23rd December 2019
We're having a month of Christmas tipples, office nibbles, beige bland food and a general merry mood. But with January beckoning and the possibility of a festive hangover looming large – and maybe a need for a loosening of the belt - the new years fitness furore will gather pace, swallowing many in it's path.
Naturally I’m extremely enthusiastic when people take steps towards improving their health and well being. But having worked in health and fitness for 6 years (over 5 of those being in one of the largest commercial gyms in the country) January has become to me a time of shattered hopes and dreams. There’s lots of toil with huffing, puffing, sweat and tears, but for some there’s little joy to be found in their efforts, leading people to soon fall of the wagon.
A whole lot of time, energy and money can be wasted in killing peoples enthusiasm – leaving a bitter taste in their mouths – developing a certain disdain for “exercise” – it just isn’t their thing! I feel most fall by the wayside, not through a lack of effort or good intentions, but because their approaching things the wrong way. Some of us lack the knowledge, not having a clear perspective of the task in hand, and jump in at the deep end, finding we sink rather than swim.
How not to approach your training
Setting unspecific goals – the crux of many is being to vague with their reasoning for starting a new training regimen. “I want to loose weight”, “I want to get fitter”, “I want to feel better” – I imagine that’s the aim of most, but it’s not specific to you.
How much weight would you like to loose? Do you want to improve your strength, endurance, or flexibility? Would you like to see an increase in your energy levels, improved sleep perhaps, or even elevating your mood? Dial in the specifics, then you can be more pinpoint on finding the tools you need.
Running before you can walk – trying to go from 0 – 60 with a miss firing engine and worn down chassis will lead an inevitable crash. Say hello to overly sore muscles, possible injury and illness, and generally just making things a whole lot harder than they need to be.
If you’ve been inactive, or your exploring a completely new modality of training, you need to prepare your body with a prior preparation phase. If resistance training is something your looking to explore for the first time you need to prepare the ligaments and tendons in your joints to be able to with stand an increased load. A 6 week period of light weights and high reps working well within your maximal exertion is advisable.
Giving up at the first, second or third hurdle – very little can be said of the goal reached easily without any hiccups or self doubts. Setting meaningful goals will include encountering obstacles along the way because self change is so God damn hard! Getting up at 6 am to run 5k in the dark, damp cold may not be appealing, but imagine the feeling having done so.
The barriers we put up are purely made in the mind and don’t really exist. If you do stumble, pick yourself up and go again, and again, and again – your persistence and patience will be rewarded!
I could write a whole treatise about the misgivings of new year’s resolutions and why – according to research carried out by Strava – people tend to give up the ghost as early as January 12th, but I think the aforementioned points are ones that people tend to make a hash of.
Instead I want to focus on what needs to be done in order to make any intended change in your movement practice long lasting and meaningful.
Be specific and realistic with your aims. A great way of doing this is by setting SMART goals.
- Specific in the details.
- Measurable so you can track your progress.
- Attainable and realistic within your life situation
- Relevant and meaningful for you.
- Time-based rather than “when ever”.
Putting this in to context as an example we could be looking to loose weight in the new year. Let’s put that into a SMART format;
- Specific – we want to loose a stone of body fat.
- Measurable – weekly weigh ins using scales that can measure body fat accurately.
- Attainable – we’ve set aside time to exercise and cook healthier meals.
- Relevant – our confidence is low, and we’re lacking self esteem. Loosing weight will develop confidence and elevate our mood.
- Time-based – we’ve set aside 8 weeks to achieve our goal.
It’s really that simple. Set aside some time and write down what it is you want to achieve. Be it in a journal or on a calendar, white board, etc, make it prominent so that you’ll see it daily. Research carried out by Dr. Gail Matthews, at the Dominican University in California, showed your 42% more likely to achieve your goals if you write them down
Find fun and invigorating ways to move. As far as we know this is the only life we live so let’s make the most of it by doing more of the things we enjoy. Exercise shouldn’t be seen as a chore. We should each find our way of moving that stimulates both body and mind, keeping us engaged and eager for our next session. This will breed consistency. Consistency brings results.
And don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try new things – everything you’ve every wanted is on the other side of fear.
Never force anything, it will likely bend and break. Whether it be body or mind, pushing things that don’t want to be pushed will lead to negative outcomes. Be flexible, and take each day as it comes. It’s okay to take a step back every now and again, or even miss a session altogether. Just don’t make it a habit. Realise why things didn’t quite pan out as planned that day, then change what you can, and accept those things which you can’t.
Trying to train intensely when tired or overly stressed will likely lead to poor progress and a weary worn down body that get’s injured and ill often.
Make every minute count. As much as I’d love to move more every day there are other things that need my attention. The time I do set aside is maximised purely to increase my enjoyment and progress. This means as little distractions as possible; no mobile phone (unless needed to video a skill), no toilet breaks (pee or poop before hand), and keeping conversations with others short but sweet. If there’s ever a time to be selfish then it’s during your practice of your chosen discipline.
Put your ego to one side by making your session achievable yet challenging. Sloppy form gets you no where making the numbers irrelevant- a falsely inflated ego will ultimately be your down fall. Rest adequately but don’t procrastinate! Stick to your allotted rest times and use them as a chance to do some active recovery by stretching or mobilising a different part of the body to which you are moving. If you’re practising a skill then take the time to ponder what when well and what didn’t. Use your phone to record your attempt and assess how it went, then put it away.
If your searching for a dopamine hit on social media during your training time then you’re going about things the wrong way.
If time becomes an issue then shortening your session whilst increasing the intensity is a good option. Don’t use foreseen circumstances as an excuse to not practice and move your body. The old adage rings true here when doing something is better than doing nothing.
Enjoy the process, as it’s all there is and ever will be for the majority of the time. When your lost in the practice the outcomes will naturally look after themselves. If the practice starts to feel more like a chore, and your trying to force an outcome, you’ll likely stumble too often and may eventually give up. If you do eventually get there it may feel a little empty, like you’ve been short changed because the process was more toil than it should have been.
The process is everything. It ingrains habits, developing body and mind, and can set the tone as other things unfold in your day – It’s where all the magic happens. And the more you fall in love with it all, the more the magic happens. It’s almost an insatiable appetite that snow balls over time with diligent, smart work.
Yours in love and health,