In this post, I’m hoping to answer the question “Where do I start?” A lot of the material today is summarized from Tom Venuto’s Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle (highly recommended reading).
Where am I now?
Before you get started figuring out what you want to change, figure out exactly where you are. Write down an initial number for as many things as you can. Some of the easy ones are your weight, body fat percentage, chest/hips/waist measurements (flexible measuring tapes are cheap, no excuses), max number of push-ups/pull-ups/sit-ups, jogging/biking/swimming distance/speed. Even if you’re not specifically aiming to increase one of these stats, measure it anyway. After 90 days, measure again to see what’s changed.
Estimate your weight
One of the least important stats to track is your weight. Weight fluctuates a lot. Don’t get too caught up in the number. As long as you’re working toward your goals, you can pretty much ignore the number and focus on your progress in other areas. An increase in weight is not a failure, it’s noisy data. Keep working hard, keep coming back, keep checking in, and the results will come.
That said, weight is easy to measure and if it’s averaged over a large sample, it can be a meaningful measure of progress for a group. For those reasons, the weekly check in form will track weight. But again, don’t get too caught up in the number when you check in.
Estimate your body fat percentage
One of the most important stats to track is your body fat percentage. The weight that you want to work off should be mostly fat, not muscle mass, and the best way to find out if you’re losing fat or muscle is to estimate your body fat percentage. There are lots of ways to get this number. Here are a couple sites to help you find it:
- Check with your doctor – these are the most accurate techniques, but they are more difficult to do regularly
- Calipers or tape measure – calipers are your best bet for a more accurate home test, the tape measure method is cheap and easy to do on your own
- Digital scales – these can give a wide range of values throughout the day and depending on room conditions, so try to measure in the same way each time
- Visually – an easy first approximation, but this might not be all that accurate
Keep records, take before shots
For all of your initial stats, write them down. You don’t have to post them publicly, but have them written down somewhere.
Final step: take pictures! If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to take before pictures. If you don’t take them now though, you will regret it when you’ve made an amazing transformation. Here are some examples of the poses that the P90X program recommends: [NSFW] 1, 2.
Where do I want to be?
Ok, now that you have very specific, numerical values for where you are now, let’s move on to where you want to be. To figure out where you want to be, start setting your goals. Setting goals has been the single most helpful thing that I got from Venuto’s book. Here’s a (long) tl;dr version:
- Make specific, measurable goals. Pinpoint the weight or waist size that you want to be. Use the visual body fat percentage site above to get an idea of what body fat percentage you’d like to end up at.
- Aim high. You can do this. If you really want to make the change, you will accomplish it. Set your goals where youwant them, not where you think you’ll be able to reach. (Disclaimer: I’m serious, if you want this, you will get it, so make sure your goals are healthy before you start. Try picking something in the middle of the “healthy” BMI range. Although BMI isn’t the best measure of body composition, it gives an okay approximation for how low is too low for most people. Avoid over exercising and under eating to reach your goals.)
- Have realistic deadlines. A reasonable guideline for weight loss is about 1-2 lbs (0.5-1 kg) per week, or about 13-26 lbs (6-12 kg) in 90 days. If you need to lose more than this, great! I’ll be here for the next round, and I hope others will stick around with me! You can set your 90-day goals higher than this, but it will mean lots of hard work on your part and you might risk burning yourself out.
- Write long-term and short-term goals. Specifically, Venuto suggests the following six types of goals: 1) ultimate long-term goal, 2) one-year goal, 3) 90-days goal, 4) weekly goals, 5) daily goals, and 6) beating your personal best. Right now, as you’re reading this, get out some paper or open up Notepad and write out those headers. Then start listing them out. Where do you want to be in 5 years? Next year? At the end of this round of 90days? Your weekly goals will help you to know if you’re on track, and your daily goals will help you to take things one step at a time while forming the habits that you’ll need to reach your goals and maintain your new lifestyle once you’ve reached them.
- Make your goals emotionally charged. Why do you want to reach those goals? Why is it important that you meet them? If you’re trying to lose weight for external reasons, it might not motivate you as much as something that’s extremely personal to you. Make them your goals and know why those are your goals.
- If your goals conflict with each other, prioritize them. If you want to lose weight and gain muscle, you might need to do this in steps – working off the fat with moderate muscle gains, and then building up the muscle with some weight gain.
- State your goals as affirmations. Specifically, Venuto suggests three things for your affirmations: make thempersonal, write them in the present tense, and make them positive. “At the end of this round, I am extremely happy that I weigh 150 lbs.” Avoid the future tense and negative statements (“By the end of this round, I will have lost 15 lbs”).
- Read your goals often! Write out your goals (for real, write them out now) and read over them often. Read your goals when you wake up or when you check your email. Keep them at the front of your mind.
- Believe your goals. When you reread your goals, believe that they are going to happen. Don’t tell yourself you won’t get there, know that you will reach those goals. You want to get there, and it will happen.
- The last thing Venuto recommends is to visualize your goals when you read through them. See yourself at the weight you want to be. Make your pictures as vivid as you can.
Where do I start?
I would suggest that you figure out where you stand now and write down your goals for where you want to be. Your goals should get you fired up and ready to go. Once you’ve got your goals written down, keep them somewhere you can see them often. You really want these things to happen, you’ve explained why you want them to happen, you can see them happening, and you know that they will happen. That’s a significant first step.
Once you know what you want to achieve, it will be easier to decide how to change your diet and what exercise routine to start.