At 38 years old, I started looking ahead and decided I wanted to be “in the best shape of my life” by my 40th birthday. Birthdays are such an arbitrary day in time, but they keep trainers in business – especially big ones. No stranger to training, I spent an entire decade running marathons, including qualifying for and running Boston twice, and then later switching to Crossfit; however, I couldn’t figure out why I was gaining weight. All I knew was I wanted to lose some weight and look fit. Over the course of the next four years, I went from 30% body fat to 18%. Here are 3 important lessons to leanness, and you can apply them too!
Lesson to Leanness 1: Start with the Facts
Some numbers are hard to see, especially when you know they aren’t where you’d like them to be. You won’t know where you need to go without a baseline measurement. I wanted to get lean, so I started with a body fat test.
My first Dexa Scan, featured here, came in at 30%. Did I attach emotions to that number? Does Dr. Mike T. Nelson like heavy metal? So yes, I felt bad about it, but those feelings turned to motivation. Now I had a starting point, and the goal was to lower that number.
Facts – not emotions – will guide you through the process. I opted for a body fat test every 6 months. You could easily use progress pictures or tape measurements instead. The key is to space it out, and be patient with your body. Results take time. If you’re getting your body fat tested every 4 weeks, you’ll get frustrated, and you may lose sight of the goal, which leads to my next point.
Lesson to Leanness 2: Keep the Main Goal the Main Goal
This won’t be new to followers of Dr. Mike, but it’s 100% the truth. When I first started working with Dr. Mike, I thought I wanted to gain muscle, lose fat, improve my deadlift and get faster at CrossFit. Not kidding. They may be noble accomplishments, but trying to go after so many things at once took away from what I really wanted – fat loss.
Once I told Mike the goal was to lose body fat, everything started to change. We developed a training program (less CrossFit, more slow and controlled lifting), came up with a macro plan and started monitoring stress and recovery with daily HRV measurements.
If you’re in the middle of an intense programming cycle or you’re training for a long endurance event, it’s not the time to cut calories. Look at your calendar, and give yourself a period of time in the future when fat loss – and only fat loss – is the goal.
Lesson to Leanness 3: Be Open to Change
I’ve worked with clients before who were so dead set on keeping their 6-days-a-week, twice-daily workout routines intact they couldn’t see how their lack of recovery was working against them. In my case, CrossFit 5 days a week – as much as I loved it – wasn’t working out for my body.
Did it hurt to realize I needed to change?
Yup – just as much as heavy metal hurts my ears (sorry, not sorry).
Einstein said it best: “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I had to reduce the stress on my body to give it the freedom to let go of fat. This meant old-school lifting with rest between sets, dude-brah workouts, and a mix of low/medium/high intensity cardio.
Also separating lifting and cardio, lifting to add more muscle/ strength, with complete rest; cardio for better aerobic fitness and to burn more calories, etc.
It may be different for you, but whatever it is, be okay with change.
Yes – it was hard at first, but I’ve come to love putting my AirPods in and listening to podcasts while I lift. Humans are remarkable adaptors. I promise; it will be okay.
You can see in the image here that by my 40th birthday, I lost 10% body fat – to do the math, I lost 20 pounds of fat while maintaining my current lean muscle.
Since then, I’ve shifted to periods of gaining muscle and more intense programming, followed by cycles of fat loss in order too……
Each time the same 3 lessons apply 1)….2)…..3)…… Let data be your guide, stay focused and try new things!