Highlight Film!

It’s so easy to get discouraged.

I fight it daily.

Progress just doesn’t happen as fast as we want it to.

It’s easy to focus on what we don’t have and what we think others do. It’s hard to discern any change day to day. The scale is basically the same. The mirror too. And the weights and reps seem to go up at a glacial pace. (For those of you reading in the future: glaciers are giant blocks of ice that used to cover the North and South Poles)

The people who post videos, pictures or articles about fitness tend to be in great shape. I’m certainly not knocking them for that. Clearly they’ve worked hard for a long time.

It’s imperative to remember that when we see them, what we’re seeing is essentially their highlight film. They’ve worked for years to get in that shape. They designed their diet and training to peak at the time of the shoot. The lighting, angles and editing are perfect. They look great.

When we see ourselves in the mirror, it’s just not the same. It’s a regular day, most likely. The overhead lighting in your bathroom isn’t ideal as you search for any signs of improvement in the mirror. We note our own highlight film, but it’s easy for those moments to get lost in the abundance of every day normalcy.

This isn’t about hating on the fitness models. Hating on people is a waste of time. It’s just complaining. It doesn’t make them worse. More importantly, it doesn’t make you any better.

I just refocus on myself and my goals. Day to day progress is minimal. Obviously, you want to track the changes at regular intervals to make sure the trend is moving in the right direction.

When it feels like I’ve been stuck at the same amount of weight for the same number of reps for a particular lift, it’s challenging not to feel down. Plateaus do happen. But they are temporary. If one lasts more than a couple weeks I consider changing things up. Most of the time though, the key is to just keep plugging away.

It would be awesome if we saw results immediately after each session. In fact, if you’re just starting out, you might…for a while. Eventually, your progress will start to slow down. That’s “slow down” not “stop”.

You’re still making progress, even when it’s too small to see on a daily basis.

Keep at it.

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Celebrate the Little Victories

Celebrate the little victories along the way to accomplishing your goals.

Really. It’s okay.

Your goals should be big enough to truly challenge you. Big enough that you might even have moments of doubt or trepidation. Tough enough that you’ll face obstacles on your quest.

It’s precisely because it’s so difficult that I like to acknowledge the milestones along the way. Obviously, not all of them. I don’t believe in participation trophies.

In order to achieve the big goals, you have to break them down into daily actionable steps. Small steps compounded over time is how you’ll accomplish big things. If you want to run a marathon, you’ll first have to learn to run 1 mile. If you want to bench press 315 lbs., you’ll have to get to 225, right?

When you hit a new personal record on a lift, that’s a good thing. You should be proud. That doesn’t mean you have to get all full of yourself. You’re not done yet!

It’s like scoring a touchdown in a football game. Spike the ball, wave to the crowd, get some shine. Then get back to work, the game’s not over yet.

Each time you overcome a setback it means you’re stronger. Not just physically either. Your mental toughness grows also, and it’s probably more valuable. You get knocked down, you get back up and keep going, right? Every time it happens it means you are building your character.

New barriers or pitfalls will pop up. Count on it. When they do, draw on your history of overcoming. Your resilience is key, and that’s what you’re celebrating when you acknowledge the smaller victories.

Best Time to Train

What time of day do you train?

What is the “Best Time” to train? Like a lot of fitness answers, it depends. However:

The best time to train is whenever you’re going to do it consistently.

You will not see the results you want if you do not have your training, nutrition and recovery dialed in and applied persistently. Getting in great shape is certainly achievable. It takes time and effort.

Aside from that, it mostly comes down to preference.

I like to train in the morning, before I go to work. It fits my work schedule best. It fits my temperament best, too. I like starting my day this way. I’m done before 8 a.m. and already feel like I’ve won the day.

Many people prefer to schedule their training after work. This isn’t better or worse, in an objective sense, than training any other time of day. After a long day of work, going to the gym can be an effective way to decompress. There is some research indicating you may be stronger in the late afternoon, but it’s by no means conclusive.

I tried this for a little while and it didn’t work for me. The last thing I want to do after work is deal with a crowded gym. Some people feed off the energy of a room full of people like that.

Or maybe that’s the only time that fits their schedule.

If you work overnights, maybe mid-day works better.

