10 Lessons in 10 Years of Fitness- Part 1

Last month marked a full 10 years that I’ve chosen a lifestyle with fitness as the center piece. I look back on where I came from and where I am today, and there are very few things I would change. For every mistake I made over the course of the last 10 years, it’s led to the trainer and fitness enthusiast I currently am. I’ve been extremely blessed to have worked under, and alongside some incredible strength coaches, that helped me harness my love and passion for fitness. I’d like to share 10 lessons I’ve learned in 10 years in the industry, that may in some way help shape your own routine, and lead to a prolonged period of commitment to a healthy lifestyle as well!

(In this post I will delve into #10 to #6 and next post I will finish with my top 5!)

#10- You DO NOT Need a Gym to Have a Quality Workout

This is the most recent lesson that I’ve learned in 2020. CO-VID 19 has had countless drawbacks on individuals from a health and wealth perspective, however, one positive I’ve taken away, is the ability to not rely on a gym for a great workout. I didn’t realize how “lazy” I had gotten with my workouts until the gym was taken away from me.

By “lazy” I don’t mean I was missing workouts, but instead I was choosing the cable, machine or hammer strength variation of exercises, as opposed to the barbell and free-weight option. There were a few reasons for this- one being, I lift anywhere between 4 and 5:30 AM daily, so my willpower beyond that is occasionally lacking. Also, due to my personal training schedule, I’m always looking for efficient lifts, and sometimes the setup of a machine is just purely quicker.

When CO-VID shut down gyms though, I was forced to get back to the basics- left with a barbell, a pair of power block dumbbells, and a set of kettle bells, I was AMAZED at the increase in quality of my workouts- and the results!

I understand I was extremely fortunate to be a fitness professional and have my own collection of equipment prior to the virus hitting- this ability has put my home workouts on a level that not many people have access to. However, until I set my space up to exercise, I was just using my power blocks in a space no bigger than my wingspan- and I was getting great workouts in! It highlighted the fact that a gym is not necessary- if you have the internal motivation and the creativity to make safe and effective workouts, you can train anywhere and get a great workout in! Don’t get caught up in thinking you can only have great workouts at the gym, because it’s simply not true!

(For some examples of home workouts, click here)

#9- Continuously Grow Your Personal Exercise Encyclopedia

This is a skill that has benefitted me the most as a trainer, and is rooted in my own personal experiences in the gym. I can always tell a trainer that is not used to exercising themselves, when they have limited knowledge about exercise variations. I’ve always prided myself in dabbling in different variations of every movement pattern. This has ranged from Olympic Lifts, to Kettle Bells, to traditional strength moves- at various points over the last 10 years I’ve sprinkled in every kind of variation you could think of.

My initial exposure to the fitness industry was a subscription to the magazine, “Muscle and Fitness” back when I was in middle school, so I’ve always had a fascination with “new twists” on traditional moves. The one thing to keep in mind though is, I’ve always stayed rooted in the traditional movement patterns. Any experimentation with new exercises always occurs as accessory work, rather than having completely different workouts every time.

The value in having a giant exercise encyclopedia to draw from, is seen in a private sector gym most frequently- but has been highlighted recently due to CO-VID as well. The ability to substitute exercises at will, because a piece of equipment is being used or unavailable, will allow for a more effective workout. This knowledge base will also eliminate feelings of frustration when you try to exercise at peak gym hours. 

The best way to enhance your variations, is to start with the basics, then find a reputable and trusted source and experiment with the variations they publish. From there, if you feel the move to be potentially beneficial to you, at the end of your workouts, safely try out a few new variations. Some you’ll never attempt again, however, others you might keep practicing until they get worked in as part of the routine. Learn to walk the fine line of being utterly committed to the “basics” while simultaneously having a multitude of variations to substitute up your sleeves.

(Check out this write up to see 5 exercises that are unique, safe, effective and can be performed at home!)

#8 Nutrition Can’t be Thought of in Terms of ‘Dieting’

The term “diet” usually denotes a period of time that some fashion of restrictive eating occurs. Whether that’s a subscription to a traditional “Fad Diet” or simply a caloric restriction, when you approach nutrition with a “diet” mindset, you’re already setting yourself up for failure. Dieting is not conducive for long-term success- very rarely can an individual sustain commitment to a Fad Diet for extended periods of time. (I’m not discrediting the value in following a specific nutritional plan, by any means- if that works for you, then keep up the great work!)

