About six weeks back, I received an email from a female who has been strength training for the last 5 years. She started when she was an overweight, out of shape college graduate who had added quite a few pounds since starting her new 9-5 desk job. After her newfound love for strength training and moderate cardio, she experienced a fat loss of 20 lbs over a period of about 6 months. Her body composition changed pretty drastically as the new muscle gain was evident 20lbs later. This didn’t surprise me given her previous experience with athletics in high school (she played soccer and has some fantastic quads). I will leave her name out of this article for sake of anonymity and/or embarrassment.
She experienced what I call the newbie phenomenon. It’s such a wonderful feat; you get someone on the proper training program, ensure adequate nutrients and magic seems to happen. They build muscle and lose fat simultaneously; it’s so much fun to watch this happen. I wish I could go back to those days because I could get by on so much crap with regards to my intake and all the funny stuff I did in the gym. Those days are gone but I digress.
Now she had just changed jobs again, another 9-5 but during the transition she got so caught up in the stress of moving cross country that she let her training and diet slip a bit. One week out turned into two. Two weeks turned into a month. Then she “forgot” to find a gym near her new residence, so one month turned into three and before she knew it, she was six months out of this great habit she had created for herself. The weight came back too.
In her email, she explained everything to me: how she got started, her stats, body weight, personal record’s etc. She then sent me another story via electronic mail with this crazy detailed plan about how she was going to get her body back and lose the fat in one month. Her plan was to do cardio before and after work plus strength training during her lunch break. She told me on the weekends she would perform HIIT conditioning drills to speed up the fat loss.
Then she alluded to how she was completely changing her diet to something she had never done before. She’d been reading about a diet that suggested we eat like her ancestors did. She professed she would only eat meat and fat, no carbs. Then I asked where her ancestors originated and if they had a Starbucks. She had no clue. So my response went something like “well, how in the hell are you going to eat like they did?”
Over the course of a few days, as I tried my best to talk some sense into her, I made note of a few things. The first issue I addressed was that it took her about 4-5 months to get out of shape, pack the weight back on and return to misery; therefore it just might take as long to get back to where she was before. I said might take as long simply because it could take less time. But since I am of the moderate crowd, let’s just agree that it’s going to take a hell of a lot longer than the single month she had allocated herself.
I then expressed that I thought her approach was crazy and figured she would quit within two weeks. She was pissed and even swore at me a little. In an outburst(all caps in gmail), she said she would prove me wrong and guess what; our communication was dead until 10 days later when she emailed me with the subject line of you were right, please help me .
Uncomplicate Me, Please
I told her that a slower approach would probably be best considering the desk job not allowing for much NEAT. I advised to limit cardio to one session per day either before or after work and to do her strength training 3x per week at whatever time of day she chooses. I also advised that if she is going to do cardio everyday that she make darn sure it’s low intensity, such as walking around the block a few times, getting on the elliptical or biking through the neighborhood. I knew for a fact she lacked the work capacity HIIT would require so it’s better to be safe than sorry in this situation.
When we discussed the new approach to training, I asked her how/if it differed than what she did when she first got into shape 5 years back. She said, “You know, aside from a few movements and mobility drills you suggested, it’s not too far off from what gave me such great results.”
Objectivity and Sustainability
It’s obvious she lacked the temperance and objectivity to return to what worked previously. Her emotions from rediscovering her old self and regaining 15-20lbs definitely had an effect on her psyche, thus the poor decision making.
She failed to realize that her old approach was all she needed. There was no need to start a rigorous diet or a new training regimen that would slay an Olympic athlete. The beauty is found in going back to what worked, taking your time and executing. All you must do is just make it through each day. One day becomes a week. One week becomes two. Two pounds lost becomes four etc.
I am happy to report she is enjoying training again, strength is improving and she is well on her way to bringing sexy back.