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One Workout, Three Results (How to Make Your Workout Work for YOU)

Every time you exercise, you are (presumably) working toward some result.  Some goal.  Whether it’s a way you want your body to look or feel, or something you want to be able to do…  that’s why you’re working out, right?

So, how is it that somebody else doing the exact same workout as you can get remarkably different results?  And why is it that you feel like you’re sweating your booty off, but there it still is behind you the same size it’s always been?

And – probably most important of all – how can you guarantee that you’ll get the results you want from your workouts?

Well, first, let’s talk about what kind of results you might get from your workouts.  Generally speaking, there are three different things that might happen from working out:

  • Weight Loss
  • Strength Gain
  • Maintenance (both fitness and weight)

Now, I know you’re looking at that last one and thinking, “But, Pahla, aren’t you always going to get something good out of a workout?  I mean, who wants to just maintain?”  I feel you.  But I promise that maintenance (when it’s your goal) is actually a really good thing!  More on that in a bit, because I assume that your real goal is one of those first two things.  Maybe both.

So, let’s say that you’re doing the 100 Rep WEIGHTED ABS workout I posted yesterday on YouTube, and your goal is WEIGHT LOSS.  How can this workout help you lose weight?

Well, there are several factors that will affect how this workout works on you (and, yes, the results you get are very specific to you and your exact circumstances):

Your current fitness level

If you are a new exerciser, this workout is brutal.  (Watch the video or check out the workout breakdown at the bottom of this post.)  Doing such a difficult workout early in your fitness journey is not something I recommend (though some trainers do, with the motto of “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” – an attitude I find cavalier and dangerous) for a couple of reasons:  your likelihood of injury runs high in the first few months of exercising while your body is making adaptations to your new activity level; also, you’re likely to be very sore after a workout like this, which could cause you to miss one or more of the week’s other workouts and therefore derail the consistency you’re trying to establish.  Punishing your body and only working out sporadically are the exact opposite of what you need to do to lose weight.  And even worse?  Very difficult workouts will cause a lot of inflammation in your body, which will show up on the scale as a weight gain!

If you’ve been working out for a year or more, this is still a very tough workout, but might be a really good stretch for your skills.  With your experience and consistency, your body has made some impressive adaptations.  In order to continue seeing weight loss and body shaping results, you need to occasionally tackle harder and/or different workouts.

And if you are very fit and have been exercising consistently for years?  This is right up your alley.  🙂

The intensity with which you do the workout

Your current fitness level will play a role in your intensity, but on any given day your intensity may vary with your mood and energy level, too.  Figuring out your intensity can be tricky, honestly.  Early in your fitness journey, everything is intense!  (Which means everything will help you lose weight, even very simple and gentle workouts, until your body starts to make adaptations and requires more intensity.)

Your body is constantly seeking to adapt to the stresses you are putting on it, to equalize all your systems and maintain your weight and your fitness.  So, in order to continue losing weight, you will need to periodically (every few months, more or less) increase the intensity of your workouts.  As you gain some experience, you’ll be tempted to think that if you’re sweating and your heart is pounding, then you must be working intensely.  And you are, but there are nuances to intensity that you need to pay attention to if you want to keep losing weight.  Elevated heart rate and sweating are biological.  Very fit and experienced exercisers still sweat, so that’s not always a good indicator of intensity.

Strangely, one of the best ways to determine how intense a workout is, is to pay attention to how much it scares you.  Intensity requires you to move past your comfort zone with heavier weights, or faster speeds or longer workouts, and those things can be scary!  You need to be doing these scary, intense workouts every so often to keep losing weight.

How often?  Well that depends on your program (keep reading!).

Your overall workout program

There is no such thing as a single workout or even a type of workout that will make you lose weight.  EVERY workout you do can help you lose weight if you are following a consistent, balanced program while simultaneously eating to lose weight (more on that in the next item).

Far, far more important than the type of workouts you are doing is the fact that you are exercising consistently.  Regularly.  As in, every single day.

When you are first starting out, you should work out somewhat gently, to ensure that you are not too sore to exercise again the next day.  Any workout will do – walking or other gentle cardio, bodyweight strength, or yoga are terrific options – as long as you do something every (or almost every) day.  Any kind of regular exercise will help you lose weight.

As you gain fitness, you’ll probably notice that you prefer certain types of workouts over others.  This is great – it’s important to love your exercise routine! – but can also lead to weight loss plateaus as your body adapts to what you tend to do more.  Remember, your body wants to simply maintain your fitness, so it’s going to get really efficient (and therefore burn fewer calories) at something you do all the time.  In order to continue losing weight, your overall workout program will need to include a fair amount of variety to avoid this “adapt and maintain” trap.

