All too often guys make New Year's resolutions, stick to them for a month, don't see results, and quit. It's the phenomenon behind the "January rush"—and the reason that most gyms are back to their usual crowd by mid-March.
But you don't have to be one of those average dudes who abandons a fitness plan once you lose your initial momentum. We talked to New York City-based trainer and strength coach Nick Ebner, C.P.T., to tell us how to stay motivated and achieve results for life. Here are five common questions from Men's Fitness readers, with responses from Ebner below.
What's the key to staying motivated after the January rush?
Don't just show up at the gym and say, "I want to get in shape." No plan usually equals no results. You also shouldn't peg your goals to something physique-related, like "I want six-pack abs" or "I want to burn my love handles."
I suggest having a definitive performance goal, or several. Make it measurable, like "go to the gym three times a week," or "make sure to exercise for 180 minutes total in a week." Depending on where you're starting from, you may need to change nutrition, sleep, and other lifestyle habits in order to reach these goals, but you'll need a strategy.
How long does it take to really see results from an exercise program?
This depends on the individual. The three factors I find play the largest role in seeing results are the trainee's age, past exercise/training history, and consistency. If you're a young former athlete and are training 3-5 times per week, results may show in 2-4 weeks. Also, if you're younger and a new trainee, results also often come quickly.
But if you're 45, you've never worked out, and you've eaten poorly for the last 20 years, results will probably take much longer. Fortunately, with consistency, results will come more quickly.
What's an easy way to show myself that I'm making progress?
This depends on your goals.
If your goals are body composition, have someone do a BioSignature Assessment, which is a very accurate 12-point body fat and hormonal assessment, every 4-6 weeks. If your goals are performance-based, keep an exercise journal or program log to see if what you're doing is working.
How can I 'cheat' on my diet and still look better than I did last year?
Set a realistic goal on how much you think you can be clean versus how much you want to cheat. After 4-8 weeks, if you're not seeing the changes you want, you'll have to skew the ratio toward the cleaner side. Make little changes until you see the results you're looking for and set deadlines to assess if what you're doing is working. For most people, I find little changes stick better than massive changes.
How can I make a shorter workout more effective?
Frequency, food, and sleep! You can train for shorter increments per workout if you show up more often. You can train less and see body composition changes if you feed your body the fuel it needs. Your body changes when you sleep, too, so if you're sleeping less than 7-9 hours, you probably won't make optimal gains.
Use any or all of these tactics if you don't want to spend as much time in the gym.