I observe so many of my clients getting their training wrong in the same few ways.

It’s painful to watch, especially after I’ve spent a good hour talking to them about the fact that the way they are currently training probably isn’t getting them the results they want – it can’t be, or they wouldn’t be seeking to work with someone like me in the first place.

Often, clients will take the guidance on board for a brief period of about a week and expect long-lasting results instantly. But it just doesn’t work that way.

For some specific fitness goals, yes – there can be instant results. I have helped someone improve their core endurance in just seven days. I have helped females drop two dress sizes in five days. However, for those results to be long-lasting, the relevant practices must be adhered to for longer periods of time. They must become a lifestyle.

Here are some questions based on the seven most common mistakes I encounter:

1). Do you train with enough intention?

2). Have you forgotten that there are seven days in the week?

3). Are you overcomplicating things?

4). Are you receiving quality information?

5). Are you skipping leg days?

6). Do you think running is the best thing for fat loss?

7). Are you low on patience?

I’m going to cover these in more detail below. They are all starting places; questions for reflection. Some might resonate with you. Others might not. But they are hopefully all useful as a source of reflection, and I hope you can take at least one thing from this post that turns out to be a useful change in your habits.

1). Do you train with enough intention?

Picture this.

You go into a gym. You see Mary sitting on the exercise bike reading Hello magazine, and you see Mike doing bicep curls with 5 kgs in the squat rack.

Mary is desperate to get in shape for her daughter’s wedding.

Mike wants to put some lead back into his pencil by increasing his testosterone levels through strength training.

Looking at what Mary and Mike are doing, do you think they are going to achieve their goals?

You guessed it … nope.

I do get the whole ‘if they are doing something, it’s better than nothing’ theory – I too believe in this to a certain point. But it’s more to do with helping inactive people become active. That has value in itself, but if you want extraordinary results, you must train in an extraordinary way.

Heart rate is a great measure of your intensity during training. That said, if you are strength training, you want to measure your effort. The Borg Scale, or an adapted version () can be used to measure this.

Make no mistake here: I am not promoting always working out like a rabid dog. Not at all. I want my clients to work smarter and get more out of the time they are spending doing exercise.

A great example of wasted time in the gym is when I see young men swinging weights to get bigger biceps. Now, muscles respond best when they are under tension (without going too geeky on you, the tendons are made of tension-orientated tissue). Swinging the dumbbells and allowing the tension to release is only short-changing yourself.

When you train to increase strength and lean mass, having your mind within the muscle and focusing your attention to that particular area will save you wasting time doing 10 reps with no intention at all.

I have found that the best results are obtained with my clients’ fat-loss and lean muscle mass when we have focused on 30 minutes with absolute intention.

Coaches’ corner

If you train, have minimal time and have a goal, I urge you to get after it as soon as you step into the training environment. Set your mind into focus before you put on your gym kit. Listen to your favourite ‘#beastmode’ music and kill it.

Remind yourself why the hell you started this journey in the first place.

Never just go through the motions.

It takes more than motivation to succeed in your fitness goals – it takes discipline.

2). Have you forgotten that there are seven days in the week?

I have mentioned this in previous posts.

If your weekend starts on a Friday, then it amounts to 40% of the week. If you treat these days as time to have off from your training and nutritional game plan, that’s 40% of the week you are leaving on the table and not using to smash your fitness goals.

I get it. You’ve worked hard all week, working twelve- to sixteen-hour days sometimes.

That said, there are many more resourceful ways to let off a bit of steam than smashing the booze and eating take-aways.

I’m not saying you have to cut out the booze and take-aways completely. I am saying be aware of the calories you are putting into your body. What you must remember is that calorie totals are about numbers across the whole week, not just each day.

Even if you place yourself in deficit of 1000 calories during the week (up until Friday), if you then reduce your physical energy expenditure on Saturday and Sunday and over-eat over the two days by 1200 calories, that’s you over by 200 calories for the week.

Multiply 200 by 52 weeks of the year, and you have 10,400 calories a year. It’s no wonder people end up saying: ‘The weight has just crept on’.

What is also very important to consider is how active your weekends are.

For some, smashing a beast workout through the week will literally take their last bit of energy, leaving then unproductive during work. With my clients, I aim to have their energy levels soaring through the roof.

How do I do this? I hear you ask.

As I’ve said, the weekend is 40% of the week, if you include Fridays. So, I reckon you can manage a pretty tasty high-threshold session at the back end of the week, knowing that on Saturday and Sunday you have time off.

On Saturdays, you can get up early in the morning (if you have kids, this is easy, as you’ll be up anyway) and give it another 20-minute blast. On Sundays, you can do the same.

