For your physique, January is the cruelest month. It’s cold. It’s dark. You’re at your physical rock-bottom, when even a flight of stairs turns your face the same red as your bank balance. Your new gym is full of people just as out of shape and ideas as you. You cling to a ‘Six-Pack In Six Weeks!’ programme, even though the odds of you reaching the sixth week, let alone abs, are as slim as you’d like to be.
But before you trade in your green juice for a round of Krispy Kremes, know that there are ways to ease the excision of fat and the addition of muscle. Re-programme your brain and tweak your routine and you can find the resolve to best your new year’s resolutions. It might take more than six weeks, but with these tips from the country’s best personal trainers, you’re building not just a better body, but a better approach to life.
Just Do 15 Minutes
Any promise that 15 minutes’ work can build a ripped body needs heavy seasoning. It’s possible, but only when each minute is so agonising it feels five times longer. However, when the flesh is weak, swap your scheduled session for 15 minutes of something you like (that’s a sport, exercise or circuit, not go down the pub) says PT Dylan Jones, founder of P4Body.
Once your trainers are on, the urge to take them off soon abates. “If after 15 minutes you want to stop then stop, but we guarantee that you’ll be very likely to want to do just that little bit more.”
Or, Actually, Just Do 15 Minutes
If you’re fighting a tight schedule, not weak willpower, then trim your training time but work harder. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) works you at where’s-the-sick-bucket levels for 30-second bursts, which spikes your exertion levels and heart rate, says Oliver Sprague from MotivatePT.
Because you can mix up your equipment, it’s also good for battling boredom. “It’s a fun way of burning fat and improving fitness levels, compared to a long-distance run.”
Shape Your Environment
Bringing your wake-up time forward an hour to make time for the gym is shock enough. So remove any hurdles that might inch your hand towards the snooze button. A packed bag and smoothie in the fridge means fewer hurdles between you and the front door.
“Shape the environment around you so you stick to the plan,” says Matt Roberts, founder of the eponymous gym. “Choosing a gym that you have to walk past on your way home and keeping your weekly workout schedule pinned up on your fridge may sound simple, but can go a long way toward nudging you in the right direction.”
Don’t Feel The Funk
Those ‘don’t eat me’ sachets that come in your new shoes are in fact a potent training aid. Not as a pre-workout – the label isn’t joking – but as a way to mop up sweat before it turns into smell.
Stow a few in your gym bag and when you leave your kit under your desk at the weekend, it won’t clear out the office on Monday morning.
Reward The Right Choices
When you swap a lie-in for kettlebell swings, make sure pain isn’t your only reward. “It makes a habit stick,” says Chris Walton, director of personal training at Embody Fitness.
Stow a square of high percentage cacao dark chocolate (not the sugary crap) next to your running shoes as a sweet carrot for putting them on. “In the end the process of running and feeling better becomes the reward.” If one square tends to become a bar, swap for a post-run smoothie or favourite coffee instead.
In January you can put any idea of a multi-station leg day on ice. There’ll be a line six-deep at every piece of kit. When people are even queuing for the adductor machine, grab a pair of dumbbells and run through Walton’s five-stage complex to hit your whole body in one private corner.
Complete six reps each of squat-to-press, bent-over row, lunge-and-curl, and press-ups, with no rest between each set. “The workout will take about 10-15 mins so you can either leave it there – which you may well feel like – or rest 5-10 mins and repeat if you are feeling brave.”
As Einstein’s theory of general relativity tells us, objects with immense mass can warp space-time. Which is why your watch barely ticks when you’re deep in a squat session. So don’t look.
Instead, build a playlist of tunes that spike your heart rate and which lasts precisely as long as your session, says Hilary Arredondo, a personal trainer with MotivatePT. Finish on your favourite. Think of the final bars of Slayer’s ‘Raining Blood’ as your spotter through the final reps (or Little Mix, we’re not judging).
Six abs are better than one. And in your quest to find them, having two heads proves twice as effective. Studies show that pairing up doubles your performance – a workout partner pushes you through pain thresholds and it’s tougher to skip scheduled sessions when they’re in two diaries.
You also won’t tap out – or count half reps – when you’re trying to best your best mate.
I Think, Therefore I Am
Deploy some pro-level mind tricks to make pro-level progress. Professional baseball players don’t think whether they’ll hit a home run, but rather which wall it will clear. The body believes what the mind imagines, and their percentages improve.
“This could translate to getting all the right gym gear and looking the part, so that you can act the part of being super fit and strong. If you tell yourself this, your behaviour in the gym will mirror this and you’ll invariably work harder,” says Walton.
Work For Time
Physical change comes from changing your routine. As you exercise, your body develops until it can cope with what you throw at it. Repeat the same routine and eventually, you stop progressing. Add a short, timed session in each week, says Joe O’Cearuill from MotivatePT, and see how many reps of press-ups, crunches, burpees and pull-ups you can fit in.
You’ll keep track of your gains and motivate yourself to make more.
If you’ve never stepped in a gym before, then Arnie’s Mr Universe Squat Workout will ensure you never step in again. Most newbies are scared away by too-intense regimes. It’s better to do something easy but enjoyable than nothing at all.
“Whether it’s a workout class, exercise app or a good old free weight routine, until you catch the fitness bug don’t push yourself too far out of your comfort zone,” says Jones.
Get Some Chemical Assistance
Not the kind enjoyed by that oddly angry guy in the changing room. There’s a reason cyclists mainline coffee – caffeine reduces feelings of fatigue to make you work harder for longer.
It also has benefits under the hood. “It really helps to boost energy and mental clarity as well as boosting fat metabolism,” says Walton. “Try a double espresso or green tea 20-30 mins before you work out.”
Breaking your bench press PB is admirable, but you’ll suffer for it tomorrow. Invest in a foam roller to iron out any sore spots. Proof that gain doesn’t always mean pain.