A 5:20 am wake up call had become the norm. I did not have a 6:00 am personal training client. In fact, at this time I was teaching middle school physical education and coaching football/basketball. I had experimented before with working out at 8 pm 2-3 nights a week plus one time on the weekends. I was so tired by the time I worked out I decided to try the early morning workouts instead. I was a teacher that did not make excuses, even though time was an issue.
At this time, I was training for a CrossFit competition (my second and my last). My goals were to finish higher than my last competition and to reach my lowest level of body fat ever in the process. I do not do CrossFit anymore; I only did it for 8 months. However, I did learn a lot of things from this process. This article is about this time of my life and some principles for you to follow to also reach your goals. Read ahead if you’re interested in seeing what it takes to get in YOUR best shape. If you want fluff or an easy recipe to your best body, then you can stop reading here.
Here are some key components in reaching your best body ever.
- Set goals
- Set a timeline
- Have support from friends, family, co-workers
- Be strong and be disciplined
- Educate yourself
- Be ready to push your limits
- Be consistent
- Set goals
You will never hit a target that you don’t aim for. Having that target will give you the motivation you need to get off the couch or out of bed when you don’t feel like it.
Here are some things I changed once I set my goal and was dedicated to reaching it.
Instead of being satisfied with 2-3 workouts per week I committed to at least 4 days per week, ideally 5. On the other two days, I completely rested. In an ideal world, I would tell you to do recovery stretching or light conditioning on these days. I’m just being honest and telling you I didn’t do so.
2. Set a timeline
This always goes with setting a goal. What are you training for? Are you training for a fitness event of some kind? A race or lifting competition would be your end goal. Maybe it’s something as simple as looking your best on a vacation. That’s fine too. The biggest thing here is that you have an end date. Decide how many weeks/months you will need to get from where you are to where you will need to be by that date. Put together a plan.
3. Have support from friends/family
You will have an extremely hard time reaching your fitness goals if you are surrounded by someone who eats junk every day AND doesn’t support your healthy eating habits and consistent workouts.
4. Be disciplined
This is the most important aspect of any training program. You can have a terrible program and it still work better than the best program in the world that isn’t followed consistently. Consistent workouts and consistent healthy eating is the only way to reach your goals. Period.
5. Educate yourself
Chances are you don’t know everything. Gasp. I know we have all been there before when we thought we did. Learn from a coach who knows what they are doing. A coach who does this for a living can help you speed the process up and take a lot of the guesswork out of the equation. If you can’t get a coach to help you, reach out to your friends who are successful in their fitness journey and see what works for them. You will have to modify for your body, but it’s a good place to start.
6. Be ready to push your limits
In order to get a body you have never had before, or not in the last 20 years, you are going to have to get out of your comfort zone. This means increasing weight on your lifts, increasing your anaerobic threshold, decreasing rest periods and any other way to increase intensity.
Now, back to the routine that worked for me. I utilized each of these strategies to push myself to get in my best shape ever.
At the time, I was training for a CrossFit competition. This was my second (and last) competition and my goal was to place higher than my last competition. Again, it is great to have a goal. One of my goals in the past was to reach 8% body fat while weighing 190. Again, the key is to find a goal that is challenging and reasonable for you. Both of these were goals that fit the bill for me.
The date of the competition obviously took care of the timeline. Both of my roommates at the time also worked out and ate healthy so this helped me stay on track. There was never junk food laying around, and who wants to be the worst looking guy in the house? The point is that I had the right people around me that helped me reach my goals. You should shoot for the same. Is your husband not healthy? Drop him. Kidding, but seriously you need to find a way to be around the right people. This can be an accountable workout partner or a positive gym environment with good coaches and members.
This is what I think separated me from most people in my position. Getting up at 5:20 was not easy. Neither was passing up Reese’s cups and cake so often presented at faculty meetings. I was also a basketball coach, and those players were my priority so planning practices and preparing games were even more important than my fitness goals. I put those guys first while also reaching my goals. Being prepared helped me as much as anything else in staying on course. I had the proper meals and snacks with me throughout the day. This is key. As I told those basketball players, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” This holds true with you reaching your fitness goals just like it did for them and winning games.
