Your most frustrating fitness problems- solved by the experts

Throughout my life, I’ve had the good fortune to learn from people older, wiser, and more experienced than myself.  I studied criminal justice under former police chiefs and prison directors.  I learned marketing from some of America’s top marketing executives and consultants.  My kung-fu teacher has won dozens of tournaments and street fights.  Even in building this blog, I’ve benefited from the advice of several highly successful bloggers.

In fitness, I’ve been equally fortunate.  While I was able to get into decent shape by just working hard without knowing what I was doing, I eventually hit a plateau.  My progress skyrocketed when I started taking advice from some of the world’s most successful fitness coaches.

In speaking with my readers, I’ve noticed several questions that come up over and over.  Last month I invited some of my favorite trainers to answer eight of the questions that my you, the readers, have said are most important to you.  And ten of the greatest minds in the fitness industry answered my call. 

These coaches have helped tens of thousands of people get into the best shape of their lives.  Some of them coach professional athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, and even other coaches.  Most of them charge well over a hundred dollars an hour for their coaching services.  And today, they’re going to help you solve some of your most vexing fitness problems.  Each of them has their own distinct writing style, and their own unique approach to fitness.  I strongly encourage you to find one or two who appeal to you, click through to their sites and learn more about them.  

Our panel of Experts

 

Menno Henselmans  Online physique coach, fitness model and scientific author, Menno Henselmans helps serious trainees attain their ideal physique using his Bayesian Bodybuilding methods. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter and check out his website for more free articles.

Will Owen- Will Owen is the founder of the award-winning blog Travel Strong. He helps everyone from backpackers to businessmen stay fit and healthy on the road. You can stay up to date with Will and Travel Strong on Facebook and Twitter.

Nagina Abdullah– Nagina has helped dozens of ambitious, busy women lose weight quickly and can show you step-by-step how you can do it too. Within weeks from today you can lose 10 pounds or more and feel sexy on the beach. Start by getting her FREE Weight-Loss Recipes Handbook for Ambitious Women at her website, masalabody.com.

JC Deen-  JC Deen is a fitness coach, and writer at JCDFitness.com out of Nashville, TN. You can follow him on Twitter and participate in the discussion on his Facebook page.

Heather Frey- Heather Frey is the owner and founder of SmashFit.com and The Change Challenge and has appeared as a fitness expert on the Ricki Lake Show as well as NBC and CBS stations. She is also a Fitness Strategist, clean eating advocate, trainer, writer, speaker, artist, and former Figure champion. You can find Heather on Facebook and Twitter motivating and teaching the mental mindset of fitness to achieve physical transformation.

Jennipher Walters– Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach, and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of the book by Random House, The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet.  You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube

Josh Bryant- Josh is a former weightlifting champion who, at the age of 22, became the youngest person in history to bench press 600 pounds.  In 2005 he was named the strongest man in America, and he is now the Director of Applied Strength and Power Development for the International Sports Science Association.  You can follow Josh on Twitter and Facebook, and sign up for his free strength training newsletter here.

Krista Stryker- Krista Stryker is an NSCA certified personal trainer and the founder of 12 Minute Athlete, a website and app helping thousands of people get fit in as little time as possible. A HIIT workout regimen consisting of incredibly short, effective workouts based on calisthenics, cross-training and functional fitness, 12 Minute Athlete helps athletes of all level get in the best shape of their lives with minimal equipment and no gym membership. Follow Krista on Twitter or Instagram @12minuteathlete for HIIT workout ideas and fitness motivation.

Chris “Squatchy” Williams- Chris is a personal trainer, wellness coach, and health educator.  As part of the team at RobbWolf.com, he helps people to feel great and stay healthy by adopting a paleo diet, and eating, sleeping and living in a way that is natural to the human body.  You can follow him on Twitter, and follow his company on Facebook.

Anthony Mychal- Anthony Mychal is former skinny-fat dude on a philosophical-physical pilgrimage: flipping and freestyle acrobatics, flexing and physique training, thinking about and tinkering with physical freedom.  He also likes video games, and can sometimes be found on Twitter

Your fitness questions- Answered

What’s your take on intermittent fasting?  If you recommend it, do you think the ideal IF schedule differs based on age, gender, goals or body type?

