Contributing Author: Stewart Flannigan | Personal Trainer Fitness First
Nothing motivates us more to get fit, lean and healthy like longer, warmer days, and the prospect of stripping down to our swimmers. Here are a dozen hacks to help you on your way to a fitter you that won’t fade away with your summer tan.
GET REAL ABOUT YOUR GOALS
Unrealistic, short-term goals just set you up for failure. Instead, set a goal that sets you up to be fitter for life, not just for summer – in other words, be prepared to take baby steps on a journey and a set of habits that you can sustain in the long-term. After all, how long can you keep up that beetroot-and-kale juice diet (with that scary pee!) and drag yourself home from those French Legionnaire boot camps, terrified you’ll have a hernia if you sneeze? Take into consideration the time you have available for training and food preparation, where you’re starting at with your fitness, and the resources you have available (e.g. equipment and activities you have access to, can you get a trainer or a personal chef/spouse who cooks). Once you’ve set your goal, share it – this will make you commit to it.
DIAL IN THE DYNAMIC DUO EVERY MEAL
Forget diets and eating systems – here’s one simple principle that will make a big difference to your body. At every meal, ensure you have a small serve of protein and a large serve of fibre. You’ll get most of your fibre from vegetables, which are a rich source of vitamins and minerals for health and vitality. Other sources will be fruits, legumes and wholegrains, all of which will give you a good source of medium-to-slow release carbohydrates for sustained energy. Eating more fibre makes you feel fuller for longer, while sustaining your energy from less calories. The best way to get the most out of the protein you eat is to distribute it in small, roughly equal portions across the day. This will help maintain muscle mass, which will reduce the long-term fat gain that tends to happen as we age.
TRY CIRCUIT TRAINING
Circuit training can get a bad rap from the gym bros or fitness divas because it’s not the best thing for fitness, endurance, strength, building muscle or specific sports training. This is actually true, but it’s not a bad thing. Circuit training is a compromise, which means it works on all these things at once in a fast and efficient way that will make sure you don’t get bored. Even 20-30 minutes a day makes a great workout.
There are endless variations of what you can do and how you do circuit training, but a typical workout sees you move quickly through 8-10 exercise ‘stations’ with little to no rest between stations. Each station has a different exercise, with stations changing the muscle group emphasised and often alternating between a cardio exercise and a strength exercise. You might do push-ups at one station, then use a jumping rope at the next. Time at each station is usually set by time – between 30 seconds and 3 minutes – although strength exercises can be set by repetitions (e.g. 10-25 reps). You can use equipment such as dumbbells, resistance bands, cardio equipment and medicine balls to name a few, or you may just use your own bodyweight. It’s easy to workout at your own pace and increase the intensity as you get fitter – you don’t need big weights because you can increase your speed and lengthen your intervals or choose more difficult exercises.
STEER CLEAR OF SUGARY DRINKS
Sugar in drinks can be like the data limit on your phone – we know it’s there, but it’s all too easy to overindulge. In both cases, there’s often a large cost involved, one for your pocket and the other for your body. Soft drinks, fruit juices and sports drinks are the biggest culprits – all the things you like to drink more of once Summer heats up. You can guzzle down the calories much easier than you could ever eat them and these refined sugars have an adverse effect on your appetite, cravings and metabolism. Try replacing these with iced water infused with mint or an iced tea (not the powdered or bottled stuff, real tea you brew yourself). Many studies on green tea have shown that it can increase the rate at which you “burn” fat).
GO EASY ON THE ALCOHOL
Alcoholic drinks can also hide a lot of sugar – a schooner of pale ale can contain nine teaspoons of the stuff and works against your goal Summer body! Alcohol interferes with all three sources of glucose and the hormones needed to maintain healthy blood glucose levels. The result? Your ability to burn fat gets blocked, which is why you can see a ‘beer gut’ on people who seem to be skinny everywhere else. You don’t have to be a total party-pooper, just save that drink for a special occasion and set your limit (binge-drinking is far more dangerous to your health than a single drink every day). Whether it’s sugar, alcohol or watching romantic comedies, there’s a healthy level of control you need to meet.
