6 Practices For a High-Performance Physique
Want to lose fat, gain muscle, and achieve a real body transformation? Get your mind right and the body will follow. Here’s how.
You can have the best training plan in the world, but if your mindset is out of whack, you’re doomed. Here are six motivation methods to reset your mindset for body transformation.
1. Set Realistic Expectations for Your Body Transformation
Not making progress in the gym zaps your motivation faster than a speeding bullet. Most lifters hop programs, change their diets or stop going to the gym if they’re not getting results as quickly as they expect.
Therein lies the problem: most people have no idea what constitutes fast progress in the gym. Lifters overestimate what they can do in the short term and underestimate what’s possible in the long term.
Blame the dimwits on The Biggest Loser or your least favorite Instagram influencer – the process of transforming your body is slower than you’ve been led to believe.
So, what constitutes fast progress?
The bigger you are, the faster you’ll lose fat. If you’re obese, losing 4-5 pounds per week is possible. And you won’t even lose muscle if your protein intake is kept high.
If you’re fairly lean and muscular, two pounds per week is a realistic, sustainable goal. Pushing for faster fat loss is more likely to lead to muscle loss and a fat-loss plateau.
A basic dietary approach is to take your body weight (pounds) x 15 to find your caloric maintenance. If you weigh 200 pounds, your daily calories will be roughly 3000. This number estimates the calories you’d consume to maintain your current physique.
A 20-30% deficit is a good place to start. Research by Huovinen found that male athletes successfully lose fat without significant decreases in testosterone or drops in performance with about a 25% deficit. Start with a 20% deficit, track your progress, and cap your deficit at 30% if you plateau.
Unless you’ve been eating like an 11-year-old girl, 20-30% should be a steep-enough calorie deficit to help you drop 1-2 pounds per week. Need a detailed plan? Check out this aggressive diet.
It takes much longer to build muscle than it does to lose fat. You can lose pounds of fat in weeks. Gaining appreciable mass takes months and years.
Here’s a helpful chart from researcher Alan Aragon covering the maximum amount of drug-free mass you can expect to build:
- Beginner: 1 to 1.5% total body weight per month
- Intermediate: .5 to 1% total body weight per month
- Advanced: .25 to .5% total body weight per month
If you’re a beginner, 1.5 to 2.5 pounds per month of lean muscle mass is the upper limit of how much muscle you can build. This comes out to 12 to 25 pounds of muscle in a year.
If you’re an intermediate lifter, meaning you’ve added significant strength and size already, fast results would be .75 to 1.5 pounds of muscle per month. This comes out to 6 to 12 pounds in a year.
If you’re advanced and have spent years training hard, you’re realistically looking at .25 to .75 pounds of muscle per month, or 3-6 pounds of muscle over a year, likely on the lower side.
Many lifters have unrealistic expectations of how fast they can get results. Or they compare the effectiveness of their training and diet to how fast they used to make progress in the gym. Both are pitfalls that relegate you to information overload and feeling helpless with your training.
The best option? Set your goal weight and reverse engineer how long it may take to get there. Drop the mini-cuts and every facet of fitness that doesn’t help you add mass until you reach your goal.
Base your expectations on physiology so you don’t mess up your psychology.
2. Develop Radical Honesty
Radical objective feedback is the “secret” to building a great body. Whether you’re doing a show and receiving feedback from judges or have a skilled coach, you need to hear the truth, no matter how upsetting it can be.
There are always parts of us that cling to the past. Unfortunately, the blinders of experience can prevent you from making the necessary changes to get where you want to go.
Nowhere is this as clear as lifters who follow the same workout they did in high school 40 years later… while obliterating their joints into sawdust.
Consider muscle growth and age. Adding 1-2 pounds per month is a great target, but you’ll only hit the rates of “maximum muscle growth” if all aspects of your training, diet, and lifestyle are congruent with your goals.
This means you’re sleeping 7-9 hours every night and actively reducing stress in your life. You’re eating a calorie surplus of 10-20% every day and supplementing to grow. You’re training hard, progressively overloading your body, and forcing muscle growth.
You can’t blame a program or nutrition protocol for not working unless you’re objectively following it to a T. We all have to swallow our pride and compare how invested we are to what we’re doing.
Sometimes, we can’t fully commit due to family, work, or social obligations. I get it. But without radical honesty and feedback, many people seek out novel tips and tricks when they actually need more consistency.
Success comes from the ruthless execution of the basics. Examine where you’re falling short, whether it’s training, recovery, or nutrition. You’ll always fall short until you refine the foundational pillars that drive success.
3. Plan Ahead to Beat Decision Fatigue
People are irrational beings who make bad decisions. Some people are idiots, but most bad decisions come from falling into old habits and decision fatigue eroding your willpower.
Your mental willpower is like a muscle: it fatigues with overuse. The more decisions you make throughout the day, the less willpower you’ll have as fatigue sets in. So you need to set boundaries and decisions to eliminate the need for willpower, particularly around healthy decisions.
