Q: How do I stay motivated?
A: You can't.
Scary, isn't it? No one ever told you this motivation you feel for your new routine is nothing but excitement. And no one ever told you it goes away.
Motivation is emotional, fading with time. While you feel a lot of it now, you'll feel less with each passing day until you wake up one day wanting to quit.
It's at this point many people give up. They feel like failures because they don't want to do it anymore. The reality, however, is that everyone hits this point. Motivation is not built to last, it's merely the spark to get you started. Once the spark is gone, though, that doesn't mean the entire relationship has to fall apart.
On your hardest days, you can look up motivational reading at places like Reddit's Get Motivated subreddit. Reading and watching such empowering bits pieces of wisdom is enough to fill anyone back up with a "can do" attitude.
On the regular days, the only thing that will keep you pushing forward is your own will to do so.
Determination isn't glamorous. Determination doesn't really come with any secrets. It's simply doing something when you don't want to. That's it. It's a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it becomes. The lazy let it idle while the strong exercise its potential every day.
So the question then becomes: how do I stay determined?
A: You practice.
Every day, take one thing you don't want to do and do it. In the case of this blog, that means working out or eating healthy or both. It can be as simple as turning down a pizza for one more day or as complex as sticking to a full blown meal plan.
A Note on Determination
Your brain does not want change. It will bitch every single day you do something it doesn't want to.
It's a child that doesn't know what's good for it, and you are the parent keeping it on the straight and narrow. Given enough time, your brain will complain when you don't get to workout or eat right.
Eat This, Not That
Eat BUTTER, not MARGARINE
Eat DARK CHOCOLATE, not MILK CHOCOLATE
Eat RED PASTA SAUCE, not WHITE PASTA SAUCE
Eat REAL CHEESE, not FAKE CHEESE
Eat WHOLE GRAINS, not WHITE GRAINS
Eat OLIVE OIL, not VEGETABLE OIL
Eat PITA CHIPS, not POTATO CHIPS
Eat TURKEY BURGERS, not HAMBURGERS
Eat TURKEY DOGS, not HOT DOGS
Eat ROMAINE LETTUCE, not ICEBERG LETTUCE
Eat CHICKEN, not BEEF
Eat GREEK YOGURT, not REGULAR YOGURT
Eat VINAIGRETTES, not CREAMY SALAD DRESSINGS
Eat FRUIT, not CANDY
Eat SUGAR, not HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
When it comes to starting to change your diet, it's all about moving away from the highly processed foods that line the shelves of grocery stores nationwide. The first action isn't depriving yourself of the flavors you love, it's making a small shifts to healthier things.
This week, it's time to start changing for the better. Pick one thing or a few things to swap out on your weekly grocery run. Any step forward, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction.
Tracking information about yourself is very much like scientists tracking the weather over time. While day-to-day data points mean relatively little, when looked at as a whole, you can see evidence of change.
With a routine chosen and (hopefully) started, it's time to track your progress. Just because you're new doesn't make tracking any less important. In fact, tracking now is what will keep you motivated on those inevitable days when you feel like everything you've done up to this point has been for nothing.
Not only is this necessary for making sure that what you're doing is working, it downplays any mean comments you may hear from others. Data doesn't lie, but people do.
What to Track
You need a scale. It's the one expenditure you have to make. Luckily, there are some pretty great Sunbeam scales at Walmart that cost less than $15. You could probably even find used scales on Amazon for less. Maybe one of your friends has one they don't use anymore you could get for free.
Weight is necessary for the diet portion of your work. It is numerical evidence that you are taking in the correct total number of calories every day.
There is reason to believe that weighing in every day is extremely beneficial for holding yourself responsible for your goals. However, once weekly is also great.
At the same time of day. Our bodies naturally shift a few pounds here and there based on water weight, food intake and even colon fullness. By remaining consistent, you increase the likelihood these variables remain constant.
Personally, I always take my weight in the morning right after my morning bathroom break but before I start to hydrate.
You can use an online tracker, like with the MyFitnessPal app, or you can start your own spreadsheet to keep things completely private. So long as it can plot a graph, you're good. Why a graph? You'll want a visualization of your overall trend toward losing or gaining weight. It's great to see how far you've come.
