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5 Tips to get in Shape for Summer – Tip #4

Tip#4 – Be consistent, be patient!

The truth is that regardless of whether you want to change your body composition or improve your fitness level (or both), it will not happen overnight. You need to believe in your goals. You need to be consistent with your training and nutrition plans. Above all, you need to be patient.

Fact. There are going to be obstacles placed in your way from time to time. What separates people who reach their goals from those that do not is that they have the self-belief and determination to overcome these obstacles no matter what.

It is not a matter of winning or losing, rather it is about setting a goal that is meaningful to you, putting your head down and doing your utmost to get there. In order to do this, you will need to become mentally tough and accept that there are NO shortcuts. The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary!

Sure, it is difficult to stay committed and focused when you feel like you are slogging your guts out and the results do not show. Of course, you are going to have bad days every now and then, everybody does. But, if you can get through a bad day and still  maintain your focus, then the good days will be a breeze.

What follows is my advice to help you stay motivated:

– Share your major goals with your family and friends. This will get them and you emotionally invested in what you are doing. They will act as your cheerleaders, whilst you will want to strive harder in order to make them proud.

– One of the best ways to build up confidence is to break your primary goal down into ‘mini-goals’. For example, let’s say you want to lose 8 kilograms in 2 months. If you break this down and aim to lose 1 kilogram per week (for 8 weeks), all of sudden it does not seem as daunting.

– Exercising with a friend can really be beneficial as it allows you to share your journey together. Just ensure you maintain your discipline during your quality sessions. You are there for a reason, and it is not to socialise at the expense of your workout.

That said, exercise doesn’t always have to be at a higher intensity in order to be beneficial.If you find it hard to stay focused when your friend is alongside you at the gym, involve them in one of your lower intensity sessions, for example, arrange to catch up with your friend once a week and walk the dog.

– Train with a personal trainer. This follows on from the previous tip. If you find it hard to maintain focus when you exercise with a friend, or when training solo, a personal trainer can really help. After all, it is their job to keep you motivated and working hard. Even if you just see one periodically, they will be able to review your progress and show you exercises that you may not have previously known about and which you can then incorporate into your program.

– Vary your weekly program. I’ve touched on this in a previous post, but if you add in some variation, it can break up the monotony of doing the same thing over and over. The variation does not have to relate solely to the type of exercise you do, but could also occur by varying the intensity. Make it fun and enjoyable.

– Allow for adequate recovery between workouts. One of the classic mistakes new exercisers make is to go too hard, too often, too soon. This can lead to irritability, excessive fatigue and burnout, all tell-tale signs of overtraining.

– Search YouTube for some inspirational videos. Find some that resonate with you, bookmark them and when you are having a tough day, go back and watch them.

They say a picture tells a thousand words… so here are three of my favourite videos to leave you with.

The Active Synergist.


5 Tips to get in Shape for Summer – Tip #3

Tip #3 – Nutrition is the key!

There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say you train 3 hours per week, which is a fantastic, but it still leaves 109 hours per week (165 hours less 8 hours per day for sleep) where bad habits can creep in and derail your hard earned gains.

This is why nutrition is the real cornerstone to your fitness program.

When it all boils down to it, body composition goals are a matter of simple maths. If you want to lose weight, then you must expend more energy (calories) than you consume. Conversely, if you want to gain mass, then you must consume more energy than you expend.

The easiest way to keep track of what you are eating is to keep a food diary. Simply write down everything that you eat and drink every day for a week. Then visit a site like calorieking and use their calorie calculator to work out how many calories you are eating per day. Once you have calculated each day add up the daily totals to get a weekly figure and then divide by 7 to get your average calorie intake per day.

Now that you know how many calories you are eating, you then need to determine how many calories you should be eating.

This is done by calculating your Daily Energy Expenditure or the amount of calories you need to ingest each day in order to maintain your current weight. There are two steps to this:

Firstly, work out your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). In simple terms, your BMR is the amount of calories you would burn every day if you did not move from your couch. It is calculated using a formula that takes into account your sex, weight, height and age.

Secondly, multiply your BMR by a figure (often referred to as your activity factor) that will range from 1.0 to 2.0, depending on how active you are.

