The holidays are more than over. The gym is clearing out. And you’re clear out of excuses for not working towards those New Year health goals—because “Let me get through Valentine’s Day” isn’t really a thing. For many of us, 2022 is supposed to be our year to get lean, tighten up, or get swole as the kids these days are saying. In other words, we’re ready to get rid of the flab and replace it with muscle—or at least we thought we were.
Because, even as we admit that we did in fact set that “ridiculous'' resolution (What were we thinking?!), if we’re being honest, we don’t believe that achieving an athletic physique is really possible for us. After all, “Our bodies just don’t do that,” “We’re genetically predisposed for flabbiness,” and “No amount of healthy eating or exercise is going to get us there.”
Sound familiar? It’s the reality for about 40 percent of Americans, and when we say reality, what we really mean is perceived reality. Because it’s simply not true. While yes, many of us were not at all like some of the people we grew up with—Ya know, the ones who had abs without doing so much as a single sit-up?—and definitely aren’t the type of adults who maintain our weight with no effort at all, we CAN get lean.
It all comes down to input and output. What are you putting in your body, and what kind of training are you putting out? When you exercise strategically and consume the right things, even the most stubborn of bodies has no choice but to change its composition.
If you’re still a skeptic, try the 3 tips below! Backed by years of research, they’re sure to force your body into healthy compliance and debunk your false fitness beliefs:
Maintain a calorie deficit. Don’t get us wrong; losing weight and gaining muscle at the same time is difficult, and one of the main reasons for that is the dreaded calorie deficit. This isn’t the first time you’ve heard this advice, and it won’t be the last: You can’t lose fat without consuming fewer calories—fewer than your body actually needs. If you’re not sure of what that number is, try this online calculator by the Mayo Clinic. Once you know how many calories you should be eating to maintain your current weight, reduce that number by 250-500 calories a day, whichever matches your timeline. This will begin shredding the stuff you don’t want so you can replace it with the stuff you do!
P.S. When you finally reach your desired goal, be sure to enter your new weight into the calculator and shoot for that number each day (net calories).
Embrace weight lifting. Yes, YOU! A lot of us have never gotten the body that we think is due to genetics because we’ve never stuck to a weight lifting program. While cardio is great for your heart and overall health, depending solely on cardio for a calorie burn will prevent your body from putting on muscle. Strength training with heavy weights, on the other hand, will cause your muscles to tear, leaving room for new muscle growth.
So, where do you begin? If you’ve never incorporated weights into your workout, start with what feels moderate and work your way up. Keep in mind that in order to be successful, they SHOULD feel too heavy, just not unbearable. Oh, and don’t turn your strength training into a cardio workout! Go for lower reps (8-12) so that you can maximize intensity, then repeat the sets in circuits. If you can easily do 30 reps at a time, you aren’t lifting enough. In terms of frequency, train for 45 minutes 3-4 times a week, working in walks on the other days.
The best workouts for muscle gain include compound exercises (exercises that engage multiple muscle groups and require whole-body effort) such as deadlifts, bench presses, military presses, overhead presses, chin-ups, squats, lunges, dips, carries, and push-ups. Most of these can be done with just a pair of dumbbells too!
Eat enough of the right things at the right times. Just because you are eating fewer calories doesn’t mean you should skip meals. Doing that will only deprive your body of the nutrients it needs and leave you feeling sleepy, dizzy, and tempted to overcompensate with food at night. Instead, shift your mindset by thinking of your food as fuel. Put in the right kind and amount, and you’ll be able to go (at your job, at the gym) for significant periods of time. But if you don’t, your body will extract the energy from your muscles, hurting your metabolism and preventing progress overall. The right thing to eat is fiber-, nutrient-, and protein-rich foods that are lower in calories.
But wait! When you consume matters too! Make sure you eat an adequate amount of carbs before you workout to ensure high energy levels and peak performance (e.g. oatmeal and berries). Soon after your workout, you’ll want to consume quite a bit of protein (30g+) to guarantee muscle repair and growth. Then, for the rest of the day, keep it healthy, within your calorie budget, and full of protein.
Now that you have the facts, it’s up to you to stop believing the lies and create the routine that is ideal for your life and goals. But don’t give it ’till Monday or waste another month! Start now, be consistent, and watch your body prove YOU wrong in the best way.