I cannot stress enough how imperative it is to get into the habit of tracking your calories now. You cannot make adjustments with estimations. You need cold, unfeeling numbers. Do not wait as long as I have. The earlier you do this, the easier achieving your body goals will be.
Each week, write down where you weight totals are. Example:
This reminds you where to start the next week. It also is verifiable evidence that you are gaining strength. Feel free to start a spreadsheet for these numbers as well.
Each exercise, write down the key elements that prove you're improving in the cardio routine you've chosen. For running, it could be:
If you're doing something indoors, like Yoga, note how long you could hold each pose before having to rest. Each time you go back, force yourself to go just a little longer or a little farther.
Finally, set up one day each month to take pictures of your naked or semi-naked body. You'll want a front, side and back pic. Through progress pictures, you begin to see exactly where fat is shedding and where muscle is building. It's also a great way to reflect on what you currently like and what areas you really want to improve. For me, it always has been, and will forever be, my legs.
A Note on Progress Pics
These will be unflattering. Unless you have great lighting, a perfect pose and Photoshop, you're going to look pasty, lumpy and otherwise unappealing. This is okay. These photos are for you and only you. Embrace your body for what it is. Only by accepting your flaws can you figure out what to work on.
Don't be scared. If you do a diet correctly, you'll often feel like you're force feeding yourself, even when you're on a cut.
Bad diets are any fad diet. No carb, low carb, no fat, low fat, Atkins, Mediterranean, Paleo, Cabbage Soup, grapefruit and everything else are all bullshit.
Same goes for cleanses. You have a liver for a reason. It doesn't need lemon juice, cayenne pepper or maple syrup.
On top of this, the weight loss stories associated with these are only partial truths. Of course the body will lose weight when it's forced to eat fewer calories. What they don't tell you is that they put the weight back on again because, low and behold, they're eating a diet that is not healthy and not sustainable.
When you want to put on muscle while lowering your body percentage, you have to eat enough and you have to eat enough of the right stuff.
That is what the diet should be.
A Good Diet
You need a healthy balance of what are known as macronutrients. These are:
Now, your body needs all three of these things to stay healthy. Protein builds muscle, fat keeps cells healthy and maintains hormones, and carbohydrates provide your body with fuel.
It's how you divide these across your daily calorie count that determines what your body will look like.
Cuts typically look like this:
Bulks typically look like this:
The caloric measurement is actually a measurement of energy. It measures just how much energy you need to expend on order to work off the energy the food just provided your body. Check here for a detailed explanation.
Everyone is different, so what works for someone else may not work for you. While this can mean a lot of nitpicking as you get closer to your goal, there is a general rule you can follow to get started.
When you try to decide how many daily calories you should aim for, look up men or women of your height. 6'4 Hugh Jackman requires a much different diet than 5'7 Tom Cruise. You can also look to calorie calculators, however I've found these tend to overestimate.
To then tweak this, track everything and experiment. At the moment, I use MyFitnessPal. The food list is extensive, and it does the math for you when you have different servings of various foods. Because this is probably new to you, don't scare yourself by doing too much at once. All you need to do now is start tracking what you eat every day.
Once you can successfully mark everything, you can start messing around with your daily calorie total to find a number that works for you.
No workout routine is complete without a warm up and after workout stretch. These two bits are the final piece of your workout puzzle. One saves you from injury while the other keeps your body limber.
The Warm Up
A warm up is exactly what it says it is. It warms you up, preparing your body for later intensity.
This is really up to your body. Younger guys and gals can easily get away with 15 minutes, maybe even less whereas older people generally need at least 30 minutes. What's important here is making sure you warm up the entire body and you do so correctly.
What To Do?
Warm ups are comprised of two parts:
Light cardio is pretty easy to figure out on your own. Walk a bit. Do a light jog. Perform one jumping jack every 10 seconds.