Don’t overthink it. You know when you have a window to fit it in. Remember, you don’t have to do marathon sessions in order to make progress. We all have time for the things we deem important. We don’t prioritize things we see as irrelevant. Is being in better shape important to you?

It’s hard to break habits, so make training one. Pick a time and stick to it.

As the saying goes, you can have results or excuses but not both.

How to Set Up Your Calories & Macros

How do you know how many calories you should be eating per day?

The Short Answer (The Long Answer is below)

*I am not a health professional. Use common sense. If you have a health condition, please consult your doctor.

Estimate how many calories you need in order to remain the same weight.

In order to lose weight you will need to eat fewer calories than you burn. You can start at a 20% deficit. Take the amount of calories you need to remain the same weight and multiply it by .8 to get how many you should eat in a deficit. Monitor your weight loss and overall health, and adjust as necessary until you hit your goal.

In order to build muscle you will need to eat more calories than you burn and you will need to do resistance training. Take the calories you need to remain the same weight and multiply that by 1.2. This puts you in a 20% surplus. Monitor your weight and overall health, and adjust as necessary until you reach your goal.

The Long Answer

First, we need an estimate of your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure). This is how many calories you need to eat per day to remain the same weight. The best way to do this is to accurately track your calories and weight. There are a bunch of TDEE calculators available online. Of course, none of them will be as accurate as you tracking your intake. If you don’t know for now, don’t sweat it. Most of us aren’t.

A good way to figure it out is the Katch-McArdle Equation. This estimates your Basal Metabolic Rate based on how much lean tissue you have. Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the number of calories your body would burn if you did absolutely nothing all day long but lay on your couch. Lean Body Mass (LBM) is weight minus body fat. We take this number and apply a multiplier to account for how active you are to determine your Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE).

BMR = 370 + (21.6 x LBM in kg)

 

LBM = weight in kg x (1 – (body fat percentage as a decimal))

Body fat percentage as a decimal may sound complicated but it isn’t. For instance, for someone who is 20% body fat, that would be expressed as .20. For someone 15%, it would be .15. There’s no way to exactly determine body fat on a living creature, so you’ll have to estimate. Don’t worry, it’s really okay. You can do this by comparing yourself to pictures. (Google is our friend!) It will be an estimate but it should be fairly accurate. There are also calculators to convert lbs. to kg, but if you want to do it yourself, just multiply your weight in lbs. by .45.

Your BMR represents about 55-75% of your TDEE. If you’re less active, it will be on the higher end. If you’re more active, it will be on the lower side.

The activity multiplier will account for this.

If you’re not very active, use 1.3. If you are very active (if your job is physically demanding, such as construction), use 1.7. If you’re in between, use 1.5.

BMR x activity multiplier = TDEE

Keep in mind that TDEE is an estimate. Tracking your weight, measuring your waist, noting how your clothes fit and how you appear in the mirror will let you know how well things are going. Track your progress and adherence and make adjustments over time. Adjusting in small increments (100 calories) will help you hone in on the right numbers for you with greater precision.

Now that we know this, I have a very important question for you:

What is your goal?

Are you trying to lose fat? Build muscle?

Losing Fat

If you’re trying to lose fat, you will need to be in a caloric deficit. That means you’ll need to eat fewer calories than you burn. Determining the size of the deficit will depend on you, how much weight you want to lose, the time frame, and your tolerance. Your deficit should never take you below your BMR. Eating below your BMR can lead to adverse health consequences. If you wanted to lose an average of a lb. per week, you would aim for a deficit of 500 calories per day. In this instance your daily calories would equal TDEE minus 500. (There are approximately 3500 calories/lb. divided by 7 days per week)

Generally speaking, the more overweight a person is, the greater the deficit he or she can tolerate. He or she may opt to drop fat faster than a rate of 1 lb./week. Remember, your deficit should never take you below your BMR.

 

Some good news about being in a deficit is that for the most part, meal frequency doesn’t matter. You can eat 2 meals a day or 12, as long as you’re hitting your calorie targets, you’re good.

Frame your deficit to be as enjoyable as you can. There is no need to starve yourself. The deficit should be just enough to keep the scale moving in the right direction at a moderate pace. If you prefer eating several times a day, do that. If 3 larger meals suits you better, do that.

