If your goal is weight loss and you’ve been training for a long time, you’ll know that plateaus are very common. In these plateaus your weight doesn’t go up, but it just stops going down and it seems nothing we try can get it moving again. These are times where frustration is inevitable and it’s a common cause for people to lose faith and give up on their goals.
Most people who train on a regular or semi-regular basis, will agree with me that its quite easy to maintain your weight when you are training consistently. Maintenance is possible even when your diet isn’t exactly where it should be, or when you are lacking discipline when it comes to alcohol or some other vice.
If you are training regularly and with good intensity, you have quite a bit of leeway with your diet, if maintenance is your goal.
The same people that agree with me on that point, will also agree that when you are trying to lose weight, the same does not apply. Losing weight requires constant discipline inside and outside of the gym. Your training needs to be consistent, and with good intensity, your diet needs to be on point, and the vices need to be cut out. Losing weight is a simple process, but it certainly isn’t easy.
Very few people have long term goals to simply maintain their current position, however we don’t always have to be striving for results every week of every year. This becomes a real grind, and can lead to a lot of frustration when things stop progressing consistently.
Shorten your focus!!
The way I attack weight loss with my long-term clients is to hit short periods of dedicated focus, followed by periods of released focus. In these releases the goal is to simply maintain the current weight, maybe make some slight improvements, but to allow balance back in to the client’s life. During these releases the client can have a couple of drinks here and there, eat some desserts guilt free and get enjoyment out of the nicer things in life. Training intensity stays high during these periods as we don’t want to slide backwards, but outside the gym life can be lived a little more freely during this release, all within moderation.
Then comes the focus period! In this time, it is all about discipline. We have a short period, my ideal length of time is 4 weeks, where the client is 100% results focused. No drinking, cut out the sugar, and generally cut out the junk altogether. It is a short window of time, that allows you to throw yourself in to it 100% and give it all you’ve got. If you are serious about your results, then 4 weeks is a short amount of time to be disciplined. If you can’t do it, then you don’t want it bad enough and you need to reassess whether your “goals” are just wishes. Training doesn’t have to change much during this period, sometimes depending on the person and their ability to do extras outside the gym, I will have more of a conditioning focus with their sessions. It is more about having the discipline to control what goes in to your mouth for this 4-week period.
I have found this strategy of spurts, followed by releases to be extremely effective with clients who have been on their journey for a long time, and who aren’t training for a specific event or special day such as a wedding. They are just training to improve their life, which to me is even more admirable. It requires deep intrinsic motivation to do this and sometimes we just need that little boost. It is very difficult to stay disciplined and focused on weight loss 100% of the time. While we always want results, we also need to be able to enjoy life. Short bursts of extreme focus will help you get the best of both worlds.
Here is an example of how I might do this throughout a year with a weight loss client of mine. We will aim for a 4 week on, 8 week off focus schedule. In the 4 week on period we may aim for 1kg per week of weight loss, and during the 8 weeks our goal is simply to maintain the starting weight, through to the end of the 8 weeks. Each cycle lasts for 12 weeks, so we will get 4 focus periods in each year. If we manage to hit our goal of 1kg of weight loss per week, and maintain during our down periods, we will have achieved a net weight loss of 16kg over the course of the year. In the real world, and not reality TV, this is a phenomenal and most importantly maintainable result. We are proving that we can lose the weight without ballooning back up.
When starting out, a lot of people have a goal of 1kg per week of weight loss. Depending on their starting bodyweight, injuries, diet, training history and most importantly their personal motivation to achieve the result, it is possible. It is also very hard to maintain over an extended period. Early on these results may ensue, but eventually the plateaus will hit, and the challenge to persevere will rise. I have emphasised that this is the technique I use with long term clients, some of which have been training with me for years and not for my new clients. For new clients, it’s all about behavioural changes.
Another benefit I have found with this technique is that it can help avoid metabolic damage which is caused being in a calorie deficit for extended periods of time. A 4-week period of caloric deficiency followed by a period of release will allow your metabolism to pick back up and be more likely to release those stubborn fat stores during your next focus period. A big reason for plateaus in results is when our metabolism slows due to extended periods of being in a calorie deficit.
Set yourself up for success by thinking about the timing of your bursts. You need to be honest with yourself and choose times of the year where you know you can be 100% focused for a 4-week period. There is no point in choosing a 4-week period that includes yours or your partner/best friend’s birthday if you know you will want to party. Same goes for Christmas/new year or planned holidays. You may choose to do your burst leading in to these periods, or on the back of these periods. This technique only works if you can apply yourself and give the burst period everything you’ve got. If you are unable to stay strict with yourself for this amount of time then this technique is not for you, you will end up in maintenance mode all year round.
Please let me be clear, your maintenance periods are not an excuse for you to be a glutton. You do not want to put on weight during this time and end up back where you started. It is still possible for you to make improvements during this period. The purpose of the relaxed focus period is more a mental release for you. Allow yourself to receive enjoyment in other aspects of life, and take some pressure off yourself from pushing hard week in and week out for months and years on end.
There is no set schedule that you must follow with this technique. Create your own schedule that works for you. 4 weeks on 8 weeks off I’ve found to be very effective but if you’re someone who wants the results faster, and you are a disciplined person you may find that you can do 4 weeks on 4 weeks off, 3 on 3 off, 4 on 6 off etc
The main concept is to alternate periods where you are dedicating your life to your training, diet and results, followed by periods of taking the pressure off yourself and allowing enjoyment in your life from things that are external to your physical appearance.
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