Friction Factor Fitness FAQs
1. What is friction and why is it a factor in fitness?
Friction refers to the inefficient use of time and energy. Friction stifles habit formation by unnecessarily increasing the amount of effort required to get the benefits of diet and exercise. When your diet and exercise processes create too much friction, you lose motivation to continue. The key to building sustainable fitness habits is eliminating as much friction as possible from your diet and exercise.
2. Why do most busy people fail at sustaining diet and exercise?
The reason people fail is that they aren’t able to turn their new diet and exercise behaviors into habits. Habit creation is one of the best ways to eliminate friction because habits eliminate much of the psychological effort required to engage in an activity. However, most diet and exercise processes that busy people select aren’t time or energy efficient so they create significant friction, making them difficult to do consistently.
3. What’s the most important step I can take to begin exercising consistently?
Start by setting a frequency goal rather than an intensity or length-of-workout goal. In the long run, it’s much better to start by exercising for five to ten minutes every day and do so consistently than to do longer, more intense workouts intermittently. The goal is to make initiating exercise feel as automatic as brushing your teeth or taking a shower. When you reach this point, you will have eliminated a significant amount of friction from the exercise process.
4. Will lifting weights cause me to build huge, bulky muscles?
Significant muscle growth has three main requirements: strength training, a nutritious diet, and a calorie surplus. If someone strength trains, eats healthy, but doesn't consistently eat more calories than their body requires to maintain its current size, then significant muscle growth won’t happen.
5. Can fat be changed into muscle?
No. Fat and muscle are two different types of tissue. Fat is inactive tissue that stores excess energy for future use. Muscle is dynamic tissue that utilizes fuel to move the body. The only way to reduce fat is by burning excess calories. The only way to build muscle is through appropriate exercise and nutrition.
6. Am I too old for strength training?
While you should consult with a physician if you're in questionable health, there's no general reason that people of any age shouldn't do strength training. In fact, the US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that older adults regularly engage in muscle-strengthening exercises.
7. Should men and women do different exercises?
While women may need to adjust their workout regimen if they are pregnant, there aren’t many additional compelling reasons for men and women to exercise differently for general health. Both men and women need cardiovascular exercise to keep their hearts healthy and regular strength training of the major muscle groups to develop strength and maintain a healthy amount of muscle mass.
8. Is cardio really necessary?
Yes. Building and maintaining a healthy body requires exercising all your important muscles. Though the heart is an organ, it’s composed of a significant amount of muscle tissue. The only way to appropriately exercise the heart is with some form of cardio exercise.
9. Do body-fat scales work?
Using a body-fat scale is less accurate than other ways of measuring body fat, such as using skinfold calipers. Body-fat scales don’t take many individual factors (age, height, gender, etc.,) into account, making them less reliable.
10. What’s the number one thing people can do to stick to a healthy diet?
At the beginning of your journey, try to simplify your meal plan. Rather than counting calories for every meal, you can reduce friction if you come up with a few staple meals that are satiating and have the correct portions and nutritional content. Relying on your staple meals for most of the week will remove the need for calorie counting at individual meals. As you get comfortable with this process, you can add variety as your healthy habits become established.
11. How fast can I lose weight safely?
The maximum rate of weight loss that's widely considered safe is two pounds per week. Losing weight more rapidly than this can cause significant muscle loss and put you at risk for other health complications. Rapid weight loss also increases the likelihood that you won't stick with your nutrition plan long term.
12. How much muscle can I gain?
Though results can vary widely, men who eat and exercise appropriately and who have no consistent training history can expect to gain an average of ten pounds or more during their first year. Likewise, women who eat and train appropriately can expect to develop an average of five pounds of muscle in their first year. (See question 4 if you’re concerned about building too much muscle.)
13. How much protein should I eat?
The recommended protein intake ranges for most people trying to maximize muscle development are as follows:
- For men: 0.9–1.18 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass
- For women: 0.82–1.0 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass
You can calculate you lean body mass (LBM) using the following formula:
- LBM = weight in pounds × [1 − (body fat percentage ÷ 100)]
To calculate your recommended daily protein intake, multiply your LBM by an amount of protein (in grams) within the specified range for your sex. For example, Sarah weighs 140 pounds and has an LBM of 112 pounds. She plans to eat one gram of protein per pound of lean mass, so she’d eat 112 grams of protein per day (at her current weight) to help maximize muscle development.
14. Should I join a commercial gym?
One of the best ways to remove friction from the exercise process is to exercise at home. This allows you to skip the travel time and engage in the primary activity (exercise) much faster, which makes exercising more repeatable and conducive to habit building.
15. Do I have to count calories?
Yes and no. The purpose of counting calories is to control your daily calorie intake—a discipline known as portion control. But directly counting calories isn’t the only way to exercise portion control. Here are some alternative methods:
- Using smaller plates and bowls
- Setting rules such as to stop eating when you’re full rather than eating everything on your plate
- Using measuring cups to portion your foods
Virtually all modern schemes for portion control are just an indirect means of calorie counting. They simplify calorie counting, but they also tend to be much less accurate than direct means. (See question 10 for ways to eliminate friction from the process of calorie counting.)
16. Are macronutrients important in my diet?
Yes. All the foods you eat are made up of substances called macronutrients; the three types are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. While the amount of protein, fat, and carbs individuals need can vary, each plays an important role in proper nutrition. Unless you have been given other instructions from a medical doctor or registered dietitian, aim for a daily diet that contains macronutrients in the following recommended ranges:
- Protein: 10–35 percent of your total daily calorie intake
- Carbs: 46–65 percent of your total daily calorie intake
- Fat: 20–35 percent of your total daily calorie intake
17. How important is staying hydrated?
Water is so crucial to vital functioning that just a few days without any will cause death. The amount of fluid needed varies by individual, but the general recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is eleven and a half cups per day for women and fifteen and a half cups per day for men.
