Take Home Message
Weight loss goals getting you down? Ready to give up on the gym? Instead of thinking weight loss, think progress. Think developing muscles, increasing endurance and speed, and create smaller goals that you can achieve.
When you’re at the gym, you’re not “losing weight”. Yes - you are burning calories, and, depending on your calorie intake, that could have an immediate effect on your weight loss goals. However, long-term weight loss is an eventual by-product, a final outcome of repeated and sustained efforts at the gym (and proper nutrition). This means, if your day-to-day focus remains on weight loss, you will more often than not experience disappointment, defeat and demotivation. If the way you measure success at the end of each workout is by stepping on the scales, you could find yourself working out less and less.
The larger, wilder beast in the brain, is the part that seeks instant gratification, easily overcomes its ‘handler’, the part of the brain that allows us to persevere towards a long-term goal. Why workout for a reward that is weeks away when there are so many other things you can do (or eat!) that bring immediate satisfaction?
The key then to taming this beast is to identify goals that are more immediately measurable, providing the instant gratification it needs. Achieving success in this series of immediate goals greatly increases the likelihood of successfully sustaining your efforts and reaching your ultimate goal. This is because success and achievement release ‘happy’ chemicals into your brain, giving you a positive experience and making it much more likely that you will seek out that experience again. The wild beast is happy and the handler maintains control.
What kinds of immediate goals are we talking about? Ideal workout goals target improvement in areas you can measure on a work-out to work-out basis. It’s all about focusing on progress – that is, being able to do slightly more than you could before.
For example, focus on muscle development. That is, being able to lift, press, push or pull more weight than last time, or for more repetitions. This can be within the one workout as well as from workout to work out.
For a beginner this might start with:
i) learn and master 4 or 5 basic, bread-and-butter exercises. If at the end of the your first training session you can say you now know how to squat, lunge, bench press, military press and crunch with proper form, you have been successful.
ii) Add some weight to these basic exercises and/or increase the number you do. Keep track of what you do, and aim to do a little more (weight or repetitions) in your next workout. Every time you increase what you do, you are not only challenging and developing your muscles, but you are satisfying your brain’s need to feel success through progress.
How does this contribute to weight loss?
Pushing muscles to their limits causes minor tears in the fibers, forcing them to repair on your rest days. Repairing muscle = energy consumption = burning calories = eventual weight loss. Also, and this is where the real secret to long-term healthy weight achievement lies, stronger or larger muscles burn more calories at rest. As you work out, you are challenging your muscles and causing them to develop – in size and/or strength and/or power – and they begin to demand more energy of your body, even when they are NOT being actively used. Over time, not only is there less energy available for fat storage, but fat cells begin to surrender the energy they have hoarded.
The same thought process can be applied not just to strength training but to traditional cardio activities, such as running or biking, as well. For example, focus on endurance development and/or speed development. That is, being able to run further or for longer or faster than you were able to the workout before. Start off with a manageable distance/time/speed with necessary rest periods and increase your intervals by a minute or two each workout (or decrease your rest period slightly).
For a beginner this might mean starting with the goal to be active for 30min. Maybe that’s walking, maybe it’s just keeping that stationary bike moving. If 30 min sounds too much – start with less time! After you complete your intended activity, acknowledge your successful completion of your goal and plan to increase your time and/or effort with each workout. The key is to start with something you can be successful at and gradually push the limits of that success. As you achieve success with your planned activity, you will be more likely to try it again. Make your increments small enough to allow for success, while trying to challenge your previous limit.
How does this contribute to weight loss?
Similar to strength training with weights, cardio-focused exercise not only consumes calories at the time, but it promotes muscle growth, increases your body’s calorie consumption at rest. In addition, aerobic exercise increases the release of happy chemicals in your brain – so now you have a double dose of happy! Some from achieving your goal of improving your endurance and some from the effect of aerobic exercise itself!