You could do a Google search for BMR formula and work it out the old fashioned way. Alternatively, there are a number of BMR calculator apps available for download. Simply, plug in your figures and your activity level and it will do all the work for you.

Just remember that your Daily Energy Expenditure figure will most likely be in calories, if you want to convert it into kilojoules, you will need to multiply your figure by 4.2.

Either way, once you have worked out your Daily Energy Expenditure, you will need to adjust your food intake in one of the following ways:

If your goal is to lose weight, you need to reduce your average daily intake 10-20% below your Daily Energy Expenditure.

If your goal is to gain weight, you will need to increase your intake 10-20% above your Daily Energy Expenditure.

If you wish to maintain your current weigh then simply meet your Daily Energy Expenditure figure.

Some other useful tips:

– Try to eat 5-6 smaller meals per day rather than the traditional three big meals. This will keep your metabolism higher and will take away hunger pangs.

– You should be avoiding, or at least minimising, processed foods, soft drinks, alcohol and foods high in sugar i.e. chocolate, lollies etc. Instead, eat whole foods, lean meat, fish, vegetables (especially greens) and fruit.

– Eat foods that are higher in fibre as they will keep you fuller for longer.

– Don’t forget to eat breakfast!

– Take a fish oil or krill oil supplement because we are generally lacking Omega-3 fatty acids  in our diets. Some people may advise you to take an Omega-6 supplement as well. However, this is generally not necessary as we already get more than enough Omega-6 due to the fact that so much of the food we eat contain vegetable oils.

If you are looking for more information, these two excellent articles (Part 1 and Part 2) tell you all you need to know about nutrition and meeting body composition goals.

It may also be worthwhile visiting a nutrionist or dietician as they will be able to tailor a food plan according to your individual needs.

The Active Synergist

5 Tips to get in Shape for Summer – Tip #2

Tip #2 – Create a training plan

If you have read my previous post, you should now know the importance of setting  S.M.A.R.T. fitness goals. They provide you with a clear picture of where you want to be in a given period of time.

That said, it’s all good and well having a goal written down on a piece of paper stuck on your fridge, but how do you actually get to that end point? That is the focus of today’s post.

Occasionally, a client may want to be trained for a specific sport or event or they may need rehabilitation following an injury or accident (been there myself recently!). However, for the most part, a client will generally have one of two goals  that they want to achieve, that is, to either (1) lose weight/”tone up” or (2) add mass/”bulk up”.

Whilst the goals of the weight loss client and the goals of the hypertrophy client are polar opposites, the principles involved in creating a suitable training plan are largely the same. This is where the F.I.T.T. principle comes in.

F = Frequency

Frequency refers to the number of sessions per week you plan to train.

I = Intensity

As the name suggests, this variable relates to how hard or easy you will train in a given session.

T = Time

Time refers to how long you intend to train per session i.e. duration.

T = Type

Type is the mode or method of training that will be utilised in a given session.

Putting it all Together

Right, so now you know the basic building blocks of a sound training plan, how do you join all of the pieces together?

The first step is to determine frequency. This will vary significantly based on your current level of fitness, life commitments, goal(s) etc. However, as a general rule, you should be aiming for at least 3-4 sessions per week.

As you will see shortly, these sessions don’t all have to be the same. In fact, a bit of variety is encouraged.

In addition, I suggest that you evenly space out your training days throughout the week. Not only will this give your body an opportunity to recover in between sessions, but it will also break up your week and give you something to look forward to (hopefully!).

The next step is to decide how long your sessions will be. Once again, this will vary enormously based on the factors outlined earlier.

Ideally, you should be aiming for at least 30 minutes per session here. Just be mindful of falling into the trap of thinking that longer is better. If you are spending over 2 hours at the gym, you are more than likely using your time ineffectively. Leave Twitter, Facebook and phone calls alone until you’re back in the car after you’re done. It really is about quality over quantity here.

Now it is time to decide how you want to train. The sky is the limit here. Get creative and choose some activities that you enjoy as it will greatly assist you in staying motivated.

However, if your goal is weight loss, I just have one requirement. You MUST incorporate resistance (weight) training into your program. If you think running endlessly on a treadmill at steady-state is the quickest way to lose weight, you are in for a shock.

