When Fellow coach Troy Martin asked me what it takes to maintain my own physique and when I really thought about it, the points below are what I’ve been doing day-in day-out for the time in which it's taken me to get there. Let's get down to the nitty gritty here & pinpoint some key fundamentals.
One of the most overused annoying phrases in the health and fitness industry is 'consistency is key'.
Yes, I've used it on many occasions - to the extent that I cringe every time I see or hear it used now. The thing is- it's true. It's the one vital component to not only building the physique and getting the body you want - but to maintaining it once you're there.
Sure, you have to factor in social events, holidays, travelling, etc. but everyone has obstacles to deal with them and as long as you know how to then you're winning. Whether clients come to me trying to lose body fat, build muscle or improve health issues, the reason why the successful ones see change is because day-in day-out they try, they fail, they try again and even with people who have difficult complex lives, when they become more consistent that's when change happens. The more consistent you get then easier it becomes to improve.
'Failing to plan is planning to fail' is another mild, anger inducing, phrase you hear banded about. Again though, boring but true.
Planning isn't just about mapping out your weeks meals into My Fitness Pal. It's about thinking ahead so you have a good idea of your goals whether it be for the next day, next week or 6-months time.
Plan your food
A lot of people struggle with this one because they're not used to it. Like anything else- creating a habit takes time, effort and repetition. What I encourage my clients to do is sit down over the weekend with their partner / family and have a chat about what they might like to eat that week at meal times to make the grocery shopping easier to plan. Some people can wing their food through the day and stick to their nutritional targets but its way more accurate to pre-plan your meals in advance. I pretty much plan my entire week’s food in advance then tweak that accordingly every day. Obviously, holidays, weekends away, etc. are different. Nothing's set in stone unless I'm in a strict prep phase but day to day it's planned out to take the stress out of constantly having to think about shopping and cooking. Not saying it works for everyone but it works for me.
When it comes to training I'll have a pretty good idea of what I'll be doing (albeit maybe not exactly each session) for the coming week. Sure, things might change some days but I know how many sessions I'll be aiming for and what I'll be doing in each. Sometimes I have a strict training plan to follow - sometimes not so strict. Either way I like to weight train 4/5x per week and do some form of cardio which alters depending on what my goals are whether that’s HIIT / steady state cardio timed to burn a specific caloric output or just cycling and walking outdoors during the week. That leads nicely onto…
I believe that you should always have goals to keep you motivated. This could be anything from 'getting more rounded glutes' or more fundamental like 'improving deadlift strength' to ' improving my gut health'. I’ve done them all amongst many and every goal serves a purpose at that time. Without a goal, you're just floating.
if you or your coach sets you a plan that's so strict it consistently causes you to fall off the wagon, it's not working. Strict short term plans like 8 week transformations work because they are exactly that- short. However 9 out of 10 times they incur rebound afterwards ( I.e the US TV show ‘The Biggest Loser’ of which there are many famous stories about contestants gaining back all the weight and more after the show.) A slightly less harsh plan to stick to and some flexibility within that works far better over the long term and that’s when you learn how to cope with meals out/ holidays, etc. It’s far better to be moderately good 80% of the time than perfect 20% of the time.
Consistency, planning, goal setting and adherence
I can safely say that anyone who has changed their body and kept it that way applies these points and has been for a duration of time. Not for 8 weeks, 12 weeks, 3 months but years.
Make it habit. Make it your way of life. Create change and keep it that way.
Taking these points into consideration here's how I'm currently applying them in my own life:
Drop a dress size to get into a wedding dress designed for waif-like models. Build shape and definition to glutes and shoulders. I gave myself a 12-week time duration from the beginning of the year to my dress fitting in April and decided to embark upon a slow caloric deficit. This is the best way for me currently as I don't wish to increase my training output due to time/ work constraints and also wanting to spend more quality time at home.