Without going too far into macronutrient portions, a good guideline is to eat around .8-1g of protein per lb. of body weight. Protein will help you maintain muscle despite being in a calorie deficit. A 200 lb. person would aim for 160-200 g of protein per day. Protein yields 4 calories per gram, so that would be between 640 and 800 calories per day. This is just a guideline, so adjust as necessary to suit you.

The remainder of the daily calories should come from a combination of carbohydrates and fats that is most enjoyable and sustainable. Despite the bad press, both carbs and fats are healthy and important, so I don’t recommend going below .3 g per lb of lean mass.

You want this to be as painless as possible for adherence and sustainability.

Building Muscle

 

To gain muscle, you will need to be in a caloric surplus. You’ll eat more calories than you burn. You will gain muscle as well as fat. We all wish there was a way to just gain muscle. You want to manage the surplus so that you minimize the fat gain.

Start at about 10-20% above your TDEE and adjust from there. That means TDEE x 1.1 or TDEE x 1.2. Muscle building is a fairly slow process. A person just beginning training can gain about 2 lbs. of muscle per month. Unfortunately those more advanced in their training will gain at a slower rate. If the scale goes up by 10 lbs in a month, please understand it’s not all muscle.

Again, you will want to make sure you eat enough protein. Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle. Even though you’re in a surplus that doesn’t mean more protein equates to more muscle. Your target should be around .8-1g of protein per lb. of LBM per day.

A 150 lb. person would eat 120-150 g of protein daily (which correlates to 480-600 calories). The remainder of the calories should come from a healthy combination of carbs and fats. I recommend a higher percentage of carbs as it tends to help with resistance training.

Track your progress and adjust as you go along. I can’t say this enough. It really is the key to attaining your goals.

So there you have it.

Invest in Yourself

The best thing you can ever do is invest in yourself. 

Obviously this can take virtually countless forms. You can read more, eat better, work out, meditate, learn a new skill, practice one you already know.

No matter who you are, where you are, you can get better. That’s all invest in yourself means: do something today (right now!) to make yourself better.

This isn’t something you don’t know already. But how many of us forget it or let the mundane tasks of daily life get in the way? I know I definitely do.

It’s a struggle to keep this in mind, and more importantly, to act on it.

Football coach Jim Harbaugh likes to tell his players to focus on getting just 1% better each day. (Yes, I’m a Niners fan. And right now I’m investing in myself by working on my ability to be optimistic and keep the faith) One percent isn’t a lot. It’s the constant striving for improvement that’s so important.

In fact, if you’re a beginner at something, a 1% improvement per day is pretty slow. The point is simple and effective though. Progress doesn’t have to be made in big strides. It usually isn’t.

Imagine a baby learning to walk. He or she doesn’t just magically go from not being able to do it to becoming able to walk miles as perfectly as an adult. He or she makes nearly imperceptible improvements over the course of months to get to that point. Like I said, it’s easy to forget the same is true with other skills.

I use the word “invest” intentionally. What is an investment? It’s planting a seed. A person could eat the seed now or plant it and care for it. Over time, the planted seed will bear fruit. You have to believe that your future self is worth the investment today.

If you want to get in shape, you can’t do it in one day. You have to set a goal. A goal is just a vision of your future self. Imagine it as if it were real. Believe that is the real you. Write it down, create a vision board, do whatever you have to in order to believe it’s true.

With that as your guide you’re equipped to face obstacles and setbacks. You’ll have to work.

It will take time to achieve. You probably won’t even see any evidence that what you’re doing is working for a while.

Keep going.

You want to lose 5, 10, or 50 lbs.? You can. All it takes is time and effort. Invest in yourself. When you’re tempted with a giant dessert you’ll understand the true cost and understand it’s not worth it. Postpone present pleasure for future pleasure. You can eat that 500 calorie slice of chocolate cake in minutes. It’ll take you running about 5 miles to burn it off. And that just gets you back to where you were before the cake. It’s not even progress, it’s staying in place.

There will be days when it’s cold, or rainy, or you just don’t feel like going to the gym. Each time you give in, all you’re doing is eating away at your investment in yourself. Every time you eat right and work out you add to your investment in yourself.

Understanding and applying this is a habit. The bad news is it takes a little while to create a new habit. The good news is once it’s a habit, you won’t have to think much about it. The cumulative result of you continually investing in yourself will be a better you.

So keep going, keep investing in yourself.

What is impossible?

What is impossible?