Whilst ‘cardio’ is great for improving the efficiency of your heart and lungs at transporting blood (and therefore oxygen) around your body, it sucks at increasing lean muscle mass.

Why does this matter? Because muscle tissue burns more energy (i.e. calories/kilojoules) at rest than adipose (fat) tissue does. Thus, the higher your percentage of lean muscle mass (and by extension, the lower your percentage of body fat) the higher your metabolism will be. In other words, if you have less fat tissue and more lean muscle, you will be burning more calories simply by reading this blog!

I know women in particular get a little apprehensive when they are first told that they need to increase their lean muscle mass. As soon as they hear it, I’m sure images of Arnold Schwarzenegger appear in their minds! So let me allay those concerns by saying that I am referring to increasing your lean muscle mass  (as a percentage of your total body mass) and NOT hypertrophy i.e. building muscle size.

In any case, due to women having significantly lower levels of testosterone than males, they will automatically find it a lot harder to pack on muscle. That and the fact that anyone wanting to increase muscles size needs to eat like a horse, which should obviously not be happening if you are trying to lose weight. See, told you there was nothing to be worried about.

The only other comment I want to make about the type of training you do is that in order to optimise your performance, you must make it specific or relevant to your actual goals. For example, if you want to run a 10km fun run, your primary focus should be running not doing yoga. Similarly, if you want to add muscle size, you should be focusing on resistance training rather than riding your bike for 3 hours every day. I know this just seems like common sense, but it is surprising how many people overlook this.

The final step is to focus on the intensity for each session. This is where you need to be the most careful with your planning, especially if you are just starting out. For simplicity sake, I’m just going to outline the three basic training intensities: (1) Low, (2) Moderate and (3) High.

An easy way to tell what intensity you are training at is the ‘talk test’. If you can easily have a conversation with someone, you are working at a low intensity. If you can only just hold a conversation, you are at a moderate intensity and if you can’t put two words together…. well no prizes for guessing that one.

The body’s ability to adapt to stress is amazing, however it does have its limit. Exceed your limit too often too soon and you are begging to get sick, injured or both. For that reason, your body needs a chance to recover and rebuild before it is subjected to more stress. If you are constantly training at a high intensity, your body never gets that opportunity to recover and make the necessary adaptations.

In a nutshell, the more frequently you train, the more you will need to vary your intensity to factor in recovery. Even if you train 3 times per week, I would suggest that maybe two sessions be at a higher intensity with a moderate intensity session in between to break things up. Alternatively, if you’re just starting out, you could train all three sessions at a moderate intensity and look at building up from there. This should go some way in making sure you minimise the risk of overtraining.

Regardless of how often you train, allow at least 36-48 hours between hard sessions. Train smarter, not harder!

Right, that’s enough from me… time for you to create your plans and get training.

The Active Synergist

5 Tips to get in Shape for Summer!

Summer. It’s nearly upon us! The days are getting longer and warmer (finally!) and traditionally, now is the time when many people pull out their gym clothes and joggers and hit the gyms, parks and streets. Who can blame them? Now is the perfect time of year to start getting active!

There are also those people who have had an extended break and would like to start working on their health & fitness again (or maybe even for the first time), but are not sure where to start.

Regardless, of which group you are in, to make things easier for you and to give you a bit of a head start, I have come up with my top 5 tips to have you fit & healthy in time for summer.

Over the next one or two weeks, I will post a new tip every day or two, so make sure you check back regularly.

Just before I reveal my first tip, I have an important side note. If you have never been physically active before or are some one that has not been physically active for at least the last 6 months, please go and see your doctor for a thorough check up. This will ensure that you are not suffering from any serious health conditions that may not be suited to strenuous physical activity, such as, hypertension, diabetes and heart conditions.

If you do suffer from such a condition, you may still be able to train, but at least then you and your doctor can come up with a suitable plan that is not going to put your health at risk. Trust me, your gym and/or PT will also thank you as it will save them from having to refer you back to your doctor to get a medical clearance.

Ok, now the serious stuff is out of the way, on to my first tip.

Tip #1 – Set yourself some goals!

