HOW TO SET AND CRUSH FITNESS GOALS IN THE NEW YEAR
Written by Dave Thomas
It’s scumbag season, folks.
The “Drop 8 Pounds in 8 Days” crowd dusts off their snake oil bottles. Nutritional cleanse predators hit the dark corners and back alleys. Infomercials for the next, most innovative thing litter your social media feed. Like Jawzercise. A thing you bite to develop your jaw line and sold as, “mind muscle connection”, I shit you not. Hell, earlier this week I watched a guy on Shark Tank pitch a fitness video where he was doing body weight rodeo moves in his classes. That was a real sentence. And thanks to Damon, the guy got a damn deal. But, I digress. And am starting to anger.
What do all of these nice folks have in common? All of them are promising you results faster than you can say, “I want a refund”.
If get-rich-quick is your desire, I have bad news for you. I don’t promise fast results. In fact, I promise you I will do everything I can to make sure your results take their sweet time like a fine Merlot.
Why? Because what takes a while to achieve takes a while to undo. What takes a while ends up creating personal habit, not resolution fad. What takes a while re-wires your work ethic and you begin to look forward to fitness, not dread it.
Until you enjoy the act of being fit, you will never adopt it.
Heading into this resolution season you should understand that there is no such thing as losing that much fat in that short amount of time. It’s water. Anything that promises and creates rapid weight reduction is indisputably a combination of water, muscle and some fat. You may have subtracted inches but you don’t get leaner, and remember that lean muscle is everything. When we burn off muscle we slow our basal metabolic rate, so we are actually priming ourselves to get fatter!
Your body does not metabolize pounds of fat that quickly, so I encourage you to run like the wind away from those tactics.
Regardless of where you are along the fitness curve, most of us set goals for ourselves in the New Year. We’re all #basicbitches at the end of the day, so the key is setting yourself up for reasonable expectation so that you don’t bail at first sight of your unrealistic expectations not being met. Today, I’d like to define those strategies and expectations with you to better help you understand real fitness and real work. Not shortcuts. Not green powder with a list of promises.
There are four stages of goal planning and strategic initiatives.
- Baseline Establishment
- Initial Progress
- Major Progress
- Lifestyle Change
Let’s take a target goal of 25 pound fat loss. Grant it, the vast majority of you reading this have no desire to lose that much weight, but we’re just using it for abstract illustration. I trust our more hardcore readers are intelligent enough to fit this to scale, whether it’s body composition or strength. If you have a performance goal of, say a 400# back squat, doing your first pull-up or running a faster mile, this article will serve the same purpose, believe it or not. This content will be very abstract. It’s not exactly possible to outline a step-by-step plan for all of my readers since I have no clue what your goals are, or your starting level. I’m merely aiming to provide with the understanding of timeline.
They key is understanding that a dramatic adjustment in lifestyle behavior is not going to fully take in the first few weeks if you’re deploying a pedal to the metal strategy. You will absolutely burn out if you think thrashing yourself daily and going to extremes as you start is the answer.
You have to be patient and understand that a fitter version of yourself is going to come in bits and pieces, and be built like a jigsaw puzzle. And here’s the real rub.
Most often, the best results are focused on doing less. Not more.
1. Baseline Establishment: Month 1
If you see any results in the first month I want them to occur by accident. Here’s what I mean.
In your first few weeks, it’s critical that your goal be strictly observing and logging your daily habits. That’s it. You are forbidden to care at all about your results in this time frame. For example, at this stage you would sit down on Sunday night, grab a notebook and jot down the following.
- Go to the gym two to three times this week. Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
- Track all of my meals every single day. Monitor what I am eating so I can make improvements off of that. (The app that I recommend to track is “MyFitness Pal”. While it can have some inaccuracies, those can be mitigated by reading the labels of your food and ensuring what you enter is accurate.
That’s it. I am realist and understand from years of running a successful gym that it is not realistic to adapt to a resolution or change cold turkey, and I don’t want that for you. If you can, then that rocks and you are the exception, but most people might last a week or two before they fall apart and wake up face down in a Nomad Donuts box with powdered sugar all over their nose.
By committing to exercise three times per week you have room to adjust your schedule should you happen to miss a day. You have a “failure grace”, a very important mental component of establishing your baseline. If you set the goal at five days and missed two, then you would feel as if you were failing towards your goal rather than hitting them, and that is quite literally the last thing that we want for you.
We want you to feel as if you are hitting check boxes along the way. Forming the habit of completion.
Additionally, by simply tracking your food intake you are not putting the pressure to follow healthy dieting, just gathering an idea of when you eat and what you’re eating so you can see areas you need to improve.
- Am I eating breakfast?
- Am I eating 20g+ protein at every meal?
- What is the actual content of the food I consume?
