First days of 2023… Are you lying on the couch hungover or are you planning on getting in the best shape of your life (again)? Whatever you’re up to, make sure to read my ten best fitness tips before you embark on your fitness journey. They’re based on what I’ve learned from training people and myself for over 20 years, as well as on all the high-quality articles, books, podcasts etc about health and fitness that I consume (and I consume a lot because I’m an information addict). As I age and keep learning, my main conclusion is that things change, so one must stay on top of the latest science:)
Here they are in short. Scroll down to read the expanded versions..
- Focus primarily on your body composition (muscle mass vs. body fat content), not the scale.
- Choose a healthy diet you enjoy eating – and can live with forever.
- The older you are, the more strength training (or weight lifting, bodyweight exercises) you must do.
- Always listen to your body to avoid injuring yourself.
- Make sure you get enough protein every day.
- Worry about getting enough sleep and hydration over exercising.
- Know that it’ll take longer than you think to get in shape (90% of the time).
- If you want to be fit and healthy, it must be a lifestyle.
- Mix up muscle-building exercises and cardio activities to avoid injury and get the best/quickest results.
- You must push yourself to see significant, fast results.
- Bonus Tip: Do dynamic stretches to warm up and static stretches after your workout.
Focus primarily on your body composition (muscle mass vs. body fat content), not the scale.
This tip may the most important because people – including myself – are obsessed with their weight. I’m NOT saying your weight doesn’t matter. It 100% does, very much so if you’re very overweight to begin with. Say, if you carry 50 pounds of excessive body fat, expect to see quick weight loss in the beginning provided that you consistently eat a healthy, low-calorie diet and work out a lot (like 5-6 days/week) for at least three weeks back-to-back. Don’t expect significant results going hard only a week or two. Men will lose quicker than women because they have more muscle mass. However, if you just want to trim down, say, 5-15 pounds or one to three sizes, focus primarily on your body fat percentage. Women especially feel great when they see they lost five-six pounds in a week. Again, including myself until I look in the mirror or try on a pair of tight jeans and I can’t see/feel much difference. That’s because you/I lost mostly water weight in that week. You’ll be less bloated, yes, but your butt/thighs probably are practically the same. Long story short, the key to trimming down is to lose body fat while adding – or maintaining your muscle mass. Track your body composition using a high-quality method such as the InBody scale (don’t rely on the cheap one you bought somewhere, not correct) or a DEXA scan (more complicated and expensive). Read my article about both methods for detailed info. You can also just look in the mirror and/or see if the tight pants you used to fit into got looser. I recently managed to fit into my old jeans size:)
I don’t care what your age is, if you lost mainly body fat, your skin will be tighter all over your body. Yes, even for someone 80 years old.
Choose a healthy diet you enjoy eating – and can live with forever.
By saying “diet,” I don’t mean go on some extreme, trendy diet; I’m referring to the way you eat in general. To trim down no matter what your starting point is (lose 100 plus pounds or just three), what and how much you eat matter. I have tried all kinds of diet styles – Keto (low carb, high fat, moderate protein), low-fat, Intermittent Fasting (IF), calorie counting, plant-based, eat only non-processed foods, you name it. According to the latest research, it doesn’t matter what diet you choose. They all work pretty okay. Some people swear by Keto, some people swear by IF. The key is, what works for you? If you hate eating no carbs and only protein/fat all the time, you will one day stop and probably revert to your old way of eating. So pick a diet you enjoy. I used to be obsessed with calorie-counting and eating whatever I wanted. Then it was either Keto or IF. Nowadays, I do a little bit of everything, but I do focus on eating non-processed, nutrition-dense foods (and my skin, nails, and PMS symptoms have improved a lot). Low carbs all the time is not for me. I’m super active, so I need a fair amount of carbs. Maybe you feel like Keto is the answer for you. Go for it! Keep trying different diet types until you find one that works for you. The only thing that really matters is to not overeat, which means I still keep track of my daily calorie-intake. (I eat between 1,800-2,500 calories/day). I also often go to bed a bit hungry.
The older you are, the more strength/weight training (or weight lifting, bodyweight exercises) you must do.
