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February 5, 2009

We understand that big undertakings often take a long time. Getting a PhD takes years and if someone told us they could give us an awesome doctorate in, let’s say, physics in 6 weeks with only 90 minutes of studying a week? I’d hope we’d all recognize that they were full of shit. If someone told you they could completely remodel your kitchen in one month while only working for 30 minutes for 3 days per week, you would assume they were 1)crazy or 2) a liar.

I’m sure you see where this is going. I don’t even watch that much television and I am sick to death of ads for products that are supposed to turn people into greased up six-packs on rock hard legs and do so in less than six months.

It is just not going to happen.

So I was full of amens and hallelujahs (and let’s be honest, quite a few ‘fuck yeahs!) for the link tothis article on Fitness Fixation. Gina Kolata, who will be familiar to many people who read this blog, writes about the myth of quick total body transformation.

“To make a change in how you look, you are talking about a significant period of training,” Dr. Kraemer said. “In our studies it takes six months to a year.” And, he added, that is with regular strength-training workouts, using the appropriate weights and with a carefully designed individualized program. “That is what the reality is,” he said.

And genetic differences among individuals mean some people respond much better to exercise than others, said Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, an exercise researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He added that although he does not think the before-and-after photos in ads are doctored, most people will not change so markedly no matter how hard or long they work. “I believe they are taking the top one or two people out of thousands,” Dr. Tarnopolsky said.

People who did change their bodies say six months is a bare minimum to see real change.

Go read the article and be sure to read the entry about it on Fitness Fixation. Then come right back. I’ll wait.

Ok, so by now you should all be convinced that ’30 minutes a day, 3 days a week for six weeks’ is not going to turn you into a fitness model. Or maybe you’re thinking “Of course those commercials are full of shit. Geez, attrice, no one buys that garbage.” Yeah, it does seem silly, but someone is keeping bowflex/total gym/perfect push up/that door hanging pull up doohickey which seems like it will result in a lot of broken door frames in business, right?

So let’s say that you have some heavy duty fitness goals or are looking to change your body, do you just tell yourself that you’re looking at six months to a year of work (minimum) and go about your merry way? If you can, then kudos to you. But when you’re looking at long-term goals, especially ones that require a lot of constant work, it can be frustrating feeling like you’re not getting enough return for your investments. How do I deal with it?

1) Let go of unrealistic expectations. Seriously, I don’t want to live like a fitness model so I never expect to look like one. A good thing about a lot of fitness magazines is that the women they interview are actually honest about the kind of work and attention to diet it takes for them to look the way they do – unlike celebrity “omg! I totally love cheeseburgers and never ever ever exercise and I just naturally have a six pack and very little body fat.” LIES! My goals and my actions need to match up. I like lifting heavy things and getting all sweaty. I also love fried tofu smothered in peanut sauce. Lucky for me, being strong and fit while still having boobs, butt and some jiggle in my wiggle is just fine with me.

2)Create lots of detailed short-term goals. Breaking goals up into smaller increments gives you something reasonable to work towards. You want to run an 8 minute mile, but can only do one in 13 minutes now? Set yourself small goals of shaving off 10 or 20 seconds. You’ll be a lot less likely to beat yourself up if you can track an improvement of 2 minutes over a several months than if you’re always thinking of how far away you still are from your ultimate goal. I hope to be able to pull 200+ pounds eventually – this seems really really far away from my current 115lb deadlift. But 130lbs seems a helluva lot closer and getting there will give me a big boost of happy that will help propel me to the next goal.

3)Celebrate your improvements. You don’t have to throw a party each time you reach a mini-goal, but at least take time to revel in your awesome badassitude.

4)Have other stuff in your life. This one seems kind of duh, but it’s easy to get completely caught up in this fitness stuff. Magazines, books and websites abound with tons of information and ideas. Most gyms have lots of people who would love nothing more than to discuss, in minute detail, the best carb to protein ratio to aim for in your post-workout shake. However, not only will you be incredibly boring if this is all you talk about, but you might start to lose perspective on other important parts of your life. And conversely you’ll start to place too much emphasis on fitness stuff.

Of course, the biggest one for me is that I actually enjoy what I’m doing. Finding some activity that you can actually look forward to – whether you look forward to the actual movement or the sense of accomplishment or the way it makes you feel physically – will probably make the biggest difference in terms of creating long-term habits.

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 10, 2009 9:49 am

    I’ve accepted that I’m never going to have a totally flat tummy, and that this is a long slow process. I read the original NYT article, and just went and read the one that you linked to. I was going to make a snarky comment about how I’ve personally seen people going from chubby to slender in just weeks, but it turns out that Fitness Fixation already knows about it, the miracle of crank (crystal meth, for those of you who don’t live amongst it). I wouldn’t advise it, having almost gone there. I also wouldn’t suggest an amoeba, which was the first thing I thought of it when a friend was describing his hellish experience with one to me.

    Other than the goal of 150, less than 20 pounds (and probably 6 months, realistically) away at this point, my previous lowest weight as an adult, I don’t have goals, small or big. I figure that if I don’t want to gain my weight back, I’m going to have to maintain this lifestyle forever, so why bother torturing myself with these mental exercises. This gives me room to have other stuff in my life, which I really don’t have but am working on. It’s a very disturbing feeling to realize as you’re hitting middle age that your whole life to this point has been about losing weight, yet you’re still chubby.

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