The following is an excerpt from the new Men’s Health Training Guide 90 Day Transformation Challenge: Weapons. In one volume, you get all the tools you need – information, a nutrition guide, and workouts – to build your arms in just 3 months.
GET A PLAN is one thing. Following that plan to its conclusion is a different task altogether. We’ve all had that workout plan, diet advice, or cardio routine that we hoped would get us on track with the version of ourselves we want to become. Finding a plan isn’t the part that people struggle with: It’s perseverance, sticking to the program every day.
I get it! Most people start new programs with the best of intentions, but then life gets in the way. Late hours for a work project, a sick child, feeling overwhelmed, or lots of wrenches can derail the program and sometimes you never get back on track. This is the pain point that keeps many people from making the changes they originally made.
Luckily that’s all in the past. Here are the best tricks and hacks I suggest to my clients to help them go from well-intentioned to well-equipped!
1. Choose small goals or milestones that you want to achieve along the way
We all have goals that we want to achieve. But often we look at the goal and it feels almost insurmountable – too big to ever reach. I can’t count the number of times I heard a client say, “I could never do that” before we started working together. The sad part is we tell ourselves we’re starting to believe it so much.
Instead of trying to conquer the world of health and fitness in one grandiose act, start with small wins. Small wins build momentum and your confidence, giving you the ability to achieve really big things.
Suppose you want to do a pull-up. You can’t just grab the bar, hang there every day, and eventually pull yourself up – it’s too taxing on your body. Instead, use a progression: start with grip strength, then work on your back strength, progress to assisted pulls, and eventually you’ll complete a full pull-up. Break the train down into its component parts, then work in very deliberate steps and attack it step by step until you master it.
It’s the same with this plan. Building muscular arms will take time. But don’t feel overwhelmed: just take a deep breath and trust the process.
How we address this in the program: Most people quit their programs because they aren’t seeing results fast enough; Their vision of progress is simply too ambitious for the time they have set aside for it. In this program, you’ll notice that we’re changing one variable at a time. We add a set to the exercise, shorten the rest interval, or make a change to the exercise. This means that volume, condition or progression goals are all achieved in small increments.
2. Customize the plan to suit you
Don’t try to put a square pin in a round hole. Exercise programs come in all different schemes, modalities, progressions, etc. There are endless variations and types. To be honest, there’s more than one way to do it!
It’s important to find a plan that suits your ability, time, and schedule. In fact, it’s the key. And I’ve found that people recognize that. In fact, one of the most common questions I get is, “What is the ideal training plan?”
Unfortunately, I can’t answer that question with a list of days and times or specific minutes of deadlifts.
A recent study compared muscle hypertrophy (or growth) in participants who did strength training six days a week versus those who did three days a week. They found that when the volume was the same, the results were similar.
What is that supposed to tell you? When it comes to exercise, you can’t apply the “more is better” mentality that might work in other areas of life. With exercise, better is better.
Should I train in the morning or in the evening? Exercise when you have the most time and energy. Should I do cardio first or strength training first? Do them in the order you are most likely to get them. How much weight should I lift? As much as possible while maintaining proper form. Embrace work in the conditions it works for she.
How we address this in the program: The program is designed in such a way that it does not take all day.
The challenges are short enough to squeeze into your days off, and the basic workout/challenge combo planned for 4 days a week only lasts around 45-60 minutes. It’s flexible so you can do it at your preferred time of day – without quitting your job or taking days off to attend!
3. Build solid long-term behaviors
It’s not just about sticking to the plan for 90 days, but creating an environment where you can continue to thrive after that point. The goal is to put fitness and health first.
Most people have been on diet plans or exercise routines that were, simply put, grueling. You may have achieved short-term results. But did they last? Most of the time they don’t. That’s because the program didn’t fix the root of the problem, which is your everyday behavior.
With this plan, each week emphasizes a specific behavior goal to ensure this 90-day plan becomes a lifetime adventure.
How we address this in the program: Each week you will be given habit goals to work on. These are the long-term qualities that round out your fitness to support your physical needs. As with my first tip, these will be small mile markers. If you focus on one at a time, you will have a different mindset by the end of the 90 days. You could see a completely different version of yourself in just three months.
4. Add enough variety to keep it interesting
There is a sweet spot with variety in programming. If you keep doing too much of the same thing, it can become a very boring pursuit with diminishing returns. But if you change things up every time, you create a moving target, making it almost impossible to see any real hypertrophy or physique changes.
A recent study of exercise variation and its effects on hypertrophy and strength gains found that both redundancy (repetition) and excessive variation impair strength and hypertrophy. After reviewing recent studies, the researchers suggested that “exercise variation can focus on incorporating exercises with similar movement patterns to the main exercise and inducing muscle hypertrophy in the main movement while reducing joint loading.”
What does that mean? For best results, you need the right amount of variation to target complementary muscles, slight variations in movement requirement, and more advantageous positions to maintain strength and hypertrophy.
How we address this in the program: Small, subtle changes in the way you perform an exercise make a big difference in the long run. Even small adjustments, such as slight rotations of the
Hand position can change the muscular emphasis of bicep and tricep exercises, adding just enough variety to keep the movement fresh and the results. Additionally, we add exercise techniques like tempo changes, pause changes, and volume increases to further challenge the muscles.
5. Don’t beat yourself up
You’re going to have days when you feel awesome – like a superhero – and days when you feel completely mortal or even worse. It happens. And to be honest, this is one of the reasons why some people start to lose interest or even quit their program.
Always remember: if you fall off the wagon, you can get back on. Missing a workout or two or just having a bad day at the gym doesn’t mean you should scrap the entire program. You can pick up where you left off or a little earlier. Reset and get back to what you want to achieve. Whether you missed a workout, ignored your meal plan at dinner, or didn’t get the sleep you need, don’t beat yourself up. Just reset and restart.
As we address this in the program: Life happens. Participating in the 90 Day Challenge is the first step, but I also understand that life can change quickly or some parts of this program may be more difficult than you originally anticipated. If you’re feeling particularly tired or burned out at the end of a phase, you can always go back to the previous phase. The goal is to complete this in a timeline that makes sense to you.
David Otey, CSCS is a New York-based fitness writer, strength coach, and member of the Men’s Health Advisory Board specializing in strength and hypertrophy protocols and athletic performance. For more information about Otey, visit www.oteyfitness.com.