New Years, as though a rite of passage, initiates people to go the gym and work towards whatever fitness goal has been eluding them for much of their time on this rotating rock. Much the same, fitness professionals jump at the opportunity to meet new clients, coach them up the "right" way, and change lives for the better.
Here on the internet, that often means articles cautioning against excessive cardiovascular training, crash diets, and any other gimmicks that sucker far too many people into handing over their hard earned cash each January. It comes from the right place most of the time too. I'd say that the majority of coaches in the business genuinely want to improve the lives of all those they come in contact with, regardless of modality or method.
From our soap box we coaches talk of building functional strength, healthy habits, and doing things the "right way". Banded abduction walks for activation, foam rolling the calves and rolling the feet for self-myofascial release, and preparing all of your meals on the weekend to avoid those bad decisions that come from letting yourself become too "hangry".
We groove the hip hinge before we load it. Focus on quality over quantity. We coach the shit out of planks, rollouts, and everything that avoids flexing a loaded spine for core training.
We preach about embracing the process.
And that is all well and good. It's correct and it is exactly what the world needs to hear. Except...
It's falling upon deaf ears.
The problem has never been, and never will be, the message; especially when the message is built on the principles that govern strength and conditioning. The general public should understand what works and what doesn't, what is true and what is utter bullshit.
However, we can't assume that they want to get a gym membership and a second handed NSCA-education at the same exact time. We as coaches have to meet them half-way. We need to dismount our high horse of knowledge and education and meet them where they are.
Where are they?
If you are actively training clients, then you will agree that most people are frustrated, a bit flustered, and quite confused as to what is good and what is bad for them. One day coffee boosts the metabolism, and another it becomes the reason they have belly fat. They are lost, as though their GPS is recalculating every single morning to figure out how to get them on the fastest route to their goals.
Thus, I am aiming with this article to bridge that gap. To cut the bullshit down into easier to chew bites. More specifically, I want to give people 5 things to focus on for the next 5 weeks, and see where it gets them.
Chances are that absolute application of these principles will lead to a greater than 5 pounds loss, especially in those individuals who's habits are jacked up beyond all recognition. Moreover, chances are that focusing upon just a few things, albeit key principles, will help them create rituals that last much longer than any other methods they've tried in the past, or would look to try going forward.
The Power of 5
Adhering to the following five principles for at least five successive weeks will absolutely lead to positive progression towards weight loss, improved wellness, and a total body transformation. These tactics, to which I refer to as rituals, are ones that are meant to serve as your foundation. Do these well and you will be ready, psychologically and physiologically, for what can and should come next..
Each of these tactics are critical elements of overhauling your life in order to better align yourself with the behaviors that lead to a healthier, fitter body. These tactics probably won't catapult you to the cover of Men's Health, nor will they be all that you need for the rest of your life.
You'll need more. We all need more. We all need to move towards the uncomfortable every single day.
We also all need a starting point, a diving board if you will, to launch us to our big splash.
These are your first 5 moves.
1. Eat at least 7 servings of vegetables every day
Wait...what? 7 Servings, that's like...7 vegetables I have to eat...
You better your backside you should be eating that many servings every single day, if not more. This isn't about going vegetarian, or lowering your meat consumption either. This is about putting lower calorie, but higher nutritional density foods into your system throughout the day.
Vegetables extend well beyond those peas, carrots, green beans, and corn that you associate with normally.
Vegetables include spinach and kale, eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, peppers, pumpkin and squash, and so many more that grow in the ground and are found in our waters. Each provides a unique array of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals, that are necessary for our body's optimal function.
I'd even venture to say that fixing micro nutrient deficiencies is just as imperative as balancing out the macronnutrients we focus upon (carbohydrates, fats, proteins).
Worried about fitting them all in?
Throw some spinach, tomatoes, black beans, and peppers into your morning omelet.
Exchange that normal sandwich at lunch with a salad. Build it upon some kale and throw in some carrots, peas, a little cucumber/tomato/corn salsa, and top it with a protein and some pumpkin seeds.
Skip the chips and do carrots and celery in some peanut butter.