The majority of people should be searching instead for a Nutritional Lifestyle instead of the perfect diet. Through portion control, slow and mindful eating, and the infusion of lean protein, veggies, complex carbohydrates and fats at each meal, will lead to a healthy and sustainable nutritional lifestyle. Dieting can ruin your relationship with food– anytime you feel deprivation, at some point you will likely have a binge eating episode on whatever food you feel restricted from having. This is not a healthy nutritional lifestyle. Instead, learn to accept the fact that we’re human and it’s OK to not be perfect- as long as you avoid making it a habit, a binge eating episode or overly dwell on it, then embrace nutritional slip ups as a part of a lifestyle and move on.

Everyone’s different, so find what works best for you in terms of macronutrient loading. Some people perform and feel better on less carbohydrates, while others have such an active lifestyle, a reduction in carbs will greatly hinder their daily performance. Consuming lean protein is a must- even if you’re vegan or vegetarian find the option of protein that’s right for you, because having protein at each meal will vastly assist in muscle recovery. Fill the gaps with lots of veggies and curb your sweet tooth with some fruit. Keep it simple, because simple is repeatable and therefore sustainable.

(To read more in depth about some specific recommendations I have regarding a ‘nutritional lifestyle’ click here)

#7 Overtraining is Overblown

If you are a competitive athlete at the high school, college or professional level, overtraining can certainly occur. Between practices, games and training sessions, strength coaches have lost their careers over causing athletes to have Rhabdo (short for rhabdomyolisis, which is the death of muscle fibers and release of myoglobin into the blood stream, which can cause extreme kidney dysfunction).

If training volume and frequency isn’t being closely monitored in high level/competitive athletes, overtraining can easily happen. However, for the general population, who work 9-5 jobs for 40-60 hours per week, getting an hour of activity every single day, will not cause overtraining. That said, you don’t want to make that hour of exercise the same exact movement pattern for 7 days- that will definitely hinder your ability to recover. However, having 3-5 days of well-programmed resistance training with the remaining “off days” treated instead as “Active Rest Days” you can safely and effectively hit 7 days of activity.

I am not a proponent of resistance training 7 days per week for most people. Even if it’s an extremely well planned program, I think it’s grounds to get burnt out mentally more so than anything. The issue is, for most individuals an “Off Day” is literally a “do nothing day,” which is not conducive for a fully healthy lifestyle. On days that your traditional workouts are not occurring, active rest options such as: brisk walks, bike rides, hikes, pick-up sports (basketball, volleyball, soccer), yoga or a foam rolling session, all present themselves as great recovery options. Any of these will moderately elevate your heart rate and provide you with high quality activity, that will assist in your recovery- and is different than your normal workouts!

(To read more in depth about how to transition your “off days” to “active rest days” click here)

6. Early Morning Workouts are Superior

There is plenty of research that states, as a male, I would be better off resistance training later in the day, because my testosterone levels are higher as the day progresses. I don’t doubt this science one bit, however, whatever advantage I have in hormonal levels, is negated if I let ‘life’ get in the way and I don’t even exercise. I found out very early on in my 10 year journey, that there’s one way to almost guarantee you won’t miss workouts due to life getting in the way- that is, workout very first thing in the morning. When you wait to exercise until after your workday is done, you’re allowing for the potential of a “bad day”, spontaneous social plans, family responsibilities or unforeseen work obligations (like having to work late), to prohibit you from training. Early in the morning, when most of your community is still asleep, usually the only thing that will get in the way of you and your workout is your own feeling of being sleepy- and that is purely a battle of willpower that you must win.

Yes, you may be initially tired going into the session, however, if you train hard you will feel invigorated by the time you’re done. This feeling of vitality will naturally keep your energy levels much higher throughout the day. Exercising in the morning also sets the tone for subsequent healthy decisions through your day as well. You’ll notice that by training in the morning, you’ll be naturally more health conscious with your nutrition choices. Additionally, one of my favorite aspects of exercising early, is that any activity you get later in the day is bonus! All the sudden the walk after dinner seems less like a chore and more like a great way to unwind and get some extra steps in for the day.

