The new rules of fit­ness

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GIVE A MAN A FIT­NESS PLAN AND HE’LL WORK OUT FOR A WEEK – OR 12, TOPS. GIVE A MAN THE KNOWL­EDGE TO UN­DER­STAND WHICH FIT­NESS PLANS WORK, THOUGH, AND YOU GIVE HIM THE MEANS TO STAY FIT AND HEALTHY FOR LIFE

RULE 1: HARDER ISN’T AL­WAYS BET­TER

No­body can go hard all the time, what­ever that guy in the of­fice who just started Cross­Fit says. In­tense ac­tiv­ity raises your lev­els of adren­a­line and the stress hor­mone cor­ti­sol, with the ef­fect of shut­ting down some of the body’s ma­jor func­tions, in­clud­ing di­ges­tion. That’s fine if you’re run­ning away from a lion, but less so if you’re in the gym try­ing to lose fat. “Stick to ac­tiv­i­ties that pro­vide a lit­tle dis­com­fort, rather than dis­tress,” says trainer Ran­noch Don­ald. “Drills cre­ate skills, so we fo­cus on ex­er­cise that chal­lenges us just enough to keep us com­ing back. A few good reps are more ben­e­fi­cial than strug­gling to fin­ish a set, and mak­ing move­ment fun is key.”

RULE 2: FAT LOSS IS ABOUT IN­EF­FI­CIENCY

Or tech­ni­cally, it’s about in­ef­fi­cient ex­er­cise. “Any sort of ex­er­cise works for fat loss,” says strength coach

Dan John. “But as you get bet­ter, you be­come more ef­fi­cient. This is the prob­lem with jog­ging: when you start, do­ing 3km works fine, but as you im­prove, you need more dis­tance to get the same ben­e­fit. In­ef­fi­cient ex­er­cise is dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­one – I’ll burn up kilo­joules danc­ing, say, but a skilled dancer won’t get any­where near the fat loss hit.”

The take­away? Try new sports, or ro­tate your car­dio from rower to bike to tread­mill. Al­ter­na­tively, add an­other el­e­ment to your work­out: ac­cord­ing to stud­ies of mus­cle re­sponse to stim­u­la­tion, us­ing two ket­tle­bells rather than one in­creases mus­cle ac­ti­va­tion – and fat burn – by 40%.

RULE 4: STRENGTH IS THE GLASS

What­ever your goals, strength is key to a bet­ter qual­ity of life. Or, to put it an­other way: think strength, not car­dio – at least for now.

“Ab­so­lute strength is the glass,” says John. “Every­thing else is the liq­uid in­side the glass. What does that mean? The stronger you are, the more of the other stuff you can do.”

Mus­cle withers when it’s ne­glected and the process only speeds up as you age. Get­ting weaker means gain­ing fat, a higher risk of age-re­lated dis­ease, worse bal­ance and a de­creas­ing abil­ity to carry so­fas/ ro­man­tic part­ners/chil­dren/crates of beer. John’s two biomark­ers of ad­e­quate strength? Ten pull-ups, and three dead­lifts with 1,5 times your own body weight on the bar.

RULE 5: YOU DON’T NEED AN HOUR A DAY IN THE GYM

Good news for the time-strapped: do­ing one hour of ex­er­cise ev­ery two days and then ly­ing on the couch isn’t as pro­duc­tive as in­tro­duc­ing small amounts of ac­tiv­ity through­out your day. “Think of it as vi­ta­min EDA: Ev­ery Day Ac­tiv­ity,” says Don­ald. “It’s daily move­ment, done reg­u­larly, that pro­vides a foun­da­tion of fit­ness. We live in a cul­ture of con­ve­nience, so we have to seek out move­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties each day

– tak­ing the stairs or get­ting off the taxi a few blocks away from your of­fice.”

He sug­gests what he calls “bas­ket walks”. “Next time you’re at the su­per­mar­ket, use one or two bas­kets, rather than a trol­ley. You’ll be less likely to load up on non-es­sen­tials and you’ll work your core and grip in the process. It’s these lit­tle EDAs that make all the dif­fer­ence.”

Fi­nally, for a quick work­out you can do be­fore you even get dressed, try the “Let Me In”: wrap a towel around a door han­dle, sink back into a squat, then use your arms to pull your­self to­wards the door.

RULE 6: WILLPOWER IS OVER-RATED

It’s not about want­ing it more – it’s just about get­ting it done. Willpower, ac­cord­ing to re­search from Florida State Univer­sity, USA, is a fi­nite re­source: use it to stay off Twit­ter while you do your taxes, and you’ve got less to spare when it’s time to re­sist the bis­cuit tin. Ig­nore the mo­ti­va­tional In­sta­gram posts and set your­self up for suc­cess with healthy, time-ef­fi­cient habits in­stead.

• Cook in bulk: “When you cook, use all four burn­ers,” sug­gests fat loss ex­pert Josh Hil­lis. “Two for meat, and two for rice and veg­eta­bles. Aim for three meals with one type of pro­tein and car­bo­hy­drate, and three with an­other. Store enough for two or three days in Tup­per­ware con­tain­ers and freeze the rest – that way, you set your­self up to win.”

• Use “if, then” plan­ning: Plan ahead with state­ments like: “If ev­ery­one or­ders dessert, then I’ll have a cof­fee.” A re­cent re­view of 94 stud­ies found that this tech­nique aids suc­cess in every­thing from drink­ing less to re­cy­cling more and ne­go­ti­at­ing bet­ter.

• Find your­self skip­ping gym? Your new mantra: “If I miss a day, I’ll do 100 press-ups at home.” Stick to it.

• Say “don’t”, not “can’t”: “If you claim you can’t do some­thing, it sounds as if you’re be­ing vic­timised by your plan,” says Hil­lis. “‘Don’t’ is stronger and doesn’t re­quire jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – it’s a dec­la­ra­tion about what you stand for.”

RULE 7: THE FIRST TIME YOU EVER HIT THE GYM WILL BE THE WORST

Three weeks af­ter that, it will be all fist-bump­ing the reg­u­lars and feel­ing that sweet en­dor­phin rush. The most im­por­tant truth about train­ing is a pretty sim­ple one: most peo­ple don’t like things they’re bad at, but by set­ting sim­ple goals and aim­ing to im­prove, you’ll soon reach the point where you miss train­ing more than you dread it. Here’s how to get it done:

• Ig­nore ev­ery­one else: Don’t worry about what ev­ery­one else in the gym is do­ing. You don’t know their train­ing his­tory or goals, so there’s no point in com­pet­ing with or feel­ing in­tim­i­dated by them. Hav­ing the dis­ci­pline to stick with the weights and ex­er­cises you’ve cho­sen will see you a long way to­wards your goals.

• Em­brace the process: Stop read­ing so­cial me­dia posts be­tween sets or while you pedal your bike. The rest be­tween sets is your time to catch your breath, men­tally run through form and psych your­self up. Be­sides, if you’re read­ing Tweets in the sad­dle, you should prob­a­bly be go­ing faster. Train­ing should be a re­lease from daily dis­trac­tions. When you’re re­ally fo­cused, it’s al­most like med­i­ta­tion.

• Just show up: If there’s ever a day when you can’t face the gym, just go there and do some­thing – have a sauna, have a shower, do two min­utes on the rower, what­ever. Not only will this get you used to the process of go­ing to gym, but once you’re there, chances are you’ll do more than you planned. A nice corol­lary to this is that many solid train­ing plans only re­quire you to do two or three moves a ses­sion, not the dozens most peo­ple at­tempt. Go to the gym, warm up, do some squats and leave.

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