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

It definitely varies per individual. Intermittent fasting can certainly be viable, but if used inappropriately, it can compromise both muscle growth and energy expenditure. It all comes down to the time and length of the fasting period. As for your specific questions, women generally don’t tolerate the same length of fasting as men. In contrast, older people do better on longer fasting periods. Body type doesn’t factor into it, at least not directly. Somatotyping is a myth that wasn’t even intended for physiology: it originated in psychology.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

In general, I don’t think it’s a good recommendation for everyone. Like any eating schedule, and macronutrient split, it depends on the individual’s experience levels with training and diet in the past. It depends on their goals, and most importantly their current state of health. In addition to all of the above, I think the person’s psychology is another crucial factor in whether or not IF will work well for them.

Anthony Mychal

Intermittent fasting is a vehicle, not a direction. It can take you places. PLACES. Plural. You can get hulked out fat using intermittent fasting. Sumo wrestlers are known to only eat one meal. But you can also get lean using intermittent fasting.

Most people end up associating intermittent fasting with easy fat loss because you don’t eat anything (or restrict some foods) for a window of time. But it doesn’t guarantee anything.

The biggest benefit, in my eyes, is the reduced cognitive load. You only plan one, two, or three meals. You don’t turn into a sissy about hunger. It opens up a world of function most are otherwise ignorant of.

As for individualization, of course. Goes without saying. Just about everything is individual thanks to nonlinearity. Some people have one beer and are drunk. Some people need twelve. But then someone that needs twelve goes drinking on an empty stomach and only needs one. Welcome to the wiggly world human physiology.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I think it can be potentially beneficial for some in certain scenarios. It has been shown to potentially be beneficial for lowering insulin levels, blood sugar regulation, weight loss, circadian rhythm, certain blood markers, etc. It can also have deleterious effects for others too though, as it can be a stressor. Yes, I think factors like age, gender, goals, and body type would all be important factors. If someone has their diet dialed in, is getting good sleep, is handling stress well, is working out intelligently and not over training, then doing a little bit of intermittent fasting at times might be fine and work well for them.

On the other hand, if someone doesn’t “have all of their ducks in a row”, isn’t getting good sleep, has stress or adrenal issues, has a high volume of training, etc then intermittent fasting may not be something they should play around with much. Also, women don’t seem to do as well as men with intermittent fasting for longer periods of time, and usually do better sticking to shorter fasts comparatively.

I used to be into intermittent fasting a bit more, but now I think of it as just a convenient tool for more freedom. Say I’m out somewhere and good food isn’t available, or maybe I’m just not that hungry at the time, then maybe I skip a meal. It’s not something planned or scheduled, but something that just happens when it happens. I think this is probably a better strategy. I’ve seen intermittent fasting be beneficial for some, and also get others into trouble, so I’m hesitant to give a broad recommendation on it. It’s definitely an individual thing with a number of factors.

What dietary supplements, if any, do you consider “staple supplements” that almost everyone should use? 

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

I’m a huge fan of protein powder—it’s convenient, it tastes good, and it’s easy to toss into a pre or post-workout shake or even more creative protein treats like pancakes, muffins, or protein truffles. I also really like a good greens powder and recommend it for people who are on a low calorie diet (and might not be getting the nutrients they need from food) or if you’re traveling.That being said, you don’t need supplements to succeed in your goals, they just are a convenient way to get your body the right fuel with minimal effort.

Anthony Mychal

None. Creatine has the most research backing its effectiveness, but it’s not necessary. Whey is useful to compliment your whole food protein intake. But, again, not necessary.

I don’t think extracting vitamins and minerals and chucking them down by their lonesome has the same effect as getting them from whole foods. I’m skeptical of just about every other supplement. I’m of the camp that says we don’t really know what makes fruits or vegetables “good.”

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I would say maybe magnesium would be one. And if someone doesn’t have the greatest digestion, then some type of digestive support, like a digestive enzyme supplement and Betaine HCl. Other than that it’s pretty much individual.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

None. What one person needs may not be what another person needs. Multi-vitamins are something I tell my clients to consider but I would never call them a requirement for health or fitness. I have a sensitive stomach so up until recently (when I found something I could tolerate), I never took them but won competitions without them. Are they a good idea? I think so, as long as they’re viewed as assurance you’re getting enough of the right vitamins/minerals and not as a replacement for them.

