With spring around the corner, the anticipation of summer is close at hand. I know my thoughts keep wandering to walking barefoot on the sand and sun tanning at Hanlan's Point on Toronto Island. Summer is a great time for vacations, going to the cottage, enjoying a meal on a patio and hitting the beach on the weekend. But for many people this is not a happy time if they are concerned about the shape of their body or the extra body fat they want to lose. I know some people who wouldn't be caught dead taking their shirt off in public.

If you want to improve the shape of your body and summer is your deadline let's start now. To make some big changes you're going to need 3-4 months so the time for delay is over! If you get started on both a fitness and healthy nutrition program by April 1st, 2012, you will have three full months to make visible changes to your physique and improvements to your health by July 1st.

You're in luck, because that's what my Proud Body Program is designed to do for you. Over the next few months I will be publishing articles on healthy eating, eating to gain lean muscle mass, eating to lose body fat, and actual workout programs with video instruction to help you get in shape for summer.

So how do you transform your body to get a physique that makes you feel proud?

Having a health and fitness program in place based on your individual needs is the best way to achieve your goal. Following the latest program or diet out of a magazine is a haphazard approach. This is like getting in your car and driving somewhere, but you haven't decided where you're going. Where do you end up? Sometimes you get there and sometimes you don't!

For example, reading my Twitter feed one day I came across this post: "Is fasted cardio best?" The link went to an article from a popular website that I follow. I was very interested to see what the writer had to say, someone whose work I also follow. Skimming through the article to get to the protocols, I read,

"The final solution was this: a small dose of leucine-enriched casein hydrolysate consumed during the cardio session. [Supplement X] fit the bill perfectly."

I couldn't help myself and tweeted,

"WOW! Best #muscle building or #fat-loss program! But only if you take this #secretweapon supplement we also happen to sell. #dontbelieve"

You have to ask yourself if the content of an article in a magazine is truly useful, or if the apparently fantastic results of the tester are pure hyperbole to sell a product. Also know that all diets work for some people some of the time. This is why you will find testimonials from people who swear by the latest diet, usually starting something like this: "I've tried hundreds of diets and none of them worked until I tried..." Exactly!

To effectively reach your fitness goals, you need to consider a host of factors. These factors are all fundamentals. Fundamentals are like the foundations to a strong and sturdy building. Screw up the foundations and everything above will collapse. But when you have solid foundations, you can do almost anything on top of that base of support.

Let's consider a few questions in this article so that you can be prepared to start working on your health and fitness plan.

First question: Where do you find yourself on the body-shape continuum?


Is your focus dropping body fat, gaining lean muscle or somewhere in between? Knowing this will affect how you manipulate the following factors in your strength training and cardio program design:

- Total workout time
- Total number of sets, reps and exercises per body part
- How intensely to train; types of exercises to use
- The amount of rest and recovery required to avoid injury and over-training
- The amount of cardiovascular activity required (and when/time of day) to reduce body fat.

Another ignored and highly debated issue is flexibility. I teach that flexibility is one of the greatest keys to your physical health, which transfers beneficially to your state of mind as well as lean mass gains. If your muscles are tight, tense and pulling on your joints you are ripe for injury and you will not have the range of motion to maximize the full length of your muscles to grow. If you are currently not stretching or have no idea about how to stretch, this should be the first area addressed and programmed to suit your needs.
Most importantly, meal planning will have the biggest impact on your results. Everything from meal timing, frequency, nutrient balance, portion sizes, etc., needs to be considered and planned. I have loosely addressed meal planning in the following articles (which you can find on this site or my website):

The Weekly Cooking Ritual
Top Nutrition Tip #6 - Meals: What, When and How
Top Nutrition Tip #5 - Making Healthy Food Choices
You Are What You Eat

For weight loss or gain, most people should be eating about every three hours, be that three meals and 2-3 snacks or 5-6 smaller meals every three hours. Each meal needs to be a balance of lean protein, vegetables, and/or fruit (less fruit if weight loss is your goal), healthy fats and limited starchy carbohydrates. You need this frequency to both gain and to loose. What will change is the amount of food and the type of food you eat depending on where you placed yourself on the body-shape continuum. Keep a written record over several days of everything you put in your mouth. This is the only way you will know what to change.
Many people think if they simply eat less they will loose weight. This is a huge misconception. By starving yourself your body will convert as many calories you consume as possible to body fat. By eating with regular frequency the body burns calories more efficiently. Some quick tips to start dropping unwanted pounds include: remove all sugar sodas (cola, tonic etc.) from your diet and replace with water (not sugar-free pop). Most importantly, add a quality fish oil supplement and/or flax oil to your diet.

Fats are not bad for you and most people are not eating enough of the healthy fats. Fish and flax oils contain omega-3 fatty acids that reduce the risk of heart disease, assist in muscle tissue repair and help the body metabolize (burn) stored body fat as fuel. Drop or limit partially hydrogenated fats, remove chicken and turkey skin, limit whole milks and cream and fatty cuts of beef and pork. Add nuts, nut butters, olive oil and cold-water fish. For detailed recommendations on your nutrition and supplementation or for safe weight loss products, contact me directly.

Perform a self-assessment and take a look at your life: what's your stress level like? How long is your workday? When and how much time can you commit to working out in the week? Are you dealing with any injuries or imbalances that are challenges to your current workout? What are you willing to change, eliminate or start doing? Do you cook or eat out? Knowing the answers to this self-assessment will again help you to determine what you can do, and what you will choose to change.

Program design, when done on a holistic level, can be a complex task. Very few trainers know how to do this and they simply teach the same thing to all of their clients. I've seen many trainers put their clients through the exact same program on a single day. If you want to get in the shape you desire by this summer, the best thing you can do is to work with a professional who will custom design a program based on you current mind, body and nutritional needs. Think of this as the map you will follow every step of the way, with course corrections along the journey as required. If you're working with a trainer who doesn't have your program in hand every time you meet (and a pen to make notes), you're wasting your time and your money.

In the coming installments of the Proud Body Program I will discuss and teach posture, flexibility and stage 1 of the strength-training program. Until then, perform the self-assessment and answer the questions presented in this article so you can be ready to get started!

Author's Bio: 

No theories or trends, just a hands-on, Integrated Fitness approach that works.

Darren's approach in fitness coaching springs from years of experience and understanding that the ego has no place in the process. Your goals and successes are your own; Darren's role is to bring out of you what you already possess and to coach you to excellence.