Serve your dinner with 2 vegetables instead of just one. Technically potatoes, sweet or white, are vegetables, so fear not. Serve that steak over some spinach leaves, or make some steamed broccoli to enjoy on the side.
Like any habit, it has to be a conscious practice. You can't "hope" to get your seven servings. You need to actively pursue those vegetables. Not only will you be adding in healthy nutrients into your life, but you'll also be increasing your water and fiber intake simultaneously, which in many people, can lead to a better sensation of fullness, which helps you avoid those silly snacks to curve cravings.
*Final Note* - Fruits are imperative for your body as well, and like vegetables, have unique profiles of vitamins and minerals that boost your body's performance and wellness. Look to have two fruits a day, especially if you are a "sweet-tooth type of person". Skip the candy and throw down fruit.
2. Drink a 4 ounce "shot" of water every hour
Taking shots doesn't have to stop just because you've graduated college, gotten a "real" job, and drinking all day is heavily frowned upon. Just don't take shots of tequila all the time...
In all seriousness, one of my most successful coaching tactics for increasing water intake has been telling my clients to keep a 4oz glass available to them at home or in the office. Plastic or glass, these glasses are commonly seen as cocktail glasses at restaurants and bars.
Your ritual goes as follows:
Every hour fill the glass up with water and throw it down.
Really, that's it.
4 ounces of liquid is the perfect amount for most people to be able to chug down into their stomachs without feeling like a water balloon. Science points to the need for roughly sixty-four ounces of water in a day for proper functional of the body's organs. Assuming the average person experiences a fourteen hour day - boom - 64 ounces.
This method of water intake eliminates the "forgot to drink" excuse, the "I feel too full" excuse, and "I don't know how much to have" excuse all at once. Set an alarm on your phone and thrown down a simple four ounces every hour.
You'll be amazed at how much better you feel, how much more energy you have without additional coffee, and how much staying full of water helps you skip the calorie laden beverages you typically reach for.
3. Do a 30 minute uphill walk 3 times a week
Cardiovascular training is imperative for a healthy heart and circulatory system, as well as your weight loss goals. You don't need to live on a elliptical, treadmill, stepper, or spin bike in order to reap this benefits though.
Your cardio, at least during these beginning phases, is as simple as setting a treadmill to a 10% to 20% incline and walking at a slightly above normal pace for 30 minutes. It isn't pretty, and it isn't going to light up Instagram, but it's going to condition your body to extended periods of exertion and prepare you for the next levels of training.
All too often HIIT (high intensity interval cardio) is introduced into a client's program too soon, and either injury or pure exhaustion causes the cessation of exercise. Thus, focusing on mastering the simplicity of an incline walk for an hour and a half every single week is a definite way to increase exercise tolerance, develop musculature in the lower body, and torch calories that would otherwise remain unused.
As the weeks progress you can look to add a few decimal points to your speed, or creep up your incline a few degress further if you are already feeling adapted. Other points of focus could be improving your stride so that you truly feel the ball of your foot engage the ground, your glutes contract, and your arms to slide past a fluid, but rigid core.
For those individuals who may have foot, ankle, or knee injuries that prevent an incline walk from being a modality of exercise simply slide your way to your favorite elliptical. Again, this isn't the sexy way to do it, but it is where you can start your journey.
After 5 weeks of this cardiovascular program it is highly likely that you can begin to experiment with other intensities, including intervals, heart-rate holds, and total calories expended. You can also make the jump to more intense things such as stair climbers, spin bikes, rowers, or whatever else catches your fancy.
Note: This incline cardiovascular training isn't just for the deconditioned individual either. I've come to know many die-hard lifters who can't complete a single 30 minute session of cardio at 70% of their maximum heart rate. Facts are facts, and that ain't healthy. If you can bench with the best of em' but your barely able to walk a mile without feeling beat up, then it is time to add this into your routine.
4. Do the machines at your gym, all of them, (3 sets of 8 reps, and 2 sets of 15) 3 times a week
FIRST NOTE: Avoid all the abdominal and lower back machines for the time being. Working your abs with weights isn't going to make your belly fat disappear any faster, and honestly, we don't want you cranking on your spine without understanding it first.