Stretching is a bit trickier, but at this early stage, you only need to know:
At the moment, there's quite a bit of controversy surrounding which one is better, as a quick read through of a Google Scholar search can show you. If you don't feel like sifting through the somewhat intense scientific language, here's what you need to know:
You want to make sure your muscles and joints have all awoken from their slumber with the kiss of blood before you ask them to do anything they wouldn't normally do during your daily routine.
A Note for Lifters
When you start to hit the heavier weights that could seriously fuck you up if done incorrectly, you now require an addition to your warm up. As this site points out, this third portion is all about building up to your max with a pyramid - a lot of reps with a minimal amount of weight followed by subsequently larger and larger weights at fewer and fewer reps.
The After Workout Stretch
The stretch is not here to prevent muscle soreness or keep you free from injury, according to a review of scientific literature. However, what it does do is increase your flexibility and range of motion, two things necessary for improving your overall performance. After all, you can't squat properly until it's ass to grass.
This is a wonderful routine because it covers all major muscle groups. As the writer suggests, each stretch should be done for a total of 60 seconds, but if you need to split it into two intervals of 30 seconds, that's cool too. The key is to never go lower than 30 seconds or the stretch has little to no effect.
Now that all the important mental stuff is out of the way, let's talk workout. Often perceived as this mystical activity accompanied by charismatic speeches and music rich in bass, it can be a scary thing to try and break into.
If you're a beginner, the only thing you need to learn is how to exercise regularly.
You don't need to pick a specific workout. You don't need to buy a home gym worth hundreds of dollars. All you need is commitment. However, commitment can take time to build. After all, we have lazy days, so what's one skipped workout day?
This is the attitude you need to overcome. By giving yourself leeway and excuses, you give yourself permission to fail. In the beginning, this is almost all everyone does. They start out strong and then start making concessions here and there until, eventually, they're back at square one.
Instead of starting all or nothing, why not reverse the process and start with something that you can realistically achieve? You don't need to run yourself into the ground to get fit. What you need is to build a solid base to grow yourself on. How strong your foundation is will ultimately determine how grand your home can be.
So where do you even begin? What do you even choose?
The first step is to choose something you enjoy doing. If you like walking, make walking your baseline. If you like sprinting, do sprinting. The same goes with anything that challenges your body to be better. Swimming, aerobics, karate, boxing, weightlifting, Pilates, yoga, et cetera. Whatever makes you happy and feel accomplished is the best foundation.
The next step is picking a schedule you can realistically stick to. Sure, the big athletes we all look up to train 6 days a week, every week, every year. However, the problem with this is that you aren't a big athlete. You are a beginner. It takes conditioning to be able to do that much while still maintaining a job, a family and a social life.
Instead, opt for 3 alternating days per week. This means Monday, Wednesday, Friday or any variation thereof.
Shoot for 15 to 30 minutes. Remember, the goal is not how much you can do but making sure you do it consistently.
A Note on Consistency
Consistency does not mean repetitiveness. If you're getting sickeningly bored of the routine you picked, change it out for something else. This might mean you alternate exercises every two weeks. This is perfectly fine so long as you stick to your schedule.
If you do it right, getting in shape doesn't have to cost you a thing. While it certainly is nice to have expendable income to afford a nice gym or even a YMCA, too many of us get hung up on the idea that we need things to get fit. This is not the case. If you want to get fit, you will get fit no matter your lot in life.
Beginner Weight Programs
If you have absolutely no heavy things that can be dropped in satchels and lifted, you'll want to turn to the bodyweight routine a little further down.
This is the routine I started with. It takes maybe 15 minutes and follows the 3 days a week rule. The best part is that it has you learn the three lifts that make up the foundation of lifting: squat, bench and deadlift.
The Liam Rosen site posted in resources also lists two other beginner routines:
The most important thing you can take away from these great beginner programs is that they are only three days out of the week. Apart from that fact that you need a realistic way to build consistency, your body also needs to rest. If you never give your muscles time to sleep, they never get a chance to repair themselves. This time to repair is what results in growth.
All of these will kick your ass. All in all, this one goes for about 30-45 minutes, depending on how fast your reps are.
Beginner Cardio Programs
Like weights, you don't need a fancy elliptical to do cardio. Even if your knees or joints are bad, there are a vast number of low impact cardio videos for free on YouTube.
