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Our world is obsessed with image. Everywhere you go there is an astounding exertion of pressure on people to look a certain way, from the people in your favorite bits of media to the everyday advertisements trying to sell you the most banal products; if you don't have washboard abs or a sculpted set of glutes, you are nothing, and you are not worth a single iota of happiness or attention. Apparently, to have any resounding sense of worth to yourself or the society around you, you have to possess the qualities of Barbie and Ken if you want to truly make it anywhere in life.
Let me tell you something. They're wrong.
Now make no mistake, these words are not to encourage you to eat four quarter pound Royales With Cheese in a ten minute session and afterwards hug the flaps of flab hanging about your waste while chanting "I'm beautiful" to boost your self-esteem. Far from it, the words you are about to read are going to encourage you to get fit, not to placate the wanton desires of a flippant society that is always changing in fads and mindsets, but to do so for the sake of your own health, well-being, and longevity.
Let's get started.
Step 1: The Journey
You've decided that you want to get fit. Good. No matter what circumstances in life drew you towards making this decision, take a second to be proud of yourself, because not many people have the initiative or drive to even make that choice. Now put your ego aside and listen. This choice you just made is for life. There is no "work out for three months and get hot for life free card." Choosing to be healthy requires a change in lifestyle and mindset, and it will FORCE you to make sacrifices if you want to meet those goals that you imagine for yourself. Now what you need to do is ask yourself, how badly do you want this? How far do you want to go and what are you willing to do to get there? What are you going to do to become the best version of yourself that you can be? Once you've pondered these questions and are willing to take the first step, the work can begin.
Step 2: Drink water.
This is vital. We all know water is the foundation to the building blocks of life, but what people don't know is that this should be the only thing that they drink on their personal quest to fitness. Granted, traditional tea is okay because really it's just water with leaves in it. Everything else, however, you need to start weaning out of your life. The reason why this guide starts with solely drinking water is because it will help you to form good habits, and being able to form and stick to good habits is half the battle in becoming a fit and healthy individual. People can work out for hours playing a sport or putting in time at the gym and effectively destroy the day's effort by drinking sugary beverages like soda or juice. It's a common setback athletes starting out run into, especially because so many buy into the advertising gimmick of energy drinks. They don't work, it's just sugar, and the energy high you will feel in the brief moment will come crashing down on top of you sending you back to square one. Drink water as your sole liquid intake and you will begin to feel more alert, shed weight faster, and in general just feel better all around.
Step 3: Be aware.
This next step may sound a little generalized, but it's one of the most important. Be aware. The fitness industry is a money hungry field that will do anything to capitalize off the fears and desires of people looking to get fit. Miracle products don't exist, but with the amount of stunningly gorgeous models who go about touting the miracle weight loss pills, slim teas, power powders, and magic accessories; it's hard not to believe that there isn't a quick shortcut to being hot. Here is the the cold hard truth, there are no shortcuts. If you jump on Instagram right now, you'll find thousands of "hot" models sporting the "next big product" that will revolutionize the fitness field. It's a joke. A gimmick. A sham. The 21st century snake oil that will promise to make you beautiful if you buy it. Those social media personalities are paid to work out, look good, and stand next to a crummy product that will yield little results. Don't fall into it the trap because it's a honeypot designed to catch you at your lowest and weakest moments and exploit you. By all means, hit the follow button and ogle the eye candy up and down, but don't fall for the miraculous short cut products because in the end it will just be toxic for you and your wallet.
Step 4: Read labels.
Now this step ties into step 3, but considering that not enough people actually take the time to do it, it deserves its own separate step for the sake of acknowledgement. READ LABELS. READ LABELS ON EVERYTHING. For some reason, people don't do this anymore and it's absolutely ridiculous! If you don't know what you're eating, you don't what you're putting into your body, and people will take advantage of that. It's as simple as that. Almost all name brand foods have unnecessary additives, preservatives, chemicals, and sugars that just tack on extra calories and weight to your body. Learn to read nutrition facts, read the ingredient list, because what you eat is the fuel that will propel you forward to being the person you want to be. Your body is an intricate bio-mechanical work of nature that is absolutely awe inspiring, it needs good fuel to function properly, not cheap gas, and you don't want to break down getting to where you're going.
Step 5: Set goals.
This is it, the moment you've been waiting for. You are about to embark on the most intense exercise session you have ever done in your life, and when you are finished you will become a God, a beacon of light and sexiness for all of those underneath you staring at your glory. Now hold on a minute. There's something you should know before you embark on your quest. Reaching your goals will take time, lots of time. Sometimes months, maybe even years, and that is OKAY. It's a total cliche but fitness isn't entirely about the result. The journey is just as important. Work for your goals long enough and you'll eventually find yourself caught in moments of self discovery and self realization that will make you a better person and a better athlete. Now it's great to have a big goal, a dream, the end result that you envision as the pinnacle of success (keep in mind once you hit your pinnacle you still need to work hard to maintain it), but it's important to set smaller goals for yourself along the way so you don't stray from the end game or burn out too fast. When you set goals for yourself, experiment with what you can do, and what you can't do yet. Try new exercises and activities. Try to lift heavier or run longer than your previous records, and set goals for everything. Have daily, monthly, yearly, and long-term goals. Set goals for how long you want to work out everyday, and what kind of exercises you can fit into your schedule. Let those goals carry into your home life and kitchen. Set goals for how much water you want to drink in a day or goals to increase your vegetable intake or lower your calorie count. The point is, SET GOALS. When you have goals you have an objective to work towards, and that will help you in the long run not just with fitness, but in setting goals and establishing good habits for all your other endeavors in life.
