Let me preface this by telling you what this blog is not. You won’t find “4 SECRETS TO SIX PACK ABS” or “LOSE 10 POUNDS IN A WEEK USING THIS SECRET METHOD”. What this blog is, however; is a reflection of sorts regarding my transition back to an active lifestyle after nearly an eight-year hiatus.While I was working on completing my Bachelors of Human Kinetics, I was a member of the varsity football team at the University of Windsor.
I was active, working out 5-6 times a week, but eventually, like all good things, my time with the team came to an end. I tried to stay active at first but I started down a slippery slope and my feet just got out from under me.
Fast forward eight years later, I’m 29 years old, 6’ 1 ½“ tall and 306 pounds. This was the turning point for me. It comes to everyone differently. For me, it was looking at where I was, reflecting on the past couple years and I came to the conclusion that I was not happy. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I knew I needed to make a change.
I wanted to lose weight pretty badly. With my educational background, I knew I had the knowledge and just needed to apply it. Simply put, to lose weight you need to be in a caloric deficit (meaning you will burn more calories in a day than you have consumed). Conversely, if you’re looking to gain weight you need to be in a caloric surplus (you need to consume more calories than you have burned for the day).
You can either get into a caloric deficit by your diet, by physical activity, or a combination of both. It is extremely important to consider the amount of calories your body will need to function optimally. Being too far in a deficit can be detrimental to the gains you’re looking to make and put you at risk for increased injury. The amount of calories you need to consume per day is dependant on age, gender and activity level. You can find the recommended caloric intake for you here.
In a word? Slowly. The plan was to increase my activity level while watching what I ate. I started out small. I stuck to lean proteins and vegetables as this left me feeling full and not packing on the calories. To increase my activity, I set a workout plan and stuck to it. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I would go for a run and I would do strength training Tuesday,Thursday,Saturday. I couldn’t run for very long without stopping, but I made a long term goal of being able to run 5km in about 6 months. Every week I would set small performance goals.
The intention being a way to track progress to hitting that 5km mark. Every week I would try to add 300-400m without stopping. Some weeks I would get more and some weeks less, but I would try to make progress regardless of how far I ran.With my resistance training, I wanted to put on more muscle mass. By increasing muscle mass I was increasing the amount of calories my body burns at rest (known as Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR). Think of your BMR as a car idling. It still burns fuel to keep the engine going, even though it isn’t going anywhere. Aside from the increase in BMR, an added bonus to putting on muscle was the change in body composition that I was looking for (#beachseason!). I picked a few exercises that targeted major muscle groups. I diligently stuck to my regime, increasing the intensity (weight) as I became stronger over time.
When I started to make my change, I was very strict in following my plan. My biggest fear was adherence. I had tried to get back in shape a few times before, never with any real results. I knew that if I gave myself a little slack, it could potentially begin the process of returning to a sedentary lifestyle. Regardless of the weather, snow or shine, if it was Monday I was lacing up my running shoes to get the work done.
Commendable? Sure. Stupid? Very. Looking back now, I would definitely have liked to have been a little more flexible in a few areas. Sure it was great that I was sticking to my plan but I was extremely lucky. Everyday that I was out there running on ice could’ve been a day that I got hurt. How hard would it have been to stick to my plan after a high ankle sprain? How could I have stuck with my weight training with a broken wrist?I had similar issues when it came to my eating habits. I was scared that if I let myself have a cheat day there would be no looking back.
I was making great gains, achieving my goals, but it was just no fun going out with friends and not being able to have a drink, or eat something “unhealthy”. This may have been a bigger issue for me than it may be for others, but an important component when undertaking endeavour is mental health. I was very fortunate to have a good friend who came to a bonfire with a can of Moosehead (my favourite beer) and just say “You’re drinking this. You’ve been working hard, enjoy yourself.”. Forget cheat days and just take everything in moderation. If you want an ice cream cone, have one. Don't torture yourself for 6 days only to allow yourself to binge on the 7th. Finding a balance and enjoying your treats in moderation is key.
I have recently learned the importance of “going off script” (thank you Matrixx!). Not everything can or will go according to plan. There’s a quote that I find really hits home: “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry”. Well it’s just as true for life as it is for making changes.
No matter how well you plan, something can still go wrong. Be ready to make changes and plan for failure. Every setback isn’t a step back, just a speed bump as you motor forward. If the weather keeps you from getting outside, find exercises you can do inside that will get your heart rate up. Getting some work in and being safe is important.
When you set goals you want to make sure you don’t make them too hard or too easy. A good tool to help you set goals would be making sure your designs follow the S.M.A.R.T Principles of goal setting. Setting clear and concise objectives will increase the achievement you feel when you accomplish them. This will hopefully motivate you to keep pushing onto your next goal!
Set your goals and tell people about them. My friends and I had a group chat and anytime I met one of my targets for the week they’d know about it. “Boys, just hit 6.5km, get on my level”. Even when I didn’t hit the mark I’d share it. “Boys, terrible run today..”. I'd then listen to their relentless trash talk.
It was all in good fun and made me want to push harder the next time I went out. Find someone to share your intentions with that will make you feel more accountable. You’ll want to achieve your ambitions so you can share the news. Find a friend, get sharing.
Depending on your experience level, you may want to ease into the changes you’re trying to make (either weight loss or increasing activity). If you have been generally inactive, even the smallest changes (especially to eating habits) will have drastic results at first and begin to taper off as you begin to gain competence. Keep it simple and keep it consistent.
It is extremely important when starting to get physically active that you do so safely. As mentioned before, it’s pretty hard to stay active if you’re constantly being sidelined due to injury. If you don’t know much about workout routines, consult an exercise professional. You wouldn’t take an engine apart if you didn’t know anything about cars, so why take a different approach when it comes to your body?
You are the best expert when it comes to yourself. You know your limitations, your strengths and your weaknesses better than anyone. Keep it simple, stay consistent and you will get there. Nothing good comes easy nor does it come overnight. With persistance, discipline and consistent hard work, you too can get to your goal. The journey starts with a single step.If you’re on the fence about deciding to make a change, use this story to motivate you on your journey.
You aren’t the first person to feel this way and you won’t be the last. Keep a supportive inner circle and let them help you when you feel you need it. The journey is long but it doesn't have to be lonely. At the end of the day remember one thing: You CAN do this. Let’s get to work!