Break it down by Richard Wheeler

This is the sixth guest post in the fitfor15in15 series designed to show the pleasant impact that feeling fit, in all its forms, can have on your life. Richard ‘Tricky’ Wheeler knows firsthand how tough the fitness road is when you’re first setting out. His practical method for achieving goals – breaking a two month period into two-week blocks – could be the kick-start you need. Take it away Tricky!

Break it down by Richard Wheeler (Personal Trainer in Sydney, Australia and lover of a good book*)


Tricky gives the bag what for

I wasn’t always a Personal Trainer. I wasn’t always fit and healthy. I wasn’t always interested in things like health, wellbeing, longevity and looking the best I can in just a pair of underpants.

I’ve heard it said that inside every fat person there is a thin person trying to get out. Taken as a metaphor, I think this displays a lack of understanding of what causes some people to indulge in such a way that we end up fat. Taken more literally, I think it’s just downright disturbing, but let’s not dwell on that.

I’ve known happy people of all shapes and sizes. I just wasn’t one, that’s all. When I was in my teens I was depressed and anxious. It was years before I really acknowledged this, but with the benefit of hindsight it’s blindingly obvious. I drank and partied a lot, because it seemed to make me feel better. By the time I got into my twenties I had not only established a pattern of behaviour, I had come to a number of hard-to-shake conclusions about myself, and the fundamental necessity of inebriation if I was to cope with life at all. I joined a gym at one point, and sometimes went swimming. I subscribed to that popular misconception that if you exercised a bit it somehow erased your misdeeds from history.

I’m proud to say I did manage to hold down a reasonably well-paid job. I just used most of my money to eat rich food, go out to pubs and clubs, and ensure that even a quiet night at home saw me downing at least a bottle of wine to myself. As I got a little older, in spite of the odd visit to the gym, my body decided it was time to outwardly manifest some of the damage I had been doing internally. I didn’t really notice straight away, but I started to see a fat person looking back at me from the mirror more and more in spite of my best attempts at self-delusion, and I realised I had to change.

I started to consider what I ate a lot more. I started going to the gym a lot more. I gave away the cigarettes, the alcohol, the partying, and, bit by bit, I changed. Please, as you read this, understand that what I just conveyed in one sentence was a multi-year project. If you try to do all those things at once, like you see a lot of people do at new year, chances are you’ll stick to it for a few days, then you’ll snap, go on a rampage and end up in a dumpster somewhere, clutching a cake in one hand and somebody’s pet Dachshund in the other.

Getting fit is about life outside of your comfort zone. It’s frequently a determined adhesion to the comfort zone that sees people pile on weight in the first place. I like to recommend to people that they pick one thing, and devote themselves to changing it for a couple of weeks, then move on to the next thing. For example, it’s important to look first at your diet. There’s no mileage in trying to work off a body you’re unhappy with through exercise if you’re trying to fuel the activity with doughnuts and crack. I like to encourage people to break down the next two months of their lives into two-week blocks.

In the first two weeks: Rid your house of junk food, buy in things from the fresh section of your supermarket, create a schedule that will allow you to prepare food ahead of time, so you’re never making food choices whilst starving hungry (guaranteed you will pick something high fat and high sugar). Have recipes to hand for things like stir fries, which are quick and easy but still tasty. Have snack foods available that are nutritious but still interesting to you. Personally, I make a lot of dips, because they stop carrot sticks being so f’ing boring.

In the second two weeks: Go out walking. Walk for a minimum of half an hour every day, and do it at a pace that you could carry on a normal conversation, but it would be broken into weird bursts of a couple of syllables. I once took a phone call while out on just such a walk and the person on the other end thought I was pleasuring myself because of the way I was breathing. If you try to talk and you sound like a telephone masturbator, you’re going about it right. I also encourage you to try to increase your incidental exercise during this time – get off the bus a stop early, take the stairs, not the lift, park on the far side of the car park, or whatever you can think of.

In the third two weeks: Start to incorporate some simple bodyweight exercises into your daily routine. Three times a week, do three sets of pushups and three sets of squats. It can be that simple in the beginning and you will see results. To decide how many pushups you should do in each set, I recommend doing as many as you can, then taking that number and calculating 80% of it. That is the number you will shoot for in each of your three sets. For example, if you can do 10 pushups and 20 squats, you will do three sets of eight pushups, and three sets of 16 squats. Rest for a minute in between sets.

In the fourth two weeks: Begin to consider the future. Going for a walk is something I will always like, because I find it fulfilling, calming, and still a great way to stay in control of my weight. However, a life of going out walking every night because you have to, plus doing ever more pushups and squats on your living room rug might seem like an unfulfilling way to get fitter. I take your point.

I have been a Personal Trainer since 2008, and there has been one thing during that time that has constantly amazed me more than anything else I came across in the industry. People would frequently show up at the gym who had absolutely no interest in lifting weights, running on a treadmill, doing classes, or anything else. They wanted the results, so they’d gone out and joined up with only the results in mind.

Imagine that your goal is to drop a little weight and maybe put on some lean muscle (unless this actually is your goal, in which case don’t imagine it, simply reflect on it). The fastest way to do this might be to combine a weights program with some sprints on the treadmill or rower, but if you absolutely hate lifting weights and running, you’re unlikely to stick with it, no matter how much you want the results. Consider something you might actually like to do instead, like a kickboxing class, or swimming, swing dancing, volleyball or yoga. There are hundreds of different choices out there, and whilst they might not all represent the fastest path to your goals, chances are they represent a path you will actually stick to, which means that in the long run, you will be more likely to get that lean muscle and weight-drop.

Getting fit and staying fit is all about finding a process you love, and doing it for the love of doing it. One of the fittest people I have ever met has no interest in fitness activity at all – he says it bores him senseless. He is, however, passionate about surfing and rock climbing, and he does them just because he thinks they’re a lot of fun. He stays lean, fit, strong and cheerful as a result.

These days I’m pretty damn happy most of the time. I have bad days, but the good days outweigh them massively. I enjoy going to the gym, or going out running. I discovered a love of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which I hope to return to very soon. I won’t be a Personal Trainer forever, there are too many in the world, but it’s been an amazing ride!

* How Tricky and I know each other is a classic story. On Facebook, there is a section for favourite books. One of mine is Allan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. In January 2008, Tricky contacted me via Facebook because it’s one of his favourites too. “… in a network of over one and a half million people, we are the only people who have it in our books list. That seems kind of wrong. Alan Sillitoe is a genius, and a sadly forgotten one.” Tricky went on to say no need to reply, he won’t contact me again, he just wanted to say it was cool that I liked the book too. Of course, I wrote back – if you love a book, you want to talk about it. Turns out we both lived in Sydney (even though he is English), both worked in television and had both worked in Camden, London, for different television companies. Too many coincidences to ignore! So we met up for a beer and have been mates ever since!

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