How I Burn Fat and Build Muscle Without Going to the Gym
Health has always been one of my top priorities
“Good health is the crown on a well person that only a sick man can see.” Robin Sharma
I’m very thankful that, while people the same age or younger than me have started developing medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and gout, among others, I’ve managed to avoid illness and stayed in prime shape the past six years. I credit this to balanced nutrition and superior training programs developed by world-class trainers.
But I wasn’t always in tip-top shape.
Just like in 2014.
I moved from Singapore to Norway. I had difficulty finding a job and was unemployed for over a year. A gym membership was the last thing on my mind since I already had a baby on the way and finding employment was my topmost priority.
This meant I gained a bit of weight in about a year of physical inactivity, wasting years of hard work in the gym.
But just like any other obstacle in life, I had to find a way around, over, or through it if I wanted to continue to burn fat and build muscle. So I decided to start working out at home.
The good news is, it is possible to get good results. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced fitness nut, there are plenty of ways to burn calories, boost metabolism, and prevent weight gain even at home.
And the best news? I’ve maintained my weight for six years (and counting).
Here’s how I did it:
Step 1 — Eat Healthy Without Going Crazy
When I stopped working out, it was almost automatic that I let go of my diet as well.
I ate anything, and I mean anything! Pringles, muffins (my favorite, no question), fries, toast for breakfast, cakes and pastries, etc. There was no limit to how much processed food I ate. This went on from August 2013 to July 2014. By that time, I already noticed that I was getting softer in the midsection and saw what softly resembles man boobs.
Whether you’re exercising in a gym or not, the first step to losing weight will always start with nutrition.
My wife purchased a workout program called DDP Yoga (more on that later) which came with a meal plan. Dallas (the creator of the program) suggests avoiding gluten, wheat, and dairy because they cause inflammation in the gut and a whole laundry list of problems. The meal plan even comes with recipes for soups, salads, and even juices. There were plenty of meals built around protein.
To be honest, I only tried like three or four of them (they were delicious, by the way). I don’t avoid wheat, gluten, or to an extent, dairy. But I got the message: stay away from processed food and stick to more whole foods (and also try to make your healthy food as tasty as possible). And that’s what I “try” to adhere to.
I know we’re all human and it’s basically impossible to avoid comfort food so as a rule, I try to eat healthy 85% of the time, with healthy meaning eating nothing but whole foods.
For example, I eat five times a day. That’s 35 times per week. I try to eat healthy 28 times out 35 so I have room for about 7 cheat meals (to feed my soul), which for me is defined as a meal that includes some type of processed food like bread or pasta. That’s enough space for me to sneak in my muffins, bread toast, and ice cream.
I know there are plenty of people who suggest eating a cheat meal a week, or maybe a cheat day, and it might work for them. But for me, eating some muffins here and there keeps me sane. Sometimes, I wait until the weekends before eating my cheat meal but there are just some days when no amount of self-discipline will work When I have to get my sugar fix, I have to get my sugar fix.
Step 2 — Substitute Black Coffee For My Meals
You read that right.
Meal number one is breakfast, AKA black coffee breakfast.
After I’m done fasting for 14–16 hours, I go on to meal number two, which is actual breakfast (usually around 12 noon).
During the years before, when I was highly dependent on coffee, I would drink black coffee when I felt hungry and sometimes even as late as 8:00 or 9:00 in the evening (I wouldn’t suggest this, though).
Doing this curbs my appetite, and helps me feel full while avoiding ingesting calories.
On top of that, fasting also helps boost my metabolism, aids in fat loss, and increases growth hormone secretion which is vital for muscle building.
Nowadays, I only drink one cup of black coffee in the morning and some chamomile tea and sparkling water throughout the day when I feel hungry. These calorie-free drinks help me stay hydrated and most importantly, help curb my appetite as well.
Step 3 — DDP Yoga
When I started exercising again in September 2014, the first program that I did was DDP Yoga by former professional wrestler Diamond Dallas Paige.
It’s a 12-week program that combines yoga poses, traditional exercises, calisthenics, isometric contraction, and dynamic resistance training that can be done at home. The one my wife purchased was the DVD format (they also have an app now).
Exercising boosts fat burning and weight loss so I had to do some sort of resistance training to raise my heart rate and get a good sweat going, even if it was in my living room and not in the gym.
(Just a side note, if you are planning to purchase the program, it’s best that you do dynamic warmups for a good 10 minutes to raise your heart rate near your fat-burning zone so you don’t spend the first 15 minutes of the exercise trying to raise your body’s temperature).
Just like any other exercise, the goal is to elevate the heart rate. It trained me to focus on checking my heart monitor to see if I was working hard enough or not. If you hit the fat-burning zone consistently (or close to it) then you’ll see pretty good results.