Step 6: Start moving.
It doesn't matter what it is, just start moving. Personally, I try to work out three hours a day five to six days a week. I spend an hour lifting weights at the gym and spend two hours swimming laps at the public pool. I don't drive. I walk everywhere and take public transit for long distances. For fun, I hike on the side as well as take, Martial Arts, Ballet, and Tap dance classes. When I can, I ride bikes, play sports, or go kayaking and canoeing. Not everybody can live as actively as I do and that's perfectly fine. They don't have to and my personal fitness ambitions shouldn't be the standard for anybody. However, you need to develop your own standard, and it's important to have a variety of physical activities that you can do and more importantly enjoy. Start off small. There is no shame. Everybody had to start somewhere (including action stars like Schwarzenegger and Stallone). If you can only workout for three days a week for an hour, that's still better than the guy doing one hour of exercise a week, and way better than the guy doing nothing wishing he was ripped. If you want to get anywhere, you need to move, and once you do it long enough, you'll start to enjoy the physicality of moving and exerting energy. A good starting goal is 300 minutes of exercise per week. That's an average of one hour a day at minimum.
Step 7: You don't need a gym. (Use your body.)
This can be tricky because it seems like people think the only place to accomplish their fitness goals is at a gym. Granted, I love the gym, it's one of my favorite places to workout, and I highly recommend going to one because it's a concentrated place for an individual to focus solely on exercise and pushing their bodies to the limit, not to mention all the equipment on hand that one would spend a fortune on putting in their own home. However, for those of you who might not be able to afford a membership or just don't have the desire to, there are always alternatives to going to the gym. Your ancient early human ancestors didn't need one and neither do you. Simply having a solid calisthenic and cardio-based routine can do wonders for your body, and there are lots of outdoor places where you can run, play sports, and just work out. Lots of community recreational centers and public parks now have designated areas for people to use free and public fitness equipment. If you're looking for ways to exercise without breaking the bank look around locally for free community events and places, and don't be scared to get creative.
Step 8: Lift heavy.
Lift Heavy Objects. They don't need to be weights at a gym per se. However, if you're serious about losing weight, getting shredded, or whatever kind of goal you have, STRENGTH TRAINING is a must. If I had to choose between just doing strength training and just doing cardio for the rest of my life (luckily, I do a mix of both) I would choose strength training. You see, cardio is great, but if you run for a consistent amount of time, you stop burning fat and begin to burn muscle. That's why most runners are exceptionally thin. With strength training, when you lift weights the muscle fibers tear and become bigger. Make sure you eat high protein foods after each weight lifting session because the protein acts as a cement filling in the tears allowing the muscles to grow. By increasing muscle mass, you burn calories faster to maintain that newly acquired muscle growth, increasing the rate of weight loss and increasing strength. If you can't lift weights at a gym, use household objects to get creative. Fill backpacks with rocks or rice bags and do calisthenic workouts like push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. Fill up boxes with stuff to give them weight, and do overhead shoulder presses. Get creative, because strength training will be your biggest ally in reaching your fitness goals. And for the ladies who are worried lifting weights will make them look like Mr. Olympia, you have nothing to fear. Your bodies don't produce enough natural testosterone to get you that huge in the first place. Unless your shooting steroids, the only thing you have to concern yourself with is how great lifting heavy is going to make you look.
Step 9: Rest.
At some point, you will start to feel fatigued. This is your body telling you to rest. Don't fight it. If you work out too hard, you will injure yourself and that will stop you from working out even longer. Now let's be clear: there is a difference between being fatigued, and being tired. You will know the difference the first time you are fatigued. Say you made your three day workout quota. Tired is "I've worked out for three days. I could do more, but I'm not going to. I need the rest." Well, now you just missed out on the opportunity to push yourself even further and become stronger. Now you're stagnant. Fatigue is "I worked out legs yesterday but I feel my muscle tearing. I've already worked out my other muscle groups this week. No point in doing arms. I should rest up this weekend so I can start fresh Monday." Know your limits, but don't be scared to push them further. Only by fighting through tiredness can you become a stronger athlete. Fatigue, on the other hand, should be addressed immediately and given adequate rest time. Also, make sure you get enough sleep. You burn calories as you sleep and it allows your muscle groups to repair themselves. Sleep is just as vital to the workout process as food and water, and if you don't get enough of it, you will be compromising your immune system and start feeling weaker as you work out.
Step 10: Treat yourself.
