Hacking Your New Year’s Fitness Resolutions

All too often guys make New Year’s resolutions, stick to them for a month, don’t see results, and quit. It’s the phenomenon behind the “January rush”—and the reason most gyms are back to their usual crowd by mid-March.

But you don’t have to be one of those average guys who abandon a fitness plan once you lose your initial momentum. Let’s look at a few techniques and motivational tools which help us mature men stay motivated, driven, and achieve results for life. Here are four lifting rules and five common questions to help improve motivation, drive, and commitment and stave off the dreaded March slump.

Stress is Key

Life often gets in the way of training. It doesn't matter if you're an executive, a blue-collar guy holding two jobs, a student, or a parent trying to raise a howling monster, training sometimes has to take a back seat.

But contrary to popular belief, you don't need to spend over an hour in the gym 6 days a week. In fact, that can be unproductive. Remember, your body isn't able to differentiate between all the various stresses in your life. Stress is stress. Whether it's stress from your job, your relationships, the bills, or weight training, your body only recognizes it as stress.

Training is only beneficial if you can recover from it, which is why if you're struggling to balance life and training, you can easily get good results by training three days a week for 45 minutes. The key to make this work is to be highly efficient with your time in the gym. You need to make the three 45-minute workouts count.

Four Lifting Rules

1. Focus on the big, compound exercises.

You want the majority of the work to be coming from your "money exercises." Think squats, deadlifts, overhead press, barbell or t-bar rows, dips, and chins. Wrist curls, kickbacks, and glute squeezes are out.

2. Pair your exercises.

One of the best ways to save time in the gym is to pair non-competing/antagonist exercises together. These aren't to be confused with supersets where you go from one exercise to another with no rest. For example, you'd perform one set of squats, rest 90 seconds, then complete a set of leg curls, rest 90 seconds, then go back to squats.

3. Pay attention to rest periods.

Be strict with your rest periods. This isn't the time to be messing around in between sets talking on your phone, socializing, or lurking around and chatting up the ladies.

4. Train your whole body each workout.

If you've only got a limited time allowance in the gym, don't use a body part split. Do a full-body workout that focuses on heavy compound lifts like the ones mentioned above in order to hit the most muscle groups, facilitate muscular adaptation, and increase muscular strength and performance. Each session will be low in volume per body part, so recovery won't be an issue.

Taking Advantage of Your Motivational Toolbox

1. What is the key to staying motivated after the January rush?

Don’t just show up at the gym and say, “I want to get in shape.” No plan usually equals no results. You also shouldn’t peg your goals to something physique-related, like “I want six-pack abs” or “I want to burn my love handles.”

I suggest having a definitive performance goal, or several. Make it measurable, like go to the gym three times a week, or make sure to exercise for 180 minutes total in a week. Depending on where you’re starting from, you may need to change nutrition, hydration, sleep, and other lifestyle habits in order to reach these goals, but you’ll need a strategy.

2. How long dies it take to see results?

This depends on the individual. The three factors I find play the largest role in seeing results are the trainee’s age, past exercise/training history, and consistency. If you’re a young former athlete and are training 3-5 times per week, results may show in 2-4 weeks. Also, if you’re younger and a new trainee, results also often come quickly.

But if you’re 45, you’ve never worked out, and you’ve eaten poorly for the last 20 years, results will probably take much longer. Fortunately, with consistency, results will come more quickly.

3. How can I prove to myself that I am making progress?

If your goals are body composition, have a professional conduct an assessment by analyzing your body structure, hormonal assessment, postural limitations, current body fat percentage, muscle mass composition, and overall strength and mobility weaknesses, every 4-6 weeks. Keep a log that includes weekly photos and written records of your daily meals, calories, and macronutrient ratios (grams of protein, carbohydrates, and fats) in order to easily make changes to your nutritional program in the future. If your goals are performance-based, keep an exercise journal or program log to monitor weekly strength, conditioning, and performance changes to see if what you’re doing is working.

4. How can I 'cheat' on my diet and still see progress?

Set a realistic goal on how clean you think you can get your diet versus how much you want to cheat. After 4-8 weeks, if you’re not seeing the changes you want, you’ll have to skew the ratio toward the cleaner side. Make little changes until you see the results you’re looking for and set deadlines to assess if what you’re doing is working. For most people, little changes stick better than massive changes.

5. How can I make workouts shorter and more effective?

Frequency, food, hydration, and sleep! You can train for shorter increments per workout if you show up more often. You can train less and see body composition changes if you increase your training intensity and feed your body the fuel it needs, think HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training. Your body repairs itself and makes changes when you sleep, so if you’re sleeping fewer than 7-9 hours each night, you probably will make sub maximal gains and not reach your goals.

Good luck in the New Year.

Stay Strong,

Brett Place

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