It is easy to be a bit out of touch with our health, strength, and conditioning level, especially in our 30’s and 40s. I know because I have had more than few experiences in my life that have proved this to me, yes, even being a professional in the field doesn’t make me immune. I talk to people all the time about fitness, and the conversations leave me a bit mind boggled. I was talking to an acquaintance years ago and he was telling me that he thought he needed to lose 10lbs to be healthy as he grabbed his mid-section. Listen, I am not a fat shamer, nor do I push the whole weight loss thing on people, but in reality he was 50+lbs over weight. 10lbs would have been a good start but, he wouldn’t be healthy at 10lbs lighter. He went on to say that he doesn’t eat that bad, but nearly every time I saw him he was stuffing down a hot dog, eating multiple slices of pizza, or drinking a soda. We were interrupted shortly after and I didn’t feel the need to interject my opinion in his life because he wasn’t asking. This thinking shows up in many other scenarios. For those of you that follow my writing I get irritated when people tell me that they will only run if something is chasing them. This is complete non-sense. If you never run and something decides to chase you, or there is an emergency and you had to run away from trouble do you think you would have the capacity to do so for an extended period of time? Seriously, think about it. If there is a situation where you and others had to run, more than likely you will be run over, or left at the end of the pack. In life there are numerous things we just shy away from and ignore our inabilities either out of fear of failing, or fear of facing the reality of our current situation. Fear is a Mother F***er and whenever you have the ability to conquer things we are afraid of there is a ton of power and awesomeness in it. It can happen in all aspects of our life, fitness, health, career, finances, relationships etc…. The hard part is acknowledging we have a weakness or inability and then actually doing something about it. I have of made it my thing to go after weak areas in my life. A few years ago I realized I just about lost the ability to run a mile, didn’t know how to formally swim a real stroke, and I was terrified of the ocean (still am a bit). The solution…Train for a 70.3 Ironman with a 1.2 mile ocean swim as part of it. When it popped into my head I thought, this is a horrible idea, but It was absolutely one of the best things I have ever done in my life. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have had people tell me to stop coming up with ideas, Especially my buddy Serge every time we trained together, but lately I have started to embrace my horrible ideas, for me they are a great reality check against my delusional mind. So I thought I would share just a few of them with you all and how they changed my life.
RUN A MILE /ENTER A RACE
I could have titled this section, just do a complete 180. I have been physically active my entire life. A while back I focused just lifting heavy for powerlifting and ignored my cardiovascular health. One day I got the horrible idea to just put on my shoes and try and run a mile under 10 minutes. The result… I finished in 10m 20sec.. I also felt like I was going to die. I was limping at the end of it, couldn’t catch my breath for 15 minutes and it took me 2 days to recover. That doesn’t sound like someone that is in shape. What it did for me was wake me to up the fact that I was not fit and it embarrassed me. Squatting 550lbs is awesome, but barely having the ability to run a mile as a healthy adult is inexcusable. Spare me any machismo comments or regurgitate something you read by Mark Rippetoe about how running makes you weak and allow yourself to live in reality for a moment. Having an aerobic base of conditioning is a must for being healthy. You can have all the muscle you want, lift heavy shit, and be “ripped’ to the core, but if you don’t have a cardiovascular base you aren’t healthy.period. After the emotional experience I had with feeling like I was going to die after running a mile, I did what most normal people do. I registered for a half marathon 5 months down the road. Now that was probably excessive to start, but that is how my brain works. For me, running, just to run, or to get in shape because I know it is healthy isn’t enough to keep me disciplined. I had to have a goal to train for. The good news is, you don’t have to try and race 13.1 miles. 5K races are only 3.1 miles and you can find them all the time. They are a fun distance to train for and with the right plan you will build a functional base that won’t destroy you. I firmly believe that every healthy person should have the capacity to be able to run 3 miles. If you want more, great, but 3 miles in your back pocket will not hinder your life and can only make you more awesome. The good news is, if you do it right, running isn’t painful or hard. I wrote a blog running the right way here. If you are an endurance athlete don’t worry I have some horrible ideas for you later on.
Before I forget, there are some people that can’t run, I’m not talking about people that say they can’t run or don’t want to run, but people that have a medical reason like torn ligaments or fake joints..(Just saying your knees hurt when you run most of the time means you are doing it wrong, not that you can’t). Concept 2 Rowing is awesome. Go to the Concept2 website, and look up the 2000m times for your age and sex and try and row and beat the 50th percentile for your category. Rowing is an awesome cardiovascular tool that shouldn’t beat the hell out of your joints if you do it right with good form.