Luckily I knew how to workout and mostly what I needed to do to reach my goals. I did seek out people who knew more about the technical lifts than I did. Even just a couple tips from friends and coaches sprung me forward on my lifts faster than months of trying it on my own. Gaining knowledge from the right people is invaluable. Again, talk to a trainer that is worth their grain in salt. They can help steer you in the right direction. With all the conflicting content out there, finding someone you trust can really help you get a jump start.
One aspect of my training that I needed to increase was my muscular endurance (the ability of the working muscles to repeatedly exert force against resistance, think 12-30 reps instead of 3-5 reps for strength). Therefore, I researched certain workouts designed to do so. I mostly just added this in at the end of my workouts. Through the research and trial and error, I was able to find workouts that I noticed helped with recovery and endurance and in doing so I became a more complete athlete.
Pushing my limits
I did have to learn to push myself past my comfort zone. I experimented with different sets and rep schemes and aimed to progress on my weights. As I mentioned earlier, I really had to increase my endurance. I did this by decreasing rest periods and adding a brief, but very hard conditioning finisher at the end of my workouts.
The routine that worked for me:
I would typically lift weights 4 times a week. Since I did not love getting up early, I would usually train 3 days a week in the morning and Saturday morning.
I would lift on all four of those days. No matter what program you choose, it should be built around lifting weights. This will build strength, muscle, prevent injuries and increase the body’s fat burning furnace better than any other exercise modality if done correctly. The extra conditioning is just the icing on the cake (that you can’t have because you don’t eat that anymore, remember?)
My week might look like this:
Monday – Full body workout
Tuesday – off
Wednesday – Full body workout
Thursday – Full body workout
Friday – off
Saturday – Team workout ( ½ strength, ½ conditioning)
Sunday – Conditioning
Mobility/activation work: 5 minutes
Run 2:00, Row 2:00
Hang cleans: 3×5
Overhead or Push Press: 4×5-10
Walking lunges: 4×10-12 each leg
Barbell Row: 4×8-15
Accessory work (whatever I want to work on): 3x
Treadmill Sprints or other conditioning: 5-10 minutes max
*I found that adding in a 20-minute conditioning workout on top of my other workouts was huge in terms of fat loss. My favorite workout would be a 20-minute stair workout. This both increased my endurance and chipped away at the fat loss. I would do this 1-2 times a week.
Example nutrition for a day:
5:20 Pre-workout snack: Coffee or pre-workout powder, peanut butter (I tried eggs and toast, but it was too heavy)
7:00 Post-workout: Protein powder and banana or sweet potato
9:30 Snack: Apple with almond butter
11:30-12:00: Grilled chicken, fish, or ground beef, sweet potato, broccoli
3:25: Tuna or protein bar, almonds
7:30-8:00: Ground beef or chicken, very large serving of broccoli or other veggies
This is when I placed 3rd in the scaled division at Crossfit Pisgah. I know, not the most impressive thing you’ll hear today, however I had far surpassed my goal of placing higher than my last competition and I mostly trained myself. I was pretty happy with that finish considering I was a newbie and that I only really trained actual crossfit workouts 1x a week. I also did reach my lowest body fat ever, a nice bonus.
*I love sweets and I would reward myself 1-2 times per week, usually on the weekend. The key was to not go overboard. I would typically have dark chocolate cashews or something similar on Friday or Saturday. On Sundays, this would be the treat I had been looking forward to all week. Sometimes I would go for a bowl of ice cream, one normal size piece of cheesecake, or 2-3 cookies. Again, in moderation, this helped me keep my sanity while consistently improving my performance, strength, and leanness. Notice these are all unhealthy. However, I promise you if that’s the only bad thing you are eating all week, you will be able to reach your goals. The people who “can’t reach their goals because of one treat a week” are not doing the right things the other 167 hours a week.
To this day I follow a routine similar to this. The difference in my results from time to time is honestly in the discipline. If I really desire to get lean or achieve any other goal, discipline and consistency are what make the difference. The difference in one bad meal a week versus five bad meals a week make a HUGE difference over the course of 3-4 months. The same goes for alcohol. Two drinks a week versus ten. I love the quote “Results or excuses, you can’t have both.” I love it because it’s true. Be honest with yourself. Are you being as disciplined as you need to be to reach your goal? Are you being consistent? If not, don’t complain when you don’t reach your goal. Instead, decide you are going to reach your goal and nothing is going to stop you! Find people who will help get you there and get started today!
-Jonathan Brawley, BS, NASM-Certified Personal Trainer, Precision Nutrition Coach