- How much wine does my basic ass really drink?
- Am I eating post workout?
Plus, a wonderful thing happens when you log what you eat, and that is, you tend to eat a lot less crap. Trying going into your food logging app and typing, “7-Eleven Apple Fritter”. You’ll want to do it a lot less. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard.
If you are strength or performance focused, in this time frame you should simply be focused on logging your lifts, preferably your 3R and 5R top end working sets.
Until you write everything down, it’s impossible to project and quantify changes you’re going to make. You must establish a baseline, and that is all this time period entails.
Now would also be a good time to figure out your caloric intake with Precision Nutrition Coach Lenny’s 5 Levels of Nutrition.
2. Initial Progress: Month 2
Things turn up a notch after the first two to four weeks. The honeymoon period is beginning to come to an end as you continue to feel out how you adapt to your current lifestyle, and you should feel energized and excited by now. You’ve now had the chance to see what’s going into your body for a full 30 days, you’ve seen how your body is adjusting to whatever training protocol you are on, and everything is becoming mentally organized for yourself.
If you are strength focused, in this time frame you set some small goals like increasing five pounds on all of your sets, adjusting to a slightly harder pull up band, etc., that you tracked in the previous phase.
Your short-term strategic initiatives would look similar to this.
- Go to the gym three to four times per week.
- Go grocery shopping for one-week supplies at a time.
- Plan and cook meals on Sunday for the following week.
It’s very important to understand that if your goal is a weight loss one, that weight will come off at extremely varied paces for different people. Realize that the human body is not an exact science. Everyone is different, so using that example of a 25 pound fat loss goal, if you experience 7-10 pounds in this range that is phenomenal.
Disappointment with a great start of a few pounds of fat loss, or a few pounds on the barbell, that you deem marginal because you only view goals on the large scale is what we’re trying to avoid. There are a ton of genetic factors that influence progress, most totally out of your control so don’t get too excited or too discouraged in this time frame.
It’s also important to illustrate that quality weight loss occurs more like a slow, steady drip than a flooding river. Remember. We are focused on preservation of lean body mass and performance as those are the two factors that drive metabolic health.
You should begin grading yourself on your nutrition tracking and aim for a 75% weekly success rate. Plan meals in advance so you’ll have the following meal schedule and foods already cooked for the week.
3. Major Progress: Month 3 – 5
Phase three is the time to truly assess where you are with your goal and adjust accordingly. Up to this point, you have started to see some very good results for yourself if you’re following your plan. Routine should be on its way to the norm and you should no longer feel as if you are “dieting”, or struggling to lift an extra 5% on your 5R sets. Following a reasonable daily caloric prescription should be easy, and things should be moving forward nicely.
If you are behind where you think you should be, then examine your diet and ask yourself where you can improve. Keep in mind, the initial weight comes off at a much faster rate than the final amount of desire weight. The Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in after a while and you have to work smarter rather than harder. If your progress has stagnated or your results have reached a plateau then chances are you can make little adjustments that can get you going again.
The most common mistake at this time? Seeing weight loss stall and thinking that the answer to breaking a plateau is to cut even more calories. Seeing strength stall and thinking the answer is to lift more often. Do not make this mistake.
An all too common behavior I observe in the gym is when folks see results, they think the answer is to take what they are doing and put it on adderall. To do more. Harder. Two a days. Cut carbs.
The real strategy here is to stay the course with very minor tweaks in your plan that can be easily discussed in a few minutes with your coach.
4. Lifestyle Change: 6 Months+
Somewhere around the six month period you should expect to hit your goal if you’re going about it the right way. But more often than not, a funny thing occurs along the way.
You sort of begin to not care about your initial goal. You likely begin to get very into how your body can perform. You care less and less about what the scale says to you and more about your physicality. Your initial goal seems like a silly, distant memory. You’ll notice that you have gradually and unmistakably had a paradigm shift with how you view diet and nutrition. You begin to realize that you are not “restricting” foods so much as you are avoiding calories that serve you no purpose. You’ll begin to understand the concept of fueling yourself rather than eating for pleasure and you’ll no longer have the constant cravings you once did.
The ultimate fitness and nutrition goal, and the path to long-term success, is to train yourself and your mind to implement permanent lifestyle changes, to not see any foods as off limits and to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise. In my experience as a coach, if you reach the six month mark of dedication, then you’ve made it past the breaking point and are well on your way to a more fit life.
In summary here is what you should realistically expect.
Month 1: Make positive behavioral changes and establish baselines.
Month 2: Initial fat loss and/or basic strength improvements.
Months 3 – 5: Making real strides towards your goal completion.
Month 6+: Full behavioral change.
Aim for behavioral changes you can fully adapt to after a few months and for the rest of your life you will enjoy a healthier, more fit version of yourself. I promise.