Warm weather hope is on the horizon and dreams of tighter muscles are in the air. Before you dive head first into the next fitness craze, heed this warning: You may never realize your desired goals if one of your legs is too short.
The concept of a three-legged stool is a common business analogy. It symbolizes the interdependent importance of three pillars that underpin success (i.e., quality, price and service). Legs vary among people (or organizations), but they serve to provide clarity, focus and vision. If one leg fails, the stool loses balance.
Like the stool, exercise has three critical elements that heavily influence whether you see results: Resistance Training, Cardio and Nutrition.
To be clear, in this example the stool represents esthetics — fat loss and muscle shape for summer. Depending on individual goals, other stools may represent health, performance, stress management, etc. Legs could include variables that include stretching, functional training, power lifting and meditation, to name a few.
It’s important to be very specific when setting your goals. Blurry goals make for fuzzy results. The legs that you choose should support your overall vision. That’s why I ask clients to identify their top three outcomes in order of importance — we will be focusing on goal No. 1 (not that we won’t touch on Nos. 2 and 3).
If your goal is sculpting a tight and trim summer figure and the legs propping up your efforts are stretching (yoga), meditation (mindfulness) and endurance (sustained aerobic activity), then you may be building a wobbly stool. Nothing wrong with those goals — they simply aren’t the best way to address your desired outcome.
So, to prop up summer shaping goals, here are three very sturdy legs. As you will see, I don’t necessarily advise that you tackle all three at once.
Not only does weight training strengthen and shape muscle, but it also enhances metabolism. In my experience, it is the key to triggering overall results, so consider doing it first. Why? Strength training produces quick results, which inspires exercisers to tackle the other two legs.
A word of caution though, results don’t necessarily include weight loss — something better addressed by diet and cardio (although your pant size will come down). In fact, your weight will either flatline or go up as your muscle tightens. Don’t worry, it will come down with the addition of legs No. 2 and/or 3. When it does, you will uncover firm, shapely muscle.
If you plan to hire a trainer, do it for this leg. You need to understand the dynamics of resistance to see great results. Will you see results on your own? Sure! The problem is they will taper quickly — often within the first few months.
Next, try your hand at cardio. Not the long, sustained, OMG, make it stop, make it stop kind, but rather interval training … shorter, OMG, make it stop.
Cardio is better than weight training at burning fat, unless it’s the kind where you run on the treadmill for extended periods. Sure, long hauls burn fat, but they also burn muscle. Compare a sprinter to an ultramarathoner. One of them looks like they need a solid meal and a nap; the other looks like a sprinter.
Interval training (intense for 30 to 60 seconds/rest/repeat) is simply better at consuming fat and making you fitter.
Diet, the third leg of the stool, is often the toughest, which is why I never suggest it to new clients as a starting point. At least with resistance training and cardio, you score some early marks in the accomplishment box. When the diet fails, which it will, according to research, you can fall back on exercise.
For the most part, you aren’t active because you aren’t active. Get up and do something (kidding, it’s not that easy!). With diet, however, your body is addicted to very bad things and probably has been for many years. Beating addiction is much a tougher slog. Choose the easier route and tackle resistance training and cardio first. Once you start seeing results, give healthy eating a try. Results parley into results.
A final few notes on diet: Eat fresh and avoid processed food, keep it simple (and sustainable) and skip gimmicks. If it’s too complicated, you won’t do it.
Now, it’s time to build a solid foundation for your stool. Take your time. People who fly out of the gate with guns blazing often burnout at the first setback.
When in doubt, ask.