Generally speaking, a weight loss workout program is going to include several days every week of high heart rate cardio workouts and two or three days of strength training with or without weights.  And in addition to workout variety, you’ll also want to be aware of a variety in your intensity.  As we talked about in the item above, intensity can be tough to gauge, but it will make a real difference in your ability to keep losing weight.

I’ll be honest, it’s tough to make yourself do a balanced workout program.  The fact is, you are much more likely to feel motivated to do workouts you enjoy, and put off or skip or substitute the workouts that aren’t your favorite (says the girl who didn’t do anything other than running for five years).  Having a pre-made plan put together by a professional can really save your bacon here – you don’t have to do any of the figuring, any of the balancing, any of the “is this cardio or is this strength?” thinking.

Even after all these years of running success, I still follow somebody else’s professional plan when I am aiming for a new goal, because I know that it was put together with my best interests (and not just my preferences) at heart.  And this is why I make workout programs for YOU.  I’ve already balanced out the intensity, the cardio, the strength, and the recovery.  All you have to do is show up and sweat.  🙂  Click here to see the different programs available.

Your nutrition

When you are losing weight, what you are eating is far more important than how you are working out!  Simply put, you need to be taking in fewer calories than you are putting out.  Yes, it’s more complex than that, but that simple math will never change.

You will not lose weight if you are eating the same or more calories than your body is burning each day.

So, step number one here is estimating how many calories your body burns at rest – this is called your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, and it’s based on your age, your current weight and your current activity level.  There are plenty of calculators out there on the internet and I will tell you that you are going to get a different number from every one of them, even inputting the same data.  Take the number for what it is:  an estimate.  There’s only so accurate you can be with your calories, but don’t get caught up in that.  It’s still a good idea to have a general idea of what your body needs.

Step two is to figure out approximately how many calories you are currently taking in each day.  Again, these numbers are going to be estimates, even if your app makes them seem very, very specific and accurate.  They’re not.

If your weight has remained more or less the same for some time now, you are probably eating just about the same number of calories as you are burning.  If you have been gaining weight recently, you might be eating too much or too little. (I know, that’s totally counterintuitive, but it’s true!  Too few calories can make you gain weight.)

Step three is to make adjustments.  You’re going to be repeating step three a lot as you figure out what works for your body and your lifestyle, so don’t feel like once your app spits out a calorie count for your day that you’re done.  As your body changes and you gain fitness, you’ll need to adjust your incoming calories again and again (and again!) to keep losing weight.  Remember, your body’s biological imperative is to maintain and work efficiently, so you’re going to need to change things up every few weeks or months to continue making progress.

As a general rule, you want to aim to bring in 500 fewer calories per day than you are putting out, with 250 burned from your workout and 250 fewer from changes you’ve made in your eating.  Again, these numbers are going to be estimates, but that’s a safe number that should net you a loss of about one pound per week.  You will see fluctuations, of course, as this isn’t even close to an exact science!

Getting impatient with this process won’t change the process.  If you slash your calories too much, your body will respond by storing everything you eat as fat.  If you exercise too vigorously or too often, your body will respond with inflammation, possible injuries and fat storage.

Simply put, you can’t beat Mother Nature.  🙂  So, take your time, make adjustments, pay attention and be patient.

But now let’s say that you are already at a healthy weight, and you’d like to use the 100 Rep WEIGHTED ABS workout to GAIN STRENGTH.  My friend, you are in luck, because the exact same workout that we just used to lose weight can also work for you to build muscle.  🙂  And, unsurprisingly, many of the same factors will affect your results:

Your current fitness level

Being already at a healthy weight isn’t necessarily an indicator of your current fitness.  You might be genetically pre-disposed to thinness, or perhaps you’re a healthy (or maybe a picky) eater.  Either way, you might be starting your fitness and strength journey with very little exercise experience and my advice from above still stands:  this workout is too tough for a beginner.

If you’ve achieved your healthy weight through good nutrition and regular exercise over the last few months or years, though, this workout might be a perfect fit for the intensity you need in your overall workout program, so let’s tackle those topics together.

Intensity and your overall workout program

Gaining strength and building muscle is no more of exact science than losing weight, and requires a similar amount of adjusting and critical thinking.  Keeping in mind that your body is always, always trying to work efficiently and make adaptations, we know that periodic or cyclical training is the best way to make gains in your strength.

In a nutshell, this means that to build muscle you need to increase the intensity and difficulty of your workouts every few weeks.

