How to Make a Better Fitness Resolution Than “Get Abs”
Focusing on perfection—extreme weight loss? a six pack?—might be stopping you from even starting to do something good for your body.
A neat definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results. For the past four years, I have been on a never-ending quest to create a body I feel comfortable in. Through a number of different diet plans and workout routines, I’ve fluctuated between 180 and 200 pounds with varying levels of body fat. I’ve restricted calories to the point of seeing stars and ate like a glutton in hopes of getting swole.
My benchmark for a desirable body has always been visible abs, the kind of midsection you see in superhero films and pro-wrestling rings. Despite devoting massive amounts of time, money, and effort to the cause, I can’t say I’ve ever really gotten close. Still, every few months I convince myself that next time will be different. I’m just one routine, supplement, or diet away from finally reaching my goal.
Thinking about how my body looks naked takes up an alarming amount of mental real estate. It’s a sentiment I think a lot of people share around the new year. January marks a time when people start making fitness goals for themselves; banking on some new diet, a new workout machine, or some extreme thirty-day program to make up for years worth of suboptimal food choices and stagnant levels of activity. I mean…If we commit ourselves we could all probably look like underwear models by February. March at the latest, right?
It’s not that a radical, balls-out, approach to weight loss and body composition won’t work. But the physical and mental commitment to getting in superhero shape generally requires a complete overhaul of every aspect of your life, something that many people just aren’t prepared for, even if they believe they are at 10 a.m. on New Year’s Day.
Last year my friend Adam Vallely made the decision to—in his words—become superhuman before his band The Armed went back on tour. Watching his transformation from the sidelines, it was amazing just how much his body changed in a short amount of time.
“I always had a classically skinny-fat body. I’ve always been active. I ran three to six times a week. I was always doing some P90X type program but never saw any real change despite what I did. Adhering to a bodybuilding program was the first time I saw real results,” said Valley. “It was a giant lifestyle change. It meant no more going to lunch with friends. It meant making sure I was making the program the main priority in my life. You can’t expect extreme results without taking extreme measures to get there.”
Valley’s program called for working out for one to two hours six days a week, plus cardio. But the catalyst for most of his results didn’t come from the gym at all. It came from strict adherence to a personalized diet plan created by his nutritionist and trainer, who he considered the main source of his changes.
Training and eating for aesthetics have also been the route to success for professional wrestler and fitness coach EC3, who has the kind of Herculean physique rarely seen outside of comic books and Saturday morning cartoons. His Project Narrative workout app advocates for total personal ownership over your day-to-day habits, using nutrition and exercise as an extension of creating your ideal life. It’s led to some of the most impressive body transformations for people in his industry.
“You always have time to do the work, it’s just how you choose to use that time. Maybe that’s waking up an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later. Maybe it’s putting off certain types of foods for other foods. But you’re going to get what you put into it for the time you put into it,” he said.
“I’m a psycho loner to get the results I have. It takes a lot. But the people I’ve seen get the best results have used time management and accountability to get there, without neglecting what’s most important to them. Whether it’s family or work. That is what impresses me the most.”
I have tried and failed rapid transformation programs on at least a dozen occasions. It can feel sort of embarrassing. As a wellness writer, I have more information and resources than the average person. I set my own hours and live alone. Objectively, I am in a better position to achieve my fitness goals than almost anyone else out there. But despite having a heavy deadlift and respectable bench, abs have remained my white whale.
In the past, December meant planning something extreme to kickstart another attempt at a washboard stomach, worrying that any results less than a six-pack and plummeting scale number somehow marked a weakness in character. This year I’ve been trying to reshape that mentality while I create my next programs.
With proper planning and realistic expectations, suffering is completely unnecessary to achieving fitness goals. In fact, for most people, suffering is actually going to stop you from getting the results you want at all. Geoff Girvitz, a personal trainer and host of The Dad Strength podcast, advocates for choosing a program that is sustainable and appropriate for your experience. Even still, exercise is only one component of the whole process.
“If someone hasn’t jogged around the block before we wouldn’t ask them to run a marathon on their first try. Many celebrity fitness programs or fitness challenges aren’t designed for a person’s capabilities or experience. When they don’t find success with those programs they think it’s a moral failing. But they weren’t setting themselves up for success in the first place,” said Girvitz. “When starting out, ask what are the easy wins you can accomplish inside and outside the gym. Master those first before putting things on hard mode.”
So keep it simple. Any program which puts you at a caloric deficit and ups your movement is going to work for weight loss, at least in the short term, but there’s still so much we don’t understand about losing weight. But you know what we do know? A moderate amounts of exercise is linked overwhelmingly to better overall health. It will improve your moods. It literally makes you live longer. If you could put it in a pill and prescribe it, we’d all be taking it.
All it takes is consistently follow an exercise and nutrition plan you’ll actually do. (Even better if it’s something you’ll enjoy doing.) So follow whatever seems fun and exciting: maybe that’s Couch to 5k or Starting Strength. Maybe there’s a run club near you, or a weekly class at your gym. Casey Johnston’s new Liftoff plan looks great. Whatever it is, find a way to make it sustainable: In the big picture, consistency is so much more important than any crash diet or heroic three-month stretch.
Pushing people on the idea of consistent training and diet, forever, is a harder sell than promising a six-pack in sixty days, but it’s a better plan than betting it all on some kind of quick fix. There is no reason to let ideas of perfection stop you from doing something good. This probably won’t be the year you get abs. But it could be the year you get in the best shape of your life.