Treat yourself to a reward every once in awhile. It's important that you have a cheat meal or cheat day every now and then to break up the monotony of your regimen. Don't go overboard, though. Some people recommend a cheat day once a week but I recommend having one every two or three weeks if you're starting out. Having a weekly cheat day can start to feel like an entitlement for all of your hard work that week, but in the end it will be another setback for you to have to overcome. It's up to the athlete's discretion when it comes to cheat days but I recommend taking one only when you feel like you've worked out hard enough for you to walk away unscathed from whatever delicious junk food has been haunting your mind. Plus, the longer you go without them, the easier it is for you to maintain good habits, and when you do take them, they'll align with birthdays, family events, and holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, where you can really indulge guilt free. Scientifically, cheat days are helpful when you're workout regimen has hit a plateau (a plateau is when you continue to work out but the results have stayed stagnant). They can shock your body into essentially resetting the normal workout level it's acclimated to so you can hit new performance levels and increase your gains.
Step 11: When you can, go organic.
Food today has come a long way compared to what our ancient ancestors would eat. However, progress isn't always a good thing; sometimes simplicity is bliss. Most foods today are processed. Read the ingredients list on a bag of chips and you'll find things that belong in a chemistry lab. Even fruits and vegetables are sprayed with harsh chemicals and pesticides that can have averse effects on your body, ESPECIALLY your reproductive system. Fitness isn't just about working out, it's about LIVING HEALTHY; you can't outwork a bad diet, and if you want to reach your goals you need to strive to be as healthy as possible outside of the gym. Now the common misconception is that all organic foods are too expensive. That's a lie. There are plenty of ways to source organic foods without having to break the bank. Here in California, Whole Foods is not the sole carrier of Organic produce. Stores like Grocery Outlet and Aldi carry organic options at extremely low price, in BULK, too. If you live in other states, you should check for similar stores or stores that sell overstock items for low price. Also, join a local CSA in your neighborhood; CSA's or Community Supported Agriculture groups are organizations that will provide you with a fresh box of Organic Produce in exchange for small membership donations or volunteer service. Not only is it a cheap way to get organic food, it helps support and grow sustainable and environmentally friendly organic farms.
Step 12: Mix it up.
This journey towards being a better, healthier, and fitter you is going to be repetitive, and eventually you're going to have moments where it will be tiresome and not want to keep going. This is where it's important that you KEEP GOING. As I mentioned earlier, I have a diverse palette of physical activities that I like to engage in, that curiosity and willingness to keep learning new things and acquire new skills keeps me going. Be fearless, try new things, go out dancing, or take a martial arts class. The more you learn the more you are going to want to keep exploring. The best thing is, as you keep trying new things, your body will adapt to become stronger, faster, and more flexible. Which means that it will become EASIER for you to keep trying new things physically, compared to an individual who doesn't work out at all. It's important to live, and the only way you will keep steady on your path to fitness is if you ENJOY being physical. If you're not loving what you're doing then why do it? It's okay to be bored with routine sometimes, or to be too tired to keep hitting the same gym schedule, but it shouldn't feel like a drag, because then you start to lose your motivation and that's when you fall back down. Mix up the gym workout, add a new activity like swimming, gymnastics, dance, or martial arts. Do things that make you feel happy, sexy, and accomplished, because those are the things will fuel your drive and keep you in action.
Step 13: Keep going.
You are going to have moments where you will fail. You are going to have moments of weakness. You are going to have moments where you falter and fall down. You are going to have moments where you feel like giving up. It's inevitable. I've been exercising for years now, and even I have my moments where I feel inadequate, where I feel I'm not good enough. I have moments where I feel like I won't make it and that my efforts are pointless. You will, too. What's important is that you KEEP GOING and don't give up. You have to fight through those moments, because fitness is not easy. It's not meant to be. You will be discouraged, but those initial feelings of doubt come with the territory, especially in this new age of technology, where everybody is so obsessed with looking perfect, where every model makes it look so easy to get jacked, ripped, or toned by going to the gym for a day and drinking a slim tea, how can a person not feel like crap when they don't see instant results? It's all a facade. There is no easy and fast solution, and what people fail to mention is that half the battle is psychology. Rome wasn't built in a day. You will have moments of weakness, and you will have moments where you fail, but what matters is what you do AFTER that. The people that make it are the ones that get back up and try again over and over until they get it right. If you haven't been eating right for the last couple weeks, or you've been unable to work out for the last two months because of an illness, get back to work as soon as you can. Start fresh and don't beat yourself up, acknowledge your mistakes and LEARN from it. Fitness isn't about being perfect, it's about self cultivation not just on the exterior but also from within, it's almost spiritual. Through sheer power of will you can do anything, but it will only happen if you dedicate yourself through the good times and the bad, and only you can make that decision.
That's. Wisdom in 13 steps to help you reach your fitness goals. Now keep in mind, this will only work if YOU make it work. Nobody else can force you to make the journey, and you will only make it if YOU want it bad enough. Remember, the journey never ends. It just gets easier as you go along. Keep working hard and believe in yourself, because you will make it and you will succeed. You just have to keep at it. You are stronger than you realize.