Plan your day ahead of time. When you automate small decisions early in the day, you have more willpower and motivation throughout the rest of the day.
Implement these triggers to get more productive, nail your workouts, and avoid cheating on your diet:
- Set a reverse alarm clock 10 minutes before the end of your workday and write down everything you need to get done tomorrow and by what time.
- Eat the same basic meals for breakfast, lunch, and a snack. Use a meal delivery service if you have the financial means and need.
- Automate most of your meals. You’ll have the flexibility to enjoy the most social meal of the day: dinner.
- Set 20 ounces of water by your bedside each night. This makes it easy to hydrate as soon as you wake up.
- Set your workout clothes and shoes in the bathroom each night.
- Set your coffee maker on a timer or set out your pre-workout ahead of time.
Taking these action steps the night before eliminates decisions and simplifies success.
4. Workout First
Working out in the morning is a consistent habit of my most successful clients. The underlying principle stems from a popular business maxim by Brian Tracey: “Eat that frog.” If you have a frog to eat each day (a big task), get it done early while willpower is the highest.
According to research by the American Psychological Association, people who adopt healthy habits in the morning achieve automaticity at an earlier point (105 days) than those who work on adding a healthy habit in the evening (154 days).
The longer you wait to train, the more chaotic your day is likely to become.
There’s a physiological rationale behind morning training as well. According to a study in the Journal of Physiology, working out in the morning can shift your body clock earlier, making you more alert during the day while helping you fall asleep at night. Given the importance of sleep, training in the morning can kill two birds with one stone: help you adopt healthy habits and sleep better at night.
5. Design The Right Environment
Designing your environment is the key to making better decisions without relying on an endless pool of motivation. Neurologist Dr. David Eagleman suggests your subconscious mind directs up to 95% of your daily decisions.
This is why changing bad habits is so tricky: most decisions are made before we’ve even registered that a choice is being made. The key to overcoming bad decisions is creating a buffer between you and temptation to increase resistance and give your conscious brain time to catch up.
Let’s say you have a cocktail or three to unwind in the evening. If you have alcohol sitting out in your house, remove it from sight and place another beverage in its place. “Out of sight, out of mind” can work wonders. If you replace the hooch with something else in the same location you go to every day, you’ll be more likely to grab the healthier option.
Reducing Mindless Eating
The more you see foods, the more likely you are to eat them. One study from the International Journal of Obesity gave secretaries Hershey’s Kisses in covered bowls that were either clear or colored. Those given clear bowls opened them to get candy 71% more often and consumed 77 more calories per day.
If keeping unhealthy foods leads to splurging on your diet, add a buffer, keep them out of sight, or eliminate them altogether.
Hide Your Phone
Your phone is a dopamine-dispensing slot machine constantly calling for your attention. If you’re scanning the web late at night or chronically checking email, you’re probably messing up your sleep and family life. To disconnect from your phone, place it out of sight.
Set Out Your Workout Clothes
Set out your workout clothes, workout drink, and shoes to eliminate friction. When they’re ready and waiting, success becomes simple.
Willpower is rarely enough to make great decisions. Your subconscious mind controls most decisions. By setting up your environment to remove friction for good choices and create friction to avoid bad ones, you can rapidly transform your life.
6. Pick One Goal At A Time
Most lifters want to be the total package: strong, muscular, and lean. Attaining the athletic-aesthetic trifecta is possible. But the biggest mistake is attempting to go all-in on all three goals at once.
Recomposition, the process of building muscle and losing fat, is entirely possible. But it’s a slow, arduous process where you often go weeks or months without making noticeable headway towards your goals.
For the majority of people who fall prey to instant gratification, this route is a sure-fire way to fail. As soon as they start to build muscle (and naturally add weight), they feel fat and want to change gears. They gain an ounce of body fat and go back to cut mode.
Around they go, hopping from bulking to cutting every 4-6 weeks for months or years while making no meaningful progress. This is a nightmare. They work incredibly hard but don’t have the physique to show it.
A better plan:
Get lean first. Ideally, men should get to 12% to 14% body fat and have visible abdominals, whereas women should be about 18%. When you’re lean, you’ll be healthier and build more lean muscle without gaining body fat.
Once you’re lean, commit 4-6 months minimum to building muscle. Fat loss happens relatively quickly compared to building muscle and will lead to the greatest visual change in your appearance.
So commit to getting lean and healthy first, then accept the long-haul that is building muscle. You’ll end up building muscle, losing fat, and building a high-performance physique faster than chasing conflicting physiological goals all at the same time.
- Huovinen HT et al. Body Composition and Power Performance Improved After Weight Reduction in Male Athletes Without Hampering Hormonal Balance. J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Jan;29(1):29-36. PubMed.
- Wansink B et al. The Office Candy Dish: Proximity’s Influence on Estimated and Actual Consumption. Int J Obes (Lond). 2006 May;30(5):871-5. PubMed.
- Youngstedt SD et al. Human Circadian Phase-Response Curves for Exercise. J Physiol. 2019 Apr;597(8):2253-2268. PubMed.