What is truly impossible? Often what we think of as limits are just our lack of imagination. It’s hard to picture something that’s never been done before. But once we see for ourselves that it is possible, all of a sudden the barriers lower, or disappear.

An easy example of this is the airplane. Before the invention, no one thought it would ever be possible for humans to fly through the skies. Now many of us take it for granted (and instead of marveling at the ability to cross continents in mere hours, we complain about the speed of the wifi).

Another well-known case is Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile barrier. Until he did it, most people accepted it is a limit of human design. He, and some of his knowledgeable contemporaries knew this wasn’t the case.

It took about a month and a half for someone to break Bannister’s record.

Just because something hasn’t been done, doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

If you’re having difficulty achieving your goal, seek out someone who’s accomplished it already. With the internet (or books, if you’re old like me), we don’t even have to personally know these people.

This isn’t to say it will be easy.

You may want a goal, you probably think it’s attainable. But do you actually know you can do it? Of course not. You can’t know for sure until you do it. But you can have a deep-seated faith and belief you can accomplish it.

Knowing that someone else did it, studying their methods and ideas, and applying them can help.

I remember years ago when I was incredibly skinny. I was just starting to lift and just an empty barbell felt heavy. I didn’t know what I was doing. Fortunately, progress early on is almost inevitable. I got to a point where I was able to bench press 135 lbs. (which was equal to my body weight back then). I thought it was a big deal. I mean, it was 45 lbs. on each side of the bar! Haha.

I couldn’t imagine ever getting to 225 lbs. (2 45’s on each side). But I saw other kids who were only a year or two older than me getting it. I couldn’t tell myself it was impossible after seeing people I knew who could do it. It took more time than it should have (I was inconsistent at working out and wasn’t the most attentive listener to people trying to help me), but I got it.

Simply knowing a thing can be done can change your perspective. If there’s something you’re after, especially in the fitness realm, someone has done it before. Many, many, many people, likely.

Want to lose 30 lbs. of fat?

Gain 30 lbs. of muscle?

Run a sub 4-minute mile?

All possible. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t done it yet or even if you have no idea how. Find out how. Ask people. Ask Google. (Now, not every answer you’ll get will be a good answer, so keep your BS detector activated).

Learn. Apply. Improve. Repeat. That’s how you’ll accomplish what seems impossible.

How Many Meals Per Day?

How many meals should you eat per day? Most people eat 3-5, I think; breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus a snack or two.

If you’re trying to lose fat or build muscle, you’ve no doubt heard various and conflicting opinions on the “right” number of meals.

There’s a lot of chatter about how you should eat every couple of hours to keep your metabolism going. Perhaps you’ve read that the “key” is to do intermittent fasting and only eat within a short time frame each day.

The truth is you can accomplish your goals eating 10 times a day or once. Meal frequency isn’t nearly as important as the total amount of food. Whether you eat 10 meals of 200 calories or 1 meal of 2000 calories, your body will treat it the same.

So what’s the answer?

You should eat in a way that’s most enjoyable for you and is going to put you closer to your goals.

Some people like eating several times a day. Others prefer to eat larger meals but less frequently. Figure out which way fits your life best. If it’s not a good fit, you won’t stick with it.

I’ve found intermittent fasting works best for me. Intermittent fasting is a method in which you don’t eat for several hours and squeeze your meals within a few hours. (Technically, we all do intermittent fasting, I know.) Generally the fast is 16 hours, including while you sleep, and the eating window is 8 hours.

I’ve never really been into breakfast. I know, I’m weird. I don’t like cereal or most other breakfast foods. I train in the mornings on an empty stomach. I’ve done it for years. At first it was a little weird. There’s an adjustment period of a few days where you might not feel as strong as normal. After that, it’s been all good for me. I’m usually not even hungry until about noon.

My eating window is from around 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., so it’s 15:9 not 16:8. I’m not super strict with it, either. If I’m particularly hungry, I’ll eat a little before 11 or if I have a late dinner, I don’t sweat it. Generally that’s my eating window though.

I’m not proselytizing, this is just what works for me. There are several reasons beyond the scope of this post.

Eating every 2-3 hours won’t stoke your metabolism any better than eating larger meals less frequently. Nor will your gains evaporate.

Figure out the meal frequency that best suits your taste and your schedule and do that. The most important thing is to consistently hit your calorie and macronutrient targets.