Through the week, you can take a power-walk each day for 20 minutes during your lunch break. In the mornings, you can do a 5-minute core session. In the evenings, you can do a 10-minute upper and lower body session. This will keep you ticking over. ()

Coaches’ Corner

Use your weekend wisely. If you’re working mad hours during the week, the last thing you need to be doing is smashing the fitness as well. This is what is going to burn you out.

Through the week, keep it short and ticking over. Like I said, power-walks, core work and little bodyweight circuits are ideal.

At the weekend, get after it.

Here is a habit I have got my clients into: before they do anything after work on a Friday, they go and smash a 20-minute session. Bodyweight, kettlebell, whatever – they just go high-threshold for the duration to get the weekend started.

Make sure you use the morning to get a good hard session smashed before you start the day. If you have been out on the booze, make sure you have something to eat first (even if you might bring it back up).

3). Are you overcomplicating things?

Have you ever been to a cliff-edge by the sea and dived off into the blue yonder?

Did you hesitate?

If you did, I bet it took you ages to get the bottle to jump off. This is because you let your rational brain intercept your actions, and it gave you a million reasons why you shouldn’t jump in.

The thing is: once you have jumped in, the feeling of freedom and the rush is remarkable. You then want to do it again.

It is the same with health and fitness.

As soon as you make the choice to take the plunge and build a better, more resourceful lifestyle, you get addicted to the results. What holds people back most of the time is their excuses.

‘Oh, I have a girlfriend now, and she likes my love-handles.’

‘I have had two children, so I’ll never get fit again.’

‘I have the fat gene – it’s in the family.’

I’m going to call people out on all of those.

First: your girlfriend is just saying that to stroke your insecurities – believe me, if you walked into the house looking like you were carved out of granite, she’d be a different gravy.

Second: I have female clients who have had three kids and are in the best shape of their lives.

Third: the fat gene doesn’t exist. I am living proof of that, as are many other fitness professionals who have the drive to change other people’s perceptions on this one (back to the infamous equation: calories in – calories out = calorie deficit or surplus).

What am I saying?

You need to drop the excuses that are holding you back. The limiting beliefs that are literally drowning you in self-pity when, in reality, the Super You is ready. Waiting. Roaring to be unleashed.

Coaches’ Corner

Thinking too much about the consequences of being healthy and fit can be daunting. If you are used to being known by your friends as ‘Fat Amy’, what will you been known as if you get fit? ‘Fit Amy!’.

Limiting beliefs are powerful – so much so that they can prevent you from moving forwards and being successful in your goals.

Find a quiet place and write down all the things that seem complicated to you in achieving your goals. Write next to each of them a solution; how you can overcome the complications.

An example:

I don’t seem to have time to work out.

Can I get up early in the morning?

What do I do at lunch time?

What do I do at half past seven in the evening? 

4). Are you receiving quality information?

In today’s world, making informed choices concerning health can be confusing, especially when the people we look to are giving conflicting information.

It shouldn’t be a problem to get informed, right? Especially with the invention of podcasts and search engines. However, there is a lot of contradictory information out there in relation to health and fitness, so here is a little guide to the information I regularly follow which is quite easy to digest and which will help clarify a few things.

Podcasts

Firstly, I always listen out for whether the views of the hosts and their guests are opinion-based or whether they are informing me with good, solid, evidence-based information.

Don’t get me wrong: there is a place for experience – but I check where their experience is coming from.

Sometimes, mainstream science may not keep up with the rapidly moving health and fitness industry. That said, the information should still make sense by sticking to basic principles.

Dr. Rangan Chatterjee’s podcast Feel Better, Live More gives you a clear picture of the GP’s (General Practitioner’s) point of view on what is happening at the coal-face of health and on how functional medicine (finding the root cause of disease and implementing lifestyle prescriptions such as sleeping better, moving more, eating well, mindset etc.) is a method to move us further into the future regarding public health issues.

Other podcasts containing solid information that I regularly take note of are:

  • Ben Coomber Radio – All things health and fitness.
  • Rich Roll Podcast – Great interviews with a variety of health and fitness experts across the world.
  • The Doctor’s Kitchen – All things nutritional.
  • Movement Fix – All things movement and strength

Social media

Now, this is where I believe things get confusing.

I think it’s important when consuming the information from this medium to question the reliability of the sources that people are getting their information from.

I don’t need to discredit any celebrities to tell you that they can change their minds from time to time to suit their interests (and I don’t mean when they have found a better way to do things, which can be valid, as continuing education is vital for growth).

Not only that, but those celebrities might not be all that they seem in front of the camera. Do they adhere to their own advice? It can be hard to know.

