I’ve been getting more and more questions lately from friends and family on how to get into shape and feel better.

Those of you who knew me in high-school may or may not have noticed, I was one out-of-shape, fat, slow dude. I didn’t play sports and didn’t have a very active lifestyle. Aside from Tae-Kwon Do (which I am still VERY glad my parents signed me up for) my physical activity was limited to lurching from chair to couch to bed. I didn’t eat well and was ill quite frequently.

At about the age of 21, I got sick of this and when Jonathan said I should join Extreme Fitness, I did.

This was the beginning of a long period of trial-and-error for figuring out what my body could do, what it reacted to and how it behaved.

I'll never look like him, and truthfully don't want to, but he's the master and an inspiration.

I’m not blessed with the most amazing genes when it comes to body-type, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. There were (and are) so many before and after photographs and stories on the web of people “just like me” with amazing results. So I set about learning.

Here is some of the broader things that I have learned about changing your body that hopefully you guys can apply if you really are interested in changing.

1. And this annoys me a lot, but after 10 years, it’s the truth; most of the before and after pictures you see on the web are from people who were at some point in-shape and have let themselves go. You will see stories usually containing something along the lines of “I used to play football in high school…”, “I was a cheerleader all through college…”, “I used to run marathons…” always followed by some variation of letting themselves go when life got tough and taking control to get in shape again. Sadly, there are now studies backing up what I always suspected; if you start early, your muscles learn and it’s easier for them to go back to that state. Those of us who never had the athleticism of youth are put in a much harder position, but, you can still get to your goal.

2. Speaking of goals, you need to have them. And they need to be realistic. “I’m going to look like Ryan Reynolds by Christmas!” when it’s 3 days before Halloween, is not a realistic goal. I have found that micro-goals (baby steps) work the best for me. Something along the lines of “I’m going to eat healthy this week and not have a single piece of junk food or candy” is more realistic (though for some it may be more along the lines of “I’m going to eat healthy for the next three hours and not have a single piece of junk food or candy” may be more attainable). I would write these goals down and tell them to someone. This makes you accountable. Even better is if you can get someone to actually follow up with you on these. There are applications and websites out there that do this stuff, but I’ve not used them, perhaps they will work for you. You also need to know if you want to gain muscle or lose fat. Most people want some combination of both, but doing both at the same time is difficult.

The epitome of commitment and will-power.

3. If you’re just starting out, you need to know what you are doing wrong, both with diet and exercise. I recommend going a least 3 days, preferably more like a week, and write down EVERYTHING you eat. Don’t leave out anything and don’t change your diet because you know you’re recording it. This should be a record of your current habits so you can assess where you are. Once you have that, you can start making changes. A complete diet overhaul is very hard to do in one go as the cravings, at least for me, are VERY hard to ignore. The site that I use when I want to know some precise numbers (which you really should at the beginning at least, before you can “eyeball” food) is http://www.fitday.com. It’s not the prettiest site out there, and their food search engine is abysmal, but it’s very good at showing you accurate numbers and a breakdown of where they’re coming from.

4. Start small with diet changes. Something along the lines of swapping out white bread for whole-grain. Or cutting out some of the high-sugar drinks you have.

5. Losing weight is not hard, in theory; you just have to consume less than you spend, creating a calorie deficit. This comes back to knowing what you’re consuming at present and then tweaking it. If you are taking in 3000 calories a day, try to knock it down to 2500 with some small changes.

6. Change comes slowly. You will feel a change LONG before you start to see it.

7. Plan your exercise. Know what and when you’re going to do it and make it a priority. There are a million and one excuses for not doing something, make your health top priority.

8. If you miss an exercise or cheat on a meal, don’t throw in the towel. Keep trying. It gets easier.

9. Weight lifting is king. This is perhaps the most important thing that I’ve learned with regards to exercise; lift as heavy as you can. 4-8 repetitions in 3 sets is a good way to start. This is true for men and women, young and old. One of the most inaccurately propagated myths is that if you lift heavy, you will become a giant monster looking like the Incredible Hulk. This isn’t going to happen. Just as the belief (which is thankfully changing) that Yoga and Pilates are for women, lifting isn’t just for guys. A quote I saw a while ago on Reddit (as best I can remember), “Lifting weights isn’t going to turn you into the hulk any more than taking spin class will make me grow breasts”. See all those guys at the gym there for hours? They’re TRYING to get huge. Do you think you’re going to stumble upon the secret to becoming a giant by accident? You’re not. TheCookieMonster is a power lifter with an amazing blog. This link will take you straight to her progress pictures. She doesn’t look like She-hulk, she looks like Supergirl. And that’s a very good thing. Yoga, spinning, Pilates, are all great supplements, but you gotta lift.

Quick addition here: I just hit CookieMonster’s blog today and she’s got a video up of her attempting a 250lb dead lift. She only managed 2 reps, but she’s only 114lbs. That’s more than twice her weight. That is incredible and very inspiring.

10. Learn. Read blogs. Articles. Anything that catches your eye with regards to fitness and nutrition. There is a LOT of information out there. Much of it is inaccurate but most of it is sound advice. It is a changing field and there are always new ideas, but the basics remain simple; eat well, exercise.

11. Those giant bodybuilding monsters know what they’re doing. The same way that reading a car magazine will give you a better understanding of how your car works and what you can apply to make it run better, you can apply what the big guys do to your life and it will help. But just like learning to double-clutch won’t turn your car into a Austin Martin Vanquish, learning to power-lift won’t turn you into Schwarzenegger.

12. The first 3-4 weeks will suck. You will be sore. You will be hungry. Then you will start to feel a LOT better.

13. The pre-fabricated programs are a great way to start. I’ve seen decent results from Power 90, P90X and Insanity, all from the company called “Beach Body”. They are incredibly intense and somewhat time consuming, but they are a hell of a kick start. If you’re looking for an intense was to jump right in, they’re very good.

14. In a decade of doing this, my best results came from when I gave 100% on the diet and the exercise. No cheating at all for 12 weeks. But I could not have done that when first starting; I would have collapsed under the cravings and totally fallen off the wagon.

Blade 3 was terrible, but Mr Reynolds sure sets the bar for body goals.

15. Diet is 80% exercise is 20%. You’ll feel better with just one or the other, but both together will give you results.

16. Finally, find someone who inspires you or who’s body you want to look like. Or both. In this post the pictures are Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ryan Reynolds. These three guys are my biggest inspiration and they are very different people and body types. I’m never going to look like Bruce or Arnold, but perhaps someday I’ll be able to look like Ryan. Inspiration is key. My desktop background right now is Arnold in his prime.

I hope this points some of you in the right direction, and I’m here if you need any suggestions. I am far from all-knowing and am always learning, but I can tell you what worked for me and what didn’t.