Whenever guys talk about being more attractive, they talk a lot about getting fit as though it were the keys to the kingdom. Get fit, get those six-pack abs, those striated muscles that look like shredded wheat and women will beat a path to your pants. And to be sure: one of the key parts of becoming someone worth dating is taking care of yourself. Taking care of your physical fitness is an incredibly important part of that self-care.
But more often than not, guys go about it the wrong way. They sign up for gym memberships at the start of the new year, go for three weeks and then never show up again. They hit their new diet – low carb, paleo, what-have-you – with the passion of the newly converted and then bow out when that first extinction burst hits. If you want to get fit, you have to do it the right way.
Now, I want to be clear: I’m not going to talk about specific exercise routines or diets you should follow. The key to getting fit isn’t about the magic workout that’ll give you abs with minimal effort or a diet that will melt the pounds away in days instead of months. I want to talk about how to go about getting fit in ways that not only you can stick to, but that will actually get you the results you want.
So if you’re ready to start a real physical transformation, read on.
Understand What Getting Fit Really Means
One of the first things that you need to do is be very clear about what it is you want and what you can reasonably expect. There’s a difference between getting in shape and looking like, say, Brad Pitt in Fight Club. When we think about being fit, we tend to think of it in terms of dudes on the cover of Men’s Health or Hugh Jackman’s extra-veiny arms.
That’s not what getting fit looks like; that’s a look that’s marketed specifically to men. Being fit and getting into shape doesn’t mean looking like a model. Being fit comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Fit doesn’t look like Stephen Amell in Arrow… it’s just as likely to look like Prince Fielder or Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson.
The great irony of trying to look like someone in a superhero movie is that, when they’re on set, actors are not at their fittest. It may look good on camera, but getting spornosexual-skinny actually can have nasty effects on your health. You don’t get that hyper-muscled, single-digit-body-fat look without dehydrating yourself enough to make your skin paper-thin. And that’s before you factor in issues like lighting and makeup.
Your genetics and your build will contribute more to how you look than exercise and diet. If you’re the long and lanky type, your version of fit will look different from someone who’s squatter and short-waisted. Your version of fit may not entail weight loss. It may not entail six-pack abs… but six pack abs aren’t going to be the panacea to your dating life either. Getting fit is about what it does for you, not about who it impresses.
Focusing on getting fit isn’t just about looks, it’s about health and the benefits that healthier living brings. Improving your physical fitness helps your cardiovascular system, your lung capacity and your endurance. Being fit and getting in shape means you sleep better, breathe better, even have better, stronger erections. It improves your mood, confidence and emotional health. Getting fit creates material benefits to your overall life, regardless of your waist size. Understanding this makes the process easier to stick to because… well, getting fit takes time. And that’s frustrating as hell. With that in mind:
Trust In Numbers, Not The Mirror
One of the trickiest parts of getting fit is staying motivated. Let’s be honest: exercise kinda sucks when you’re starting out. It’s exhausting, it’s time-consuming, it’s painful and if you’re at the gym, you feel like you’re sticking out like a sore thumb. Part of what keeps you going is the idea of how good you’re gonna look naked. Except then that part doesn’t seem to show up. You look in the mirror and… look more or less the same. What’s the fucking point of all that sacrifice, sweat and soreness if you look like the same schlub you did at the start?
Thing is: you have improved. Possibly quite a bit. But change is gradual and it’s really hard to see when you see yourself every single day. You’re not going to wake up one morning with a visibly different body.
You can’t rely on your eyes to tell you how much you’ve changed. You have to rely on things that can’t lie to you: numbers. This is why it’s important to have specific (and realistic) goals. Specific goals like “lose ten pounds” or “run a half-marathon” give you something concrete to strive for. If you have something specific to look for, you can track your improvement instead of a nebulous “lose weight” or “get in shape”. Having data means you have a quantifiable way of tracking your improvement and your progress towards your goals.
That’s why one of the best ways to stay motivated is to keep a journal and track everything. What days do you exercise, what exercises do you do? How much are you lifting, how many repetitions, how far are you running, how fast are you running that distance? Start plugging that data into a spreadsheet and now you’ve got graphs that give you a quick and easily readable indication of how much you’ve changed. You may feel like you’re putting all this effort in for no reward, but the data will tell you otherwise.
Of course, a little visual record doesn’t hurt either, so start loving selfies. Having an after doesn’t really help if you don’t have a before to compare it to, after all. Taking bi-weekly photographs can help show just how much progress you’ve made… even when it feels like you haven’t.
Fitness Is Found In The Gym, Weight Loss Is Found in the Kitchen
So before I get into this section, let’s acknowledge something: weight loss and fitness aren’t necessarily synonymous. Fitness is about muscle, blood pressure, aerobic endurance and so forth. Weight loss is about the size of your clothes. You can be big, even fat, and still be fit.
Now that having been said: if one of your fitness goals is to lose weight, then you have to realize this fundamental truth: weight loss is going to be found in what you eat. You physically cannot exercise enough to make up for a shitty diet. Even ultramarathoners don’t train to a point where it can be pizza for dinner and fried chicken for breakfast every day. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’re going to have to focus on a simple truth: your calorie consumption is going to have to change. No amount of paleo or Atkins is going to change that.