In general, I’m not a big supplement fan. I think most are sales hype, and play into the desperation of customers who want to get fit “fast”. There are a few good ones, but even then, it doesn’t mean you need them, and even if you do, none of them get you into shape. They can only enhance and already clean eating plan. I think BCAA’s and glutamine are worth looking into for muscle “food” and recovery.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

None really. In my PT Course I have an extensive guide on all the supplements that have some use ordered by how often I use them. I intentionally have a blank page in the category ‘supplements everybody should use’. There are some supplements that I recommend very frequently though, like caffeine. Vitamin D3, depending on sunlight exposure. Iodine, depending on dietary intake and the type of salt consumed. Creatine, if someone’s not a non-responder.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

A lot of supplements are overrated, and generally I don’t recommend any until people have at least got their diet on point – that’s got to be the priority.

That said, the supplements that I think most people can benefit from are: vitamin D, vitamin K, zinc and magnesium, creatine and fish oil.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

I don’t believe in staple supplements because we all have different needs. Those who never get any sun will benefit from Vitamin D. Those who have a hard time eating enough protein will benefit from protein powder. Those who are training very hard, sweating a lot, and getting very little magnesium in their diet will benefit from supplementation and epsom salt baths. Deficiencies should be determined by blood work, and symptoms. Correcting those deficiencies should be as-needed, and never on a hunch and never because some supplement company persuaded you with fancy marketing.

What is one thing you used to advocate that you no longer believe in?  What made you change your mind?

Will Owen, TravelStrong

I got into fitness around the time that the Paleo diet was really blowing up, and I really bought into it.

To me, eating only the most ‘natural’ foods made a lot of sense. I followed the Paleo diet for an entire year, and it’s something that I recommended to a lot of people. While I still think that it can be beneficial – especially for people who are overweight – I now realize it’s not right for everyone.

It helped me lose a lot of weight, but I found it impossible to gain muscle while following the diet. I was constantly tired, my weight remained the same, and if anything I was getting weaker in the gym. It was only when I added carbs (and calories) back into my diet that I was able to make progress.

Josh Bryant, JoshStrength

I now believe frequency is the biggest individual difference among people. I use to believe certain lifts had certain frequency rules–Now I have some clients that thrive on higher frequency others on lower frequency.  Age, psychology, experience, training intensity, training volume, life outside the gym, technical proficiency requirements, injuries, biomechanics and host of other factors play in.  There is no set frequency that applies to a given lift, frequency is the biggest individual difference.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

I used to be of the mindset that raw strength always equaled size gains. But after taking lots of training advice and befriending Amir Siddiqui, and reading lots of Scott Abel’s work, I’ve changed my mind. My training is completely different than it was 2 years ago, and my body is better for it.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I’m sure there are probably a number of them, but I’m going to go with pushing yourself hard every workout. I used to believe you should go hard and push yourself as often as you can with your workouts. Over time I learned for many people (including myself) that this is a good way to dig yourself into a hole and leave you with health issues, not to mention stalled progress. Now I believe workout intensity should vary more, and leaving a little in the tank is usually a good idea. You also need to rest and recover as hard as you workout. Instead of doing as much as you can, I think it’s a better idea to only do as much as you need to to reach your goals. Minimum dose maximum effect, as my friend Eva T. would say.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

In my first article I wrote the hamstrings are 70% fast twitch. That was based on a single study and my personal experience. Since so many people confirmed the 70% figure – it even passed peer review without citation once – at the time I didn’t think to do more research on it.

Bret Contreras changed my mind after we discussed all the research. I still believe the hamstrings are fast twitch dominant, at least in strength trained men, but it’s definitely not 70%. Johnson et al. (1973) found that the biceps femoris is 66.9% type II dominant, but most studies find a somewhat even mixture. At least in untrained individuals, because the hamstrings have a very large proportion of intermediate fibers and a large proportion of  of IIb fibers, the most fast-twitch fibers of them all. So functionally, I still treat the hamstrings as being fast twitch dominant. I also test the muscle fiber composition of all my clients and the hamstrings still come out as fast twitch dominant on average.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

For a while, I fell into the hype of low-carb diets and thought that a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet was preferable for most people (including myself). It took some experimenting but I quickly realized the negative effects eating that way had on my athletic performance, my focus levels, and my overall energy levels. I actually wrote a post on why I changed my opinion and why carbs are definitely not all bad here.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

The myth I believed was, “you need lots of cardio to get lean.” When I first started training to compete (in Figure), I would do immense amounts of cardio sometimes twice a day. For my first competition, it did make a difference because my body was completely not used to anything like this so it was shocked into changing. By the time I did competition 3, 4 and 5, the body didn’t change so rapidly. Not only was I adapting, I stressed out my body so much it held onto the fat I was working so hard to get rid of.

