Well, it’s that time of year again.  Time to look forward to a whole new year of hopes and dreams.  And of course the only way we can achieve those dreams is to make New Year resolutions, right?  Wrong!!!  This is one of the biggest pitfalls people fall into.  I see it every year.  The gym is always packed throughout the month of January.  But in February, everybody seems to have disappeared into thin air.  Is it magic?  No!  It’s those darn resolutions falling through again!

About 90% of people who make New Year resolutions never follow through with them.  Why is this so?  The answer is simple:  these people are not ready for a physical change.  Have you ever thought about why people even bother making New Year resolutions?  Because a new year is beginning, certain people feel that it may be easier to embark on a new lifestyle.  But if you really think about this, it’s pretty ridiculous isn’t it?  Why wait for the New Year to embark on a new, healthy lifestyle?  Why not start now!   Trying to artificially create a reason to start is not going to do any good for someone who is not mentally and physically ready.  They will fail time and again.

For people who are ready, there is no greater time to begin than the present!  I know that the New Year has just begun, but I’m speaking hypothetically.   I always hear people say, “But how can I begin exercising and eating right during the holidays.  That’s impossible!”  The fact is, it is very possible.  In fact, if someone starts around the holidays, and they make it through, chances are they will become a success story!  I’ve seen this happen before, so I know it’s possible.  So if you know someone in this situation, my advice would be to tell them:  Don’t wait!  Start now!  Resolutions don’t work!  Chances are they’ll thank you for the advice.

A goal is very different from a resolution.  Let me explain why.  A resolution is something that you tell yourself is going to happen.  It’s somewhat of a promise that you make to yourself, usually around the time that a new year begins, that involves making a change in behavior that will lead to positive changes in one’s life.  The problem here is that there’s no plan of action.  A resolution is basically just a statement that is filled with a lot of good intentions, but no logical plan to make it happen.  This is why time and again resolutions never work.  It’s very hard to fulfill a promise to yourself, if you have no plan as to how you’re going to make it happen.

A goal on the other hand is just the opposite.  A goal has a plan of action attached to it that will bring a desired result.  There are many different kinds of goals.  There are yearly, monthly, and weekly goals, as well as daily goals.  Goals can pertain to any aspect of our lives.  A good friend of mine has a wonderful New Year’s tradition.  Every year, on New Year’s Eve, he holds a party.  It’s usually a very simple party with a lot of close friends.  After midnight strikes, he hands everybody a piece of paper, a pen or pencil, and an envelope.  At that point, everybody proceeds to write a letter to themselves about what they feel they have accomplished in the preceding year and what they would like to accomplish in the following year.  We then put the letter in the envelopes and address it to ourselves.  About nine months later, he mails these letters out to us.  When we receive the letters, we’ve usually forgotten about them.  Our reactions range from being slightly upset or very happy, depending on whether we accomplished what we set out to do.  The good news is this:  If we didn’t accomplish something that we had written down, we still have three months left to accomplish it.

I wanted to share this story with you, because it points out a very powerful tool that we can use to accomplish our goals- putting them in writing! By writing down your goals, you are, in a sense, making a contract with yourself.  What I’ve started doing for myself is writing a separate letter that I can have with me throughout the year.  This way I’ll never forget what my goals are.  And as I said before, you don’t just have to do this for yearly goals.  You can also make monthly, weekly, and daily letters as well.  By constantly having your goals in writing, you will know exactly what steps you need to take in order to accomplish them.  You are creating a plan of action for yourself.  Your letters, in essence, become “to do” lists.  These lists will help keep you on a steady road to accomplishing your goals.

The battle rages on between free weights and machines.  Which is better for resistance training?  Which one gives your more results?  These are questions that top fitness professionals have been debating for years.  These questions have also brought much controversy.  Personally, I don’t see what the big fuss is all about.

I’ll put it to you straight:  both free weights and machines give you results. Is one better than the other?  The answer to that question depends entirely on each individual.  Obviously, free weights are a more demanding form of resistance training.  They do not offer the structure or support that machines do.  However, this lack of support is what gives free weights its advantage.  By not have having the support of a machine, the body has to work harder to perform the exercise.  This fact, in and of itself, will cause the body to recruit more muscle fibers, therefore leading to the hypertrophy (enlarging and/or strengthening) of a muscle.

Another advantage of free weights is that they challenge the body’s balance mechanisms, especially if the exercises are performed in a standing position or on a resist-a-ball.  When the body’s balance mechanism is challenged, core muscles are called into activation allowing us to strengthen our core at the same time as building muscle.  This is one of the reasons that balance training with resist-a-balls, wobble boards, and BOSU’s are becoming so popular.

Does this mean that machines will not give you hypertrophy?  Absolutely not.  In fact, machines have several advantages as well.  Would I want to put someone who has never worked out before on a free weights-only program?  Of course not!  For beginner and physically challenged exercisers, the structure and support of machines offers an advantage because it allows them to strengthen their bodies while not putting themselves at risk for injury.  The machines are also used to prepare them for the more demanding movements to be done with free weights later on.  I do use free weights with beginning and physically challenged clients, but the weights are usually kept light and the repetitions high. I also use machines for advanced clients.

In order to keep seeing results, variety must be incorporated into your program.  This includes proper cycling of exercises, intensity levels, techniques, frequency and duration of workouts, and yes, using both free weights and machines.