Building a balanced strength training program is still important, but will look slightly different than a weight loss program.  While you still want to include some cardiovascular work (at least two or three days per week), it won’t be the backbone of your plan the way it is in a general fitness or weight loss program.  Strength training workouts will be your go-to, with at least three and as many as six strength-based workouts per week.  The exact number of days and specific workouts will depend on your preferences – do you like to do split-day strength training (leg day, chest day, etc.) or do you prefer full body work?  There is no right answer (though you’ll hear plenty of opinions on the matter if you ask your bodybuilding friends), and any method you prefer can help you build muscle if you periodically increase the difficulty of your workouts with heavier weights or more reps or both.

How periodically?  Well, that’s where the critical thinking and paying attention comes into play.  Many general strength building plans (which are made for men, by and large) will have you increasing your weights every six weeks.  That might be too fast for you.  Or too slow.  Or both, at different times in your fitness journey.  Sometimes your body will seem to make incredible gains in a short time and sometimes it will take months to see any changes at all.  Sometimes your upper body will gain strength easily and sometimes your lower body will.  The only way to know what’s going on with your body is to pay attention.  Taking notes will help, too.

Pushing yourself just enough is the real key here, and that’s where it’s helpful to have a professionally made workout program.  You know, I’ve mentioned numerous times how your body wants to keep things the same, but let’s be honest, your mind likes things the way they are, too!  Getting out of your comfort zone is tough, so having a pre-made plan that gently guides you to go harder and then recover can be your best friend on this journey.

Just as with weight loss, be patient and push yourself slowly to keep making progress.  Your body will make strength gains, but not necessarily in the time frame you’d like.

Your nutrition

Did you notice how I made kind of a big deal about already being at a healthy weight before working on gaining strength?  Here’s why:  you can’t lose weight and gain strength at the same time.

Okay, technically, that’s not entirely true – you can gain some strength while losing weight, especially if you are doing regular strength training.  But it is very, very difficult to lose weight while you are gaining significant strength because of the nutrition your body needs to build muscle.  Gaining muscle takes fuel.  And if you are in a caloric deficit (as you will be to lose weight), your body cannot spend its energy building muscle.  In fact, eating fewer calories than your body needs can have the exact opposite effect:  your body may start to take energy from your muscle tissue (this is called catabolism) and you can lose strength!

Building muscle and making strength gains is just as delicate a balance nutritionally as losing weight.  You still need to know your BMR and your current calorie intake, but you’ll need to eat just slightly over that BMR while paying critical attention to the amount of protein you’re taking in.  Protein builds muscle, but it can also “build” fat if you’re eating too much.  All food (even healthy food!) will be stored as fat if your body isn’t using it for fuel or muscle-building.

And, finally, what if you’d like to simply maintain your weight and your fitness?  Where does the 100 Rep WEIGHTED ABS workout fit in with that goal?

Oh, Killer B, it fits anywhere you’d like!

As I’ve mentioned quite a few times, your body’s natural state is maintenance (homeostasis is the technical term).  It actually takes a lot of effort to get your body out of homeostasis, but staying in it is – dare I say it?easy.

As opposed to the daily vigilance needed to lose weight or gain strength, the goal of maintenance merely requires that you keep on doing what you’ve been doing.  And, honestly, you’ve got a fair amount of wiggle room with that, too.  Because your body wants to maintain its current state, you can have a few days here and there where your workouts are a lot easier or a lot harder without seeing changes in your body or your weight.  You can have a few days here and there where your nutrition is “off” without seeing a difference on the scale.  You can do almost anything.  🙂

Which is not to say that this workout (or any workout, for that matter) isn’t going to net you some results.  Even with the outward appearance of maintenance, your body is still making adaptations with every exercise you do.  Just very, very slowly.

I’ve been more or less the same weight for ten years now, but my body is quite different than it was in 2007.  Regular strength training has subtly changed the shape of my legs and arms, core work has given me visible ab muscles, and consistent workouts have made me a stronger, faster runner with better balance.  Thankfully, I was in no hurry to see these results, since they took so long to show up, but here they are.  Even maintenance has its rewards.

So, how tough is this 100 Rep WEIGHTED ABS workout?  TOUGH.

Even though it’s just 30 minutes long, I rated it Level FIVE because we’re tackling six challenging abdominal and oblique exercises with very high volume (100 reps – it’s right there in the title!) work.  Not for the faint of heart.

Here’s the breakdown:

Level FIVE

One WEIGHT (DUMBBELL is shown, other weights are okay, too)

Warm Up and Cool Down:
Both are LINKED in the video

Exercise Time:
30 minutes

Calories Burned:
It’s always an estimate (based on your weight and intensity), but approximately 150 – 200 calories.

MAIN WORKOUT (25x each exercise, complete 4 rounds):
Standing Elbow Crossovers
Kneeling Side Crunches
Toe Reaches
V Sits
Leg Lowers

FINISHER (100x, with short breaks at each 25):
Lean Back Leg Flutters

Can’t see the video below?  Click here to watch it on YouTube:

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