When you ask someone, "what are your fitness goals?" most of the general population will respond with, "Look good. Feel good." There's nothing wrong with wanting to look good. Having a healthy body generally means your body will look good, and having great health is something everyone can get behind.
What is the secret to a good physique? Is it purchasing that one Instagram model's secret plan? Nope. Is it that one detox juice fast diet fad you saw on a Facebook post? Nope. The three things you need are things that you cannot sell in a secret plan or social media.
The secrets to a good physique boils down to these 3 things:
The 80/20 rule is 20% of the pie will get you 80% of your results. Sure, there are minor factors that make a good physique such as meal timing, micronutrition being dialed in, supplements, specificity in what % of your 1RM you operate in, but all of these things are the one percenters that make a very small difference in the big picture.
Whenever I work with a client, I make sure it's hammered into their head that calories and progression must be mastered before you spend too much time and energy on any of those one percenters.
Carbs do not make you fat. Fat does not make you fat. Over consumption of calories makes you fat. The secret to weight loss and weight gain is energy balance. If you eat more calories than your body needs, you will gain weight. If you eat less calories than your body needs, you will lose weight. Period. The scientific evidence that supports this is staggering.
How many calories does your body need? Your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) is your maintenance calories number. Mine is about 2700 calories. If I ate above this number daily, I'll gain weight. If I ate below this number daily, I'd lose weight. For the math nerds, I go over the math for calculating fat loss here.
What is your TDEE? You can find many TDEE calculators online (here is mine: http://www.tominationtime.com/tdee/). They are going to be slightly different, and that's ok. The TDEE calculator is just an estimate to give you a ball park of where to start. Your true TDEE will vary +/- a few hundred calories from the calculator anyway.
Once you know what your TDEE roughly is, you just need to eat under that number and you will lose weight. Eat above it and you will gain weight. How do you know how much you're eating? Find a good food tracking app that tracks calories.
I use MyFitnessPal. It's free and has a ton of foods listed in all the languages around the world. If you're struggling to figure out how to enter food into MFP, then check out my long Youtube guide where I explain in great detail how to log food for random home cooked meals and when you're not sure on the portion sizes of your food. How To Use MyFitnessPal For Beginners (Weight Loss / Gain).
What workout routine should I do? What program should I follow? You can make any program or any training routine work for you. If your goal is to build some muscle and burn some fat, then any plan with progression built in will work. If your goal is to "tone up" (AKA build a little bit of muscle and burn some fat), then any plan with progression built in will work. It's all about progression.
Progression is simple. Over the course of time, you need to be lifting more weight, more reps, more sets, or have shorter rest periods.
Weight lifting is arguably the best bang for your buck style of exercise to build some muscle and burn some fat. The best progression for weight lifting is progressive overload. That is, over time you are putting more pounds on the bar and getting stronger. This is by far the best stimulus for muscle growth. Period.
Let's say you want to get stronger legs with more muscle. Your choices are barbell squats, body weight squats, and jogging. All 3 will work your legs. Which of those is the easiest to progressively overload? Body weight squats and jogging cannot be easily overloaded. Sure, you could wear a silly weighted backpack or vest, but that sure gets awkward to load real fast. Squats are king for a reason. They are easy to overload, quickly build overall strength, and burn a decent amount of calories in the process.
Regardless of the workout routine you choose, just make sure there is some form of progression built in. The famous routine 5x5 has a progression scheme where if you do all 5 sets for 5 reps at the same weight, then you add 5lbs to the bar the next time you lift. Rep range workouts (e.g., 3 sets of 8-12 reps) have progression schemes where if you hit 12 reps for any one of those 3 sets, you will add 5lbs to the bar the next time you lift.
The type of progression doesn't really matter as long as in the big picture you're progressing. If you are progressing, you will see results. If you aren't progressing, you will plateau.
Getting the physique of your dreams takes time. Forget the "90 day transformations" you see. They're usually bullshit because:
- People on the internet lie
- Drugs/steroids use
- Occasional freak genetics
If I were a marketer with 10,000 clients to choose from, I could find at least a few amazing 90 day transformation pictures from a shitty program and post it on Instagram. I wouldn't post the other thousands who failed because of a shitty program. Those few success stories probably had their calories and progression dialed in PLUS they had freak genetics. Stop trying to lock yourself into a time frame of expecting to see results.
Ok ok fine. Perhaps you came to this article hoping to get a realistic estimate of how long to wait to get results. The majority of people I've worked with would say their goal is to just look good enough to be comfortable in a bathing suit at a pool. Assuming you're not starting in extreme obesity, the majority of the population can get to the point of feeling comfortable at the beach in 1-2 years. This is a conservative estimate to capture most of the population. This also means you need to have your calories under control (occasional cheat days are fine) and be progressing (in the gym 3+ times a week) during those 1-2 years.
It took me 1.5 years to get to a decent physique (I'm still a work in progress). Even with a long history of serious injuries and even some bad form, I was able to progress and make an significant improvement to my physique, and so can you. Be patient. It takes time to get there.
1-2 years is a long time. Progress takes a long time. If you achieve the body you want in a few months when you were expecting 2 years, then you'll be pleasantly surprised. Many people can achieve the physique they want in months, but it's better to plan for the worst and hope for the best.
It's unrealistic to think you can achieve the results of your dreams in 90 days. To become healthier and stronger is a race you will be in for the rest of your life. If you are feeling impatient then stop looking at unrealistic marketing on social media and instead look at the race you need to run. Focus on CPP (calories, progression, and patience) and run your race.