When you’re in your 20s, you can probably easily lose weight by doing lots of cardio (running, biking, rowing etc). When you get into your 30s, it won’t be quite as easy. Forget about when you get into your 40s and 50s. That’s because after age 30, your body will start to lose muscle mass, lowering your metabolism. This is especially true if you have gone on crash diets, been sick or just plain starved yourself. So if you’re in your 40s or older, it’s high time to start adding back that lost muscle. If you’re, say, 50 and still weigh what you did at age 25 (and you loved the way you looked and felt at 25), I’m willing to bet money you’re now a bigger size. At the very least, your arms, legs and/or waist won’t be as tight and firm. This is called being skinny fat. Skinny fat people are typically able to grab a chunk of fat on their stomach. They often confuse this with loose skin due to aging. It’s loose skin due to too much subcutaneous body fat. Again, I don’t care if you’re 40 or 80. (Okay, fine, our skin does lose elasticity as we age, especially if you’ve tanned a lot and/or have a terrible diet. Still, the main reason for skin hanging for example under your upper arm is because you’ve lost muscle and gained body fat.)
One caveat: if you have maintained your muscle mass over the years like I have, it’s still possible to lose some body fat doing mainly cardio. But in order to maintain your muscle mass over the decades, it means you have also consistently weight-trained. So, strength/weight training is still king:)
Always listen to your body to avoid injuries.
I encourage my clients to listen to their bodies. If an exercise doesn’t feel right, stop immediately and do something else. I’m not talking about an exercise that’s challenging or feels generally uncomfortable because you’re currently out of shape. But never push through pain in a joint or if you feel a muscle is about to get pulled. If you’re in tune with your body, you’ll know what I mean. It’s not worth the potentially weeks or months of rehab you must do to heal an injury. This is especially important for people over 40. When you’re younger and pull a muscle, you bounce back fast. Taking two days off from working out is usually enough for the muscle to heal. And younger people rarely have any joint issues either, so they can push really hard when doing most activities.
Make sure you get enough protein every day.
I mentioned diets earlier and that you must never overeat, no matter what diet you follow. Another important factor to be as fit and strong as possible is to get enough protein. Some people prefer a plant-based diet (vegans, for example). That’s fine, just know that getting enough protein is going to be challenging. People who, like me, are omnivores (eat foods of both plant and animal origin) can easily get sufficient protein every day. That’s why I recommend you be an omnivore:) The current recommendation for active people is that you get almost 1 gram of protein per pound of your weight every day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, you need 120-140 grams of protein daily. Most people don’t get enough protein, another reason they’re wasting away and look flabby as they age. Younger people don’t need as much protein as people over 40. According to Layne Norton, Ph.D. – one of the world’s foremost experts in nutrition, protein metabolism, muscle gain and fat loss, it doesn’t matter if you get all your protein in one meal per day as long as you get enough. I still recommend my clients to eat protein with every meal because it makes it easier to keep your blood sugar levels steady, not to mention it fills you up more than carbs do. This way you won’t be tempted to overeat or feel bad because your blood sugar suddenly crashed an hour later…
Worry about getting enough sleep and hydration over exercising.
The first question I ask my clients when I see them is how they’re feeling and if they slept okay. Then I base our workout on that. I can’t stress enough how important getting enough sleep is, especially if you workout a lot. If you don’t get enough sleep, you won’t add muscle to your body and instead break it down. All your hard work is for naught! The vast majority of people need 7-9 hours/night. Do everything you can to ensure you sleep enough. One poor night of sleep won’t matter much, as long as you typically sleep well. I’m lucky not to have many health issues, but I do have two: bad PMS (yes, at 51, still regular in the monthly department) and insomnia. They both influence each other. So, I often take sleeping pills. Do I recommend you do too? Hello… OF COURSE not. Always strive to have good sleep hygiene and get to sleep naturally. I do too. But sometimes it’s just not possible and then meds are the last resort because getting a good night’s sleep is that important.
Hydration is another biggie. Strive to drink plain, high-quality water as much as possible – tea and coffee also count even if water is better. Make sure you have drunk a liter by noon. More if you’re a very big person or very active. Keep sipping liquids throughout the day. Another liter is a good goal. IMPORTANT: Make sure you also get enough electrolytes daily. Electrolytes are salts and minerals, like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. Getting too much or too little of any one electrolyte can result in dehydration, over-hydration, or other imbalances, so always replenish! If you pee a lot, you may be low in electrolytes.
Know that it’ll take longer than you think to get in shape (90% of the time).
Almost everybody – including myself – think losing those five or fifty or 200 pounds we want to lose will happen very soon. Could it? Yes, technically speaking, you can lose lots of weight quickly. Go on a liquids-only fast for a week and you may lose ten pounds. Most of that will be water weight of course and you’ll gain most if not all or more back quickly. If you want to trim down, say two sizes, expect it to take about twice as long as you think. Unless you can devote 100% of your time to your fitness, that is – then it could happen in three-four weeks (with you keeping body fat off afterward). Most people don’t have that luxury, though. So don’t worry if you’re not getting significant results after a week of dedicated work. In my experience, it seems most people with 10-20 pounds to lose need to try very hard for about three weeks before they start to see significant results. This, again, includes me. By trying very hard I mean you work out intensely six times/week (both muscle-building and cardio exercise) and eat a very healthy, low-ish calorie diet. No room for partying in the weekends in that beginning phase, if you want to see significant, long-lasting results. Sorry:)
If you want to be fit and healthy, it must be a lifestyle.