Committing to an early morning gym routine will give you a mental edge for the upcoming day, but also your physical goals will become more quickly attainable. Especially if you are usually inconsistent with your workouts, implementing a regular early morning workout routine will ensure consistency- which is the number one variable to achieving any goal.

(To read more about how to make an early morning exercise routine work for you, click here)

In Conclusion…

In my next blog, I will delve into my top 5 lessons I’ve learned in the first 10 years of my fitness journey. None of these lessons are particularly groundbreaking, nor are they gospel, however, they’re things that I’ve picked up along the way that has exponentially aided my overall fitness level. These lessons are applicable to all ages, genders and goals, and can take any exercise routine to the next level!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass. 

Save Your 2020 Health by Taking These 3 Steps!

At any point during the last few months, have you caught yourself thinking: “Once this pandemic is over, I’ll get my health back under control”? This has been an extremely common -and scary – justification that has presented itself since March.

Since the CO-VID 19 outbreak, individuals have gone a few different directions with their health and fitness routines. For a small percentage of the population, the pandemic has allowed them to get their health and fitness seriously on track- they were given an opportunity to focus on aspects of their health that a crazy, hectic lifestyle had forced them to neglect. Others lost the ability to maintain a consistent exercise routine, but stayed on point with their nutrition. While still others kept their workout routine, but failed to keep any semblance of a healthy nutritional lifestyle. And finally, many individuals have completely abandoned a healthy lifestyle altogether these last 4 months.

The question is, if you’ve completely lost your way on the path to a healthy lifestyle, how can you get back on track? The good news is there is still 5 months left in 2020- along with gyms slowly reopening, fitness equipment is starting to become accessible again as well. Below, I will outline 3 ways you can save your fitness routine in 2020- with or without a gym- and get back to living a healthy, wholesome lifestyle!

#1- Find Your Workout Space, Set a Workout Time- and STICK TO IT

The key to having success towards attaining a fitness goal is incredibly simple- regardless of your goal, the workout program you choose, how many calories you take in per day, etc. there is only one thing that truly matters- can you consistently repeat the action? I can write you a picture-perfect workout routine with whatever equipment you have access to, but if it is not easily repeatable, then the routine is useless. The same can be said for a nutrition plan- low-sugar, low-carb, high fat, Keto, Paleo, Carb Cycling, Atkins, Weight Watchers- all of it can be great for certain people; but if you can’t repeat the lifestyle day in and day out, then it’s not conducive for you.

The best way to ensure a consistent exercise routine (especially at home) is first designating a space in your house/condo/apartment as the spot. Your workouts can only happen there. I understand everyone has different situations. Not everyone has a full room they can dedicate to exercise, or a shed that can be transitioned into a home gym. It can be as small as a corner in the room dedicated to storing your yoga mat, dumbbells and mini-bands. The key here is not necessarily leaving your equipment out- but rather taking the first step of demonstrating consistency- by repeatedly performing your workout in the exact same place every day. (Also keep in mind, the space does not need to be more than your wingspan wide and the length of your body long. Any quality coach should be able to make you an effective workout with only that amount of space)

When choosing your space, take the time to manipulate the room or area to require as little setup as possible for your workout. If you’re struggling to hit your workouts right now, there’s a part of you that purely does not want to exercise- and that’s totally normal! It’s very common to have that feeling when you’ve lost touch with your goals, or fallen out of a fitness routine. When you have a negative aura surrounding your workout- before it’s even started- then you must make the setup easy. If every workout session, you need to move a couch, coffee table, TV stand and a potted plant- just in order to get your workout equipment out, the task already seems daunting. Pick a spot and prepare it so that when it’s time to workout, all you need to do is set out your dumbbells, minibands and yoga mat- and start exercising!

Exercise at the Same Time!

This can be tricky to maintain now that schedules are ramping back up, and lives are becoming hectic again. However, I cannot emphasize enough, the importance of consistently exercising at the same time most days. Small variations of a few hours one way or the other is totally fine, however, what you want to avoid is the flip flopping between early morning and late afternoon/evening workouts. You want to avoid this manner of training because it cuts down on your recovery time, and also doesn’t allow you to fully get into a groove. The workouts will feel “different” at different times of the day- so try to pick one time and stick with it the best you can.

