As an amateur bodybuilder and fitness writer, I get asked to write training programs for a lot of friends who are keen on getting into shape. In principle I don’t mind doing this and in fact I quite enjoy the chance to flex my fitness know-how, but what I do resent is writing someone a program for the tenth time because they’ve failed to follow my advice previously. ‘This time will be different’ they assure me! ‘This time I will stick to it religiously’ they swear! And then it’s not and they don’t.
Lately then I’ve been taking a different tact. Rather than teaching people how to train, I’ve been teaching people how to stick at training programs, which in the long term is a far more valuable skill. Essentially it’s analogous to teaching a man how to fish rather than giving him lots of fish… or something like that.
So what is the secret to sticking to a training program? How do you make sure that this time is different from all those other times? Here are a few techniques and tips that have proven useful for others and that might be able to help you – and at their core they’re really all about energy management. A lot of fitness writers and self-improvement gurus talk about the importance of managing your time, but really if you want to get more from yourself then what’s most important is to think about how you manage your energy levels.
Something Has to Change
The first thing I point out these days to people who ask for my help with training programs is that there’s nothing wrong with the ones I already gave them. I know this because I’ve used them, others have used them and they’ve worked fine. So if they’re coming to me asking for new ones then really they’re focussing on the wrong thing. It’s the same with you too – even if your training program isn’t any good, you should bear in mind that doing any exercise will help you to see improvements if you do it long enough.
Really then when they ask for a new training program, they’re fixing none of the problems they had in the first place. They’re setting out to accomplish more, but they’re doing things the exact same way and expecting to get different results. What a surprise this doesn’t work!
A Training Routine for Your Whole Life
In order to fix your health then, you need to fix your lifestyle. Probably you didn’t manage to stick to your last training program because you were always too tired, because you didn’t have enough time, because you weren’t motivated enough – so those are the things that need to change. Ultimately we only have a finite amount of energy, and working out will require a large portion of that – if you want to be successful you’re going to have to conserve it elsewhere.
To do this you need to take a long look at your life and then identify the things that are taking up your time and energy. Most likely you’ll find that you don’t have energy because you’re stressed at work, or because you don’t have any ‘you time’. It’s also probably to do with your diet – colds and other illnesses can take months to get over when you aren’t eating enough fruit and veg.
So don’t just write a training program – write a whole new routine for your week to help you save energy. Make sure that this includes lots of time for you to relax, that it takes into account a healthy diet, and that it fits your training in at a time when you’ll be feeling most energetic. Moving your training routine to the start of the day can make all the difference for instance, simply because it means you won’t be at the gym after you’ve already used all your energy up at work.
More often than not something is going to have to give. You can’t take on such a big new commitment without freeing up the time somehow, so that might mean you have to give up your sewing class or just go out drinking once a week rather than twice.
My Recent Health Drive
Recently I made the decision to ‘bulk up’ and try and regain the physique I had when I was in my personal prime. To do this I was going to have to start training harder and longer, and I knew that that meant I would need a new approach.
To start with then, I made the unfortunate decision to start travelling into London once a week instead of twice. As I’m a writer I can work from anywhere I like, and as such I used to go into central London twice a week with my girlfriend so we could meet for lunch. Unfortunately though this took up a lot of my time and energy, and by reducing those trips by 50% I found that I instantly had more spare time and energy – not to mention money.
Next I changed gyms to one that was right down the road. This cost a little more, but it made a huge difference because it meant I could walk their in two minutes rather than thirty. It’s pretty hard to find the energy to do a workout after walking thirty minutes in the rain when you’re pushed for time.
Additionally I then decided to switch up my routine. Instead of working out at the end of the day when I’d completed all my work, I would instead train at the start of the day when I had all my energy. Immediately I noticed my workouts getting more interesting and intense, and I found I actually did more work too because I didn’t have the prospect of a walk to the gym hanging over me like a dark cloud. And before my workout I would relax for an hour before getting going – because ‘guilt free’ relaxation time can make a huge difference to your physical and mental energy.
Part of the realisation that I needed to change my routine had come from a severe flu I’d had for months, so I also started supplementing with vitamins and minerals and eating more fibre. With a better body clock, a better diet and a more rigid routine I found myself with far more energy and in only a two months I’d added an inch to my biceps.
The big difference with approaching a training program like this is that you’re now building it to last. Rather than trying to force yourself into a new vigorous and painful routine, you’re instead altering your lifestyle so that it’s a part of your routine.
Because that’s ultimately the most important thing of all – that you keep at it. And you will only do this if you find a way to give yourself the energy to do so.