Deliberate Practice to Reach Your Fitness and Health Goals

Written by: Callie Parry, Intern

The long standing rule has been that it takes an accumulation of 10,000 hours to be considered a master in something. In the premise of change, those 5 big zeros are daunting and discouraging. If only there was a way to cut down those hours even to just 1,000.

Recent findings have countered this statement by suggesting that quality trumps quantity. Those zeros can be cut back by focusing more on about how we are practicing rather than how long we are practicing. The type of practice I am speaking of is that of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice can be applied to all facets of life but is especially helpful in health and fitness related goals. Deliberate practice is utilizing mindfulness to ensure that workouts are all they can possibly be. It is a process-focused approach rather than outcome-focused. When individuals focus merely on the results they want they find themselves often getting discouraged because the results don’t come right away. By shifting ones attention to the method, progress is more quickly observed leaving people with a better sense of accomplishment. Practicing with intent and focus is not necessarily easy, it takes concentrated effort and commitment to work.

There are lots of ways to become more deliberate in one’s practice, but I would like to specifically touch on the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness seems to be the new craze these days and it may be for good reason. Do not fret. I am not speaking of meditating for a half an hour every morning, although that is never a bad idea. I’m thinking more of being mindful and present in your daily health and fitness efforts. First, mindfulness comes from utilizing the breath. Taking deep breaths in and out during exercise and simply throughout the day will keep one capable of focusing on the moment.

After establishing breath, take time to engage all the senses. For example, when performing a weight training session notice the feeling of the weights in your hands and the contraction of your muscles. Pay close attention to your form and address any unwanted aches or pains. Staying present in the body is just as important as the breath and will help you get more out of your physical exertion.

The most effective way to stay mindful and present is to remove distractions. Those who practice deliberately hit the gym or the trail with the intention to do work. Their workout is more important than gossiping with their workout buddy or the movie on the screen. I’m not saying that working out with a partner or watching something while you workout is bad, but make sure that those aspects are not distracting you from the work you are aiming to perform.

Lastly, the best way to engage in deliberate practice and reap its rewards is to refrain from any trace of negativity in the dialogue that runs through your head. Letting negative thoughts about yourself and your journey only leads to discouragement and hinders your ability to put forth that hard work.

Now that you know how to step up your workout game, give it a try. Breathe, engage your senses, remove distractions and ward off negativity. Be deliberate in your practice no matter what it may be and you will be encouraged by the progress in the process.

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Body Composition and Weight Loss: What’s the Real Goal?

When someone says they want to “lose weight”, it is important to understand that body “weight” consists of both lean body mass (muscle) and body fat and the real goal should be to gain muscle and lose body fat. Muscle is easily lost when someone undergoes a diet without professional guidance.

Lean body mass consists of muscle, bones, organs, other tissue, blood and water. The muscle tissue is the part of your body composition that helps you to burn calories.

Extra body fat is dangerous because it greatly increase your risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep apnea, various forms of cancer, and other degenerative diseases, so obviously it is beneficial to reduce extra body fat.

The more muscle you have the more calories you burn. As you get older, the size and strength of your muscles naturally decrease which in turn slows down the rate at which your body burns calories.

But with a professional well-designed strength training program, you can build muscle which burns more calories than fat, tones and shapes your body, and helps your body to function more efficiently throughout your daily activities.

So, instead of “losing weight”, the goal is to get your body fat percentage to a healthy range and to build your muscle. To build muscle it is important to get regular physical activity that includes strength training to build muscle along with a healthy diet plan that allows you to lose the fat without losing precious muscle. Get professional advice so you get the results you want!

Strength Training + Calorie Reduction = Fat Loss + Muscle Gain

A Real Life Example

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Here is an example of the power of an excellent workout and healthy eating plan. These are the stats of one of my female clients that I have been working with for one year.

When we started training and nutrition counseling in January 2015 her total weight was made up of 45.23 pounds of fat and 101.16 pounds of lean weight.

Today one year later, her body is composed of 36.92 pounds of fat weight and 105.08 pounds of lean weight.

She lost 8.31 pounds of FAT and gained 3.92 pounds of MUSCLE! This is extraordinary and you won’t get these results planning your workouts and your nutrition by yourself or with the help of anyone not well qualified.

My client had “only” a 4.2 pound loss, but notice the large decrease in inches she had in her “trouble area” her waist, abdomen and hips. A total of over 7 inches lost! This is significant and she is thrilled with how her clothes are fitting better and how she looks in a bathing suit with the loss of fat around her middle and the increased tone created by the strength training.

Date 1-8-15 1-8-16
Height 5’8  5’8
Weight 146.4 142
Age 48 49
Neck 13 12.25
Arm 10.5 10.5
Wrist 5.75 5.75
Waist 33.5 31.25
Abdomen 38 35
Hips 40.5 38.5
Thigh 21.75 22.5
Body Fat 30.9% 26%

My client’s results are consistent with that demonstrated by research studies.