There’s no right or wrong time to exercise, however, I’m a huge proponent of early morning workouts. Especially considering if your gym is not open, you do not have to leave the house! If you’re a parent this is particularly clutch because your children are hopefully asleep, which provides the perfect opportunity to train with zero distractions.

It’s easy to avoid early morning workouts by telling yourself “I’m just not a morning person” however, you’ve got to train yourself to ignore that sentiment. Inconsistency to a fitness routine usually happens because individuals allow ‘life’ to get in the way. What I’ve found is that early in the morning, life doesn’t usually throw too many curveballs at you. Typically the only thing in your way is your own inability to get out of bed. When you push the workout back to late afternoon/evening, that’s when you start letting your bad days at work, happy hour drinks with friends, or your children’s impromptu play date, disrupt your workout schedule.

Take the time to completely map out your daily schedule to the best of your ability. Take a fine-tooth comb to it, and really think about a time that you can consistently exercise 3-5 times per week. While I recommend early morning workouts, your schedule may only allow for you to train later in the day- and that’s fine! The key is making your training schedule non-negotiable. Be selfish, put it on the calendar, and commit to putting your health and fitness first!

#2 Start With Making Small, Sustainable Changes!

Regaining lost strength levels, losing fat or reestablishing an aerobic base, can each seem like daunting tasks. Many of us are feeling like we need to do all of these things at once. Regardless of what CO-VID 19 has done to your personal fitness levels up to this point, it needs to be set aside. Whether you’ve lost 10 pounds of muscle or gained 10 pounds of fat, it doesn’t matter now- it’s in the past, and the only thing that should be focused on is developing a plan to regain a healthy fitness routine.

The key is, you cannot recklessly jump back into a fitness routine without a well thought out plan of attack. Exercising like a maniac and eating exclusively grilled chicken and rice for 2 weeks will not all the sudden turn your fitness levels back to normal. A great way to develop a plan is to make small, sustainable changes to your daily routines. Ask yourselves questions such as these:

  • Are you exercising consitently?
  • Are you eating nutritiously wholesome?
  • Are you sleeping the proper amount?
  • Are you properly hydrated throughout the day?
  • What is your alcohol intake like?

The answers to these questions will provide you with your plan to get back on track!

For example:

  • “I’m not exercising any more than 2 days per week with zero activity on my off days.”
    • Add in a daily walk (regardless of whether it’s a workout day) and add in one more 20-30 minute workout, to bump your total to 3 days of exercise. As stated earlier, consistency is the first key to successfully making a change.
  • “I do well with breakfast- oatmeal with blueberries and I usually meal prep healthy lunches such as dry tuna salads or grilled chicken and rice. But I’ve been eating out 5 nights per week, and the 2 nights I stay in are microwave dinners with daily dessert.”
    • When you order out, at least 3 of the 5 nights be sure to order a salad and eat that first. When you have your microwave dinners, add in a side of colorful veggies as well. To curb your sweet tooth, have some fresh fruit or a protein shake after dinner before you have the dessert- see if you still have the desire to indulge in dessert after either option. If you do, don’t beat yourself up over it- just limit the damage!
  • “Some nights I go to bed at 9:00 PM and others I’m awake until midnight because I get engrossed in a TV show, and I always wake up at 5:30 AM, regardless of whether I’m working or not.”
    • Set an alarm for yourself to turn off all electronics at least an hour before bed. This will help unwind yourself and keep you from getting sucked into binge watching a TV show. Try out activities such as reading a casual book, or taking a hot shower or bath, to relax yourself and get ready for bed. Aim to be asleep within 30 minutes of a target time each night. Consistently getting the same amount of sleep will optimize your body’s recovery, and provide you with great will power to exercise, and make proper nutritional choices the next day!
  • “Some days I’m able to drink water all day, but others I get distracted and may only have one glass.”
    • It’s extremely common to be inconsistent with water in-take. Many of us only drink water when we’re thirsty- which is a recipe for being chronically dehydrated. A general rule of thumb is, women should be having minimally 6, 8 ounce glasses of water per day, while men should be having at least 8. Your water needs may vary slightly off these numbers but 6 and 8 cups of water respectively is a good baseline. A great way to stay consistent with water consumption is to set hourly reminders for yourself on your phone. It’s easy to get distracted during the work day and only consume caffeinated beverages- which will further dehydrate you. Being dehydrated will cause you to feel lethargic, have headaches and be irritable- therefore it’s imperative we are consuming the proper amount of water!
  • “Since the pandemic has hit, I’ve been having between 1 and 3 drinks 5-6 nights per week.”
    • Over caffeinating during the day usually leads to a need to knock the edge off with alcohol at night to properly unwind. This is extremely common- especially during high stress times. If you feel like you’re having a problem with a dependency on alcohol, you should talk to a professional about it. However, if it’s more of a lack of will power, do your best to cut back by one day per week, until you’re having a few drinks only 2 nights per week. Don’t try to cold-turkey the alcohol, because that could potentially lead to binge drinking scenarios- instead, focus on cutting back slowly, from week to week.