At a point where I was completely overtraining, I was at my “thickest” and not happy.. at all. Not only did I over-work my body, I wasn’t eating enough food to sustain that kind of training so my body held onto the fat for protection. Fast forward several years, 2013, and I injured myself competing on the show American Ninja Warriors and broke my foot badly requiring surgery, plates and pins, crutches for months, and a boot. For the next 6-8 months, I couldn’t do any cardio but continued to train around my injury, eventually rehabbing myself.

During that time I got the leanest I had been in years, all with no cardio. My workouts were heart-pumping and muscle building by doing circuits, combining weights, machines, and floor work. The food I ate was also in-line with the amount of activity I was doing. It was eye opening for me to say the least; to learn that lots of cardio was NOT the key to fat loss.

I know what I need to do to meet my fitness goals, but I always seem to fall off the wagon.  What should I do to stay motivated and/or disciplined?

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

First, make sure your goals are realistic. Remember, being healthy is about being kind to yourself; not beating yourself up. Next, tap into your true motivation. Ask yourself why you want to be healthy and fit. And then keep asking “why” over and over again to that answer.

On the surface, we may think that we want to “look good in our swimsuit,” but if you really drill down, the answer may be much profound like we want acceptance, to feel confident or even to be seen. Once you get to that true answer, remind yourself daily of why it’s important to work out and eat right. And — third — remind yourself that you’re worth taking care of!

Anthony Mychal

What makes a surfer get up on the surf board? What makes a chess grandmaster play chess?

The big disconnect in “fitness” is the I just don’t want to die from a coronary camp versus the I want to look ripped camp.

If you want to look ripped, you need to take this mindset: your body is an instrument, and you’re going to do a lot of work to master your body as an instrument. Just like a musician.

You stat motivated by WANTING to improve. That’s all. There’s no motivation fairy. A good book to set yourself straight is The War of Art by Pressfield.

If someone was struggling with motivation to play the violin, what would you say? Just practice. Set your clock and practice every day. And if you can’t do this? Then you must not want to play the violin much, right?

Nagina Abdullah- Masala Body

The best way to meet your fitness or healthy eating goals is to do it step-by-step. You can’t expect to totally overhaul your diet and workout plan in one week. Have you ever been totally fed up with yourself and wanted to lose weight, went to the gym 4x a week and completely changed your diet?

What happened? You probably felt hungry, cranky, and irritated. Your friends, husband and kids probably didn’t want to be around you. After 2 weeks you burnt yourself out and went back to where you were before you started.

If you approach your changes slowly, with 1-2 changes a week and get used to it, then add on a few more changes the week after, and so on – within a few weeks your entire lifestyle can become healthier – and you WON’T feel like you’re depriving yourself or feel cranky or irritated! Find out more about how to forget about willpower and build a system into your life in Make Willpower Irrelevant.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

If you fall off the wagon, you don’t actually know what to do. What you should do is what works, not what’s best on paper. There are a million different things that can go wrong, so it’s hard to be specific, but you should be realistic about level of motivation. For example, I occasionally have male clients that generally don’t care about training their legs. I tell them they’re probably going to regret it later, but I’m not going to force them to do squats. Instead, I may have them do bike ergometer sprints.

As for discipline, that’s mostly a matter of planning and self-management, not resistance to suffering. If you’re hungry on a diet and you’re not getting close to contest shape yet, you’re probably doing it wrong. Without hunger, there’s generally no need for discipline.

For more information about discipline, see my article Why diets fail and ‘eat less, move more’ is bad advice.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

Here are some of my favorite ways to stay motivated:

Keep a workout log: Keeping some type of workout log is one of the most important things you can do to stay motivated, especially when you work out by yourself. When you need a little boost of motivation, all you have to do is go back and look through your old workouts to know that all your hard work is paying off.