And if you want that weight loss to stick, then it’s going to have to be a fundamental change in your lifestyle. How we eat tends to be a habit, and if you don’t break those habits, you’re going to gain that weight back. This is where numbers and record keeping comes back in. If you want to lose a pound a week, you need to shave 500 calories a day out of your diet on average.
That can be harder than you think. Most of us simply aren’t mindful of how much we eat to any real degree. We have a vague idea of what we eat, but we miss a lot. Calories sneak into our mouths in all sorts of ways from portion sizes to absentminded snacking. Yeah, you’re aware of your 3 squares, but what about the incidentals? The handful of M&Ms from the candy bowl at work, the bagels at meetings, the sodas, the drinks after work…
Keeping track of what you eat is one of the best ways to force yourself to pay attention. Keeping a basic daily log of every single thing you put in your mouth can be an eye-opener, especially if you log portion size and calorie counts. Apps like MyFitnessPal or Calorie Count can help give you an approximation of what you’re eating and when. The more conscious you are of what you eat, the easier it is to make decisions what foods are worth the calories. Knowing you have 550 calories left can make the difference between a ribeye and a turkey sandwich.
The other nice thing about apps is that they can also help find the foods that trip you up. Yeah, you may be having the chicken caesar salad for lunch, but if it’s coming in at a whopping 1200 calories, then you’re just sabotaging yourself.
Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean you can’t have your occasional indulgences. You can plan meals around having enough calories left for a treat. Having a regular cheat day helps satisfy those cravings for sugar or fries and makes it possible to grit your teeth through the rest of the week.
Besides, a life without pizza is a life barely worth living, no matter what your pants size is.
Something to keep in mind: every body and their metabolism is different. Some people can lose weight easier than changing shirts. Others can eat perfectly and exercise and not budge the scale at all. This can even change, especially as you get older. A healthier diet is still worth pursuing, for the same reason basic fitness is: the benefits to your general health and well-being are huge, regardless of what it does or doesn’t do for your waistline.
You Don’t Need A Gym Or Money To Get Fit
One frequent barrier to getting fit and getting into shape is, simply, the gym. Most New Year’s resolutions go the same way: you get that gym membership at the beginning and never use it after three weeks. It could be for any number of reasons. You could be intimidated by the clientele. Going to the gym may not fit into your daily schedule. You may not be able to afford the fees. You might not have a reliable way of getting there on the regular.
Fortunately… you don’t actually need to go. In fact, for a lot of people, gyms are a complete waste of time and money. While they certainly have their perks – from a wide variety of equipment to classes and instructors – they are by no means necessary for getting into shape. There is an almost infinite number of ways of getting fit that never require setting foot in a Gold’s Gym or getting on a treadmill.
Walking and running are free, for example; you just need shoes. If you need something more structured, there are a number of apps, websites and couch-to-5k programs available that can help give you direction. You can walk up and down stairs in your apartment complex or at work just as easily as you can get on the Stair Climber at Planet Fitness. You can do some amazing strength-building exercises with just a couple kettlebells or nothing but your own body. Sites like NerdFitness can help you build routines to hit the fitness goals you want.
And if you have Internet access, then you have access to an almost infinite number of exercise tutorials on YouTube. From boxing jump rope routines to ersatz P90x or even Crossfit-esque1 workout of the day – if you go looking for it, it’s probably out there, in a conveniently streamable format.
This has the benefit of making it possible to get fit on the cheap and on your schedule.
But of course, none of this matters if, y’know, you don’t stick to it. Which is why…
If You Don’t Enjoy It, You Won’t Do It
So you’ve got your goals. You’ve planned out your exercise routines. You’ve mapped your meals. You’re ready to get into the best shape of your life. Only none of this matters because exercise blows goats.
It’s great to have plans and goals, but all the good intentions in the world mean sweet fuck-all if you hate the process of getting there Oh sure, you’ll stick to the plan for a while… but eventually you’re going to start making trade-offs. There will be the first time you skip your workout because your workload is too heavy. Then you’ll be too tired. Or too sore. Or sick. You got caught up binging The 100 and lost track of time.
They will be very good, very legit reasons to not work out. But they’ll all end the same way: with you being in the same shape as when you started.
If you want to get in shape, you have to do it in a way that motivates you to actually do it. This may mean choosing exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise to you; a daily game of 5 on 5 basketball is going to involve some pretty serious cardio. It may mean studying kung-fu or Brazilian jiu-jitsu instead of running windsprints and hills. You might focus on being chased by imaginary zombies instead of just jogging the neighborhood.
Alternately, you might actively bribe yourself to get your work-out in. Perhaps you have a favorite podcast you’ll only listen to while you’re jogging. Or maybe there’s that show on Netflix that you want to watch – so you make a deal with yourself to only watch it while you’re at the gym.
That’s the ultimate secret to getting fit, especially if you’re a first timer. The best workout for getting ripped is the one that you’ll keep doing. The best diet is the one you can stick to for life. The more you can motivate yourself, the better you’ll able to reach those goals.
- Also: if you want to join a gym, think carefully when their mascot is the personification of kidney failure [↩]