OUT OF SHAPE? TEST BODYWEIGHT STRENGTH
For most gym rats this is should come easy, but for those that haven’t trained in years or others who are pushing too far on the endurance end of things and don’t do any strength work this could be a reality check. Bodyweight movements should be your baseline. Years ago I got a little out of shape after working an office job for a year. I saw a bodyweight workout that you could do without any equipment in a hotel room. 10 bodyweight squats, 10 pushups, 5 lunges on each leg, and 10 sit-ups. Rest exactly 1 minute repeat 5-10 times. Of course I was 20 something so I did 10 rounds. I accomplished it, but couldn’t move for a couple days. It was a huge wake up call. I had gained 30lbs in my year of office work and thought this would be a breeze, but I could barely roll out of bed sore for days. I knew I had to do something about my fitness and health. Actually that was a catalyst for me quitting that job and transitioning my career to become a trainer. If you haven’t trained in awhile try this workout for 5 rounds (you can skip the sit-ups to save your back). If you complete it awesome! If you can’t then realize this is simple and you should be able to do this as a functioning human. If you complete it and can’t walk for 2 days then hopefully you have some info that there is some work to be done. Also, chest 2″ above the floor at the bottom of the pushups and hips below parallel for the squats. If you need to do elevated /adjusted pushups that is fine for the challenge, but realize you already have your answer that there is work to do in building your strength. Full range of motion pushups are the standard. What we see as normal as a society has declined over the last 50 years, so just because everyone else around you is weak doesn’t mean it is ok. Learn to do a pushup and do many of them. On a serious note, we see people in thier 60s falling apart and in their 80’s having to have their asses wiped by a care giver because they are too weak. Keep and maintain your strength as long as you can. It isn’t about benching hundreds of pounds, but own your body movements.
If you are a man, train to do 5 strict pullups, if you are a female train to do at least 1 strict . Want to take it up a notch? If you are guy train to do 10 strict/dead hang pull-ups, if you are a female train for 5. You will probably have a lot going well with your strength, body composition, and fitness if you are hitting these numbers. For women to hit this it will take a ton of practice and patience if you are not built naturally to do them. If you are a man, you pretty much need to lose weight, if you aren’t overweight and can’t do them, then even more reason to focus on them, you are underpowered and it will effect you later in life if it isn’t already.
BORED? SWITCH GEARS TAKE ON SOMETHING YOU SUCK AT
For many that have trained for years we tend to get bored. I have been there too many times. I spent years training body splits each day, followed by 30-60minutes on an elliptical or treadmill. Day after day, year after year. This isn’t wrong , but I was not getting better at anything, and realized I was only training to not be fat. I stumbled across kettlebells and hated them because they looked stupid and I tried them and sucked at them. I did notice that my back felt better after training with them them, so I dove in deep and started down the road of mastery. The training highlighted my weaknesses, made me stronger, introduced me to people that changed my life, and eventually lead me down the path to competitive powerlifting. It also was a big factor in starting Tucson Strength . I can’t tell you the number of times getting out of my comfort zone changed my life. It would have been easy to walk away from something that I wasn’t good at to begin with and thought was stupid as my first instinct, glad I didn’t.
Last year I had the idea of trying a triathlon. The problem with it was I really didn’t know how to swim. Well I knew how to not drown in a pool and mimic a breast stroke, but I had never been taught a stroke that would be considered swimming. I had no clue what I was up for, but I hired a coach at 41 years old to teach me how to swim. I jumped in the water and he said let me see what you can do. I looked at him and did my best impersonation of what a I thought a freestyle stroke looked like. He nodded his head and said, when is your race? I told him, he then said “how many times per week can you see me, we have some work to do?”. I started my training, but even after a couple weeks of practice, the first time I swam 50 yards I felt like a dog frantically trying to find the edge of a pool. I had trouble finding my breath and swallowed water, it was traumatic. Every part of me wanted to quit and I hated feeling so disoriented and crappy at something. Swimming lessons with a professional coach was awesome, and I am grateful to have decided to have the horrible idea of trying to swim. within 10 months of consistent practice I was able to swim a 1.2 miles in the ocean for my first 70.3 Ironman. I am no world class swimmer, but I do have the ability now to relax in the water and get to where I need to be safely. It is a skill that has built a ton of confidence that goes beyond the pool or sports. What my brain and body had to go through to learn this skill was priceless. There is a lot of information out there backing the idea that learning new skills as we age can help fend off dementia and I am pretty sure my brain had some big rewiring going on. More than the physical strain of swimming, the mental challenge of learning this skill was awesome.
