A Fitness Virgin Asks The (Not) Stupid Questions You're Too Scared To Ask
The Debrief: Real exercise advice. No bullshit.
I have been with my boyfriend Adam, for seven years. In quite a contrast to myself, who was quite seriously ill for 3-4 years, he's a fitness instructor and Personal Trainer, has spent 10 years training and competing as an amateur boxer, teaches about 12 fitness classes a week at a gym in Newcastle and at Newcastle University. He regularly runs marathons for charity and has done 24 hour boxing circuits for Help for Hero's, all whilst I watch on eating a pizza.
I really wish I could tell you that we’re one of those healthy couples that you hate that’s super fit and living happily together eating Kale as a hobby. But we’re not. At least, I’m not. Much to everyone’s shock/amusement/judgement I know little to nothing about exercise/training, and a large chunk of our relationship has been taken up by me trying to feed him pie.
And yes, I regularly get shamed for being his girlfriend, lovely comments like, “Oh, you're not what I expected.” (Sorry to disappoint you, I'm not the female Arnold Schwarzenegger, but actually a little overweight with no clue about exercise, soz.) It's starting to dawn on me that whilst he's an extreme example, he's maybe right about this whole exercise thing. He's very much a no-gimmick, work hard, there's no quick fixes or secrets kinda guy.
As a female working in the magazine industry, I know this generally isn’t what people want to hear, let alone pay to hear. It's a sign of the times that we want get rich quick, get famous without working hard, look-like-JLO-in-a-week type spiel. He’s always loved me for who I am and whilst he wants to share his knowledge for my wellbeing, has never pressured me to look/feel a certain way as you’d maybe think, or have experienced super fit people do.
But I realised that women need real advice, from someone who isn’t trying to sell them something. So, I asked him for genuine advice, because a lot of people (me included) just don't know what to believe after reading countless diet stories in trashy magazines.
I would love to say there’s going to be an easy revelation ladies… but I wouldn’t hold your breath. The truth? We ladies can handle the truth… or can’t we?
‘Help! I've never exercised 'seriously' before, where do I start?’
The important thing to remember here is that you can only start from where you’re at!
As a complete beginner the best thing to start with is the basics. For the average person with fairly typical fitness goals, more often than not the most effective routine is going to come down to a mixture of compound resistance exercises (squats, lunges, presses, rows etc) and High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT, short).
To get there it’s a case of building up your aerobic fitness (whether from jogging, cycling, CrossTraining etc, I’d be lying if I said it mattered which) and learning the compound movements (remember doing movement properly and safely comes first! If you can’t squat low and your lunges make you look like Bambi on ice then there’s no point adding weight yet!)
To a point the details don’t matter, it’s much more important that you start with realistic expectations (if you’ve had 3 years of takeaways and beer then you’re not going to transform in a matter of weeks), consistency and dedication. If you can’t bring those things then you need to ask whether or not you genuinely want it.
That magazine told me I could drop 5 pounds in 5 days, sorted, right?
Remember that ‘weight’ applies to everything, not just fat. You’re not going to lose 5lb of actual fat tissue in 5 days. What you will do by crash dieting for 5 days is lose a ton of water and deplete the glycogen from your body (carbohydrate which is mostly stored in your muscle cells). Being dehydrated and glycogen depleted is not the same as burning fat! I can tell you from first-hand experience after I ‘lost’ 12lbs of sweat and glycogen after doing a 24 hour boxing circuit for charity and then put it back on the next day after eating and drinking again.
Once your body has depleted water and glycogen, you’ll find the ‘weight’ loss stops. There’s no magic workout, magic diet or quick fix… just patience, hard work and CONSISTENCY is key.
How many times have you seen a ‘D-list Celeb’ on the front cover of a magazine telling you how she’s lost 2 stone in a month, only to see her in the same magazine a couple of months later and 3 stone heavier?
I can't afford a gym membership, I can't get fit.
You already own the most effective piece of exercise equipment out there and that’s your own body! You can walk, run, jump, press, dip and pull. You need little more than a floor to get fit. Try a 3-4 Tabata Circuits (20 seconds of all-out effort, 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds) of movements like squat jumps, thrusters, skipping or burpees every other day for a month and then try and tell me that you haven’t gotten fitter!
