Posted by on Jul 2, 2015

Von Blanco is a Chicago-based personal trainer (NSCA) and nutrition coach (Precision Nutrition). When he’s not training, Von writes at where he talks about flexible dieting, minimalist training, and lifehacking. Want to train with Coach Von? We can hook you up.

There’s a reason why your last fitness program didn’t “work.”

Or if it did “work,” there’s a reason why you regained the weight that you lost and went back to square one.

But before I get into that, think about this for a second: with all of the new resources, tools, gadgets, and “game-changing” apps that are available to us, why is it that so many people are still failing at reaching their fitness goals?

Shouldn’t things get easier by now? Shouldn’t the obesity rates be going down instead of continually rising? Shouldn’t everyone be walking around talking about their transformation stories?

Unfortunately, not enough of these things are happening.

Here’s why: we’re being told left and right that in order to get the results we want, we have to follow all sorts of rules. So what’s the problem with this? Well, people simply can’t keep up. There are too many restrictions and too many limitations. Time and time again, we hear the words “don’t eat this” or “don’t eat that” or “it’s bad for you.”

Recognize these?

  • Don’t eat sugary foods
  • Don’t eat fatty foods
  • Don’t eat carbs
  • Don’t eat foods with gluten (even though not that many people are actually sensitive to it)
  • Don’t eat dairy
  • Work out every day

The result? People do something for a few weeks and then throw in the towel because it’s too hard to keep up. It’s a never-ending cycle.

With all of these rules, we’re left to think, “WTF ARE WE SUPPOSED TO EAT THEN?!”  It’s easy to stick to a few guidelines short term, but if the rules aren’t something that mesh well with your life or preferences, it’s not gonna work out for you in the long run.

You see, a successful fitness plan is one that revolves around you and yourcurrent lifestyle. Not you revolving around the plan. In order to see long-term success vs. just a quick 30-day fix, one must be able to stick with something that actually works. It’s one thing to adopt and follow a new routine, but an entirely different story to actually build and maintain good habits.

The following are the four most essential components of an effective fitness program. If these things aren’t established in your fitness lifestyle, then chances are that you will eventually fail.

The 4 Essential Components of an Effective Fitness Program (S.A.F.E.)

1. Sustainability

The best fitness plan is the one that you can do for a very long time.

Ever wonder why you’ve gained back the weight since the last diet(s) you’ve tried?. The reason for this is simple — you were doomed since Day 1.

Here’s why: most diets explicitly tell you which foods are “allowed” and “not allowed.” Some call for the avoidance of perfectly tolerable and nutritious foods like:

  • Fruit
  • Dairy
  • Grains
  • Pasta

To top it off, most of the foods on most diets’s banned list consists of your favorite foods (and drinks) like:

  • Pizza
  • Doughnuts
  • Ice cream
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Beer

Can you see yourself going on a diet that eliminates the foods above? If you’re like me, you responded “Heck no!” So don’t do it. Why set yourself up for failure from the get-go? If you are hesitant about giving up something (or a few somethings), this is an indicator that the plan will not be sustainable. Too many restrictions become stressful long term.

Sometimes less is just more.

At the end of the day, the best diet for long-term adherence is the one that includes the foods you love to eat. When it comes to training, the best workout regimen is the one that 1) you enjoy and 2) you’ll actually do on a regular basis.

2. Accountability

How do we hold ourselves accountable? Well, you can read an abundance of information or take advice from and rely on family and friends (not always a stellar plan), but the real change will only happen when you take action.

You see, willpower will only take you so far. It helps us with starting a new program, or with developing new habits, but the amount of willpower we have is finite. Ever wonder why sometimes you just want to go home after a long day’s work instead of hitting the gym? Well that’s because willpower is a form of mental energy that runs outs the more you use it.

Having a coach and a positive fitness community can take you a lot further than just doing things all by yourself. More importantly, it allows you to preserve your mental energy. This allows you to give your willpower a rest by literally outsourcing self-control to someone else. This is the magical thing about accountability — it doesn’t all have to come from you.

Instead of feeling forced to do things you don’t necessarily want to do (negative self-talk), you’re allowing other people to help keep you in check.

3. Flexibility

Your fitness plan should revolve around YOU, not you revolving around the plan.

One of the biggest reasons why people fail in their fitness is because of the lack of consistency. And the lack of consistency is simply caused by unrealistic goals and expectations. The frequency that you work out, the foods that you eat, and the number of meals that you have should all be based around YOUR lifestyle and personal preferences, not someone else’s.

It’s likely people struggle with consistency because the routine they’ve been prescribed is inflexible. Guess what? Life requires flexibility sometimes. There are so many factors that contribute to our success (or lack thereof) each day, so why try to follow a plan that’s so rigid and increases your chance for failure?

Set goals for your fitness and nutrition that are realistic, achievable, and coincide with your lifestyle and schedule. And most importantly, allow yourself some flexibility when you’re not able to achieve everything.

4. Efficiency

Lastly, your fitness plan should be productive.

This goes back to the point above — everything you do should be based around your lifestyle. You’re busy, I get it. So fitness should not take up too much of your time. What you want to do is figure out the Minimal Effective Dose (MED) that will get you to where you need to be. Essentially, the MED is simply the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome. Anything beyond the MED isn’t necessary.

Let’s take the concept of boiling water, for example. As you may already know, water boils at 100°C. Adding more heat to water doesn’t make it “more boiled.” Therefore, the 100°C is the MED to boil water.

The same principles can be applied to your fitness. Knowing the MED for fat loss, for example, is more time and resource-efficient than doing 1 million different things that probably aren’t even doing anything in the first place.

For instance, in terms of training, the most time any Average Joe or Jane needs to spend in the gym is 3-4 days a week for about 45-60 minutes. That’s it. Your workout schedule is not supposed to take over your life, it’s supposed to fit into it.

(Note: That’s not to say though that you can’t work out more than 3-4 days. If you enjoy going to the gym multiple times a week, then by all means, go for it.)

When it comes to nutrition, there’s really only a few things that matter in order to start shedding fat. For starters, knowing your caloric requirement and optimal macronutrient targets would already set you up for long-term success. Contrary to what you might hear in the media, calories DO matter. And when trying to lose fat, this is the first thing that must be addressed.

Do what you need to, and try to enjoy what you’re doing while you’re at it.

Action Steps

1. Re-evaluate your current diet. If you don’t think you can sustain it for the rest of your life, look for an alternative.

2. Find someone (or a group of people) that you can stay accountable with — borrow some mental energy.

3. Re-evaluate your current fitness lifestyle. As with Action Step #1, make changes to your current fitness plan that fits around YOUR life. Not the other way around.

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