Telegraph Feature: “Summer bodies are made in the winter”

Don’t save your beach-body programme for the six-week summer bootcamp dash, make it easy on yourself and start now, says our fitness blogger Jean-Claude Vacassin.

It might seem a little premature to be talking about summer bodies in early January, what with the cold and dark mornings and the baggy jumper season in full swing, but with many of us making fitness-focused resolutions, it is probably the best time of all, as what we do, or do not do, over the next two or three months, will determine how we look come holiday season. In other words, beach bodies are built in the winter.

Each year there are three big influxes of new gym members. These are January (post Christmas), in May (pre-summer), and in September (post-summer), with pre-summer being the busiest time by quite some margin. The reason being that there is possibly nothing more terrifying, and thus motivating, than the thought of having to partially undress and parade around, scantily-clad in swimwear, in front of everybody else, which is especially true when we feel a bit out of shape.

In May, as in January, the increased public focus on fitness brings with it a host of new products, marketing campaigns and press releases about diet and exercise, with focal among them being the six-week beach body programmes that promise to whip us into shape in just forty days, so that this year, unlike last, our swimwear experience will be an entirely more positive one. The problem for many of us though is that if we wait until six weeks pre-holiday we have left it too late and we are not six or eight weeks away from the body that we want, not even close.

The truth is that very few us are ideal candidates for short-term, quick fix, get-me-thin-come-what-may, beach body programmes.

They might seem hugely appealing, but it is rarely that straight forward, and these programmes very seldom deliver what they promise. These approaches are extremely demanding, are absolutely miserable to go through, and are almost never sustainable. It’s also worth mentioning that for some of us, these programmes often instill, or perpetuate, an unhealthy relationship with both food and exercise.

The rule of thumb is that the more extreme the exercise and nutritional approach, the greater the likelihood that we will gravitate back to where we started in a matter of a weeks, hence the inevitable post-summer influx. Most of us go through fits and starts with nutrition and exercise, and we adopt an all-or-nothing approach. The problem is that this does not work. In order to keep things on an even keel, and avoid these fitness and nutrition extremes, we need to find a way of exercising and eating that we can sustain, and something that will keep us in shape all year round.

I appreciate that might sound rather clichéd, but changing our outlook towards fitness and adopting more of a lifestyle approach to getting fit might be one of the most important things that we can do for our health.

There is no magic programme, no best diet, and no new workout system that can guarantee results in six weeks. The ‘golden goose’ that we are all looking for is a programme that we can do consistently, not one that we can only stick to for six weeks. I understand that this does not sound particularly appealing, and it is not as marketable as the latest training system, but it is the only thing that works long term, and it is especially true for those of us who are new to or are returning to exercise.

For the more experienced gym goers, that is those of us who have found a way of eating and exercising consistently already, short-term programmes are likely to be much more effective, given that we will have a good structural base, will have learned the safest and most effective techniques, and we will have become used to pushing ourselves physically. The irony though is that we are much less likely to be attracted to, or to feel the need to embark on, six-week programmes, as we are very likely to be close to where we want to be already.

For those of us who are new or coming back to exercise, we would do far better if we took a longer-term view and started our summer beach body programme now.

Both the nutrition and exercise will feel less of a chore, and we can avoid the feelings of deprivation and claustrophobia that go hand in hand with short-term approaches. And because we have given ourselves six months, rather than six weeks, we do not need to be extreme in anything we do, which means that we are more likely to start to view exercising and making better food choices as a positive, rather than something that feels oppressive.

If we start our journey in January for example, and we commit to three sessions per week until June, we can notch up more than 75 workouts, which is a lot of training time.

This means that we can take the time to develop technique, iron out any imbalances, and gradually build up our work capacity, rather than wade in come what may. And because we have been sensible and progressive, we are also much less likely to develop aches and pains or get injured. During this extended time we can also make some massive changes to our nutrition, without having to do anything that feels too limiting and makes the whole process seem miserable.

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