With the new year just around the corner… this is when most people’s motivation is at its peak for the year as they aim to embark on their new year’s fitness journey. 

Fast forward to late February or March and that motivation has usually started to dwindle and it is not long before they are back to old habits.

So why is that…why do so many people start the year with such high hopes and ambitions only to drop off and slip back into their old habits?   

There are several reasons but one of the main ones is that they FAIL to plan. 

When most people get back into the gym in the new year, they try to go from 0 to 100 straight away. They begin exercising vigorously 5-6 days a week and slash they calories as much as they can because they want to ride that wave of motivation.

However, because that type of motivation is only temporary and the approach that they are using is not sustainable, it is only a matter of time before they drop off. 

One trait that all successful health and fitness enthusiast share, i.e., those that stay in shape or continue to improve every year is they have learned how to pace themselves. They have realized that this is not a race and if you approach it like a race you will end up running out of gas really quickly. 

I leaned this valuable lesson a while ago studying the bodybuilding legends of the past such as the great Arnold Schwarzenegger and Frank Zane. 

For example, what many people don’t know is that Arnold would split his annual training plan into four phases. Those crazy high workouts that you see in the magazines, he would only perform for about two to three months out of the year. The rest of the year Arnold would train with a much more modest volume [1-3].

You Might have seen those crazy Arnold workouts in the magazines, but the reality is he only trained like that for about 3 months out of the year. The rest of the time he used a much more modest volume.

Following the Mr Olympia contest, from October through December, would be Arnold’s recovery and regeneration phase. During this stage, training was unplanned, and it was “playtime” in the gym with no set schedule [3]. He would typically go to the gym three to four days a week and do short 20-minute workouts [1]. 

The purpose of this phase was to allow the for the body to recover and the mind to create the “want” to do it again in January. According to those that had the opportunity to watch him train, Arnold always carefully nurtured the “want,” which he said is what creates the will [3].

January through March would be the basic building phase. Here Arnold used mostly basic exercises, with relatively low sets and longer rest periods, and no more than four workouts per week. He would either train the whole body three times in a week, or he would split his routine into an upper and a lower body, training each body part twice a week. His workouts would take no more than 75 minutes at most [3]. 

During the third stage, which was April through to June, Arnold would switch to a six-days-a-week three-way split program, working each muscle group twice a week. The workouts in this phase would take 90 minutes to two hours each and this is where he would incorporate more specialization work on his weaker body parts. In the past Arnold has specialized on calves, deltoids abs, and, and forearms [2,3].

In the final three months before a competition, which would be July through to September, Arnold would ramp up the intensity and duration of his workouts to twice a day, training each body part three times per week using an AM/PM split. At this stage he would be training two to three hours total each day.

Now, that doesn’t mean you need to work up to training twice a day six days a week for two to three hours, but it illustrates the point that even the most successful bodybuilders need to have a plan and they need to pace themselves. 

Frank Zane, another legendary bodybuilder from the Golder Era who many people consider as having the most aesthetically pleasing physique of all time, used a similar approach to Arnold which he called phase period training [4]. 

Frank Zane would break up his annual plan into 10 cycles. He would start by taking a few weeks off completely after a show. He would then get back into the gym starting with two light workouts a week, and he would progressively ramp up the volume and the intensity every few weeks or months until he was training nine times a week (three single days, and three double days) the week before the show [4].     

These legends of the iron game understood the importance of giving the mind and body a break after a competition, and progressively increasing their workload over the course of the year, as they got closer to the show. Furthermore, they are still relatively healthy and still in good shape now in their seventies, compared to the bodybuilders who came after them, who abused drugs and their bodies, and many of them are passing away in their forties and fifties. 

Frank Zane is regarded by many as having the most aesthetically pleasing physique of all time. Even today in his 70s he is still in fantastic shape because he used an intelligent and sustainable approach to training.

So, this year rather coming out guns blazing and trying to do too much too soon, try pacing yourself. Start with the least amount of exercise and most amount of calories you can get away with then work up from there. 

After about 3 months or so back off for about 2-3 weeks in order to reset then build up again from there. That is a much more sustainable path towards achieving your health and fitness goals in 2022!