Current training plan
4-5x weight training sessions per week of 45-60mins. I have a demanding job that won't allow more than 45-50mins during day. Sure, I could train after work, but training midday suits my schedule better plus I have short rest times generally between sets and exercises. Also I like to train when it’s quieter at my gym and I can get the equipment/ machines I need. I work at a level of intensity that I know I can get what I need done in that allocated time. I don't chat, I don't check my emails in between sets, I go in- train- get out. I see people training for 2-hours plus but the volume they do in that session is no more than my shorter one. Guaranteed some of the time if you're resting purposely to strength/ power train then fine but let’s face it - a lot of it is bro chat.
My current plan has around 25-30 working sets. I have 45-60 seconds between sets and 1-2 mins between exercises. I train my lower body either 2 or 3 full sessions or similar volume split over 3 or 4. Upper body sessions are usually 2 full upper body sessions plus an extra shoulders volume in there.
Now this is not in any way a recommendation or regime to follow because we have to remember that everyone is individual and no way can a newbie effectively train 30 working sets. While females can typically respond to a higher volume in training sometimes 9-12 sets are all that’s needed if working at the proper intensity. The most important aspect of training is to master the basics but as you get more advanced you have to select the exercises that work best for you. I don’t’ squat any more due to hip impingement however I have since improved hamstring and glute development much better by doing alternative exercises that I can feel the contraction on the desired muscle groups more effectively. The isn’t one right way.
"You've got to find your source of motivation...".
I'll always choose the weights room over a cardio class or machine. It once was the opposite way but back then I didn't have the body I yearned for. I do however love cycling outdoors which is just as well as that’s my daily commute. With a fair few hills involved I'll either cycle the 5 miles to and from my work or if it’s nice weather I'll walk which takes about an hour. That walk will easily burn more calories than a training session. Weight training incurs much less caloric expenditure than people like to think. Walking is a great way to put yourself into a decent deficit without much effort at all. I like to walk as it gives me time to catch with phonecalls to family and friends or listen to podcasts.
I eat a fairly high protein diet for someone my size - that’s through food preference and choice, but also because it supports my training and muscle maintenance. Carbs come from fruits, veg and, at the moment, starches around my workouts. I eat about 1g/kg of fats. I'll fluctuate carb and fat intake depending on how I'm feeling, energy levels and how my training is going but generally caloric input stays pretty consistent. I wouldn't say I'm a clean-eater, nor a flexible dieter but somewhere in the middle. Those who follow me on Instagram @Pollycwt (shameless plug) will see that about 80-90% of my meals are homemade with consistently nutrient dense whole foods and occasionally there’s a burger or some ice-cream thrown in there. Generally, the leaner you get, the more flexible you can be but it’s always important to remember that you get out of your body what you put into it, so while a burger and fries at the weekend is great if I ate that 3x a week I'd feel pretty crap.
I'm currently 45kg and while some you may be judging my calorie intake as being pretty low and that being ridiculously light, believe me when I say that when I was a professional ballet dancer I ate a hell of a lot less and weighed a lot less too. I've also weighed a lot more in my life. I'm 161cm, small boned, half Malaysian and carry a lot less mass genetically. If I was the same height but Caucasian I could guarantee that I would both be heavier and have a higher maintenance level, so yes, genetics play a role. My estimated RMR is approximately 1,200kcal and I know that by experience more than anything else. Online calculators are a handy tool but nothing compares to an individual set of data. If we multiply that by 1.4x to account for being generally quite active during the day, then add training, etc. on top of that it means I’m burning anywhere between 1800-2100kcal. Now this is just an estimate as we never really know how much we are burning just as we don't ever really know how much energy is being taken from food, so being consistent (that cliché again) with food and training the only way to create datum points.
So, to cut a long story short what I'm saying is that what it takes to get and stay lean is to train 4x weekly, walk 10-15k steps per day and eat healthy. But I'd like to add a few caveats to that which are: you've got to sleep well to aid recovery, you've got to train intensely to illicit physical change, you've got to find your source of motivation which means you got to grow to love the lifestyle and you've got to manage your stress levels.