Make a workout schedule: Figure out how many days a week you really want to work out, then actually schedule your workouts in your calendar—just as you would any other appointment.

Create trackable goals: Having a goal in mind can help push you through that tough workout even on days when you’d rather be doing anything else. Whatever your goals, make sure they’re trackable (i.e. more specific than to ‘lose weight’), and always remember to record your progress along the way.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Develop a process-oriented mindset, and not an outcome-based one. With the process, you stay present to your goals, and keep up the habits necessary to succeed. With an outcome-based mindset, you easily fall prey to emotions, and tend to make changes without objective reasoning. note: feel free to share this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=byR5k2JanRc

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I think it’s a good idea to set up reminders of why you want to achieve your goal, and put them where you’ll see them often. Setting up regular reminders on your phone or email can be good too. Also having people you workout with regularly that can keep you accountable. It needs to become habit, which can sometimes take a little bit of time. If you go to a gym or particular place to workout, then make a schedule and keep it. Even if it’s a day you’re too tired and feel like skipping the gym, go anyway and just hang out there for a bit or walk around for a while. Just getting in the habit of showing up then, even if you’re not working out, can help build the habit.

I want to both lose fat and gain muscle- but I always seem to either gain both or lose both.  How do I escape this trap?

Anthony Mychal

Treat fat loss and muscle building as individual skills. You probably wouldn’t learn how to play the violin and the piano at the same time. And if you did, you’d probably get crappy results.

Learn how to do each, individually. Then alternate strategies throughout days in the week. Use your “bulking” skills a few days per week. Use your “cutting” skills a few days per week. If you want to gain more, do more bulking days. If you want to lose more, do more cutting days.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

You have to make sure that your nutrition is in-line with the goals you are trying to achieve. Often, people think that because they’re working out harder they can eat more which isn’t necessarily the case. You can eat more of the clean stuff (produce carbs, starchy slow digesting carbs, protein) but eating the junky stuff will only keep you even-steven. Often people workout hard and but don’t change their nutrition so while they will grow lean muscle, their “layer” stays the same so they feel bigger, not leaner. 

On the other side, if you don’t eat enough clean muscle food, then it’s hard to grow muscle at all. And if you’re a really small eater, you may be burning up the muscles you’re trying to grow just to fuel your body. The goal is to eat as clean as possible most of the time and eat throughout the whole day (every 3-4 hours) to keep the metabolism burning.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

I suppose that depends on how quickly you want to gain or lose. Most people are a bit impatient. To get long term muscle gains without gaining fat usually takes a bit more time than people want, as does losing fat with minimal muscle loss. Don’t rush it too much, and don’t overdo it. You need to eat more to gain muscle, but you don’t need to go entirely crazy with it either. Only so much of that extra food is going to go toward muscle. If you’re going way beyond that then you’ll just get fatter. When losing weight, if you’re starving yourself and doing lots of exercise you’re going to lose muscle. Eat enough to have steady weight loss, keep protein up, and focus on strength training to keep your hard earned muscle as you lose the weight. It’s possible intermittent fasting could have some application here too, but again that depends.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

That’s an issue with your overall program, not one particular thing. Researchers call the ratio of muscle to fat mass changes the p-ratio. The p-ratio is affected by your protein intake, nutrient timing, energy intake, resistance training volume, your rest intervals… everything. Successful body recomposition is the end result of everything you do in your program.

What are your favorite strategies for breaking a fat loss or muscle gain plateau? 

Josh Bryant, JoshStrength

There are number of them!  Here are 3 of my favorites:

1) Rest-Pause Training (its maximum intensity and lets you auto-regulate to that given day), great for size, strength and teaching the ability to grind.   Here is some further reading on it from my blog http://blog.joshstrength.com/2015/02/rest-pause-training-why-it-works-2/

2) Periodize frequency ie do more frequent lower volume workouts or condense the load and make it ball buster.  This can be done by body part or by lift.

3) Use Dead Movements for benches and squats–this means starting the movement in the stretched position at the start of the concentric portion of the movement, this eliminates the stretch shortening cycle and builds tremendous starting strength.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

It’s hard to pinpoint any one plateau breaking strategy because it depends on what the person is doing in the first place. To my under-trainers, they need to hit their workout more often, change up routine, weight, reps, and add intensity to their training and cardio. To my over-trainers, I tell them to pull back on their workouts and give their body more time to rest.