These are all common, but hypothetical situations. Your scenario may be slightly different, but the big takeaway should be, you need to objectively analyze what areas you’re struggling with right now. Once you’ve identified those pitfalls, you need to make small changes in each area, rather than a complete overhaul. Drastic changes rarely yield lasting results; instead they usually cause a yo-yo reaction right back to where you were before- if not worse! Small, SUSTAINABLE Changes will always give you the best results long-term.

#3 Lose the Negative Mindset!

A huge issue many individuals struggle with- during non-pandemic times- is the notion that every workout needs to be perfect. As someone who is an avid fitness enthusiast, I can honestly say, that the majority of my workouts are not perfect. The results I’ve gotten over the last 10 years have not been because I’m hitting PR’s every workout. Rather, it’s because I train every single day that I’m supposed to- whether that’s with weights, kettle bell, going for a run etc.- I never missed a planned training session.

This mindset helped me smoothly transition into a pandemic exercise routine because I knew the perfect training session was simply not going to happen. Once you stop seeking the perfect workout, and instead focus on what is controllable- purely showing up and having a positive mindset regarding the workout- you’ll start consistently hitting your planned training sessions.

If you go into your workout thinking “this just isn’t the same as the gym.” Or, maybe you’re already back at the gym, but due to the restrictions you’re thinking “I can’t get my normal workout in, so what’s the point?” These are the negative thoughts that will automatically derail your attempt at maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If this is an area you’re currently struggling with, I challenge you to keep your goals simple regarding your workouts: “My goal today is to move vigorously.” Who cares where that happens (home, outside, the gym), what equipment you have access to, or who’s around you?

In order to have realistic goals, they also must align with your current situation. In other words, if you only have a pair of 10 pound dumbbells, and a few minibands, then “building muscle mass” is not going to be a realistic goal- which is fine! Just because you can’t realistically achieve your usual fitness goal, doesn’t mean you should just throw the towel in on a healthy lifestyle. Adapt your goals to match what you realistically have access to, and understand that it doesn’t need to be your permanent reality. At some point, you will be able to get back to your normal fitness routine, however, until then, accept the fact that you may have to pivot your fitness goals to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

In Conclusion

It would be the easy thing to just throw the towel in on your 2020 health and fitness goals. No one would blame you if you justified it by saying “2020 just wasn’t your year.” I implore you though, to dig deep and realize that you can get yourself back on track. Yes, 2020 has been one wild roller coaster ride, however, you should not let external circumstances determine your own health and fitness.

This isn’t about aesthetics- fitting into bikinis or filling out t-shirts is beside the point- what I’m talking about is people walking away from healthy lifestyles, which will eventually cause a rise in underlying health issues. Blood pressure, cholesterol, Type II diabetes and even some forms of cancer have been scientifically proven to be warded off by consistent exercise and healthy nutritional habits.

Maybe your gym is still closed, or maybe it reopened but there is limited equipment available. Whatever the case may be, understand that if you develop a plan of attack, make small changes to your current lifestyle, and maintain a positive outlook towards your workouts, you will be able to achieve an effective exercise routine anywhere. Take those 3 steps and you will gradually steer yourself back on track for the remainder of 2020!

Yours in Fitness and Health,

TC

Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.