Down Regulation - A Missing Link for Fitness Success
People like progression.
Very few feelings are as satisfying and successfully progressing in something that matters to us as individuals. In fact, people will work tirelessly to achieve a progression, no matter how serious the consequences, simply to obtain the validation of reaching their goal.
Examples are everywhere around us at all times -
Popular entertainment such as video games employs leveling systems to hook players into the "chase". Each level provides a new weapon, ability, or simply the prestige of a higher number next to one's avatar. While meaningless in the real world, these achievements drive thousands of players to invest days of time into a game towards the actualization of their goal. These players formulate strategies to maximize return while minimizing investment utilizing the framework of the game as leverage.
Financial institutions have built road-maps, calculators, and goal sheets for the use of those who choose to bank with them. These features can be customized to fit any goal from saving for retirement, paying off debt, or even building a rainy-day fund that can double as party money. Those who utilize these features have shown a greater propensity towards goal achievement than those who simply plan in their heads.
Coaches use trackers, spreadsheets, and old fashioned pen and paper to track the progress of a client. Exercise enthusiasts can use a myriad of apps, websites to track and share their own progress. Whether you are mapping your run, counting your steps, counting your macros, or building strength for a meet - there is a system already in place that will be quick to tell you that you've achieved your goal, or at the very least, made progress towards it.
All of these technologies and systems make goal achievement much easier. Analytics provide tangible evidence of success and failure - without discrimination. Pop ups, social media posts, and badges are awarded when we hit our goal or exceed expectations. Quickly our reward center is triggered and our hormones make us feel happy. To the contrary, other people's success, or our own shortcomings, can make us feel inadequate or incapable.
Oh, how achievement is a double edged sword.
Each of these occurrences has helped create a more driven, task-oriented society that is openly competitive, extrinsically motivated, and hell-bent on proving their worth. Our apps wake us, watch our sleep, and push us to go further than our friends...
All of which leaves us in a sympathetic state - or in laymen's terms - a "fight or flight" state.
See, our competitive drive is one of the reasons that America was able to rise above other nations and build an incredible country. Hard work, grit, and vision led America from a colony to an influential nation in the world.
That drive puts us to work, pays the bills, builds the family, raises the kids, tends to the home, trains the body, and so much more. We stay activated and caffeinated for extended periods of time. Days become weeks so quickly that months become forgotten calendar headings. This way of life has expanded America's reach and it's waistline at an almost equal reach.
Now, as we near 2017 - public awareness of health and wellness is reaching a high point. More people know it is a terrible foul to let themselves go. This awareness has us pushing to make changes RIGHT NOW!
At the same rate of speed we expect our Facebook feeds to refresh we expect to see our w eight fall off. This pushes us to take more steps, pedal more wattage, lift more weight, and eat fewer calories.
Push Push Push!
Drive Drive Drive!
And yet, nothing changes...
We look the same, weigh the same, and feel like we've been hit by a truck - what gives?
The issue is that there wasn't enough time spent recovering, regenerating, and preparing for our next bout of high intensity. Let's look at two of the most common mistakes -
1. Every Workout is Balls-to-the-Wall
You take every boot camp class you can make, spin three days a week, do six miles on Saturday, and lift heavy in between. By most people's standards you are a fitness nut. You are always covered in sweat, always sore, and always pushing beyond everyone else.
Firstly, applaud yourself - you are a bad ass. I get sore and I want to go back into my shell like the turtle I am. You have resiliency to say the least.
Secondly, but most importantly, slow down. You are literally cheating yourself out of your results. You are spending so much time in the sympathetic state that your body is never recovering.
When high intensity is your only intensity it sort of loses its effect. Take the time to recovery your body with appropriately chosen off-days and low expenditure activities such as restorative yoga or a long walk.
What are the benefits you ask?
For one, you'll significantly lower the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your bloodstream. Stress is a part of life, and as Hans Selye, the "founder" of stress if you will, stated: "stress is the non-specific response of the body to any demand or change".
He doesn't differ between eustress and distress, although those factors do matter. Rather, he emphasizes that when examining the body's response - all that matters is that the heart rate is elevated, blood pressure follows suit, and certain hormones are plentiful while others are subdued.
