The Only 3 Things You Need to Get in Shape

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D.

Paul Maxwell, Ph.D., writes about theology, mental health, marketing, and fitness. Paul has been writing on for over a decade.

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There are three essential elements of getting in shape: exercise, diet, and consistency. If you fail to execute one of these tasks, you will fail to achieve significant physical goals. I’ve lifted weights and exercised my entire life, but when I turned 25, I gained 60 pounds of fat in 6 months. I tried to lose the fat for a year, but I only gained more weight. It wasn’t until I performed in all three dimensions — exercise, diet, and consistency — that I saw a massive difference. Once I did, I lost all the fat and gain significant muscle in 12 weeks. Here is what the transformation looked like.

Here is the blueprint I followed to achieve significant physical results in a short time in each area:

1. Exercise

In order to lose fat without losing muscle, it is essential to perform resistance training several times per week. Ideally, you should follow an intense regimen like that laid out in Mike Matthews’s book The Year One Challenge for Men: Bigger, Leaner, and Stronger Than Ever in 12 Months. Other options include Craig Capurso’s 30 Days Out or Jim Stoppani’s Shortcut to Shred.  Each of these programs can be repeated until desired results are met. Likewise, they maintain muscle mass, since they are composed mostly of resistance training movements such as weight lifting and bodyweight movements.

“The more you comply with a proper weight lifting program like the ones I listed above, the faster you will expedite your fat loss. ”

Most people make the devastating mistake of performing only low-resistance, cardiovascular exercise such as running, elliptical, or recumbent bike exercise. This is a mistake, because a routine that lacks resistance training will inevitably result in muscle loss, and therefore a loss in both aesthetic definition and a sense of vitality.[1] The goal of fat loss will usually come at the expense of some muscle, but the goal should be to maintain as much muscle as possible so that fat loss yields mental clarity and physical stamina. A regimen composed exclusively of low-resistance cardiovascular exercise will, over time, sap clarity and stamina.

The more you comply with a proper weight lifting program like the ones I listed above, the faster you will expedite your fat loss. The older you are, the more vital resistance training is in producing healthfulness through exercise.[2]  Of course, every good fat loss program will include cardiovascular exercise in order to assist fat loss, but it can’t serve as the foundation of a fat loss routine. One study found that a 30-minute combination of resistance and aerobic training has greater fat loss effect than a 30-minute session of aerobic training or resistance training alone.[3]   And it won’t have any effect without proper dietary action.

2. Diet

There is a myth that it doesn’t matter what diet you follow, as long as you stay consistent with some diet. This ends up being anecdotally true for most people for several reasons — (1) most people eat such terrible diets that any alteration produces fat loss, and (2) health-oriented diets produce a caloric deficit without intending to do so. By cutting out refined sugar and processed carbohydrates, as most diets do, compliance with a diet yields fat loss unintentionally.

If your goal is fat loss, the most important element of your diet needs to be eating fewer calories than you consume.[4] This doesn’t mean that you should eat terrible food as long as you eat fewer calories. Quite the opposite. In order to feel satiated, you should eat foods that are high in nutrients and low in calories. In fact, the more processed foods you eat, the less likely you are to achieve a caloric deficit.[5] In doing so, you will be able to eat “more” food without overeating calories and compromising the fitness effect of your exercise.

“If you exercise and diet according to the perfect principles, but miss half your workouts and binge every weekend with “cheat days,” you will never see results. ”

The easiest way to track your calories and macronutrients is in an app such as MyPlate or MyFitnessPal. Most men are very resistant to counting calories, because it is typically a staple in diets marketed toward women, so it feels effeminate. However, it is a crucial component in fat loss. Ideally, you should eat 25% fewer calories than you expend. An easy way to calculate how many calories you should eat is to fill out this TDDE calculator (click here), and then eat 25% fewer calories than the number you get from the calculator.

After desired fat loss is accomplished, you can then begin building muscle by continuing your same resistance training routine, but eating 10% more calories than you expend. This would put you in a caloric surplus, and allow your body to become anabolic — that is, to build muscle as a result of exercise, rather than lose fat.

One more important note on diet: It’s important to consume a sufficient amount of protein to recover from your resistance training workouts while

3. Consistency

Discipline may be the most difficult part of an exercise regimen. If you exercise and diet according to the perfect principles, but miss half your workouts and binge every weekend with “cheat days,” you will never see results. If you mess up once per week, it’s important that you understand how to compensate for that failure. In this regard, you need to find a way to make your fitness routine work best for you.

Find what motivates you and what makes you anxious to the point that you overeat and under-exercise. Personalize your routine to you in a way that retains compliance to the principles that manifest effective diet and exercise.

[1] E. Cava, N. C. Yeat, B. Mittonderfer, “Preserving Healthy Muscle during Weight Loss,” Advances in Nutrition 15, 8, no. 3 (2017): 511-519.

[2] Leslie H. Willis, et al., “Effects of Aerobic and/or Resistance Training on Body Mass and Fat Mass in Overweight or Obese Adults,” Journal of Applied Physiology 113, no. 12 (2012): 1831-1837.

[3] Suleen S. Ho, et al., “The Effect of 12 Weeks of Aerobic, Resistance or Combination Exercise Training on Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the Overweight and Obese in a Randomized Trial,” BMC Public Health 12 (2012).

[4] B. Strasser, A. Spreitzer, and P. Haber, “Fat Loss Depends on Energy Deficit Only, Independently of the Method for Weight Loss,” Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism 51, no. 5 (2007): 428-32.

[5] Salvador Camacho and Andreas Ruppel, “Is the Calorie Concept a Real Solution to the Obesity Epidemic?” Global Health Action 10, no. 1 (2017). Studies that attempt to dispel the notion that caloric intake is the mechanism by which fat loss occurs often only study caloric restriction in isolation from exercise, rather than in cooperation with a holistic approach to fitness. This only serves to highlight the necessity of exercise and holism in a fitness program, not the triviality of calorie consciousness. See, for example, David Benton and Hayley A. Young, “Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 12, no. 5 (2017): 703-714.

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