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Form a fitness plan

March 1, 2004 04:40 PM

Do you have a fitness goal?

I believe that it is absolutely essential to have a target or goal when it comes to improving your physique. It's such a clich?, but completely true: If you don't know what your destination is, how can you possibly get there?

What finally turned this around in my head was when a neighbor lent me the book "Body-for-LIFE", along with the video showing the transformations of some of the earlier competitors. It laid out a 12 week plan for getting lean, including setting a realistic numerical goal as far as how many pounds of fat to lose.

I stuck with it and in 12 weeks went from 18% body fat to 10%.

That was in the summer of 2000.I worked out consistently for about a year, always striving for some new goal. It varied from dropping body fat to a certain percentage to wanting to get "big" by putting on more muscle.

I was unfortunately sidetracked by intense lower back pain, which finally required spinal fusion surgery in December 2001. Once again I had lost focus and was not doing much as far as working out, although I had the "tools".

In January (can you say "New Year's resolution"?), one year after my surgery, I decided it was time to go for it once again, and I gave myself a target of sub-10% body fat. I started putting together a plan that would hopefully not only let me see my abs, but would make me stronger and increase my General Physical Preparedness (GPP).

Using the concepts outlined here, combined with kettlebell training, "Power to the People", and martial arts, I was able to once again hack off the fat... going from 13% body fat to 9% in just 2 months as shown in the photos below.


Finding your baseline

The first thing you need to do is establish a baseline. You need to know:
  1. Your current overall weight.
  2. Your current body fat percentage.
  3. Your daily caloric intake.
The first item is easy enough. If you don't have a scale at home, I recommend you purchase one. I also recommend that you keep it out of sight. You don't want to get into the trap of weighing yourself on a daily basis. You'll just drive yourself crazy.Pick one day a week and the same time of day to weigh yourself. Personally I do it on Saturday mornings.

The second item is a bit more difficult. You can either have this measured at the gym, again, weekly. Or you can buy body fat calipers. I use a cheap Accumeasure model which runs about $20.I think that's a better idea because in my opinion the important thing is to have an accurate relative measurement that you can do weekly. So it might be off a little from the measurement someone does at the gym? at least you can measure your progress accurately, because it's always you doing the measuring in the same place. Having different people measure in different locations can give you a skewed view of how you're doing.

The most important thing most people NEVER do

Keeping track of calories was (for me) the most critical part of this process (assuming of course, that you are already exercising regularly). In the beginning of my program I was frustrated because I felt I was working out very hard and with intensity, yet I felt that neither my body fat percentage nor my overall weight were budging.

At first I was frustrated because my weight/body fat would not budge. That's when I decided to start writing down what I was eating and discovered I was consuming over 3,000 calories a day! Granted, I was burning that amount since I was working out hard, and not gaining weight... but I needed to create a deficit. I had no idea I was eating that much? I was assuming that I was actually eating about 2,500 calories per day. In the following weeks I tracked what I ate and started dropping the average daily calories first by 500/day, then by another 250/day, until I hit the point where I was losing about 2lbs of body fat per week at 2200 calories a day. To clarify: I stayed at the same level for a week, dropped the amount, and stayed at that level for a week, etc.

I had a couple of weeks in there where the calories got up to 2450, and the fat started to climb again, so I cut back down again. So let me reiterate: Tracking your calories is critical, at least until it becomes instinctive, which it will after a few weeks.

How to set your goals

I believe that a reasonable goal for fat loss is between one & two pounds per week. I think that this is doable without feeling too terribly deprived or hungry, and without overall strength loss.

You need to know that calculating your lean mass vs fat depends upon a number of variables including age and height. Following are some reasonable goals based on a 30 year old male, 5'10" tall and a 30 year old female, 5'6" tall:

Now 8 weeks 12 weeks 16 weeks
Weight Body fat Weight Body fat Weight Body fat Weight Body fat
Man 220 lb. 25% 204 lb. 19% 196 lb. 15% 188 lb. 11%
Woman 155 lb. 30% 141 lb. 22% 135 lb. 19% 129 lb. 14%

Now that's not too bad for a measly 4 months is it? Start totally out of shape in early Spring and be ready for the beach before Summer is over. It can be done, and the above schedule is not an aggressive, "lose 5lbs a week" type schedule. Just a couple of pounds a week of fat loss. Slow and steady will get you there.

For more information, visit

Victor Holtreman is the author of The Last 10 Pounds, an eBook which chronicles his 2 month journey from 13% to 9% body fat. He is also the author of the Unofficial Dragondoor FAQ site and a number of other fitness related sites. He can be contacted at