Standing on the gym floor, red-faced, and breathing hard from another killer workout, you stare intensely at your reflection…..
“Not bad” you think.
In fact, considering where you started out – just over a year ago, when you had that annoying muffin top, flabby arms and could barely lift an empty barbell, you’ve come a long way.
Now? Well, you’re not exactly Jamie Eason or Dana Linn Bailey, but you’re in good shape.
And that’s what bugs you – “good shape.”
“Hey, you’re looking good” friends say to you, or “you’ve made some good progress,” as that girl in the gym said to you just the other week.
“Good” is starting to get you down.
In fact, most of the changes in your physique came in your first six months. Since then, you’ve kind of been spinning your wheels. You occasionally think you notice a some more definition in your triceps, the scale might drop a kilo or so, and your calves look awesome when you’re in heels, but overall, the whole process is getting frustrating.
Why Being “Good” Sucks
For the average guy or girl in the street, being considered in good shape would be more than enough.
Hell, most would settle just to drop 10 pounds and not have to buy a new belt every year, as their waist line keeps on ballooning. But for you – not so much.
As someone who takes their fitness and physique a little more seriously, you want to be great.
We’re talking toned arms, shapely thighs and rock hard booty.
But what does this actually take?
Surely it’s a linear process?
You made significant changes in the beginning by just cleaning up your diet, hitting the gym, and then starting to train sensibly and with intensity, so why can you not just keep doing this, and expect progress to carry on until you’ve got your dream physique?
Why Progress is NOT Linear
Just like weight loss isn’t a completely linear process (i.e. your weight fluctuates up and down over the course of a day/week/month, even though overall it should drop) body composition changes aren’t linear either, and at some point, you’ll hit a wall.
In my experience, it is completely true that for the first six months, maybe even a year, depending on your starting point, people can make fairly consistent progress simply by doing more of the same (ie. eating better and exercising regularly and consistently) but to break the barrier from good shape to great shape, it takes a little extra.
These steps will take you through exactly what you need to do to take yourself to the next level.
Track More Closely
For those completely new to the world of fitness and diet, making simple food switches is more than enough to elicit enormous changes in body composition.
Your average office worker’s day might involve an energy drink and a cupcake for breakfast, a sandwich and chips for lunch, various chocolate and candy bars during the day, a microwave meal for dinner, all washed down with sugary coffees, more energy drinks and a hefty evening dose of alcohol.
Switch to eggs for breakfast, a salad for lunch, steak and sweet potato for dinner, and snacks of fruit and nuts, and you’re guaranteed to lose fat.
This is all just dandy. If you want to look “good” that is. For a “great” physique though, you need to be much more in tune with what you eat.
Foods can’t really be defined as good and bad, or healthy and unhealthy. You could actually get fat on the above “healthy” diet if you eat too many calories. While it might sound pretty awesome, if you’re actually eating six eggs cooked in coconut oil, drizzling olive oil all over salmon and chicken salads, gorging on sweet potatoes and brown rice, and going to town with your pistachio and almond snacks, you could easily go well over your daily calorie needs by eating “clean.”
Therefore, you need to start tracking.
If you’ve not progressed in a while, it’s very likely that you’re just eating too many calories.
In the beginning, when you were heavier, you burned more on a daily basis. Now, you’ve lost some fat, and while you’ve built some muscle too, you just don’t need quite that same amount of calories as you did before.
Get yourself set up with some sort of tracking system. This could be the old-fashioned paper and pen method, but using a website or app is far easier.
Many people used to “eating clean,” especially those with a low-carb mind-set are astounded at how many calories they’re taking in without knowing.
Be Mr or Mrs Consistent
New dieters are often duped into the idea that they need some time “off” their diet to give their body a break, or to shock it into getting results and prevent stagnation.
As great as this may sound, these “off” periods often turn into cheat meals, cheat days or binges.
While there’s nothing wrong with not sticking to your diet all the time, there’s a difference between giving yourself a little leeway here and there, and going on full-on cheat session.
The phrase “be a strict dieter, not a restricted one” rings very true here.
You needn’t follow a bland, boring diet seven days per week, 365 days of the year, cutting out tasty foods, or anything deemed “unhealthy.” Doing this is miserable and unsustainable.
What you do need though, is consistency.
If you’re tracking your calorie and macronutrient intake, that means staying with 5 to 10% of your guidelines every day.
Within this, you can include “cheat” foods (on a daily basis if you wish, provided they fit your macros) but you do need to live by the numbers. If you have even one day a week where you go massively over your required intake, that can seriously dent your progress and lead to big fat gains.
Break Your Diet
Despite what I just said about being consistent with your eating and hitting macros, sometimes a break is just what you need.
That’s not to say you go for that “cheat meal” or huge weeklong binge and think you’re giving your body some good.
Instead, plan in a re-feed once or twice a week, where you increase your carb intake by 50 to 100%. This is enough of a bump up to give you a little extra energy and boost levels of metabolic hormones, but not so much to trigger fat storage.
A second option would be to incorporate free meals. These are non-tracked meals, but they aren’t binges.
Go out for a meal (or cook something at home) and allow yourself two courses of “healthy” food. Eat until you’re pleasantly full, but not stuffed.
A diet break would be another potential plateau-buster.
This involves taking a short period (usually three to 10 days) where you don’t track anything, but just eat sensibly. Base meals around lean proteins, include vegetables and/or fruits at every one and eat to the point of satisfaction.
A free meal once a week, and a diet break every couple of months can be that mental and physical break you need to keep you on the road to greatness.
Going balls to the wall every session?
You might be doing your progress more harm than good.
Training intensely is vital for getting in great shape, but that’s not to say you need to batter your body into oblivion every single workout.
A productive training program needs periodisation.
If your goal every time you hit the weights is to leave the gym unable to walk, or struggling to lift your arms for the next three days, you’re not training smart.
When designing your routine, plan at least four weeks in advance.
Look to incorporate different intensities throughout each training week, or work in blocks, where you start each training phase relatively light, and build up throughout it, peaking at the end.
If you’re not sure how to plan an efficient periodised workout, there are plenty of highly effective ones out there already, which leads us on nicely to the final step…..
There’s nothing wrong with asking someone for help.
In fact, outsourcing and getting someone you trust to guide you is probably the best weapon you have in your arsenal to take you from good to great.
People are often terrible at being objective. We stress over whether we should cut calories or not, second guess ourselves when it comes to diet planning and training, and are our own worst coaches.
The best models, bikini competitors and athletes in the world all have coaches.
By getting someone (preferably with more knowledge and experience than you) not only do you get the benefits of their expertise, but you also take a huge weight off your shoulders.
No more do you have to worry about whether you need to lower your carbs, do more cardio, or switch up your squat assistance exercises – these decisions are all in the hands of someone else.
Bonus Step: Be Accountable
Not accepting accountability is the number one reason why few people truly reach the level they desire.
I call this the “but scenario.”
It starts with explaining why they’re not done as well as they wanted to. For instance –
“I missed a few workouts this week”
“I went over my carbs by 200 grams”
“I haven’t really tracked anything for the last few days”
and then comes the but –
“BUT I was busy at work”
“BUT it was my friend’s birthday so we went out for drinks”
“BUT I’ve just not had time.”
As valid as these excuses might be, they’re still excuses. And that’s what separates the “good” from the “great” –
The good make excuses, the great find solutions.
Result Based Training