Fitness and physique – a marathon, not a sprint (Part 1 of 2)

Contributed by Yongdan Tang, PhD

Ever had the frustration of following all the ‘guru tips’ from the magazines and media, literally sweated effort in and out of the gym… yet still not achieving the results you desire?

You are not alone.

Let’s face it – most of us covet that ‘magazine cover model’ body. And many fitness enthusiasts have put in their fair share of pumping iron and tasteless chicken breast meals in their attempts to achieve such a build. Some have succeeded. But many of us drop out after either not seeing results for a while, or bounce back after transient success.

Working out smart is as important as working out hard. Just like your body is a complete system, your training needs to be holistic and organized.

In this first of a two-part series, we discuss how you can shape your mindset, nutrition and training to (finally) achieve the fitness and physique you’ve always desired.

Mindset

Familiar with “lose 10kg in 1 month”, or “take this, eat all you can, and still stay slim and slender”? Your scam alarm should’ve rung by then! If your goal is to be physically appealing and improve body composition, there is no shortcut as advertised by many of the marketing forces in the fitness industry.

Think of your renewed approach to your desired fitness goals as a marathon, not a sprint; a journey, not a battle.

Looking at most successful natural physique athletes online – either from scrawny to brawny or from fat to fab – most of them went through years of dedicated training and disciplined diet. Even those in their prime age typically required 4 to 5 years to achieve their astonishing transformation. Steroid use and exceptional genetics aside, body-composition change takes time to occur for most people. A mentality of pill popping and have everything settled will, at most bring, some mental consolation. But it’s not really going to change the image in the mirror, at least not sustainably.

Don’t let the time frame discourage you. Think of your renewed approach to your desired fitness goals as a marathon, not a sprint; a journey, not a battle. There are tools and knowledge on making realistic and visible progress within a relatively short time frame of, say, 6 months. World renowned powerlifter and fitness coach Greg Nuckols has comprehensively outlined a data-based approach to realistic goal setting. And here onwards, is about improving fitness and physique naturally, using proper nutrition and training.

Nutrition and training

The plethora of fitness tips and information flooding the industry can be counter-productive if not applied into individual specificity. For example, why 2 scoops of whey protein post work-out? Why 200g of chicken breast? Why 3 sets of dumbbell press of 12 reps? Is this applicable for you? One of the best frameworks for fitness nutrition and training is Eric Helms’ Nutrition and Training pyramids, and puts all these fragments of information into priorities in a big picture.

Caloric intake, macronutrients, micronutrients, meal timing and frequencies and supplementation all contribute to your fitness journey.

Essentially, nutrition is to build or maintain; training is to tear down or induce the right stimuli for body composition to change. The two need to work in synergy, within the right hierarchies and priorities. Caloric intake, macronutrients, micronutrients, meal timing and frequencies and supplementation all contribute to your fitness journey. There are also many different types of diets which are essentially different macronutrient set up, such as Paleo, Mediterranean, ketogenic, and high protein. Their efficacy for different people may vary due to different genetic dispositions. But the hierarchies detailed in Eric Helms’ nutrition pyramid still form the foundation to achieving your goal.

Training is not as straightforward as nutrition set-up. But if the goal is fitness and physique change, progressive overload is key. Our body will not adapt by increasing muscle size if it is fully capable of handling the current training volume, intensity and frequency. At the same time, avoiding injuries and managing stress in and out of the gym are also important for sustainable progress. The emphasis on long-term mindset is important to cope with high training volume beyond recovery capacity. You can’t simply adhere to a rigid roster of weights, reps and sets while ignoring your own body’s response.

Look out for the second part that discusses how measurement and context play a role in a sustainable fitness approach.


Contributed by Yongdan Tang.

Yongdan holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering, and built a career in the healthcare and medical industries. He began weight lifting 15 years ago, and has successfully set up diets and training plans.