Whether trying to lose weight, bulk up or feel better, there are many ways to improve your body. Below are a range of ways you can help get a bit better every day and start making changes.
Calories are fundamental whether you want to bulk up or lose weight. In fact, it’s more straightforward than you think.
Firstly, you should learn how many calories you need per day, known as your maintenance calories. Basically, how many calories would you consume each day to stay at your current weight? There are lots of websites online that can help you work out your daily calorie total.
Once you know how many calories you need to maintain your weight, you either add or subtract calories to add or lose weight. For example, if you have a maintenance amount of 2000 calories a day and want to lose weight, you will subtract some calories from that amount, so you’re in a calorie deficit. Just make sure to start small, say 200 calories, monitor your progress and then increase the amount you add or subtract as needed.
Food plays a vital role in how our body looks and operates. Using the 2000-calorie example above, you can choose whether to eat 2000 calories worth of pizza and biscuits or eat fresh, natural foods like vegetables, nuts, fruit and meat. While a calorie is a calorie, and your body doesn’t know the difference between crisps and an orange, the orange is far more nutrient dense and likely to benefit you much more than the crisps.
Although calorie intake is the way to reach your goals, it’s worth considering what you’re putting in your body. Whole, nutrient-dense foods offer you much more than fast food. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have the odd treat from time to time, but be mindful of what you put in your body.
Your body needs hydration, and water is the best thing. Staying hydrated can help your mental and physical performance, so ensuring you have two litres a day is the best way to do this. Carry a water bottle with you so you can sip it throughout the day. Plus, fizzy drinks are an easy way to add excess calories to your total without realising it.
Strength training, whether bodyweight (think pull-ups) or using weights (think bench press), strength training will, unsurprisingly, make you stronger. It doesn’t matter if you want to lose weight or bulk up; you should be lifting weights.
If you need help figuring out where to start, focusing on compound movements (ones that use many muscle groups) is your best bet. These include squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, bench presses, pull-ups and lunges.
The best thing to do is create a plan or ask someone to create a plan for you (you can find a personal trainer or look online) that creates progressive overload. Essentially, this means you are challenging your body every time. For example, say you squat 20kg (standard Olympic barbell weight) for ten reps on week one. You may do the same on week two, but on week three, you should increase the reps or the weight. So on week three, you may squat 22.5kg for eight reps or 20kg for 12-15 reps. Either way, you’re challenging your body, so it must adapt.
If you consider yourself unfit, you’re likely talking about your cardiovascular health. For example, if you struggle running for the bus, get out of breath going up the stairs or are tired after playing with your children for 10 minutes, that’s what we mean.
No matter what your goals are, you should ensure you have some cardio in your exercise routine. It can be jogging, a spin class, HIIT sessions, rowing, trail running or whatever you prefer. Not only will it help burn calories it will improve your heart health and your overall fitness levels.
Much like strength training, you should aim to improve over time. For example, you could use an app to help you build up to a 5k run. While you’ll start small to begin with, you’ll quickly find yourself running further and further. It’s all about having a plan and sticking to it.
Often overlooked when it comes to looking after your body, stretching is brilliant for a whole host of things. Regular stretching can improve flexibility, reduce injury, increase range of motion, improve posture and reduce body aches and stress on the body.
A quick mobility routine before cardio or strength exercise will help prepare your body for what’s to come while stretching after exercise can reduce sore muscles and help your flexibility. Light stretching on rest days or before bed can also be beneficial if you struggle with poor mobility or aches and pains. If you need help with what to do, there are plenty of things on the internet. Alternatively, try yoga or Pilates.
We’re still learning the importance of sleep for our well-being, and over the last decade, it has become incredibly revealing. Days of burning the candle at both ends and being commended for it are becoming a thing of the past. Instead, a good night’s sleep will allow your body to recover, helping you feel better the following day. Also, your body will build muscle during sleep, so if you want those all-important gains, get some shut-eye.
Try avoiding screens an hour before bed and have a wind-down routine to help you get to sleep as quickly as possible. Having a regular bedtime and time to wake up is also a great way to train your body to sleep better.
It’s easy to go in all guns blazing when starting any fitness routine; however, going from nothing to trying to exercise 6 times a week is unlikely to be sustainable. It’s essential to come up with attainable goals along your journey. For example, if you’re starting, going to the gym twice a week for the first month could be a good goal; for the second month, you might aim to go three times. Another example could be, rather than saying ‘I want to lose weight’, set yourself a goal of I want to lose x kilograms by x time. Just make sure it’s attainable.
Finally, whatever changes you want to make, you need to commit to the process and give it enough time. If you want to put on muscle and get stronger, it’s not a three-week journey; it’s months and years. It’s the same with losing weight, don’t crash diet and hit the gym for a month, you might lose weight, but you’ll likely just put it on again afterwards. Instead, be consistent, set achievable goals and commit. You may not notice changes instantly, but stick with it, and eventually, you’ll see significant changes, and then your friends, family and co-workers will start to notice too.
It sounds cheesy, but altering your lifestyle to include exercise, eating well and looking after your body is the best way to see improvements. If you slip up, don’t beat yourself up, we all do. Just don’t let it spiral. Treat yourself occasionally, but don’t go crazy for long periods. Instead, indulge in a takeaway, have a day off from cardio if you aren’t feeling it, and get back on it the next day. Finally, enjoy the journey.