn’t see on their own. However the truth of the matter is that if you get the basics right, it isn’t that hard to lose weight or get fitter. If you want to get slimmer then burn off more than you eat and if you want to get fitter increase the intensity of your workouts.
That’s it right? Follow these principles and you’ll reach your goal weight and 10k PBs in no time!
Well, sadly for most of us, this isn’t the case. Getting results, and getting the specific results you want when it comes to training often requires looking at a lot of other factors, some of which you may never have even considered when it comes to your workouts.
But it doesn’t need to be complicated – I’m going to take you through a few simple tweaks that will hopefully allow you to maximise all that hard work in the gym when you train and in the kitchen when you cook.
- Find Your Form
One of the biggest causes of confusion and frustration for some of my clients is that of their training technique. They come to me with impressive workout routines – squats, lunges, deadlifts, push ups – puzzled as to why following the workouts they see online and in fitness magazines aren’t giving them a body like the person demonstrating the exercise. More often than not this is down to incorrect technique when performing the exercises themselves.
You could perform 100 squats every day for months and see no progress in your butt if you’re not engaging your glutes when you move. Same for push ups – you’re never going to get perfect pecs if you’re working more into your neck than your chest or if you’re taking the strain of the move into your lower back. When it comes to exercises, particular body weight or resistance training (free weights, cables, kettlebells etc) it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. The good news is though, that just small tweaks can make a massive difference with a lot of moves.
Try to perform your chosen exercise in front of a mirror and watch your technique, or even better, if you can bear it, video yourself moving and take a look back – ideally from all angles. It can be a bit cringeworthy at first but trust me, once you’ve seen that front knee shooting forward when you lunge, or how high your hips are when you plank, you won’t be able to forget it – but you will be able to correct it yourself. Get a mate or training partner to film you moving, or set up your tablet or phone to capture you on film and watch it back closely. You’ll be amazed how many little bad habits you’ve picked up that you aren’t aware of.
If you’re still not sure why you’re not feeling something where you think you should be, then don’t be afraid to ask for help. Of course a Personal Trainer is bound to suggest a few sessions with a Personal Trainer to focus purely on technique – but if your budget won’t stretch that far you can gain a lot of knowledge from watching YouTube videos or even asking questions on online forums/social media pages. Tweet or leave Instagram comments on your favourite fitness accounts – chances are if you’ve experienced an issue someone else has too, and will be able to give you tips to fix it.
As an example, I had a client come to me last year frustrated that they couldn’t progress beyond a certain weight in their bench press. I got them to press in front of me and spotted the problem straight away – they were taking far too much of the weight into their forearm by bending their wrists back, which in turn was tightening the traps, so the scapula were unable to move. Within one session together, getting my client to focus on pushing the knuckles towards the ceiling during their press, and retracting their shoulder blades into the bench as they lowered the bar meant that we’d added an extra 10kg onto the bar before the hour was out.
Of course some bad habits may need longer and more detailed correction or even training to strengthen weaker muscles – but very often what could be stopping you seeing results in your workout is incorrect technique. Move properly, engage the right muscles and get ready to see results. It’s not called tekkers for nothing!
- Challenge to Change
Our bodies are super smart. They were designed that way because once upon a time we had to fend for ourselves in the wilderness, sleep in caves and hunt our dinner. Biologically we were designed to adapt to movement that was performed regularly, so that over time our bodies would become more efficient and actually conserve energy during repetitive actions.
What does that mean several thousand years down the line? That if you keep putting your body through the same old workouts, you’re never going to see any progress. Yes you may well maintain fitness, but your goals could well stay out of reach as your body adapts to performing the same movements week in week out. Do you always train chest on a Monday, back on a Wednesday, legs on a Friday? That’s great that you’re working all the major muscles in a week…. but not if you keep doing it over and over again.
If you don’t challenge your body, you won’t change your body. To maximise results you have to keep shaking things up, even shocking your body. You know that feeling after your first spin class in months? The one where you can barely walk down the stairs two days later? That’s the sign of deep tears into the muscle – i.e. challenging your body in a way it hasn’t worked for a long time, and your muscles will be working overtime to repair themselves having been asked to do something outside the norm. Whilst the cowboy walk is never a good look, it’s a great sign that you’ve mixed things up and revved your metabolism to recover from doing something different.
If you’re not one for trying the latest classes or gym equipment fret not – you can still mix things up just by changing your routine. At least once a month (ideally every three weeks) change your routine. Train at different times, or on different days, use different stimulus – do you always train biceps with EZ bar curls? Why not try standing single arm concentration curls? Or use dumb bells? Or change your grip and try hammer curls? Or even all of the above in a giant set? Want maximum results? Get ready to mix it up.
- Environmentally friendly
No, not recycling your worn out plastic protein shakers or cycling to the gym instead of driving (although I always approve of extra cardio!) – to achieve the outcomes you deserve when it comes to training, sometimes you have to look beyond what you do on the gym floor.
One of the biggest saboteurs when it comes to diet and exercise is stress. Stress is one of your biggest metabolic enemies, flooding your body with cortisol which actively encourages your body to store fat – in case of an emergency.
As I did in point 2 – referring back to our prehistoric ancestors, cortisol was our “fight or flight” hormone – do you run from a danger or face it head on? Nowadays our stresses are pretty different from that of whether to tackle a tiger with your bare hands or run for the hills, but worrying if you’re going to pay your rent this month, or whether your all-company presentation on Monday is going to go well or not still produce the same effect – too much cortisol in our body which adds up to weight gain (especially around the mid section of the body).
You can be smashing your workouts and eating clean all day long but if you’re constantly stressed you won’t see the results you deserve because you’re not creating the perfect environment for them. Of course telling people not to stress when they’re at breaking point is likely to only cause more stress – hence it becomes a vicious circle. But without reducing stress in your life, you won’t be able to get the body you work so hard for with your training.
When we’re under stress we tend to keep our breathing shallow – even something simple like taking a few really deep breaths can go some way to calming things down, as can time out to meditate. This doesn’t need to be cross legged and barefoot in a hidden hilltop temple – just turning your phone, laptop and the TV off and just taking yourself away from distractions can help hugely. Go for a walk, visit the park, sit in your garden – but unplug yourself from technology, from being social and just be and you’ll be amazed how much calmer you feel.
This in turn will help you sleep better – another reason that can hold you back from optimum training results. Running 10 miles before working or smashing a cross fit session in the evening is amazing, but getting 5 hours sleep afterwards is not, and without adequate time to recover, your muscles are not going to be able to grow and repair, which can leave you prone to injury, but also frustrated at your lack of progress. Muscles don’t grow when you workout, they grow when you sleep and your body can heal those micro tears you worked so hard for.
Give your body the perfect environment it needs to get leaner and stronger – and that means stressing less and sleeping more.
If you address all of these “little things” that you may not have even considered when it comes to your workouts, then you’ll be amazed how much they can all add up, and make a big difference to the results you see.