To all my clients and friends suffering plateau frustration, I tell them keep a food journal and to be extremely detailed and honest so they can see where food shifts need to be made. Plateaus are broken when you stop doing the same thing you always do so you have to get honest and push yourself out of your own box.

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

This is again an issue with the overall program. There’s no such thing as a ‘plateau breaker’ for either your diet or your training and a good program should never have you plateau until you reach either your genetic muscular potential or your physiologically essential body fat percentage, which is pro bodybuilding conditioning. Your program should be a system, not a series of independent workouts or a diet gimmick. My clients are always surprised at how systematically their programs are updated. That’s because people think in terms of workouts and short-term programs. If someone says you need a new program every 4 weeks or there’s a magic strategy for stubborn fat loss, they don’t understand the fundamentals of good program design.

Anthony Mychal

Do the opposite for a little while.

Most people expect their body to change rapidly. The problem here being that most change is gradual. Most people lose weight (or expect to lose weight) a lot quicker than they gain the weight. A lot of people expect to gain muscle a lot quicker than the body can reasonably grow muscle.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and I understand those reasons. You don’t want to shoot for losing one pound per month because, well, what happens if the month passes and nothing has happened? Then you lost a month. So I get it. I’m the same way. I’m a goober that wants his body to change more rapidly than anyone.

But, in the end, food is information. Your body sees food as more than a number. Chronic low food intake = there’s not a lot of resources out here, get stingy, hold onto what you have. Chronic high food intake = get fat because you might need it someday down the line.

The easiest way to combat each of these is to send information that conflicts every once in a while. When you’re cutting, make sure you let your body know that, hey, it’s not going to die from starvation. Right? That’s often overlooked. Your body doesn’t know you’re questing for a six pack set of abdominals.

So say you’re losing weight. You’re doing the thing. Imagine if your body kept losing weight at that rate…forever. You’d turn into a skeleton. You’d die easily. So your body pulls back it’s reigns because it’s not an idiot.

Be thankful your body makes changes. Don’t be angry. Just respect your body for the smart creature that it is and play to it’s smarts.

Humans aren’t linear creatures.

Variability is good. The balance between conflicting information can go many ways. Maybe once a week with HEAVY information. Maybe more with light information. Maybe it’s month to month rotation.

Amir Siddiqui recently has said something along the lines of…

When cutting, binge once per week.

When bulking, fast once per week.

Overly simplistic? Sure. But that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Change. If you plateau for long, then something needs to change. For muscle gain this may be switching things up a bit with your workouts and rep scheme, maybe backing off for a week if you haven’t been resting enough, and also looking at food intake. For weight loss this is usually making a food log for a few days and adjusting the diet some. It could be calories need to even be increased for a time if you’ve been going really low calorie for a while. Also, sleep is important for both muscle gain and weight loss. If someone isn’t getting proper sleep then that’s always something that needs to be looked at no matter what.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Changing one variable at a time, never more than this. Adjust training, and assess over a few weeks, or do the same with nutrition. 

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Lift weights and challenge yourself with one or two high-intensity workouts a week. Mix up your workouts monthly. (Here are some suggestions! http://fitbottomedgirls.com/category/workouts/) Do that, plus make sure you’re eating enough. You want a nice balance of protein, carbs and healthy fat at every meal. Don’t obsess about calories; instead, pay attention to your hunger and fullness levels. Be mindful at meal time and see what foods make you feel good for the whole day. Eat more of what energizes you and limit what doesn’t. I don’t believe in any foods being off limits, but if you listen, your body will tell you what really works for it.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

That depends. Is it really a plateau?

Often, people get stuck for a week or so (with the number on the scale or weights in the gym) and decide that their program isn’t working. So they jump to the latest fad or ‘hottest new routine’, and the same thing happens, so for them the only explanation is that they’ve hit a plateau. But that’s just impatience.

It’s only really a plateau if they’ve been (a) unable to make any progress whatsoever for 2-4 weeks and (b) following their plan to the letter.

If both those things are true, then there’s a few different things people can do (periodize their training, increase/decrease energy expenditure or energy intake), but the solution really depends on the individual.

What are the main things that stop people in good shape from getting into amazing shape? 

