Super Hero Bodies
“She needed a hero, so that’s what she became”
Let’s face it, we all need heroes. Heroes show us the very best of humanity. They give us hope. They give us an exemplar, something to which we can aspire. There are fine examples of heroes everywhere: television, movies, even news media. People who show us what heroism means.
But sometimes the hero you need is you. Sometimes you need to know that you are the one who can overcome adversity. The one who can stand up when you’ve been knocked down. The one who reaches a hand out to help others. Or the one who places an ideal above their own needs.
Think of your archetypical superhero: tall, strong, and muscular. Male, female, and everything in between, you have to admit that they typical superhero is jacked. I mean, straight up yoked my friends. And while the proportions seen in television, movies, and most especially comic books are way out of proportion with what a real (read: normal, unenhanced) human being can achieve, it’s not worth giving up the goal of the superhero body.
(Note: yes, there are some *ahem* chemical enhancements that can get you looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronnie Coleman, Iris Kyle, or Angelica Teixeira we’ll leave that debate for another time.)
Now, I’m also going to assume that if you are reading this blog, you followed me for my writing, not my bodybuilding and are not an expert in the wonderful word of building that super hero body. For that reason, I’m writing this at a very basic level. Already an expert on lifting techniques and weight loss strategies? Awesome! Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear what worked for you!
I’m guessing by this point you’re thinking, “Kay, WTF? I will *never* get a body like a superhero!” or something along those lines. “I’m too fat/thin/skinny/unmotivated!” Let me tell you a secret: I definitely didn’t start off with a super hero body!
Did I love myself? Yes! Did I feel like a loved and valued member of my community? Yes! Did I love my body? Yes! Did I like what it looked like? No. No, I did not.
So, I decided to make changes that shaped my body into what I wanted.
At its very heart, bodybuilding comes down to two things: fat loss and muscle building. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult, almost impossible to both at once. So now you have to make your first choice? Do I want to build muscle first or lose fat? That is a very personal decision and comes down to your current body composition and how you feel. If you have a lot of body fat to shed, I might recommend starting there (after a trip to your doctor for a check up and any information you need about the current state of your health.) If you don’t have a lot of body fat to lose, then start with building muscle. If you’re in the middle then I’ll give you food for thought: muscle burns more calories than fat, is more dense, and can assist in the weight loss process later. You are unlikely to get the scale moving at first, but you will see changes in your body.
Let’s assume you, like me, decided to lose weight first. And let’s also assume that you, like me, know nothing about healthy fat loss other than what you’ve seen on television and social media. You have to do excessive cardio, eat no carbs/fat/grains/etc, and be miserable all the time. Also, don’t forget your detox pills, skinny teas, and waist wraps… right?
At its very heart, the only way to lose weight is for your calories in to be less than your calories out. More accurately, you have to create a calorie deficit to ensure your body utilizes its fat stores for fuel. Weight Watchers, keto, Atkins, Primal Blueprint, Paleo, Beach Body, the Zone Diet… all the diets of the world seek to create a calorie deficit, many by reducing one type of macro nutrient to lower overall calorie intake.
Eat less than you burn moving!
At this point, it’s time for some self-education. I recommend studying up on how many calories you personally burn. Find your average, reduce it by about 250 calories per day, and lose a half pound of fat per week. 500 calories is a pound a week… 750 is 1.5 pounds per week. I don’t recommend or advocate losing more than that per week because now you’re getting to the unhealthy range and you will start sacrificing more of that precious muscle.
There are a plethora of ways to cut calories: reduce carbs, reduce fats, cut alcohol, cut soda, cut candy out. What I don’t recommend is going on a cardio binge. Why? First off, depending on how much you weigh and your diet, it may be impossible to create the deficit you need. For instance, if you eat a fast food hamburger, 600 calories, you will have to run an hour to burn it off. When I am well trained, I can run for an hour or more… but only if I’m training for it. Trust me, it’s easier to start by trimming down the diet, then working your way up to the exercise. (AKA – “You can’t outrun the fork”)
Now, eventually, you are going to hit a plateau: a point where your weight and fat loss stalls out. Likely, what has happened is that your body has lost enough eight that the small deficit you created is now what your body needs to maintain its current weight. Sorry, but you have to trim the calories back again. As an example, during the 16 week prep for a bodybuilding show, I usually have to tweak and reduce my calorie intake 4-5 times over the 16 weeks.
While you are trimming back the calories, I recommend a moderate amount of cardio and weight lifting. Firstly, it will burn that “calories burned” number just a little higher. Not a lot, so don’t think you can lift for an hour and then go eat a whole pizza! (Ask me how I know…) It will also get you moving towards Phase Two: Build muscle!
Oh muscle! That glorious, firm, and dense fiber that makes the shoulders round, the abs and glutes pop, and gives you legs for days! But, Kay, how do I build muscle! Glad you asked!
Lift heavy shit and eat.
Yup. This is why it’s incredibly difficult to cut fat and put on muscle at the same time. Unlike weight loss, you need to create a calorie surplus to build muscle. Oh, it’s just not fair!
The same way you figure out how much to eat to lose, do that same to gain, but instead of “cut 250 calories” add 250. I like 250 calories because while I’ll gain slowly, I find that I personally don’t put on as much fat as I gain muscle. If you are a larger person, you can add more because, proportionally, you need it.
Do I need a personal trainer? Well, that really depends on you. Are you willing to research basic, simple exercises online? (I recommend ExRX.net) Are you motivated and dedicated enough to go to the gym without having to pay someone to make you accountable? If the answer is yes, then go forth an conquer, hero! If not, or if you have underlying health issues, I do recommend at least a few sessions with a personal trainer to build a routine and learn to do the exercises safely.
From here it’s all about consistency. Become a regular at your gym. Make slow but steady progress. Be accountable to yourself.
Part of being accountable to yourself is tracking your progress. Whether you choose to lose weight first or build muscle first, this next section will help you keep accountable and track the progress you make.
Progress not perfection!
Not all victories come on the scale. Some weeks the scale won’t budge, but your pants will fit better, you’ll feel more energy, and you’ll notice the little things: the first time you realize you only have one chin, the first time you start seeing the soft lines that are the precursor to abs, or the first time your put your jeans from college on without a struggle.
Some other ways to track progress:
1) Track your weight. Yes, I know, I just said the scale doesn’t show fat loss, but it does give you an idea of how weight loss looks over time. Really, pay attention to the weekly change, don’t be as wrapped up in the daily change.
2) Track your measurements. Using the same spreadsheet, you can track the circumference of your chest, waist, hips, and arms. As you lose fat, you’ll see those numbers slowly get smaller. As you gain muscle, you’ll see them get larger.
3) Weekly progress pictures. My coach was adamant that I send a photo every Thursday morning. No matter how I felt or looked. Those photos were tough to look at and I didn’t see much change at first. But after a month, I could see minute changes. After three months, I could see my waistline narrowing. After a year, I was a different person!
It doesn’t come all at once. It took me years to finally lose the weight I wanted. It took me another two years to build up the muscle I wanted and I’m still building it up. (Gods, I love bulking season!) I’m constantly learning about myself: I’m cranky and always hungry when I’m <18% bodyfat, at 21% I’m the perfect balance between “looks good” and “energy for my day”, at 23% body fat I can run for days. How your body will react is different.
Listen to it.
Learn from it.
It takes a lot of work to build that superhero body, but it’s worth it!
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