I have to admit that I'm smirking to myself as I type this paragraph. Here I am, a master instructor for Equinox, an NSCA certified strength and conditioning specialist, and I'm over here telling people to use machines.
I'm supposed to be the guy talking about mastering our fundamental movement patterns, activating underused muscles, and developing a body built around motion and not aesthetics.
Well, not today Jr.
Everyone needs a starting point; a point of entry if you will. For many, especially those with little to no experience with resistance training this is perfect.
Sure, much can be gained from a perfectly coached goblet squat with bands to emphasize abduction. Mastering a deadbug that supersets with a well oiled deadlift variation can rock soemone's world for the better...
But who can promise that they'll be coached? How can we guarantee that you as a new trainee will be able to safely execute a movement in a manner that can lead to your success?
The sad reality is, from our perches on the internet blogs - we can't.
We can however, point to the fact that training muscles, all muscles with eight repetitions puts the body against enough resistance to stimulate improvements in strength, muscle quality, and potentially size. Moreover, fifteen repetitions can stimulate chemical fatigue, which can have incredible benefits in the metabolic and muscle quality arena.
So, sit down on that chest press, or the pulldown, and crank out three sets of 8 repetitions. That eighth rep should a shaky one though, as it should be at your limit of ability. We don't want to just pick a random light weight and stop at 8. Rather, we want to have to dig deeply for that repetition, or to quote Pacino, "we have to crawl for that inch".
Those fifteen repetition sets are no different. Drop the weight down a little and knock out two sets that have you reaching fatigue during the last few repetitions.
Repeat this process for 5 weeks, and you'll begin feeling your muscles change. They'll feel a little stronger, a little tighter, and definitely a little sore. You'll begin understanding how it feels to use these muscles, which greatly impacts your performance with free weights.
It is important to point out that machines have a limit to what they can improve, but for what purpose they serve...they serve exceptionally well.
5. Schedule at least 7 hours for uninterrupted sleep time, 8 hours for no technology
The human body needs rest. This is no secret, nor is it ground-breaking news.
Far too many people are comfortable getting five or six hours of sleep every night and assuming that is just "the way of life". It isn't, and you shouldn't get comfortable living that way. For one, I know this from personal experience. Two, sleep is quite literally the time when our body can heal, recover, and prepare for another day on Earth.
You should get more sleep.
It isn't always going to be perfect. There will be Monday Night Football games, Presidential Debates, nights out with friends, and so many other things that extend your bedtime into the later hours.
Then there are those frustrating times when you just can't fall asleep.
Yet, if you schedule at least seven hours between the time you lie down in bed and attempt to fall asleep and the time you must wake, I literally guarantee you an improved quality of life. Yes, I said guarantee.
Now, like anything biological it isn't going to happen overnight (literally in this case). It will take a few weeks for your body to truly quench in the glory of a more appropriate and fulfilling night of sleep. You aren't going to roll out of the bed like a mattress commercial, and not every morning will have sunshine peaking through your window...
But you'll need less coffee, you'll feel less downtrodden, and you will likely stop craving silly snacks to help you get by. Your workouts will pick up in frequency and intensity. Your brain will feel more ready for the challenges your day will bring you, and your inner voice will seem quieter and more at ease.
To take this a step further - avoid all technology (phones, computers, games, TV) within the hour of going to bed. The blue light tells our body to stay awake, and the content of what we consume often keeps our heads spinning, thoughts swirling, and heart rates higher as we attempt to fall asleep.
Starting your day with this same practice can also help you actively meditate, contemplate, and prepare for the day - instead of immediately consuming media upon waking.
A rested soul is a powerful one.
Fitness is hard, but it doesn't have to be impossible. For so many people it can be incredibly intimidating to look up at the world of fitness and assume that you need to do all the right things in order to achieve your goals.
As coaches, let's simplify our coaching and meet our clients closer to their level. We know that they can and should do more, but for now, let's have them crush the basics.
For those looking to lose those five pounds, begin their fitness journey, or stabilize themselves against the tides of a corrupted industry - I say -
"Aim small, miss small"
Don't try to do it all up front. Just nail these five rituals and cement your foundation forever.