If you’re against getting tied down to a gym membership then why not shell out as a one off on a few bits and pieces for the house? Some dumbbells and an aerobic bench won’t set you back much and jogging is free. More and more budget gyms are opening up everywhere for little more than a tenner a month and I’m sure if you really looked you’d be able to save £2.50 a week somehow.
I want a butt like Kim Kardashian!
Go back in time and pick different parents. Or failing that get implants (as it is alleged she has.)
I’m half-joking here, but you have to be realistic. Everybody can improve and build upon what they’ve got, but we’re all born with a particular body shape. I’m built more like a swimmer, I can get leaner, I can build my muscles to look a certain way, but no amount of training, food or *ahem* ‘supplements’ is going to make me the size of a World’s Strongest Man competitor, nor could I starve myself enough to get into a pair skinny jeans without ripping them when I sat down. There is no ‘right’ body type, everyone is valid.
How do you feel about ‘cheat days’ is it the best way to stick to a diet, or do I have to always deprive myself of stuff?
If it works for you then it works for you! Some people can be strict 100% of the time, but anything too restrictive probably won’t work in the long run for most people.
Just make sure that you don’t confuse cheating with binging
Ok, what's the secret?
There isn’t one. In an online and instant age were we’re used to effortlessly getting everything when and where we want it, is it any surprise that telling people they need to be patient, dedicated and hard working to get even close to what they want is a something that even Jordan ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Belfort couldn’t sell?
The reality is that anybody promising you something easy or something quick is simply trying to flog you something.
If I was to do one thing to get fitter, what would it be?
Something that you enjoy, I can program something scientifically to stimulate the adaptations your body needs to make to meet your goals, but if you hate it then you’re not going to do it consistently or for very long.
Try stuff; cycle, swim, run, play tennis, dance, box... it doesn’t matter. Anything done with consistency and enthusiasm will serve you better in the long run than something you do infrequently and half-heartedly.
I get bored in the gym and don’t like any sport, what can I do?
You’re either going to have to want the results badly enough that you can produce the discipline to overcome that or you’re going to have to try harder to find something that you like. Maybe you need to change your gym routine more often? Have you tried group fitness classes? Training with a friend can make things enjoyable and makes you feel accountable when you don’t show up.
Sometimes you might just need to force yourself for a while, write a note and stick it in front of your bed ‘I will exercise 3-4 times a week for a month’, keep it up and eventually this forced routine will become just another habit.
I don’t have time to train/go to the gym but want to get fit?
The best thing you can look to do is to boost your metabolism so that your body is burning more calories even at rest. It makes sense that although you can spend an hour or two in the gym, you’re always going to use more calories in the 23 hours that you have away from the gym, so use that time well!
If you really don’t have 2 hours a week then start looking at ways you can keep active, clichés like taking the stairs instead of the lift, walking to the shops etc, it all counts for something.
I am naturally slim and happy with my weight, why should I exercise, I feel fine!
Exercise can have benefits other than weight and body composition control, everything from balancing your hormones, fighting stress and depression, lowering your risk of osteoporosis, diabetes and heart disease (to list just a few illnesses) and there’s also a great social side to it. Above all exercise can just be an enjoyable and cathartic activity, challenging yourself to set and meet goals can be immensely fulfilling.
But if your health and appearance aren’t something you care about and you simply don’t enjoy exercising then nobody is going to force you to!
Do I need protein shakes? I’m confused? I don’t want to get big Madonna arms?
Whilst protein shakes definitely won’t give you ‘big Madonna arms’, they’re also not something that you need, per say. Protein supplements are there to supplement (the clue is in the name!) your diet, if you either don’t get enough of a nutrient or your body requires more of it due to being physically active etc then supplements have their uses but most, if not all, nutrition should come from food.
It's key to understand that protein doesn’t make you 'big', testosterone, a lot of calories and genetics will (and if you weren’t built like a female Olympic shotputter in school then it’s probably not going to suddenly happen now). The great thing about protein is that it isn’t very high in calories and also takes more calories to digest and metabolise than carbohydrates do. And unless you’re using testosterone and HGH like half of the woman over 40 in Hollywood do, you probably won’t get arms like Madonna anytime soon.
Hmm, hard work and a good diet it is then. I’ll let you know how it goes…
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