Why is this serious?
Once cortisol gets high enough in concentration the body struggles to release itself from "fight or flight" mode. Like having coffee too close to bed - you just can't wind down and relax. This lack of relaxation is bad for the heart, impairs sleep quality, muscle recovery, disturbs hunger and satiety signals, can damage critical thinking and creativity, and even lead to anxiety and depression if left unchecked.
**Note - if you are finding yourself going through waves of emotions (big waves, not just small perturbations that come with day-to-day life) after your workouts and in the absence of them - you could be dealing with anxiety centered around your fitness, which is a serious issue and should be consulted.
Simply put, your body is a biological machine. It is a very special one. One that was designed with the capability to adapt (or maladapt) to the stimuli placed upon it. This one fact makes the human body the most advanced machine in the world, but also points to its fatal flaw. Like any machine - overuse can cause it to malfunction - and eventually breakdown. Moreover, unlike a common machine, the human body is a tremendous interplay of visible and non-visible factors that make it tremendously tough to fix once it is truly broken. Thus, take care of your machine with regular maintenance and care.
2. The "YOLO" Mentality (You Only Live Once)
A common mentality amongst a younger crowd, and a stupid saying that deserves a swift kick to the shins upon its utterance...YOLO has caused many individuals to "overspend" themselves in an effort to "live".
Long work days are finished with intense exercise classes (see above bullet point), and sandwiched between weekends full of booze, brunch, Chipotle, and noisy Snapchat posts that make no sense...
Even if you aren't of the partying crowd - you may find yourself putting in ten to twelve hour days at work, raising your family, getting your workouts in, and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life.
Regardless of modality, your life has become an all out sprint to the finish, which may be sooner for you than you'd like.
This mentality of "sleep-when-you-die" is an awesome building block when you need some motivation that extends beyond the cheers of your little league team from the dugout. College papers, annual financial reports, finishing a new song you've wrote, or enjoying a drink until the wee-hours of the morning all make us look past our beds and towards our experiences.
Which isn't wrong. This life is meant to be lived, experienced, and felt....and yes sometimes you need to push and other times you'll get to pull back. However, if you are looking to improve your health and wellness you'll need sleep.
Moreover, if you are looking to burn body fat - you'll need sleep to reset hormones, repair damaged tissue, utilize body fat to restore glycogen stores via gluconeogenesis (not a miracle, just biology), and be ready to put more effort towards your day.
Proper sleep, 7 to 9 hours for most adults, is critical for creativity and critical thinking, which is probably important at your job. Furthermore, the correct amount of sleep contributes to a better lipolytic (fat-burning) response to training, stabilized hunger/satiety cues, more willpower, and an actual increase in your attractiveness (since you won't look like the walking dead 24/7).
Continuing on, eliminating excessive alcohol will increase protein synthesis (or at least thwart its rapid stop on Friday), lower total caloric intake, make hangovers a thing of the past (working out on a Sunday---say whatttttttt?), and contribute to your attractiveness since you'll start dropping body fat and looking less like the walking dead 24/7.
Taking appropriate rest time, even when not sleeping (see above), is critical to the restoration of muscle tissues, fascial integrity, and psychological satisfaction. Take time to play and engross yourself in a fun activity to take your mind away from life. It could be a movie, a softball game, or just kicking it with friends shooting the shit...just relax and smile!
We all get a limited amount of time on this planet - I get that. Yet, you can't confuse living life to the fullest with living it recklessly. Take care of yourself and your body will take care of you. Get quality sleep and try your hand at meditation. Drink less alcohol and find some extra water.
Realize that there is a benefit to slowing down and "smelling the roses". Not every workout needs to set a record, even if you want it to. Not everyday is going to be an "A" day. There will be a bunch of C's and maybe a few F's. But don't F it all up by trying to do more than you should. Your body is a well-designed machine that gives its rider (your consciousness) a bunch of signals to let it now what is going on.
Tune in those signals and you'll likely find that you should be turning down the lights more often. More sleep, a smooth swim and a long walk, less liquor and more laughter...
Here is a great TedTalk on longevity and your exercise, lifestyle -