Here are three as examples:

-What may happen when someone reduces their calorie intake and does not exercise? In this study diet alone resulted in a 2.4 pound LOSS of precious muscle but diet and exercise resulted in a 1 pound GAIN and the most fat lost.

Effect of Diet and Exercise on Weight Loss and Body Composition

Zuti, W.B. & Golding, L.A. The Physician and Sports Medicine. 4 (1): 49-53, 1976.

Diet Exercise Diet & Exercise
Weight (lbs) -11.7 -10.6 -12
Fat (lbs) -9.3 -12.6 -13
Lean mass (lbs) -2.4 2.0 1

-In this next study we see that the cardio and weight training group lost the most fat, lost the most weight and increased the most muscle.

The “30 minutes of cardio only” group lost a total of 3.5 lbs.; 3 lbs. of which was fat and a half-pound was muscle loss.

On the other hand, the “15 minutes of cardio + 15 minute weight training” group lost 8 lbs. with an actual fat loss of 10 lbs. and an increase of 2 lbs. of lean body weight.

Resistance Weight Training with Cardio Training Improves Fat Loss

Wayne Westcott, Ph.D, Fitness Management. Nov. 1991.

Endurance Training (30 min) Endurance (15 min) & Weight Training (15 min)
Weight Change (lbs) -3.5 -8
Fat Change (lbs) -3 -10
Lean mass Change (lbs) -0.5 2

Resistance Weight Training During Caloric Restriction Enhances Lean Body Weight Maintenance

Ballor, D.L., Katch, V.L., Becque, M.D., Marks, C.R., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 47(1): 19-25, 1988.

The group that weight trained and dieted lost more fat than the groups that either dieted or weight trained alone. This study also demonstrates that weight training can maintain (or increase) lean mass while dieting.

With diet and weight training, more total weight was lost and more fat was lost and lean mass (muscle) was preserved.

Control Diet Weight Training Weight Training & Diet
Weight (kg) -0.38 -4.47 0.45 -3.89
Fat (kg) -0.07 -3.56 -0.62 -4.32
Lean mass (kg) -0.31 -0.91 1.07 0.43


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Are You Sabotaged by Your Expectations?

What are the biggest obstacles to successful weight and health management? Eating out, cooking and preparing healthy food, social situations, vacations, hectic schedules, stress, transitions, life crises, intense cravings, and on and on. The biggest obstacle to successful weight and health management likely lies within our expectations. In short, they’re too often blatantly unrealistic. All the menu planning, exercise and behavior modification in the world falls useless in the face of goals that are impossible to achieve.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Very often it’s because we strive to be perfect…we set our standards based on our images of the perfect eater or exerciser. How many of these unrealistic goals have you set for yourself?

  • To always be rewarded for hard work with a drop on the scale.
  • To be the perfect eater every hour of the day.
  • To eat only “diet,” low calorie, no-fat foods.
  • To never overeat.
  • To never miss an exercise session.
  • To always do exactly the number of miles or minutes of exercise you planned.
  • To lose lots of weight very quickly, e.g. 20 pounds in a month.
  • To never be threatened by food and eating situations.
  • To have the perfect body.

It’s always interesting to see how angry people feel toward family and friends who sabotage their weight and health management efforts. But frequently they fail to identify the biggest saboteur of all — themselves. They don’t realize that they continually set themselves up for failure by attempting to be the “superwoman” who never makes mistakes, is never hungry, deprived, stressed or overwhelmed. This “superwoman” never feels sad or bored, or tired, and above all, never lacks commitment or motivation.

Realistic expectations lead to success better than any strategy we have. Use the following tips to help develop realistic expectations for yourself.

  • Change your focus to who you are and how you feel rather than how you look and what you weigh.
  • Determine a healthy (not necessarily thin) weight for you, depending on your age, height, build, and past weight history.
  • Set a goal of practicing positive behaviors most of the time (say, eight-out-of-ten times), striving for improvement, not perfection.
  • Expect mistakes, and learn from them.
  • Don’t set deadlines for reaching a certain size, weight or measurement.
  • Base your eating plan on your Dietitian’s meal plan to include at least the minimum recommended servings of nutritious, and low fat foods based on your size, level of physical activity, and previous eating patterns.
  • Eat reasonable portions of your favorite foods instead of aiming for all “diet” foods.
  • Gear your exercise plans to what can reasonably fit into your schedule.
  • Recognize that some exercise is better than none. Modify the type, intensity, and duration of exercise to your current mood, if necessary. But do something!

Managing your weight and health is hard work. To insure success, get out of your own way. Forget those unattainable goals. Treat yourself as someone who is learning a new skill. Take small steps; expect mistakes; reward yourself for progress. Work for improvement, not perfection. Treat yourself kindly, as you would a friend struggling with a difficult problem. Above all, don’t give up! If you don’t keep trying, it’s impossible to succeed.

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