Shockingly, I saw some solid muscle definition after the 12-week program. It was a solid physical activity to get me back on track to shed excess fat.
And speaking of physical activities…
Step 4 — Additional Physical Activities
Now that I was doing a form of resistance training, I added a couple of physical activities to boost fat burning further: Cycling, basketball, and walking.
During summer when the weather permitted, I rode my bike to school or to work instead of taking the bus or driving a car. It was like hitting three birds with one stone: biking promotes weight loss, I save money, and I help save the environment by helping reduce carbon emissions.
Playing basketball was a way to socialize with others. About twice a month, I played basketball with some friends. Although I haven’t played basketball since 2016, this sport gave a boost to my metabolism during a time when I was trying to get back in shape.
The third one was walking anywhere I could. I walked to the grocery whenever possible, I walked to work sometimes, I walked to the mall if I needed to buy something, and I took short walks with my wife when the weather was good.
It’s not as intense as the first two, but it’s a way to burn calories nevertheless.
Step 5 — Strength Training at Home
I couldn’t work out in a gym because I couldn’t afford a gym membership so I brought the gym to my house instead.
When I found a job, one of the first things I bought was a pullup bar and some dumbbells, with a total weight of up to 19.5 kg each.
The weights I was using were pretty limited but that didn’t mean the workouts were easy. As a matter of fact, I only needed light weights when I did circuit training and HIIT with dumbbells.
Some days I only do bodyweight exercises like this from Athlean X:
And some days I do DDP Yoga (it’s good for my back, and stretching helps relieve my sore muscles).
Muscles are more metabolically active than fat, meaning the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn, even at resting state.
Instead of just focusing on cardio exercises alone, I invest in building muscles as well. Granted, that I won’t produce big, bulging muscles due to the limited weights I lift, but I still maintain a well-balanced physique with the type of strength training I do at home.
How to Prevent Weight Gain?
During my early years of working out, my two biggest obstacles to losing weight and keeping it off were the two Bs: burnout and boredom.
Rebound weight gain is real. If it happened to me, it can happen to anyone (it actually happened several times).
There was a time in 2005 when I was working out around three hours a day and dropped to 72 kg. However, after maybe around four months of doing this, I got burned out and stopped going to the gym for around a year, I think. When I got back to training, it was much harder for me to lose weight because my body didn’t want to train anymore for 3 hours (it felt like torture).
Then in 2013, I was around 12% body fat while on a low carb diet. This quickly vanished as I gained weight again when I stopped working out for a year.
There’s no magic pill you can take to prevent weight gain because our body constantly tries to keep us alive and keeps healthy stores of fat available if our body needs a source of energy in case of an emergency.
There’s only one solution to this: consistency.
By following a healthy diet and exercise plan 365 days a year instead of just for 60 or 90 days, you prevent the weight from piling up again (especially as you get older, when your metabolism is slower).
Which is why it’s important to find a training and eating plan that you like and suits your needs because this is the real meaning of fitness as a lifestyle.
I prefer exercise that’s anywhere between 20 to 30 mins long. Keeping my training short and efficient prevents burn out, and it fits perfectly in my busy schedule as I try to balance family, work, and my side projects.
Exercise is only 3% of my time in a week. If I can’t find time to get three to six hours of exercise a week, then there is no way I can prevent weight gain.
Another problem was boredom.
When you do the same things over and over again, you start getting bored of the workouts and just go through the motions instead of giving your best effort. The worst part is your body starts burning calories more efficiently, which is bad news because that means it won’t see results anymore, which could lead to frustration.
This is why I change my weight-lifting program every three weeks, and I continuously look for ways to sweat while having fun as well.
This year, I started playing volleyball with my friends and coworkers. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to play the sport; I just fell into it because my coworkers play it. Now that I play, I realize how much fun it is.
This year also marked the first time we went hiking up a mountain with my whole family. We didn’t make it to the top of the three-hour hike, but we plan on going back to the same mountain to conquer it next time.
I can list a bunch of activities that can burn fat without going to a gym:
Sports (football, volleyball, basketball, handball)
Martial arts, self-defense
There are plenty of ways to burn calories that don’t require going to the gym. Most of them can be done with the family, too and are lots of fun!
I started working out again in the gym around November of last year. I was a little bit bummed that gyms closed around March this year due to Covid 19. I was upset for two minutes and then quickly realized I had worked out at home for six years so this challenge was nothing new.
I continued to work out at home when the gyms reopened because now, the schedule has changed again, and writing for Medium has taken up a huge chunk of my morning. I save a lot of time commuting to and from the gym, which I turn into additional hours of writing instead.
I don’t see myself going back to the gym anytime soon but I’m not worried. Weight gain is a thing of the past. I already have a proven plan that’s going to keep the weight off as long as I want to.
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