Now I already know the first question that’s going to pop into your head. Why should I take fitness advice from you? Okay, so I’m a singer/songwriter for Millennium, a pop rock group from Los Angeles. I admit that’s no reason to jump on my fitness wagon. You also shouldn’t take my advice because I happen to be a certified fitness trainer, have an extensive background in nutritional biochemistry, nor because I have a black belt in Shaolin Kenpo. The real reason you should heed the advice that I’m about to give you is this: I’ve been working out consistently since I was 12 years old, without missing a week. That means that what I do in the gym is sustainable over the long haul. I’m no big buff dude, but I’ve maintained the same physique, body fat percentage and lean body mass since I was eighteen years old. I’m happy with that. Here are the basic guidelines that keep me going:
1. Three Times Per Week is Enough
For most people leading hectic lives, this should come as good news. Three 90-minute sessions per week is sufficient to get all of the health benefits of working out (cardiovascular, pulmonary, muscular, etc.). Adding more sessions per week risks over-training and muscle injury which can easily lead to brief or permanent hiatuses from the gym.
2. Forget the heavy weights
There is no sane reason to grab any dumbbell over 40 lbs or to stack more than 200 lbs on the bench press or squat rack. Ha! This guy is a little punk, you’re saying. That’s the ego talking. Sure, most of us can lift more weight than that. But it’s not going to produce any additional health benefits and it’s exactly that sort of competitive mindset that leads to injury and brief or permanent vacations from the gym. I guarantee you can achieve the same burn safely by using lower weights and by concentrating on good form and slow continuous movement. Another downside of using heavy weights is more insidious. We all have a natural psychological aversion to pain. You may overcome that aversion for a period of time when hormone levels are high and other factors align. However, the moment those factors are not aligned, you will stop going to the gym. Simply put, if you establish a high threshold of pain and intensity that you cannot maintain consistently over the long haul, you are setting yourself up for failure.
3. Stick to simple exercises
I can count on ten fingers and toes the exercises that are needed for a complete workout in the gym. That even includes alternate exercises for each muscle group to keep it interesting. Yes, these exercises are the most basic linear and circular movements, but they are also the most effective. I always get a good laugh over some of the off-the-wall exercises I see fitness trainers instructing their clients to do. Most of those clients never come back after their five-session pass is up. The clients that do stick around continue doing this litany of bizarre and dangerous exercises without any supervision which quickly leads to injury (sometimes even to the people standing near them!) The truth is, not being able to stick to a simple set of exercises that are beneficial and safe sets you down the wrong path. Be wary of the mind’s subtle attempts to sabotage your workout and resist them by keeping it simple.
4. Don’t overtrain
This point gets at the heart of what motivates us to work out. In a healthy state of mind, we work out to maintain and enhance the beautiful aspects of ourselves. It is an act of self-love. When we work out our bodies too hard, too fast, over too short a period of time, we are no longer motivated by self-love but by self-hate. We are trying to change the image in the mirror because we don’t like what we see. These kinds of negative emotions are not going to get you through the long haul. The best way to avoid overtraining is to 1) limit each exercise to 3 sets of 10 – 12 reps using moderately challenging weight, 2) limit 2 exercises per muscle group and 3) take a rest day in between workout days. There is a sound scientific basis for these limits. Overtraining triggers the body’s chemical pathway for ‘fight or flight’ leading to increased cortisol production and the storage of fat. Over decades of training, I’ve observed these limits to work very well. Be wary of overtraining, as it points to negative motivating factors and directly sabotages our fitness goals.
5. Eat right and avoid sports supplements
The answer to the secret of how to burn fat and tone muscle does not come in a bottle. It comes in the form of a gym membership and a good workout plan. These so-called sports enhancement supplements carry a number of undesirable side-effects that hurt you in the long run. The only three supplements I have found to be worth taking on a daily basis are ones that everyone should take, whether or not you work out: 1) a multivitamin/multimineral tablet, 2) a calcium tablet (500 mg) and 3) coenzyme Q10 (100 mg). The science supporting these three supplements is irrefutable at this point. That said, it is important to get a sufficient amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat from your daily diet to support your workout and overall health. This is quite easy if you stick to lean meats, such as chicken breast, fish, non marbled pork and red meat, in conjunction with rice, pasta, vegetables and fruit. Nothing new there. I‘ll be honest, over the long term I don’t think it’s possible to get the macronutrients necessary to support a rigorous workout on a vegetarian diet (but that’s a whole other article). When it comes to diet and exercise, the first concern is having sufficient energy to power through your workout. To this end, it is okay to eat up to 15 minutes before exercising. The second concern is having adequate building blocks for muscle growth and antioxidants for detoxifying the body after your workout. A healthy diet with the three supplements mentioned satisfies these requirements every time.
If you’ve read this far, then perhaps you’ve become aware of the fact that effective training is quite simple. It requires positive motivation, discipline to stick to a routine and the ability to procure healthy food. If it’s so simple, then why is it so hard for people to get and stay in shape over the course of their lives? The answer might surprise you: Because people are quick to embrace the idea of looking and feeling healthy, but they want it to happen overnight. They don’t realize that the value of a goal lies not in its achievement, but in the many intervening days of methodical work that produce that outcome. Or to paraphrase Aristotle, excellence is in habit. Only by recognizing and resisting the impulse for immediate gratification, can we take the steps necessary to achieve ideal health in a moderate, self-sustainable fashion. Hopefully, if nothing else, this article serves to focus our thoughts and get us back on a realistic path to long term health.
‘I can count on ten fingers the exercises that are needed for a
complete workout in the gym’. – Stryker