6 steps for getting lean

Exercise and the brain go hand in hand, the benefits of exercise on the brain are long-lasting and powerful. The challenging thing about exercise is that there are so many different types to choose from.

Which one do you choose? What type is best for you? When do you exercise? How long do you exercise? What’s the difference between cardio and weights?

A long career as a competitive athlete and commercial trainer has illustrated time after time again that these unanswered questions lead to some very basic training mistakes, myths, and misinterpretations, holding the new gym goer back. Goals become seemingly impossible, they begin to slip away, and motivation in turn wanes. Now, any type of exercise is absolutely better than no exercise, however, it’s important to know the different types of exercise and how to properly perform them in order to avoid the common errors that will prevent your goals from becoming a reality.


It’s a daunting experience stepping into the gym for anyone! The instinct is to look like you already know what you are doing. A typical workout looks like this:

  1. a warm up on the bike, easy and non-threatening
  2. onto the treadmill, a little more to figure out but simple enough
  3. maybe a rowing ergometer for a time, and finally…
  4. the dreaded weights area for some arm curls.

Following the fourth step is usually where the mistake happens, which leads me to my first tip about getting a good workout in. 

#1 Don’t burn out with cardio before you do weights.


The best physical rewards are gained when lifting weights or sprinting, both in terms of energy expired post training, and the benefit to shape achieved from lifting your optimum load or moving explosively. When you burn out on cardio out before lifting, you reduce your ability to work at your best by exhausting yourself before you start reducing the reward. Whatever cardio you decide to do, I favour it done on separate days to spread both training load and consequent best metabolic effect over a week. However if time is an issue, do it after weights!

With this tip, you can see that it’s important to plan your workouts ahead of time. Decide which days to do cardio and which days to do weight so that they don’t intermingle. Now that we’ve got that clear, let’s move on to the next tip:

#2 Warm up!


The fitter an individual is, the quicker they warm up, however everyone should still take the time to get a warm up in. Now, this can lighter versions of exercises that you’ll do later in the workout or simply foam rolling. For the average gym goer, some active stretches like walking lunges, prisoner squats, light presses/pulls, and a few minutes of walking or rowing are a great way to kick start the posterior chain that has been neglected as we sat all day!

After the warm-up is when the magic happens, that’s under one condition: consistency. Here’s tip number three:

#3 Random training for the sake of exercise won’t help you meet your goals.

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“I just get a machine that’s free and then when I see another one I use it”. Not a good game plan. The body won’t adapt if it doesn’t do the same movement pattern over and over for multiple weeks. There needs to be consistent movements based around fully extending the body, pressing, pulling and squatting.  When done with consistency and increasing the difficulty with heavier weights, sprinting faster, reducing rest time, and increasing the number of repetitions or speed, you’ll be more likely to see those results. Why? Because this will cause a greater impact in terms of energy used at rest thus increasing the ability to lose fat and also the ability of the muscle to develop and adapt. Just because that particular ‘machine’ wasn’t free isn’t a good excuse. Here’s another time to plan wisely.

Ok, so now that you’ve got the consistency down, let’s talk about the quality of the workout. You’ll get more quality out of your workout with tip number four…

#4 Compound movements are key!


Don’t spend time doing isolation exercises  (single joint exercises). Most people, as I explained, after a basic warm-up, do arm curls, or sit down and do leg extensions. NO! Just NO, please use your precious time for better effect. The bicep is a muscle with very little surface area, spending time exercising it will not create a massive energy debt to the body. A much more effective exercise to engage the arms in is a lat pull-down or chin up, this will engage the bicep with a greater load, thus achieving the potential for more developments in the arm. Equally and more importantly for the newbie it will engage the largest group of muscles in the back, the Latissimus dorsi. This will most certainly get the metabolism more revved up.

So, consistency, warming up, separating the cardio from the lifting, using compound exercises. You ready to go?? Hold on one second, patience is key. Tip number 5 says,

#5 More is more! Wait, rewind. Less is more!


If you’ve scheduled two work-outs back to back, you should train so hard in the first session so that you can’t physically do the second. The diminishing return for your time comes in the reduction of testosterone, a hormone that helps promote lower body fat, performance, mood and lean tissue. The stress hormone cortisol starts to elevate more dramatically after about an hour of training, this stress hormone can cause the body to be more inclined to store fat, increase muscle catabolism (breakdown of tissue) and restrict the ability to get energy back to the muscle for recovery! So, during your first class, you’ve probably burned a lot of energy, but by the second one, your body is getting really stressed and actually storing fat! Don’t over do it.

Last, but not least, when in doubt…

#6 Ask a professional.


I often hear people say, “I don’t need someone to teach me how to exercise!” With modern lifestyles and extended periods in offices, in front of computers, in cars, all whilst under stress, we can’t assume the body will move at its optimum. Have a professional show you technical aspects of training so your mechanics improve. It’s often hard to ourselves when we have movement patterns that are less than ideal. Move well to best avoid injury and to develop a healthier body that’s more capable in day-to-day tasks.

So, the next time you decide to start a new workout routine, and this time you want to stick with it and meet your goals, remember these 6 pointers:

  1. Separate Cardio and Weights

  2. Warm up

  3. Be Consistent

  4. Do Compound movements

  5. Less is more!

  6. Ask a pro

Do what’s best for your brain and body, plan your new exercise strategy today!

For more information on how the brain changes under exercise, click away here


Neil Anderson PT
Neil Anderson PT

I’m a performance and mobility specialist, gaining my love for fitness as a competitive bodybuilder, personal trainer, and WBFF muscle model.

I’ve had the fortune to work with all kinds of people, from actors, to models, to everyday gym-goers, and with companies like Under Armour. It all started over 20 years ago when I began competing in the technical sport of pole-vaulting. This sport inspired me to spend endless hours researching training protocols to develop better strength, power, speed and condition.

As a result, I experienced a change in my physique that gave me a new level of confidence and helped me develop in other areas of my life. Consistent energy and the good feeling of wellbeing go a long way!