Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Progressive Approach to Fitness

In this post I’m going to discuss what I call a progressive approach to fitness. Because, hey, I had to call it something.

There is a lot of fitness information out there, including the fitness guide I wrote, which explains what you should do to get into better shape. What gets talked about less is how to implement those changes.

At this point some people are probably thinking, “What the heck does that mean? You just do what you’re supposed to, you sissy!” But this overlooks the obvious: if you’re starting from ground zero, the number of changes you have to make can look overwhelming. Heck, the NEWBIE fitness guide I wrote is 20 pages long. In that context, it is easy to see how someone new to the topic could be overwhelmed and have no idea where to start.

Some people will have no problem simply digesting all of the fitness guidance out there and changing everything in their life all at once. But for most people, this is going to seem like an impossibly difficult prospect, especially if they have no past experience of successfully getting into shape.

With that in mind, I suggest a different approach. Don’t try to do everything all at once. Instead, each week change one thing and stick to it. Each step is a small, livable change that anyone who really cares about getting into shape should be able to do. But if you regularly make small changes and stick to them, pretty soon you have changed everything, but it will seem much easier than doing everything at once.

I’ve listed an example progression to follow below. It assumes that weight loss, better overall health and modest muscle development (not bodybuilding or anything like that) are your goals. The sequence of steps isn’t important. Actually, it is fairly arbitrary. The important thing is to do just one step, stick to it, and then do another, and keep adding steps until you have run out of things to improve.

1) Stop drinking your calories. That mans no soda, no frappuchinos, and no sweetened drinks. Replace all of those with water. Coffee and tea are allowed, but they must start unsweetened, and you can only consume 4 packets of sugar a day. Skim milk is OK.
2) Stop eating fast food. You are only allowed to eat fast food only once a week, and no “super sizes” or meals with gigantic portions (like a double Whopper) are allowed.
3) Weigh yourself and measure yourself with a tape measure once a week to track your progress. The tape measure is a better way to go, but most people fixate on their weight, so at least do it smart and measure it only once a week, and at the same time of day each time.
4) Start the “Couch to 5k” program, or add some other form of cardio. Read the newbie fitness guide for details. Track your progress in writing. Add 2 large glasses of water a day to your diet.
5) Increase the number of times a day you eat. Instead of eating 2-3 big meals, try to break them up so you are eating the same amount of food in 5-6 little meals.
6) Replace at least half of the grains you are eating (white bread, white rice, pasta, cereals) with whole grain versions. They are more filling, more nutritious and have more fiber and protein.
7) Every day take a multivitamin and an Omega-3 EPA/DHA supplement. There is ample scientific evidence that Omega-3 supplementation is highly beneficial, and most peoples' diets are so bad that a multivitamin is good insurance.
8) Start a basic weight lifting program from the newbie fitness guide. Lift 3 times a week on days you don’t do cardio. Track your progress in writing.
9) Add 1 serving of fruit and 1 serving of vegetables to your daily diet. Almost everyone under-eats fruits and vegetables.
10) Replace the meats you eat with leaner cuts or lower-fat alternatives.
11) Replace the dairy products you eat with reduced fat versions such as skim milk, low fat yogurt, reduced fat cheeses, etc.
12) Increase the amount of sleep you are getting. 8+ hours of sleep is ideal, 7 hours is acceptable, but any less is probably going to hurt your progress.
13) Go to a calorie counting site like and just spend a couple of days recording your diet and exercise. See how it all adds up. If you’ve followed the previous 12 steps, you should be sitting pretty. If not, gradually adjust your diet to bring it into line with your goals.

A lot of things to do, but not 20 pages of things, and they’re spread out over three months, which makes them a lot easier to do. This is basically what I did to get myself back into shape after slacking off for a while after leaving the Army 5 years ago. For what it's worth, it worked great for me.

I know none of this is exactly rocket science, but maybe it is a way of looking at things that can be helpful to some people.