Some of the people I seek information from for reliable information that is consistent and useful:

  • Dr Rangan Chatterjee – Twitter
  • Ben Coomber – Instagram
  • Dr Kelly Starrett – Facebook
  • Martine Kerr – Instagram
  • Tom Morgan – Instagram
  • Sarah Grace Polacco – Instagram
  • Andy McKenzie – Instagram

Books (including audio)

This is where I choose to get my mindset food from. I drive for at least two hours each day, so I can consume a whole book within a week.

Behaviour change is the biggest hurdle when it comes to health and fitness – when it comes to anything, for that matter.

The best books I have read that are easy to digest and that have had a huge effect on my behaviour in relation to health and fitness are:

  • The Chimp Paradox – Dr Steve Peters
  • Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dweck

Both books are very empowering when it comes to health. Understanding your drives and limiting self-talk is something I still find hard to master today, and these books have helped to make me aware of these things and start to tackle them.

There is a book I read recently by Martin Johnson, called I am Human – 30 Mistakes to Success, which I found incredibly helpful. The tips within the book are practical and useful too.

Coaches’ Corner

I do my best to stay informed and make sure that the information fed to me is from good, solid, reliable resources.

I urge my clients to be super-critical in their thinking and seek an opposing argument to any advice they receive before they implement any changes to their health and fitness regime.

5). Are you skipping leg days?

Although this may be aimed mostly at men (who tend to spend time doing bench presses and bicep curls – which is ok if you also do everything else around those exercises), I do still come across women who make this common mistake too.

So, why is this an epic mistake?

The first reason that it is important not to miss leg days is that the legs make up an enormous portion of the body, so if you strengthen and condition these muscles hard, you are going to burn up some serious calories.

My clients generally want a leaner torso and a stronger body. Taking this into account, the other benefits of leg days are:

  • Better balance
  • Increased resilience to injury
  • The X-Factor – who wouldn’t feel awesome getting stronger and leaner, right?

The second reason that it is important not to miss leg days relates to intensity.

The legs can endure a lot of physical stress. We can therefore work them harder for longer periods. An example of this is:

You do 20 press ups, but if you try to do another 20 with 15 sec rest, you may only manage 10-15. The work rate has stopped.

You do 20 lunges. You have 15 sec rest, and you can manage the same number the second time. The muscles are larger, as previously mentioned, and take longer to fatigue.

What I often hear is: ‘Oh well, I do a lot of running, and that strengthens my legs,’ or ‘I play sport, and that strengthens my legs’.

Although these activities will condition your legs, they won’t necessarily ensure the legs get stronger. Achieving stronger legs takes some time spent doing strengthening movements.

‘So what does a leg session look like?’ I hear you say.

Well, this depends on your source of information. If you go to bodybuilding websites, it will involve splitting the muscles into segments: the quads, glutes, hamstrings (including adductors) and calves.

Personally, this bores the life out of me, and it certainly doesn’t keep my clients’ attention. As you may have gathered, I work with busy professionals who do not have two hours to spend training each body part separately.

I split my clients’ leg days into three exercises:

Squat

Lunge

Hinge (deadlift pattern)

These movements hit every muscle in the lower body along with making great demands on the core and upper body too. These are referred to as ‘functional exercises’, as they use multiple joints and multiple muscles and relate to sporting and daily movements.

If those were the only exercises you ever did for the rest of your life, you wouldn’t go too far wrong.

I ensure my clients each do two leg days weekly – usually Monday and Friday for those who have the time during the week, or Friday and Sunday for the weekend warriors.

Coaches’ Corner

If you take anything from this, it should be: train your legs, train your legs and yes – train your legs.

They are the beasts that keep you upright; they are where you can make the biggest difference in strength and fat loss.

The clients I have worked with have found this gruesome workout a great asset to their exercise catalogue, especially when they are seeking maximum gains in minimal time.

6). Do you think running is the best thing for fat loss?

Possibly one of the biggest misconceptions within the fitness industry is: ‘I need to run to get fit,’ or ‘I need to run to lose weight’.

WRONG.

Working with the British Army for over four years in a rehabilitation clinic helping injured soldiers get back to full fitness has certainly given me an insight into this myth.

Many people think that running is the best thing for fat loss (notice how I keep saying fat loss and not weight loss – they are different).

Statements such as ‘we are born to run’ have been around for years. That said, I am not convinced we are. One thing is for certain: we are born to walk.

I talk about walking a lot as I think it’s a great tool for fat loss and has less impact on the body (my clients seem to buy into it a lot more too). If the statement ‘we are born to run’ was true, why are there so many running injuries? (Although this is a loaded and complex question, and not one I am going to tackle here).

Now, when strictly talking about calories used during running compared to during walking, then of course, running is superior per minute. That said, the average person (and the average person is likely to be overweight – look at the statistics from Public Health England) is going to increase their chances of injury from the impact of running.

On the other hand, you can go walking every day with less stress on the joints. You can do it twice a day (those who have dogs will usually take them out morning and evening, right?).

