This might come across as a rude shock to some but no one wandered away and suddenly found themselves on top of Mt. Everest. It took planning, orchestrated effort, progression, dedication and commitment. So is the case with getting fit and looking awesome. If you think you can string a bunch of random exercises together and end up looking like Ryan Reynolds, you couldn’t be away from the truth.
It’s sad but the vast majority of folks today who are fitness minded or are looking to get in shape don’t really know what they hell they’re doing. Eight out of ten people who want to get in shape do “something” fitness related and expect to look like Greek Gods within a few months. This “something” could range from running everyday or spending hours on the treadmill and elliptical machines at their gym or working their abs every other day till the cows go home or attending a yoga class 5 days a week to, the other extreme of, copying what pro-bodybuilders like Schwarzenegger and Cutler do.
If you’re one of these folks, unfortunately, results are going to be so sparse that you are sure to come to the conclusion that you are doing everything possible but no change ever occurs to your physique or performance. This is where I come in and here is what I have to say.
“You have the right idea. You have the drive. You are doing your best. But, are you doing the right thing? In other words, are you exercising or are you training?”
The difference between exercise and training
Why do you think you go to school? Why do you think there are grades and exams and reviews in school? Why not just pick up a few books and start reading randomly? Why do you work at an organization with a structure? Why are the most successful organizations the ones with the best policies and strategies? Why not just walk out into the world and figure out some random way to make a living? Why do you train to get better at an art like dancing or martial arts or painting? Why do you practice the same movements and/or strokes over and over again? Why not just move your limbs the way you want to or draw some random colored lines and hope they make sense?
Success doesn’t work that way. And a transformation from fat to fit or from weak to strong or from unhealthy to healthy doesn’t work that way either.
Exercise is as any activity requiring physical effort, carried out especially to sustain or improve health and fitness. Training, on the other hand, is way more than that.
Training is the act of learning, practicing, analyzing, monitoring and progressing per a plan that is designed taking into consideration the trainee’s current position in the relevant space and future goals. It involves research and structure and testing and commitment and adherence.
It is important to understand that random acts of physical activity, though better than a carefully planned regimen of sitting and eating junk, won’t take you too far. You need a plan. You need to learn to move. You need to learn about how your body reacts to certain foods. You need a nutritional approach. You need to self-experiment. You need to strive to progress. You need to train.
Let’s cut to the chase. What should you do if you ‘really’ want to get in shape? How do you “train”?
7 steps to looking, feeling and functioning absolutely awesome
1. Understand your current situation. Are you obese or overweight? By how much? Do you have a disease you’re fighting against? How stressful is your lifestyle? How good or bad are your food habits? Do you sleep well? How low is your current fitness levels? Can you do the basic moves (squat, bend over and touch the floor, pushup) without discomfort?
2. Make an informed decision about where you want to go. What are your goals? “I want to tone up” or “I want to get fit” will take you nowhere really. Do you want to look like a model? Which one? Are you looking to fix some systemic issues (diabetes, hyper tension etc.,)? Is weight loss all you’re interested in? Are you interested in getting in shape for a particular event be it a marathon or a marriage?
3. Assess time with cognizance. Once you know where you stand and where you want to go, give yourself more than sufficient time. You can’t expect to safely go from 20 kilos overweight to a flat tummy in a few weeks and neither can you safely run a marathon or deadlift double bodyweight within a couple of months. You’d rather do something slowly and surely than to let greed lead you into a world of dreams and disappointments.
4. Make a plan or work with someone who can make one for you. If looking awesome or getting fit is your goal, you don’t have to do much but you need to do the right things. 2-3 days of full body strength training with a day of intense sprinting or light distance running coupled with a wholesome real food based nutrition plan is all you need. But realize that the specifics will change based on the thousand variables that you bring to the table.
5. Train. Stick to the plan. Learn from every training session and from every meal. Incorporate your learnings into the next session and/or meal. Strive to get better every progressing day as opposed to trying to do the same thing over and over again.
6. Monitor your progress closely. Weigh and measure yourself on a weekly basis. If things are not going the way you want them to then something ain’t right. Analyze your findings to figure out what is wrong or talk to your coach about making changes to your plan.
7. Rinse and repeat till you get to your goals.
Yes it sounds painful. And no, there is no magic bullet involved. But this is reality. This is how humans evolved and how the human body functions. Embrace it.
And realize that at the end of the day you won’t cherish the day you reached your goal half as much as you cherish memories of your efforts that led you to the goal. The journey is the reward. The sooner you realize that, the happier you will be.
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PS: This was an article I originally wrote for The Week’s SmartLife and it was published in their May 2013 edition.