LIFT OVERHEAD FOR YOUR ABS
Many abdominal exercises only work a small part of the midsection and they require hundreds of reps to do anything. What if I told you there’s an exercise that will improve posture, give you the appearance of longer muscles, work your butt and thighs, your balance and be one of the best possible exercises you can do for the entire length of your midsection? Simply stand as tall as you can and hold a light or empty barbell (even a broomstick), dumbbell or a ball with your arms outstretched (and I mean straight) above your head. Clench your buttocks and look straight ahead. Now walk in a straight line, progressing to walking lunges. Try it – this exercise is really great value for your time!
SLEEP LIKE A CHAMP
Choosing to sleep more isn’t for the weak or those who have given up. Sleep is the ultimate recovery for your mind and body, helping you to be fit and active.
When you exercise more, be prepared to sleep more. The protein synthesis and human growth hormone release boosts muscle recovery and the replacement of aging or dead cells. As a personal trainer and fitness advisor “My rule of thumb is that for every hour of intense training, I get an extra hour in bed.”
The quality and quantity of sleep also enhances the benefits of a good diet. Research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed that when two groups were put on the same diet but different sleep schedules, the group who had inadequate rest lost only 55% of the fat lost by the group that had better sleep. They were also hungrier, less satisfied after meals and lacked energy to exercise. The study showed that within just four days of sleep deprivation, your body’s ability to properly use insulin crashed, with insulin sensitivity dropping by more than 30%. The result? Fats circulate in your blood and pump out more insulin. Eventually this excess insulin ends up storing fat in all the wrong places.
ADD IN SOME FUN
It’s Spring. The days are longer, the weather is warm, the water is inviting – there are a zillion activities available, except for snow sports. So don’t make exercising a drudgery that you just aim to “get done”. Once a week, aim to add in something fun or try out a completely new activity altogether. Make this a chance for social get-togethers or a means to meet new people instead of the usual gatherings over food and drinks. The fun stuff helps develop healthy exercise habits that you’re motivated to keep up long-term. When that happens, a fitter, healthier body just happens to come along the way.
CHECK YOUR FATS
Fats can be confusing, with arguments over “good fats” and “bad fats”, but there’s one type of fat that everyone agrees is just evil – trans fats. Trans fats are mostly in processed foods, butter and the oils used at restaurants and fast food shops (because the oil can be used many times in commercial fryers).
Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels and increase your risk of stroke.
They’ll also give you a big gut. Researchers at Wake Forest University (USA) found that trans fats make you fatter than other foods with the same number of calories. They increase the amount of fat around the belly not just by adding new fat, but also by moving fat from other areas to the belly.
In processed foods, check the labels – ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’ and ‘vegetable shortening’ mean trans fat.
CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY
Accept that some training sessions will be harder and longer than others. You don’t have to kill yourself every training session, but you can only get so far doing the same weights routine or 5km run every workout, too. Change it up and aim to do something six days a week. If it’s not a full training session, include more incidental exercise like walking or riding to and from work or the shops, or do a yoga session the day after a harder workout. Think of getting fit like building a wall. Every day, you aim to add some bricks. Some days you add a lot, other days just a few. Every time you have two or more consecutive days without being active, a mini sledgehammer bashes down what you’ve built.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR FOOD
Did you see all the ingredients listed for that muesli bar, or even understand what the hell they all are? Do you know what the cook at the restaurant or take-away shop is putting in your food? When all those cakes and pizzas appear at your workplace, is it really part of your job description to eat them? The best way to really know what’s in your food and make that food work for you is to prepare it yourself.
It can be hard when so much of our socialising revolves around food, but you can still take control. If friends or work have a restaurant booked, check for an online menu so you can see what dishes best fit your eating plan. Better still, take charge and organise your friends or family for get-togethers that revolve around activities instead of food. Go for a walk, have a game night, go tenpin bowling or try a dance class.
IF YOU FALL OFF THE WAGON, GET STRAIGHT BACK ON
Never think of a goal as ‘failed’ – it’s just delayed. Stop thinking it’s all or nothing. If you can’t do this training session or you’re having trouble sticking to the eating plan, then you may as well give up.
One missed training session might extend to three, or you’ll binge out way more than you intended. Learn from these slip-ups and don’t let them distract you. It’s the guilt that does the real damage, not the bingeing – that’s the conclusion of a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study suggested that we would succeed more if we didn’t focus so negatively on our falls off the wagon (which can lead you down the ‘all or nothing’ path.) Better to savour the experience, laugh about it on Facebook, check that the photos of you on Instagram aren’t too damaging, and move on.