18. What type of diet should I follow: low carb, all organic, paleo, keto, something else?
The science is not yet settled on the “right type of diet” that everyone should eat. Unless you’ve received other direction from a medical doctor or dietitian, my general recommendations are as follows:
- Make sure your meal plan meets your daily calorie intake goals.
- Build meals that keep you within the recommended macronutrient ranges (see question 16).
- Pick foods that you find satiating.
19. How do I select appropriate foods for my meals?
As you consider potential meal options, pay special attention to what percentage of a food’s total calories are composed of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. You can determine what percentage of a food’s total calories come from a specific macronutrient (macro) by following these two steps:
- Multiply the total amount of a specific macro (in grams) by the number of calories in that macro type:
- One gram of protein contains four calories.
- One gram of fat contains nine calories.
- One gram of carbohydrates contains four calories.
Example: Two ounces of canned albacore tuna contains 13.2 grams of protein, which, when multiplied by four, equals 52.8 calories.
- Divide the above number by the total number of calories contained by the food.
Example: Two ounces of albacore tuna contains 71 total calories; 52.8 (protein calories) divided by 71 total calories is 0.74, meaning that 74 percent of the calories in albacore tuna comes from protein.
If you aim for foods with a relatively high proportion of a single type of macro, this makes it easier to build meals that meet your nutritional goals.
20. How many meals should I eat per day?
No single approach is optimal for everyone, so defer to what's most practical for you. Look at the flow of your average day and decide where the natural stopping points are. Also consider when you typically start feeling hungry and low on energy. If you tend to feel hungry in the morning, then you should eat breakfast. If you're not hungry upon rising, then wait until later to eat. The key principle is to distribute your food intake across however many meals is necessary to keep you feeling full and energized.
21. How do I allocate macronutrients across each meal?
While you shouldn't get too hung up on the nutritional content of any one meal, setting per-meal calorie and macro targets can be helpful. This means aiming to eat a certain number of calories in the form of protein, fat, and carbs during each meal. To set per-meal targets, divide your daily calorie and macro targets by three—or however many meals you're planning to eat daily. Many people find that this approach keeps them feeling more full throughout the day.
22. How do I design a meal for my meal plan?
When designing a meal, follow these steps:
- Select your protein source(s) for the meal and decide how much will be needed to meet your protein target.
- Select your fat source(s) for the meal and determine how much will be needed to meet your fat target.
- Select your carb source(s) for the meal and determine how much will be needed to meet your carb target.
- Make sure that the foods and portion sizes you’ve selected meet your calorie intake goals. If not, adjust accordingly.
23. Are cheat days okay?
Cheat days aren’t inherently bad, but people run into trouble when they have too many of them. Predesignating cheat days makes it easier to keep track of the consequences of deviating from your meal plan. It’s best to predesignate the days or meals when you're most likely to cheat—for example, dinner on Friday or Saturday night—as your official cheat days, as long as cheating at these times still allows you to make fitness progress.
24. What types of exercise should I be doing?
Unless you're not healthy enough for exercise or have been given different directions by a doctor or exercise professional, you should consistently engage in cardio and strength-training exercises for general fitness. Your basic cardio exercise goal should be to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobics per week. Your basic strength-training goal should be to exercise each major muscle group—arms, chest, back, shoulders, and legs—two to three times per week.
25. What if I don’t have room for exercise equipment?
If you can’t clear enough space in your home for traditional free weights and equipment, you can generally get what you need by doing body-weight exercises, using resistance bands, and doing stationary forms of cardio such as jumping rope or running in place. These tactics make effective exercise possible when you have space limitations or are traveling.
26. What’s the best time of day to exercise for most busy people?
Most people have only a few times a day when exercising is possible:
- Mornings before work
- Midday—the time when most people stop for a lunch break
- Evenings after work
For busy people, mornings generally will be the most practical time for exercise because it is when distractions and competing priorities are usually at a minimum and friction is lowest. Even if your lifestyle is atypical—such as for those who work nights—you can still leverage this basic principle: get your exercise done shortly after waking, before opportunities for friction creep in.
27. How often should I exercise?
If your goal is to turn exercise into a lifelong habit, then short daily exercise sessions are generally the best solution. The reason for this is simple: habits are formed through consistent repetition; the more frequently a behavior is performed, the easier it is to make it a habit.
28. How long should my workouts be?
The right cardio and strength-training exercises done consistently in twenty-minute daily sessions (in combination with proper nutrition) can be extremely effective in helping you reach your fitness goals—though some people will need to gradually build up to twenty-minute workouts.
29. How can I exercise when I’m traveling?
Check whether your travel destination has an exercise facility on site. If it doesn’t, devise a travel version of your workout that can be done without much equipment. I highly recommend having a set of resistance bands that you can throw into your suitcase and take with you. You can get an extremely effective workout done in a hotel room with resistance bands, body-weight exercises, and stationary cardio options such as jumping jacks or running in place.
30. How can I get visible ab muscles?
Having visible ab muscles requires having a very low body-fat percentage. The key to lowering body-fat percentage is to sustain a calorie deficit until the desired result is achieved. To create a calorie deficit, you must burn more calories each day than you consume, which is best achieved with a combination of proper exercise and controlling your daily caloric intake.
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