I strongly believe that a lifetime commitment to regular exercise is the most important thing you can do to assure successful long term health and weight loss. Consistency is the most important thing. Unfortunately, exercise only works if you do it. It sounds silly to say but it’s true. One of the major obstacles to consistency is cynicism. This comes in the form of “it’s not working”. Remember that you will not likely have results that are so dramatic that you notice them on a day-to-day basis. The changes in your body will be gradual. If you expect magic infomercial results, you will become discouraged. With that said, you want to know that all the hard work is paying off. The main arsenal in combating this problem is metrics. You must put pen to paper and log and measure what you do to that you will regularly be able to look back and see the progress you made in black and white on paper.
I recommend that you record at least the following things:
- A log of the days you exercised on a calendar. This will provide a log that you can look back upon and pat yourself on the back for being consistent. You can say ‘hey look at how much I have done!’ Put an ‘X’ on the days that you get in a really good workout and a ‘/’ on the days that you get your lazy but off the couch but don’t quite get moving so much(still an accomplishment).
- A log of specific exercises that includes all the details of the exercise. Include as much as you can about the exercise itself, e.g. how far you went, how much you lifted, your time, etc. The benefit of this is that it will allow you to look back over a period of time and see the incremental progress. You can do the exercise in as little time as possible and measure the time it takes. Alternatively, you set a fixed time and record how may repetitions or sets of a specific exercise you can do. The important thing is to have a variable to measure, something you can see improving over time. Not only will this make you feel good about your improvements, it will also give you motivation to push harder. You will find yourself looking at your log and trying to do the exercise with more reps or in less time than you did it a few months prior. Another beautiful thing about the exercise log is that it allows you to make smaller incremental changes. If you were to just guess how much you did last time, you will almost always underestimate.
- A weight log. I would avoid putting too much stock into how much you weigh on a daily basis. A lot of things can cause fluctuations in weight on a short-term basis that have nothing to do with gaining fat. It would be better to log your weight every week or every other week. Even better would be to log your body fat percentage as it changes over time. It is more important to lose waist than to lose weight so don’t get too caught up in what the scale says. No matter what metric you use, don’t get discouraged if you have a bump here or there. The overall trend is what is important.
- A picture log. This one is optional but will probably be the most satisfying. Take a picture of yourself in your skivvies every week or so in the exact same spot in the exact same pose. You will be able to combine these photos over time to create a time lapse of your progress. This will help you see the cumulative small benefits over time when the changes are gradual. If you’re shy, you might want to keep these pictures somewhere only you can see. After a few months, you probably won’t be shy anymore and might want to show them off to the world.
Let’s have another few illustrations of how the log helps:
Ellen Elliptical loves the elliptical. She has just started a high-intensity interval program of her own design where she goes at maximum until she poops out and then does level five for four minutes. She has done this three times a week for a few weeks. One bad day, when her boss yelled at her and her kids gave her hell, she was not in the mood and felt like loafing a bit. She looked at her log and saw that at the end of week one, she was able to do six rounds with her max high intensity interval on level 10 lasting for 24 seconds. She saw that at the end of her last session she did eight rounds with her max high intensity interval on level 15 lasting 40 seconds. She knows what she is capable of and the thought of the numbers going down is more painful to her than the thought of doing the exercise. Even though she feels lousy and depressed after her hard day, she gets on the elliptical and does level 15 for eight rounds with her longest time being 43 seconds. You can imagine how she felt when she leaves the gym after beating her cynicism and bad day and heads to the mall to get a new pair of jeans.
Let’s have an imagine moment. Imagine yourself sitting at a table six months from now with your exercise logs in front of you. Picture the calendar with tons of X’s on all the days that you got yourself out of bed and really pushed yourself. Imagine looking at the workout log and seeing that you used to not be able to run a mile at all and now you can do it in 10 minutes. Imagine seeing that you used to only be able to do 10 ‘girl’ pushups with your knees down but can now do 30 ‘man’ pushups. Now imagine the new clothes and the pictures.
Know that this is all 100% within your capabilities. Focus your goals on things that are measurable and attainable so that you will be able to see your progress and then increase little by little, day by day. Let your success be your motivation. You will not want to see too many empty spots on your calendar. You won’t want your times to drop. You’ll feel good about your progress. All of these things will combine to keep you going regardless of how much weight you lose. Eventually you’ll also see a major change in your weight, how you look, and how you feel. That will be icing on the cake.