Photo by Laura Mahony

Ever feel like when it comes to fitness, you just want it all? A massive personal best on your squat, and at the same time those turtle shell abs. Hamstrings that pop out of your skinny jeans, but also sub-eight minute mile time. Yup, me too.

It’s that time of year when we set our eyes on a prize, make a goal, and conquer it. Fitness, conditioning, strength: there are so many goals to be crushed, where do we even begin? Here are my personal tips to help you prioritize your goals for the New Year:

Six-pack abs do NOT equal strength. 

Having a goal of six-pack abs is by no means a bad goal—you go get those abs, girl. However, I want to break this down a bit: not all bodies are happy having abdominal muscles. It means a very low body-fat percentage and depending on your genetics and your lifestyle, maintaining that body-fat percentage can potentially be very stressful on the body. If your priority is to “just get abs,” be prepared for a more restricted diet, and even strength loss in your lifts.

How much strength is lost while leaning out is completely dependent on your method of cutting body fat. Quick fix, low-caloric diets are always dangerous to the body (and in the long term, ineffective), and will greatly impact your lifts, whereas monitoring your macronutrient breakdown closely without under-eating will allow for less drastic changes with your gains.

Want to get crazy strong? Be prepared to gain weight.

My best advice for my clients wanting to get strong is this: eat like you mean it and be prepared to gain weight. You want to move big weight? Lifting heavy and eating light isn’t going to cut it. Mass moves mass. A few years back I put myself through a very intensive squat program with one goal only: SQUAT BIG. In my head, while under the barbell, that was all that mattered. However, when I got on that scale week after week and saw my weight creep up higher than it has ever been? I got more than a little stressed.

I highly suggest avoiding the scale and monitoring your progress during a strength cycle by measurements. For my squat cycle, it was my booty gains that kept me just as motivated from the day I started to the day I ended. In order for me to enjoy the process, I had to toss the scale.

Secondly, if you want strength, know that conditioning will have to suffer. Keep your conditioning to seven minutes or less: endurance isn’t going to be your friend. Work on sprints, a very high heart rate for a short duration, and exercises like seated box jumps to keep your fast-twitch muscles alive and well.

Can you have it all? Sort of.

So, you want to get leaner AND stronger? Aha! This is the one giant pickle we are all in. If you don’t have a specific goal (as in abs of steel or a powerlifting meet that you are dying to crush) listen up: strength training paired with high intensity interval training is where it’s at. Pick one or two fundamental moves as your strength such as pull-ups, deadlifts, squats, or bench press. Stick with five sets of five reps while slowly increasing weight. If your body is recovering well, you are eating enough, and your stress levels are low, pairing this with a 10- to 20-minute conditioning set post lifting will torch calories and help lean you out. This could look like 20 minutes of box jumps, light deadlifts, burpees, and pull-ups for as many rounds as you can with as little rest as possible.

However, if you are stressed, under-eating, or under-sleeping, don’t be surprised when your body starts hitting some serious plateaus. Not allowing adequate time for recovery can start to mess with cortisol levels and cause some major imbalances for your adrenals.

Pick one thing.

Close your eyes and think about what you truly want, deep down, for this year. What’s something you’ve always wanted but haven’t accomplished? Super strength? Better body composition? Compete in a show? Figure out what is at the top of the list and stick with it. The only thing needed outside of a solid training program and a stellar diet: consistency. Don’t flake out on that goal—it’s waiting for you to crush it.

Emily Schromm
Emily Schromm, Nutritional Therapy Practicioner, NASM Certified Personal Trainer, USAW Sports Performance