How many people do you know get into their car and just start driving with no particular destination in mind? Unless you work for Google Maps or are incredibly bored, I would say very few.

So, why should your fitness be any different? Unless you have a destination in mind, what is the point of leaving your house in the first place?

And just like driving, there are endless destinations and countless routes that you can take to get there. This is where goals come in. Their purpose is to provide you with a clear picture of your next destination.

In order to be effective, any goal you set (not just in fitness) should be S.M.A.R.T. What exactly does S.M.A.R.T. stand for? I’m about to tell you.

S = Specific

Your goals are there to provide you with direction and for that reason, they should be specific. There is little point setting yourself a goal, such as, ‘I want to get fit’ or ‘I want to lose weight’. This is because these types of statements are too uncertain without further explanation.

An example of a specific goal would be ‘I want to lose 5kg’ or ‘I want to reduce my body fat percentage to under 10%’.

M = Measurable

This requirement largely follows on from the previous one. You should be setting a goal from which success or failure can be clearly measured. For example, ‘I want to be able to deadlift 100kg for 3 sets of 8 reps’ or ‘I want to workout 5 times per week’.

In both cases, it is easy to determine if the goal has been met or not.

A = Attainable

A goal needs to be attainable based on the resources you have at your disposal eg time, money, genetics etc. Whilst, it is great to set yourself a challenge, you also need to be realistic and avoid setting yourself up for failure from the start by coming up with a goal that is not achievable. For example, if I set myself a goal to put on 10kg of lean muscle mass in 2 weeks, this would be totally unrealistic. If, however, I instead gave myself 12 weeks to reach this goal, it suddenly becomes a lot more achievable.

Having said that, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. If your goal is to swim the English Channel or run Marathon des Sables go for it. All I am saying is that you should be realistic so that you do not get discouraged if things don’t go to plan.

R = Relevant

I will look at motivation in more detail in a future post, but, suffice it to say that the goal(s) you set should be relevant to you. In other words, they should be meaningful to you. This is because you are more likely to keep working towards something that you truly believe in rather than something that (a) has been forced upon you; or (b) is simply something you think you should be doing.

Ultimately, this is a personal conversation that you need to sit down and have with yourself.

T = Time-bound

Last but not least, the goal(s) that you set should always have a time component involved as this provides you with a sufficient sense of urgency to keep you focused, motivated and working towards successfully achieving your goals.

Using my earlier deadlift goal, I could make it time-bound by saying ‘Within the next 3 months, I want to be able to deadlift 100kg for 3 sets of 8 reps’.

Once you have your S.M.A.R.T. goal(s) in place, you will have a much clearer picture of your next destination. But how do you get there?

Check back here soon for Tip #2 which will address this question.

The Active Synergist.


Welcome to The Active Synergist.

The aim of my blog is to discuss and provide advice about all topics relating to health & fitness.

Before we go any further, let me first share a little bit of my background.

I am a personal trainer as well as an exercise science student at Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia. I also volunteer at Sandringham VFL Club where I assist the coaching staff with player preparation on match days.

I have been involved in sport in some form or another for almost 20 years. I have an extensive distance running background and I am a Level 2 accredited athletics coach with Athletics Australia. More recently, I have become involved in triathlon and have completed numerous triathlons at sprint, olympic and Half Ironman distances.

The reason behind my blog is simple. I believe that there are too many myths and misconceptions out in the public domain concerning health & fitness. This is not helped by the media who are constantly spruiking some new fad exercise or workout every 5 seconds, which do nothing more than confuse and overwhelm people.

As a result, I have created this blog in an attempt to cut through the misinformation and marketing spin and tell it how it really is. I am a big believer in the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) and that is exactly what you can expect on this blog. I will do my utmost to keep the content as honest, succinct and audience friendly as possible. Hopefully, this will provide you with the advice and confidence you need to be able to go out and achieve the health & fitness results you are seeking.

With summer nearly upon us (at least in the Southern Hemisphere), stay tuned over the next week or so as I share my top 5 tips for getting fit in time for summer.

Finally, if you like what have read so far and have family, friends or colleagues who would also like to improve their health & fitness, please let them know about this blog. I am also on Facebook and Twitter.

The Active Synergist