SUMMER is coming, and anyone who's thinking about slimming down for the beach should consider some contradictory advice: Make working out the last item on a four-point fitness plan.
"It's not how many jumping jacks and burpees you can do," says Jay Cardiello (above), a New York City-based strength coach and health strategist who has worked with Cavs forward Kevin Love and Suns center Tyson Chandler, as well as the Buccaneers and the Reds. "The only way you're going to have any [positive] outcome is through behavioral change and habitual change. So fitness and exercise are critical, but they're really not [the priority] in terms of sustainable weight loss."
In other words, what happens in the 23 hours spent outside the gym is what matters. Small, incremental adjustments work best, because, Cardiello says, "complexity is the enemy of execution." For starters, place sneakers next to the bed so they're easily accessible in the morning. Pack lunch the night before. Don't set a goal of drinking a half gallon of water a day; commit to drinking one cup a day for a week. "That's very feasible," Cardiello says. "People can do that. And then the next week you introduce a new behavior. Less is actually more in this situation."
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What else comes before working out on the fitness list? Read on
Step 1: SLEEP
"Sleep isn't sexy, but it's imperative for sustainable outcome," Cardiello says. He urges clients to get eight to nine hours of sleep per night. Proper sleep makes it easier to get to the gym, and it improves performance. A 2011 Stanford study found that basketball players' performances improved across the board when they got an additional one to four hours of sleep per night. And according to a 2013 study by the Sleep Foundation, the more vigorously a person exercises, the better his quality of sleep will be.
Step 2: NUTRITION
Cardiello says a person should drink half his weight in ounces of water every day. And he encourages people to add healthier foods, such as fruits, vegetables and lean meats, rather than eliminating food groups. He suggests eating foods of many different colors and favoring items found around the outside of the supermarket, where fresher, whole foods tend to be placed. "It doesn't mean you can't have chicken wings," Cardiello says. "But focus on getting in foods that make sense."
Step 3: MENTAL STRENGTH
Cardiello asks people to establish a sense of purpose rather than setting a goal. "You have to be pulled toward something. Goals are pushing. I want to lose 25 pounds. That's boring. That pushes you away," he says. "I want to avoid getting diabetes, I want to walk my daughter down the aisle—those are pulling purposes." To encourage this, Cardiello's clients use incantations—repeated, motivating phrases—and meditation to envision themselves reaching their objective. Says Cardiello, "You have to figure out your why factor."
To see Cardiello's quick workout tips, go to SI.com/edge