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

I hate to get repetitive, but again it’s a culmination of little things. Most of my clients are intermediate level trainees that are looking to take things to the next level. They train hard, get their protein in (often too much protein in fact) and got the basics down. What is it that gets them to the next level? I optimize training volume, their macros, their nutrient distribution, their rate of fat loss, etc. No magic, just optimization.

Heather Frey, SmashFit

To get stronger, or leaner, you have to go that extra mile. Most importantly, you have to get really disciplined when it comes to nutrition. That means eating the right foods, in the right quantities, at the right times, and that’s hard. People are busy, so if they don’t plan and prepare, they generally end up either skipping meals or eating the wrong things. When it comes to training, it could mean lifting heavier, adding reps and sets or adding intensity. It could even mean adding a rest day.

Working out 7 days a week is NOT the key to success. Rest days are as important as the workout days since this is when your body repairs and grows stronger. The key to “amazing shape” is to research the best training and nutrition approach for your goal. Even then, it may not be producing the results you want, so you have to be willing to tweak it and *stick to it* and that takes planning, preparation and commitment.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Impatience, and getting lost looking for shortcuts or magic tricks. Getting lean is a lot easier than getting really lean because the process slows down considerably the close you get to goal.

Anthony Mychal

The few loose wires in the head that the people in amazing shape have that allow them to be amazingly dedicated. Or drugs. Because those help.

And drugs set the benchmark for amazing shape usually. So if you aren’t taking drugs, you shouldn’t be comparing yourself to someone that’s on drugs.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Time and dedication.

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Pushing it. In order to go from good shaping to amazing shape, you’ve got to lift heavier, run faster and get uncomfortable. Also, the cleaner the diet, the better. You need good fuel to get fit on!

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

Consistency and intensity! Most people simply don’t want to work out as often or as hard as they’d need to in order to get past that good shape level and into the amazing shape category. Nutrition also plays a huge role in this, and if you’re not willing to eat healthy around 90% of the time, you’re going to have a difficult time breaking that plateau as well. Of course, everyone has different ideas of what they consider amazing shape to be, so this might differ for different people!

To some people, staying fit feels like sheer torture.  To other people, fitness is so fun it doesn’t even feel like work.  How can people in the first group become members of the second group? 

Jennipher Walters- Fit Bottomed Girls

Great question! Find something — anything — active that you like to do. It can be dancing, walking, playing with your kids, gardening, etc. Do that regularly (few times a week) for a month or two to build the habit of being active and get a base level of fitness. Then, start to try other types of activity that you’re interested in that are a little more challenging.

Try a bunch of stuff (sports, Zumba, yoga, jogging, group exercise classes, Pilates, weight lifting, etc.) and incorporate the new types of exercise that you dig into your routine. Keep trying and adding and pushing it — and you just might find yourself in the second group before you know it! Also, be sure to surround yourself with people you want to be like — funny how their “normal” can become yours, too!

Heather Frey, SmashFit

Find something you enjoy! I can’t count you how many people tell me they hate working out so they feel getting fit is futile because they can’t stick with a workout regime. But when I ask questions about whether they like to bike ride, or swim, or play tennis, or dance, or any other “non-gym” activity, most will have something they really enjoy doing to which I tell them… then do that! Those that want to stay active and fit need only find something – or things –  they like to do consistently and stick to some solid good nutrition.

For those that want a more muscular physique, I tell them they have to “muscle through” being a beginner until they start to see results and know what they’re doing is working. I absolutely remember walking into the gym and feeling clueless.  Now that I know what to do, it doesn’t matter how crowded the gym is, I can always find a way to work out the muscles I want because I know 5 different ways to do it. THAT is what makes it fun. I always remind my clients, being at the beginning is temporary is if stay the course.

If you can find an activity that you love and do it with a friend or community, even better.

JC Deen, JCDFitness

Develop a process-oriented mindset, like I mentioned above. One should make this a lifestyle, not a weekend retreat.

Chris Williams, RobbWolf.com

Try to find some ways to make movement fun. There’s not a one size fits all prescription for everyone, and there are tons and tons of options. Maybe you like lifting weights, but don’t like running. If you hate lifting weights, maybe you like going out to the park and running or walking and doing some bodyweight exercise in between. Maybe swimming, riding a bike, gymnastics, or dancing is more your thing. Sometimes doing something you don’t enjoy may be worth it for your particular goals, but at the same time if you don’t like what you’re doing, keep trying other options until you find something you do like or at least tolerate well.