So, gradually over the week, you will burn more calories sticking to a power walk than a running programme. If you are a runner and are reading this, you are already conditioned to run, so these rules may not apply.

Also, building lean muscle mass by taking part in regular strength training (twice per week is recommended by the World Health Organization) can help with your fat loss.

Strength training will stimulate the resting metabolic rate (burning calories at rest) by indirectly increasing muscle mass. Muscle is known to consume more calories than fat (not as much as some BS articles out there promote, but enough for it to matter).

This is mostly to do with your insulin sensitivity (which is very important for avoiding nasty stuff like diabetes).

Coaches’ Corner

Yes, running can help with weight loss (ok, it can help with fat loss too), but my point is that it isn’t the be-all and end-all. If you are overweight and are looking to get back into running, I would highly advise you choose to do this gradually. Couch-to-5k on the NHS website is great for this.

If like me, you have some old injuries that are provoked by too much impact, walking with strength training is golden for this.

Whilst I am on this subject, let’s just define walking. The power-walking I am referring to means that you need to be out of breath. Not bleeding from the eyeballs, but enough to get sweaty. I started at a pace (measured by an app called Run Keeper) of 16-minute miles, and I do the same with the people I work with. To start with, keep this pace up over a distance of around 2 miles (which should take around 30-40 minutes).

Then, every week, do your best to shave 5 seconds off your time.

Needless to say, after six months of working with some of my clients, they are doing 13-minute miles and have dropped some significant body-fat.

7). Are you low on patience?

The first place I start with all the people I work with is:

‘How long do you think it will take to achieve your goal?’

For me, short fixes and challenges just do not cut it for promoting everlasting behaviour change. We are setting people up to fail when we have no follow-up.

Just look at the state of the Western world. We have so many challenges and quick fixes, yet people are more ill, buy bigger clothes and are sadder than ever before. What is happening?

Yes, amazing things can be achieved within short periods, but will the changes last? Are they sustainable?

It can be argued that challenges are a good kick-starter.

Let me tell you about kick-starters.

I once worked at the most famous women’s boot camp in the UK. There were several women there who had been more than once. I asked them: ‘How come you are here again?’. ‘It’s a great kick-starter,’ they mostly replied.

Now, if you just want to be beasted and find out how far you can be pushed, I get it. Boot camp may be just your thing.

But ‘a great kick starter’ every year makes alarm bells start ringing. What within their behaviour is driving them to fall out of a good routine and go back to poor habits, meaning they end up back at boot camp for a quick fix?

Quick fixes can lead to quick nose-dives when it comes to health and fitness. They amount to putting plasters over gaping holes that are about to burst wide open and reveal the truth: that you must do something more about your health than just a boot camp.

Don’t get me wrong: as I said earlier, boot camps are awesome for finding what you are uncomfortable with and facing it. But what may be missing from them is teaching people to leave with solid behaviour changes and empowering beliefs that they can make exercise a lifestyle.

What do I think is missing mostly from people’s habits? Patience and consistency – and these are my go-to mantras every single day.

I guess we can all be impatient at times – especially in today’s world, when we can literally find anything using devices in the palms of our hands.

That said, when it comes to our health, the principle has never changed over thousands of years of evolution: to make progress that is lasting, we must remain patient.

What challenges our patience is being consistent during the times when nothing much is happening. This is where I believe most people fail when trying to sustain their ‘new healthier lifestyle’.

What will happen is they will reach their goal in the 90 days that were promised. They will get applauded by all their friends and family and told that they have done marvellously (which they have, 100%).

Then, after a few months, they hit a plateau and can’t seem to make any more progress. There are many reasons for this.

One reason is that most people perceive fitness as a destination, not a journey – so once they reach that destination, they have nowhere else to go.

Another reason is that people don’t change focus. Let’s say that fat loss is your goal. You get down to the percentage you are happy with. What next?

Maintenance of the level you have achieved is harder than getting there in the first place. What I think exercise professionals must do is prepare the client for the journey, not the destination.

Changing to a new goal of maintaining the healthy weight you have achieved is what is needed at this point, and this is done through conditioning the mindset so that making sensible eating choices is no longer an effort.

Coaches’ Corner

Dig deep. If you want ever-lasting results, you must treat this as a lifelong (that wasn’t a plug, by the way) journey. Have something to focus on that is meaningful.

I often suggest to my clients that they get involved in charity events or fitness clubs to give them incentives. These things support, reinforce and bulletproof their beliefs that being healthy is better than being unhealthy (believe me, there are people who believe they are better off being unhealthy).

Final thoughts

This list is not exhaustive – I do find it hard to whittle this one down, as so many people are conned into thinking that fitness is quick fixes and crash diets.

I hope you find these pointers useful and practical to implement too.

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