Of all the cardio resources I've gone through, she is the only one to have such a wide variety. Long, short, intense, relaxed, stretching, high-impact or low-impact, she has something for everyone. For running, look to any of the Couch-to-XK routines. They're fantastic for building stamina. So long as the activity really gets your heart going, you're doing cardio.
A Note on Cardio Length
If you are set on getting ripped like a bodybuilder, never do more than 30 minutes of cardio per day. While necessary for keeping the body lean, the joke that cardio kills gains does have some truth to it. Don't fear cardio entirely but be sure to limit your intake so that you can keep growing your muscles effectively. If, however, your goal is not a ripped bod, go as long as you find fun.
We all have dreams, and what makes our dreams become reality is our ability to break them down into goals. You dream of being a doctor?
Notice here that each goal is a step toward your ultimate dream. Breaking everything down into doable, bite-sized chunks is what makes the whole thing seem less scary. In short, goals are your way of making the seemingly impossible seem possible.
Step 1: Choosing a Dream
Your ultimate dream will determine what goals you need to set for yourself. This is why, before you get going, you need a dream. If you're at a loss, see this video for further instruction.
A Note on Dreams
No dream is stupid.
One of the scariest parts of setting a new physical goal for yourself is that it can leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable. One negative word from someone you love or respect can destroy that glimmer of hope the dream gave you. If anyone insults you trying to lose weight or get in shape in any way, cut them out of your life as much as possible. Such negativity stems from their own insecurities. Do not allow others to demean your progress.
Step 2: Deciding Your Goals
Now that your dreams has been put into words, it's time to give it plausibility. With fitness, this usually takes a basic route.
That's about it. If the goals still seem unobtainable, break each one down further, getting more specific each time.
In the end, it's not the order you do it in so much as actually doing it. It's so easy to get hung up on "perfect" plan that we scare ourselves away from ever doing it in the first place. When in doubt, just start swimming.
A Note on Sticking With Goals
If you fall off the horse, get back on. You will not succeed the first try, but the chances of you succeeding increase each time you do try. Next post, I'll take more in depth about failure and success.
As mentioned in the previous post, this journey of getting in shape will result in failure.
A lot of failure.
But this is not only okay, it is expected.
In order to learn how to do something correctly, you have to learn how to do it incorrectly first. This gives your brain the chance to process a mistake, analyze why it was a mistake and then try again with newly integrated information. This, in a nutshell, is the learning process.
The Steps to Overcoming Failure
To summarize this, let's take quitting soda as an example. Your first goal might be to limit drinking soda to once per day for two weeks. However, on day 12, you give in and bathe in its glorious syrupy sweetness.
At this point, you have reached a fork in the road. You can now choose to either:
A) Hate yourself, hate soda, hate the world and admit you'll never be good enough
B) Admit that you gave in because, god damn it, you wanted some comfort food
For those that picked A, hatred/disgust/loathing is not going to get you anywhere. It keeps you from improving because it neuters the power you give yourself by placing the responsibility on others. ProTip: you're the only one that can change your habits.
For those that picked B, you're on the right track. Also notice here to use of the word "want" over the word "need". If you're going to really take control of your actions, you need to use these words correctly. Unless you will literally die without the noun in question, it's a want. Period.
Once Step 1 is achieved, move on to Step 2 immediately. Usually one week out is always a great time to get back on the horse because we love starting things on a new week.
A Note on Acceptance
For most of us, acceptance is the hardest part. It's never easy to admit we're not as strong as we thought. What makes it even harder is if we talk ourselves up as being big, bad toughies that can quit whenever we want only to find quitting isn't so easy. But once we learn how to let go of this pride and admit we aren't as awesome as we think we are, we can learn how to improve. Through admittance, we accept the responsibility that we do have power over our actions, however small it may seem.
A Note on Trying Again
Do not wait too long to try again. Always make sure you get back on it within at least a month. If you don't, you run the risk of giving up altogether.
Co-host of HeroesForge, founder of Battle to Be Better, gamer, singer and all around happy person.