Anthony Mychal

I’m not so sure they should. Again with the analogy, but I don’t want to play the piano. If I was forced to play, I’d hate it…until I wouldn’t. Love and fun typically comes from getting over the wall of hate and discomfort that just about EVERYONE goes through when trying to build a new habit.

Krista Stryker, 12 Minute Athlete

The biggest key in my mind is to find something you actually enjoy doing. I know this may seem impossible if you really think you dislike all forms of fitness, but you just have to keep trying new things! Taking up new sports is a great way to start out—rather than torturing yourself in an hour-long fitness class, try something you’ve always thought looked kind of cool like rock climbing, surfing, kiteboarding, etc. You’ll still burn calories and get fit doing those things but it won’t feel as much like you’re forcing yourself to work out.

Also it’s probably good for people to know that those of us who actually enjoy fitness haven’t always felt that way. When running used to be my only form of staying in shape, I absolutely hated it and it would dread every run I went on. As soon as I found HIIT and bodyweight training, however, my feelings about fitness changed completely and I now (usually) look forward to my workouts as well as enjoy how strong and energized they make me feel. 

Menno Henselmans, Bayesian Bodybuilding

A few things come to mind here. Training isn’t fun. I love strength training, but it’s not fun, at least not always. When I’m in the hole of a heavy deep squat, the last thing going through my mind is ‘Gee, this is so much fun!’. Training is fulfilling. It’s like a combination of meditation and studying. It’s good for you. It feels good. But it’s not fun. You can exercise for fun, but that’s a fundamentally different outlook compared to training for self-improvement, where progress is the goal, not fun.

And how do you get into the mindset of self-improvement? Honestly, I think you don’t. If you’ve never on your own intent started to exercise, whether it’s jogging or strength training or a sport, you just don’t have it. You can turn a drive for sports or jogging into a drive for strength training. That’s not too hard. You build value, knowledge and relatedness. But if you hate the thought of exercise and you’re in the gym for no reason whatsoever other than to look better naked, hating every moment of it, just stop. It’s not going to get any better. Either take up a minimalist program and settle for looking ok or just find a different form of exercise. Take up a sport. Go to group classes. It’s better to do something consistently than consistently failing to do something better.

And by the way, when I say you can only look ‘ok’ if you train for fun, you can still have a celebrity physique when training twice a week for 30 minutes. Just not that of a bodybuilder.

As for dieting, dieting is definitely not fun. Sure, on Facebook you see ripped people only posting their occasional cheat/outlying meals with a big smile. That’s just marketing. You know how the best diet feels? It doesn’t. The best diet is the one you don’t realize you’re on anymore. That’s the key. Turning a diet into a lifestyle.

I realize many of these answers are not what you want to hear. But it’s what you need. You may not like the message, but you’ll love the results.

Nagina Abdullah- Masala Body

When we have to motivate ourselves to get off the couch or get out of bed and make it to the gym, it can seem so hard! When we feel uncontrollable urges to eat a chocolate donut in the break room or have ice cream right before bed, we wonder, “Is it really worth it to be that healthy?”

When it seems hard to stay fit, we think we’re not trying hard enough – and our weight yo-yos up and down. The quickest way to stop your yo-yo weight loss is to be curious about what specific behavior of yours is preventing you from reaching your goals. Is the behavior that when you get home you are too tired to cook or go to the gym? How could you prevent that? Could you prep your food earlier in the week and then just cook it when you come home? Can you go to sleep earlier so that you can make it to the gym in the morning instead?

Once you identify a behavior, you identify an action and then a reward for getting it right. Find out more about creating your own sticky weight-loss plan in How to stop your yo-yo weight-loss.

Will Owen, TravelStrong

A lot of people fall into the trap of thinking that they have to go to the gym or ‘work out’ to get fit.

If you want to be a fitness model or bodybuilder, then yes, that’s something you’re going to have to do. But for the average Joe or Jane who just wants to be active (while still improving their physique) there’s a ton of different ways to do it. If you love lifting heavy weights, then great, but you could also try bodyweight exercises, martial arts, tennis, surfing, climbing, cycling and even things like parkour.

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