If there’s one common fitness goal that I have observed among college students, it’s that they want to transform their current physique to that stereotypical “beach bod” look. This look generally consists of a set of well-defined abs along with pretty much every other muscle group their potential mates find attractive. This is, however, much easier said than done because clearly if it were easy then everybody would walk around looking like a Greek god or goddess. Half of the battle is knowing how to actually get to this goal physique and the other half is being able to put in enough work into your battle plan. I’ll be talking about how to create your own battle plan and tips on adhering to it in the rest of this article.
Losing Weight Shouldn’t Be The Only Goal
Most people start off their battle plan with the sole goal of losing weight in order to achieve their goal physiques, and I am just going to state right now that this thought process is counter-productive. The people I am referring to are those that believe that they just need to do countless amounts of calorie-burning cardio sessions to get that beach body. It is true that you need to lose enough weight to reach a level of leanness where your muscles are toned and defined; however, by starting your physique transformation journey off on the foot of solely losing weight by hitting the gas on cardio training will lead you to a dark, difficult, and tiresome path which will not help you in your long term goal. Here’s where I prove this to be correct through some physiological jargon, so brace yourselves. In fact, if you don’t want to read up on the science behind it, then you can skip the next two paragraphs.
Explaining Calorie Burn
We all have an amount of calories that our body burns in a 24 hour period called our Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). This TDEE is made up various other components such as your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), TEF (Thermic Effect of Food), NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis) and your TEA (Thermic Effect of Activity). In order to lose weight, you simply consume less calories than your TDEE calorie value, and in order to gain weight you would consume more calories than your TDEE. The reason why people do lose weight through cardio is because they burn enough calories so that the total calories they have consumed by the end of their day is less than their TDEE, thus losing weight.
A big factor of TDEE as stated earlier is your NEAT. This dictates that your LBM (Lean Body Mass) burns calories. As you lose weight, you do burn muscle which means the lighter you become, your TDEE value drops which means you will have to do more and more cardio the more you lose weight as well as eat less to achieve that beach bod goal. People who go down this road generally do not have much success in physique transformation but end up just looking slightly leaner with much less size. The reason being that one has to do so much cardio to keep up with their constantly dropping TDEE, and it gets to a point where they can no longer create a deficit under it to lose weight any further. The counter-productivity in this cardio focused approach shows in the end result. In a “beach bod” physique, one would have a nice balance in their amount of muscle and leanness. With this cardio approach you are neither reaching the level of muscularity necessary but you are also not getting lean enough.
Beginning Strength Training
What I recommend as a first step in your battle plan is to get into strength training. Building lean body mass in order to improve your metabolic capacity (NEAT) so that dieting for your beach body definition is much more practical and easier. Cardio would be able to used much less sparingly and effectively as a weight loss tool with the aid of your gaining lean body mass. I thoroughly acknowledge that a lot of the information above is just so technical and can come off as overwhelming to someone who is just getting started on their physique transformation journey. In fact, for the first three years of my strength training career, I honestly had no idea about any of these terms. I was, however, just very consistent in my training and eventually I got much leaner and much more muscular over a span of a couple years of strength training.
With regards to nutrition, there is a dieting method that some strength athletes follow called IIFYM or flexible dieting where you track your food intake to each individual gram. Although that is the most optimal way, I do not recommend this to people who are just starting out, especially in a college setting where most of us have dining plans and are really focusing our energy wholeheartedly into our careers and classes, we should hold off on making fitness – which should be a fun part of your life – into something neurotic and obsessive with how we treat food. You should, in my opinion, learn how to intuitively eat but that topic is for another time.
What’s most important to someone’s physique transformation is their adherence to their battle plan. This means that they have to enjoy the type of strength training they do so that they can follow through with getting in the hours they need to in the gym. I believe that if four years ago I had tried to track macros and over-complicate how I went about my transition into a fitness lifestyle I would not be nearly as successful as I am now simply because I would not have had fun with so much drastic change.
In fact, I can vividly recall myself doing 100 pushups every single morning before going to school and loving every second of it from the burn during and the temporary chest pump after as the start of my strength training journey. I had enjoyed doing bodyweight training and eventually bought a pull-up bar I could hang on my door and continued to train every single day. The path to success in transforming your body is not direct so much as it is finding your own path because we literally all have different paths when it comes to training and dieting preference.