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A good splurge at Christmas is just the thing to feed a fuel-hungry body


A much better approach is to forget about weight loss or how you look and concentrate on getting strong, as strong as you can be.

A much better approach is to forget about weight loss or how you look and concentrate on getting strong, as strong as you can be.

A much better approach is to forget about weight loss or how you look and concentrate on getting strong, as strong as you can be.

Here we are, only 15 days from the mother and father of all excuses to be lazy and eat like there's no tomorrow.

You may probably think that because I'm a trainer I'll be counselling you to take it easy on the turkey and mash.

I won't. I won't even tell you to avoid sweets or chocolates or beer or wine. It's one day, and one day will not make you or break you.

So have it, enjoy yourself and don't worry about it. I'm here, instead, to tell you how you can build a body that will gobble up extra calories like goodo. A body that can take a hit like Christmas and put all the extra calories you eat to good use.

If you think you're carrying a bit of extra fluff because you have a slow metabolism, you may be right. Not in a medical sense though.

If you went to the doc he'd do some blood tests and they'd most likely come back as 'normal'. Well that just means that you're not diseased and your result falls between two extremes, which is medically normal.

That doesn't mean, by any stretch, that your body is handling the energy you're eating optimally. Whether it is or not depends on one thing. Muscle, it's all in the muscle.

I'm a big fan of analogies, car analogies in particular. I don't know why but they lend themselves very well to nutrition and exercise.

My favourite one (I've been using it so long I can't remember where I got it from, so I'll claim it as my own) describes the human body as a car. A very peculiar car with an engine that changes size depending on how you drive it.


The engine adapts, as it were, to its environment. Picture this, you start out with a normal family car with a 1.6l petrol engine that gets around 50 miles per gallon.

Not bad. Now for six months you drive it like Lewis Hamilton, tyres screeching around every corner, every traffic light the start line of the Grand Prix.

A funny thing happens to your engine. All that revving and straining has made it grow, it's now a 3.2l turbo monster and only gets 20 miles per gallon. You don't pass many petrol stations by without dropping in to fill up.

This could have gone the other way though. Say you had left the same car in the garage, six months of no driving. It's gone the opposite direction now. You pop the bonnet and there's more space than anything else. The 0.5l engine staring back at you is tiny, but it gets great mileage at around 80 miles per gallon.

Now what I've described more or less matches what your body does when exposed to exercise.

Swap 'engine' for 'muscle' and 'fuel efficiency' for 'metabolism' and you get the picture. But there's something more important going on here.

You see the changes that happen 'under the bonnet' with your body happen in the muscle. The more you use and build your muscles the higher their demand for calories. Not just while exercising though, the same as a big engine ticking over, they need more fuel at rest. So, if you think you have a slow metabolism, it's not permanent and you can change it.

What's needed to build a monster metabolism? I've said it already but it bears repeating. MUSCLE! Forget about weight loss, build muscle and everything else will fall in line.

Having lots of muscle makes your body very inefficient at burning energy. Every single thing you do when you have more muscle 'costs' more calories. That includes sleeping, eating and sitting on your posterior.

The Myth of 'toning'

I hear this statement all the time: "I just want to tone up", or another favourite: "How do I tone my legs/arms/stomach/ any body part you want?"

Well I hate to be the harbinger of bad news but "toning" does not exist.

Muscle tone just describes the normal balance of tension in a muscle. You can have muscle tone but if those muscles are covered by layers of fat you won't see them.

What people want when they say 'toned' is less body fat and more muscle mass. And there's a very simple formula to achieve this. First, I'd like to point out a nuance that goes back to our car analogy above.

A lot of people rely solely on cardio- style exercise to lose weight and burn fat. Don't get me wrong, it is effective and much better than sitting on the couch, but that type of exercise makes your body even more efficient at burning energy, which sounds good, but isn't.

You want to have as big and as inefficient an engine as possible. Why? Well it's fairly obvious, but I'll say it anyway, big, inefficient engines need lots of fuel to do a little amount of work. They allow the owner to do less and burn more, essentially.

Building your Engine

Building a robust, energy-hungry body is very simple, but not very easy. It's a pity, but most of the fitness industry will lie to you and tell you that you can have whatever body you want in eight weeks.

Being honest, you can flog your body into better shape by starving it and beating it for a few weeks but who wants that. It's horrible and it's unsustainable.

A much better approach is to forget about weight loss or how you look and concentrate on getting strong, as strong as you can be.

Every single movement you do requires some degree of strength, even walking. The stronger you are the easier everything else becomes.

The stronger you are the more muscle you'll carry, the bigger your engine will be and the less damage the odd indulgent day will do. Start with strength and everything else will fall into place.

Master these three simple barbell movements and you'll be well ahead of the pack. Squat, deadlift and overhead press.

If you can squat and deadlift your own bodyweight and press half your bodyweight overhead you'll have developed much more than just the movement.

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