In an excellent article, my good friend Zack (actually his real name), (not that there’s anything strange about the name Zack, it’s just I normally have to change people’s names to preserve their anonymity), asked the question, “Are you healthy or addicted”?

He proposes that some people fall into the too much mentality and I’d agree. I think the reason for that is largely down to a lack of information on how to assess what you’re doing and determine if it’s enough for you to achieve your goals.

So…….. The purpose of this goal is to give you a clearer idea of how much work is required to get your results and also an idea of what that work is.

Before I get into the meat of the article though, I’d like to point out three key facts:

1. Action trumps information every time. Doing, will always yield more results than not doing. If you absorb the information in this post and then do nothing with it, then you effectively wasted 10-15 minutes of your life and you’ll never get it back. Bummer!

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit". - Aristotle


2. Consistency is critical. Most of us can weather some short term sacrifices if the payoff is good enough. However, as Aristotle said; “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence therefore is not an act, but a habit”. (Never mind Enid Blyton, I just got Aristotle into a post, tell other people how smart I am). So if you really want to achieve something, you need to be prepared for some sustainable changes.

3. As Chad Waterbury once said, “When it comes to results, you can choose any two of the following three: good, quick and cheap”. Now this is relative. One of my clients lost 6 stone in a year with no loose skin at the end and it cost him a whopping £3500. Now that’s a lot of cash, especially in a recession, but without it, he was probably going to die young and doing it surgically would have cost about £2000-2500 for the liposuction and another £3000-6000 for the tummy tuck afterwards, (which incidentally wouldn’t have addressed fat stores anywhere other than his belly). Plus his cholesterol levels improved, his insulin sensitivity improved, his energy and sleep improved, as well as a host of other healthy ‘side effects’ of his fat loss. The bottom line is you get what you pay for and you pay for what you can afford, so as a friend of mine puts it, “there’s no point in pining after a Ferrari, if all you’ve got is Hyundai money”.

So with those caveats out of the way, here are some common goals and the timeframes and work involved in achieving them. Some of them I’ve been deliberately vague on if working harder means getting there quicker or if there are a large number of mitigating factors.

Fat Loss:

1 Stone – 1 to 4 months

Getting rid of 1 stone of fat can be done in 4 weeks healthily and safely, without reductive dieting, but expect to completely overhaul what you eat with no cheat meals and a non-negotiable supplement list. Exercise will be in the range of 4-5 times a week, with intensity at the moderate to high level.

Taking a longer term approach allows you to make smaller adjustments to your nutrition and exercise habits, making it less stressful psychologically.

Many people can lose weight quickly, but usually with a host of unhealthy consequences, lean muscle loss, compromised leptin and ghrelin levels (two hormones that affect fat storage and hunger), loose skin, gaunt looking features, poor sleep quality and or quantity, increased fatigue. If done correctly, all of these can be avoided, plus you’re not setting yourself up for a rebound when you stop.


25% Stronger – 1 week to never

Getting stronger is a paradoxically simple and complex process. However, for the ease of explanation, if you’re new to exercise, getting stronger is easy (although it would be more accurate to say you’re getting better), if you’ve been training correctly for a substantial period of time, (say 10 years plus), 25% may never be achievable as you might have already reached your genetic limit, particularly if you’re not prepared to add some serious weight to your frame or experiment with anabolic steroids. As a pre-emptive comment to forestall any queries, Andy Bolton is NEVER going to Deadlift over 1250lbs, no matter how he trains or how big he gets. For him a 1% improvement takes years. Once you’re elite, progress slows down. That said, the average person should be able to see localised performance improvements on a weekly basis and if you’re not, then it’s probably time to change your programme.


1 Stone Muscle – 12 weeks to years

Much like strength, muscle building is experience specific, that is, the longer you’ve been doing it well, the harder improvements become, (It’s actually called the law of diminishing returns). It’s also worth noting that you can look bigger minimal weight gain, although this tends to happen when there is a reduction in body fat at the same time as an increase in muscle. However, with good nutrition and the right training, the average gym-goer can add a stone of muscle in 3 months. Be prepared to eat way more than you’re used to and train anywhere from 4-10 times per week. You’ll also need to get lots of sleep, which means no late night partying too.

Back Pain:

Pain free – 4 weeks to 2 years

Back pain tends to be either really simple or really complex. Most of our clients experience significant pain reduction in 4-8 weeks (although some experience it in a manner of days), however getting completely pain free can take some time if the issues have been present for a number of years. Expect to have regular soft tissue/mobilisation treatments (at least once a week, but ideally twice) and to complete a corrective exercise programme every 1-3 days in your own time to complement this. Also be prepared to adjust certain habits if they’re delaying your recovery (how you stand, sit, lie, sleep, etc.).

Now that I’ve covered what you’ll need to do, here’s a breakdown of what you won’t need to do:

1. Be unable to walk for a week after a training session. Whilst for some people it’s amusing (I include myself and my wife in that category as far as each other are concerned), for the majority of people it’s wholly unnecessary. That level of muscle soreness is going to take so long to recover from that it’ll impair your ability to train effectively in the meantime.

2. Eat like a sparrow. Most of the time, the issue is what you’re eating, not how much. The daddy of all mistakes is taking in too high a percentage of refined foods. The more refined a food the more calories and the fewer nutrients it has. The reverse is also true, (except for avocadoes and certain nuts, which have lots of both).

3. Train like an athlete. Athletes need to train like athletes because they do athletic activities. If performance isn’t your goal, then you probably don’t need to do as much as you think, you just need to do it smarter.

4. Count calories. Unless your goal is single digit body fat or adding a serious amount of muscle, counting calories isn’t the first, second or even third thing you need to concern yourself with. Instead, focus on getting natural foods, at even intervals throughout the day and getting enough protein on a daily basis.

5. Train for more than 60 minutes. The meat and veg of our workouts rarely take more than 45 minutes, with the other 15 accounting for the warm up and maybe a few stretches. As Charles Poliquin the famous strength coach once said, if you’re spending too long in the gym you’re there to make friends not progress”.

As you can see from the above list, many of the common mistakes or mistaken assumptions actually involve trying too hard and as Zack says in his article, this normally happens at the expense of other things.

Therefore, consider what you want to achieve, when you want to achieve it by and also what it actually means to you, (far too often people fail to achieve their goals, because those goals were actually defined or deemed important by someone else) and then you need to decide if it’s worth the effort or not.