This can’t be stressed enough Use the 80-20 rule to stay on track. If you want to be very healthy and fit, you cannot go on drinking, skipping gym/being active for a week, eating too much crappy stuff more than 20% of the time. You must be good 80% of the time. Trust me, I know this is not easy, especially if you’re starting your fitness journey. This is why first-world countries are getting fatter and more unhealthy every year, You do know that about 75% of America is either overweight or obese, right? Most people refuse to invest in their health, and it only gets harder to do so the longer you wait. So, don’t wait! Do whatever you must to get fit and healthy (yes, that includes using a trainer even if that’s expensive). You’ll probably need to workout and eat healthy for about two months before it gets easier. But I can promise you once you get over the “hump” – the period when you hate working out, you will start to enjoy it and you won’t be able to live without it. Sadly, most people give up before they get over the hump.
Being fit and eating well affect your mind as much as your body. Keeping my anxiety under control is one reason I personally work out a lot. (Hello, I’m a writer as well as a trainer, so of course I have tons of anxiety, lol…)
Mix up muscle-building exercises and cardio activities to avoid injury and get the best/quickest results.
The fastest way to get an injury is to do the same thing over and over. Nine out of ten times overuse is the reason exercisers get injured. So don’t do the same thing all the time! Don’t just run. That might have been okay when you were in your 20s and maybe 30s, but your body won’t be so resilient as you age. Mix it up with some cycling and definitely start lifting weights (strength/resistance training, bodyweight training, calisthenics – all different approaches to build/maintain muscle mass) at least twice a week. If you haven’t consistently weight-trained in your adult life, you’re better off doing three times a week to make up for lost time (and muscle). Personally, I do a mix of all the different approaches to building muscle – I lift weights, I do bodyweight training, pilates-style exercises, yoga, you name it. And you should, like me, work all three planes of motions the body moves in to avoid overuse injuries and developing problems later in life. If you don’t, you run a high risk of developing issues in your 50s and 60s. Plus, doing different stuff will keep your body guessing, creating better/quicker results. When it comes to your muscle-building program, you can just switch up the order of the exercises every couple of weeks, change rep range and weight (do 20 reps of 10 pounds shoulder presses one day, 10 reps of 15 pounds another time). It doesn’t have to be that complicated. And focus on compound exercises!
You must push yourself to see significant, fast results.
If you take big breaks between exercises and don’t go to muscle failure in every set of muscle-building exercise you do, you won’t see much results. Yes, some, but you could see so much more. This is why when you do an exercise, say, a seated row, make sure those last two repetitions of a set of 12 (or 5 or 10 or 15 or 20) are really, really hard to complete with good form. That’s called reaching muscle failure, which is key to building muscle efficiently and safely. And you will find that, if you stick with your muscle-building program, you’ll be able to push yourself much farther than you thought you could, especially when you’re starting out. That’s because you’ll get better at subconsciously activating the right muscle groups. Also, remember that the mind gives up sooner than the body. You’re already much stronger than you think. Don’t ever forget that.
I want to stress that some people find starting a fitness program so intimidating and painful that, for them, starting small and not pushing themselves too hard, is key. If you’re one of those people, don’t worry about reaching muscle failure. The fact that you came to the gym at all and did maybe three exercises is enough for now. One step at a time! Getting in shape is a process. Just do your best and don’t let anyone bully you for not going all out.
Do dynamic stretches to warm up and static stretches after your workout.
Stretching is good, but, in my experience, most people are better off focusing on muscle-building exercises (first) and cardio activities (second). Unless you’re insanely tight and immobile, which most people aren’t. When you have mastered muscle-building and cardio, add some stretching. Do dynamic stretches (the kind where you don’t hold a particular stretch for 30 sec but keep moving in and out of the stretch) before your workout begins and cool down with static stretches (the kind when you hold/maintain a muscle stretched for several seconds). I personally do zero dynamic stretching to warm up, I just do slightly higher reps of whatever multi-joint/compound exercise I’m starting my muscle-building workout with. Because I’m practically always on the go once I leave my apartment, I’m always warmed up, lol. But I do lots of static stretching after my workouts because I tend to get tight. Stretch only muscles that are tight in your body.