Learning how to swim also made me a better coach. I forgot what it is like to be a beginner and I deal with beginners all the time that come to me for strength training. I found a new level of patience and empathy for working with people. The first time they pick up a weight is exactly like the first time I jumped in that pool with my coach. It is intimidating and nerve wracking and now I truly feel what they are going through which allows me to coach from a different perspective.
MEASURE AND WEIGH ALL OF YOUR FOOD
This is by far the biggest eye opener. It takes commitment, makes you become hyper focused about food and takes extra time. It can become tedious, but if you have never done it regularly for 30 days, you should. I worked with a
nutrition coach a few years ago. Before I could work with him he had me buy an electronic food scale and measuring utensils. EVERYTHING I ATE was measured to the gram, liquids were measured by the cup or actual measuring spoons and entered into My Fitness Pal. The biggest lesson I had to learn was, A tablespoon of Peanut butter is16g, not a tablespoon in your kitchen drawer. The first few days I would guesstimate what I was eating and write it down, then I would actually measure it. I had a macro plan, and my total calorie intake was to be at 2400 calories. By the end of the day my guesstimates would have had me at about 2800+ calories if I didn’t weigh and measure. That is a pretty big difference and would have been the difference in seeing results or staying stuck. Whether or not you believe in a macro plan you owe it to yourself to become aware of what you are actually putting in your body. This means weighing the mayo that goes on your bread, and the butter that you cooked those eggs with, and the peanut butter you just discreetly ate out of the jar. If you think this is too much of a hassle, don’t complain about being being stuck, and don’t say you have tried everything. I have degree in nutritional sciences, worked in nutrition labs, and I still can’t guesstimate perfectly. I don’t measure food all the time anymore, but I did for over a year and it changed my view of food and how I eat. Like I said, you don’t have to do it for a lifetime, but you owe it to yourself to immerse yourself for a month and see what happens. More than likely you are eating too much if you aren’t losing weight, and you just don’t know how much unless you can actually quantify it.
DITCH SLEEPING IN
I was talking with client years ago and telling him how I really wanted to have more time to meditate, hike, and do other things but that I just didn’t have the time. As our discussion progressed I mentioned that Wednesdays and Sundays were my days to sleep in bit. That is where the conversation halted. I forget how he put it, but he pretty much said sleeping in is for rookies and a lazy habit. I didn’t know how to take it. My reaction was to defend myself with excuses of how hard I work and how I “deserve” it. The truth was he was right. I was going to bed a little too late and not prioritizing my time. He wasn’t saying don’t get 7+ hours per sleep, but how I got that sleep was important. Changing my habits by getting to bed early instead of catching that show that means nothing to me at 9pm was the difference in me waking up at 5am to get my morning meditation in, or that hike/walk I didn’t have time to do. Yes, even Sundays. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is a good thing. If you look up the research it is hard to argue it. This meant going to bed by 9 every night to wake by 5am every morning. It takes some commitment, but the benefit is there. Staying on facebook that extra hour every night or catching some housewives show doesn’t come close to the benefit of consistent sleep. DVR’s and HULU will make sure you don’t miss anything in TV land and all the amazing updates of politics, and kittens on Facebook will be there tomorrow. Here are some articles on Sleep Times, and oversleeping written by people that know a not more about the subject than I do. Do your own research, but it will be hard to find something that will tell you to sleep in later and push for inconsistent sleep schedules. Try it for a month. Maybe start pushing your bed time 30 minutes earlier to wake up 30 minutes earlier. Yes even on the weekends. The first week was rough, but the payoff has been there for almost 2 years.
These are just a few of my horrible ideas, but I challenge you to come up with some of your own. Here are some other ideas that I have done and for you to ponder.. If you are too muscular for your own good, commit to taking yoga for 30 days. If you love sugar, commit to cutting it out for 30 days, then add it back in to see how you feel.(I did this and it will be an entire blog soon). Do you Train year round 5-6 Days per week? Take an entire week off of doing absolutely nothing except taking walks (it’s pretty awesome).