It’s the week after New Year’s. All over the mediascape, you’re being inundated with talk of “resolutions” and “goals” and how you’re “really going to make a difference for yourself in 2012.” Welp, add this to the pile. The first few weeks of a new year is a good time to make a list of all the things in your life you want to improve. And if how you look is one of those things, keep reading.

I already talked to you at length about how you should be doing it for yourself. You remember my last piece, right? Any change you want to make to your body, you should want to make it for intrinsic, rather than extrinsic reasons. You do it for you. Full stop.

But while you do it for you, you shouldn’t try to do it alone. The process of effectuating real, lasting changes in your body is long, arduous and sometimes scary. It’s a rabbit hole, and even Alice had the White Rabbit. There are those who can do everything they need to do by themselves, but those people are few and far between. If you’re one of those lone-wolf types, chances are you didn’t need a New Year’s Resolution to get you started. But you know what? You don’t need to be one of those types to really change your body. Anybody with any cred will tell you that it’s perfectly, completely okay to ask for help. Most will tell you that it’s actually necessary. I agree. And I’ve got four areas of analysis on this, two of which I’ll present today, and two next week.

1) Knowledge

The first reason for which you might need someone’s help in your fitness life is to remedy a lack of knowledge. If you’ve never worked out before or are just a beginner, it might be a good idea to have someone show you what to do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a trainer; a friend who’s been there will do fine. But in any case, if you’re new to working out, don’t think it’s just as simple as jumping on a StairMaster and climbing til you puke. That might work, but there’s probably a better way to go about it. Stretching isn’t the same thing as yoga, but it’d take someone who knows yoga to tell you how to go about it. The same way, a trainer or a knowledgeable friend can take your “going to the gym” and turn it into an efficient workout. And this isn’t only for the complete beginner either. At any level, there’s always someone out there who knows something about working out that could benefit you. So don’t be afraid to reach out!

But maybe even more important than workout knowledge is diet knowledge. One of my coaches once told me that bodybuilding is 85% diet. He wasn’t known for his exaggeration. I think he was being serious. 85%. Wow, right? Going through the process myself, I’m convinced of that number as well. 85%, and I believe it. When I started, I thought I knew how to diet properly. I’d read all the magazines I could get my hands on during my formative gym years. I thought I had my eating under control and just needed some secret new training method to put me in stage shape. I thought so, so wrong. My training wasn’t half bad, I found out. But my diet was fucked. Eating only what my coach told me to, I did in three months what I’d never been able to do in the prior 8 years. My point isn’t that you should do my diet; hell, I’m not even going to tell you what it was. My point is that you need to consult a professional to find out what works for you. Trust me, it’s worth it. It’ll change your life.

2) Motivation / Support
Maybe the hardest part about dieting and working out is staying motivated. Around two-thirds of you will know what I mean by March. You’ll have started out strong in January, fresh off your New Year’s Resolution highs, but by February the snow will hit and you’ll be cold and you’ll start making excuses and your plan will be shot like Old Yeller out back. Even if you know how to work out, and know how to diet, how to haul your own ass into the gym during winter after a long day of work isn’t something that can be taught.

This is where trainers and friends come in. With trainers, booking that session means you’re going to lose money if you don’t go. Even if you don’t need the knowledge, you’ll go because you don’t want to lose the money. But if you don’t want or need a trainer, you can still use a monetary incentive. At the start of every month, give $200 to your best friend / workout buddy. Say you want to hit 20 workouts this month. Every workout you complete, your friend gives you $10 back. You don’t go, you lose money. You’ll go. I call this the “banker” method.

A variation on this is something I call the “personal shopper” method. You know how when you get a new pair of running sneakers, you really want to go running, like all the time? All the runnings? And then after about two weeks you’re like ehh, cool shoes but, ehh, no I don’t want to running. Right? Well, try this: You make a list of all the cool workout clothes you want. New adidas running shoes, $150. Neon pink sports bra, $40. New headband, $10. Et cetera. You give your friend the same $200 at the start of the month, and every workout you hit, your friend puts $10 towards a purchase. Then, after enough money for something you want has accumulated, your friend “gifts” you something off your list. You won’t know what it’s going to be, so every so often it kind of feels like a surprise Christmas.

But leaving aside those little cash tricks, the best things a friend can do for your fitness life are work out with you, diet with you and tell you how good a job you’re doing. Working out with you on a set schedule keeps you accountable to them as it keeps them accountable to you. It’s much easier to make excuses to yourself than it is to someone else. Even if you don’t need the other person for your workout, you need to tell yourself that he or she needs you. That sentiment of not wanting to let him or her down should be strong enough keep you going in, day after day, and that’s what it’s all about. Similar for the diet. And when you think you might give up, don’t underestimate the power of a kind word or two from a friend. After all, it’s what they’re there for, right?

To be continued…