What separates those that achieve their fitness goals, and those that consistently do not, are most likely found in my top 5 lessons I’ve learned over the last decade. These lessons have become pillars and have shaped my own training habits, as well as the routines of thousands of clients I have worked with. Similar to lessons #10- #6- which I shared in my last post– none of these are particularly ground breaking or original to me. Despite their simplicity, most of these top 5 lessons are found in countless individuals who routinely achieve their fitness goals.
I implore you to take the time to evaluate your own fitness lifestyle and overall health, and objectively analyze whether any of these lessons can positively impact your daily training habits!
Top 5 Lessons
#5 Chart Your Workouts to Tangibly Measure Progress
Are you old school? Or head over heels in love with technology? Or are you like me and like a blend of both? I personally love technology for monitoring my heart rate, my daily step total, tracking distance for runs and walks; but I love being old school for charting my workouts. From my first workouts that started this journey over 10 years ago, all the way up to the present day, I have charted my workouts in a marble composition notebook, with each day separated by post-it notes. (The reason I organize it like that, is so week to week I can just look directly above and see what my weights were.)
Part of my need to chart my weights is most likely rooted in the fact that I was a college athlete, and getting stronger was a necessity. Add in the fact that my sport in college was baseball, and it’s no wonder why I love analyzing my “stats” from the weight room. It is perfectly fine to not be as in love with this aspect of the process as I am, however, I do feel it is an extremely valuable component to your fitness routine, for 2 main reasons.
First, charting your weights will tangibly allow you to see your results. Are you having these types of conversations with yourself? “I’m pretty sure I just hit a PR for “x” rep total” or “I think I just finished that HIIT workout 1 minute quicker than last week.” By charting your weights, you take the guessing out of the equation, and you can tangibly see your results- or lack thereof! If you notice you’re not progressing in the right direction, then it’ll give you a quicker clue to get back to the drawing board and make an adjustment!
Secondly, I can personally say that having 10 years-worth of exercise journals on my book shelf is one of the most satisfying components of my fitness journey. There is certainly a pride factor in filling up a composition notebook, cover to cover with literally thousands of pounds worth of weights charted. No matter how successful you are in achieving your fitness goals, everyone has down days where you question what you’re doing and/or why you’re doing it- having these journals sitting on my bookshelf though has served as a source of motivation. Almost like an imaginary gym partner, the charting of my workouts has held me accountable for 10+ years and I don’t ever plan on changing.
*Side note- there are plenty of great apps (My Fitness Pal being one of them) that allow you to chart your workouts on a device of your choice. My preference is pen and paper, however, I know that is abnormal in 2020. Find an app that works for you, and you will still be able to reap the exact same benefits I outlined, just on a different platform!
(To see an in-depth look at the benefits of charting your workouts, click here)
#4 Don’t Major in the Minors
Regardless of whether your goal is to build muscle, burn fat or exercise for general health, there is one principle that holds true- do not major in the minors. In other words, you must spend the bulk of your time focusing on compound moves, as opposed to isolation work. (Reminder: compound moves are those that are multi-joint, versus isolation exercises, which are single joint.) Unless you are one of the fortunate few without a busy, structured, daily schedule, time is usually of the essence when it comes to working out. Your goal should be to spend around 45-60 minutes training, and that (combined with proper nutritional habits) should put you well on your way to achieving any goal. If there’s only a 45 minute window to train, you would be best served choosing exercises that provide the absolute most bang for your buck, to maximize every minute you’re in the gym.
Compound moves include:
- Squats (any variation)
- Deadlifts (any variation)
- Horizontal Presses (from any angle)
- Horizontal Rows (Supported or unsupported)
- Vertical Presses
- Vertical Pull
Not every one of these movement patterns needs to be in every single lift. It very much depends on how you choose to organize your training days. For example, if you have a Full Body Training Split, 3 days per week, then you’ll want to hit each (or minimally most) of these in a workout. Conversely, if you’re training in an Upper/Lower split then you would break it up accordingly. Even if you break your workouts up into a Bodybuilding Style Split, you still need to put the emphasis on the compound moves. In other words, you shouldn’t be focusing on the Pec Deck or the Leg Extension machine until you’ve completed your Presses or Squats/Deadlifts respectively. Regardless of what muscle you’re aiming to build or develop, a compound move will almost always still develop it best. For example, a Supinated Grip Chin-Up is one of the best exercises for building your biceps. Similar, to a squat or lunge with proper depth being ideal for developing glutes.
Social media has done an incredible job connecting the world, however, it makes it extremely difficult for an individual to maintain a consistent routine, rooted in the basics. If you follow a decent amount of fitness pages, you can’t scroll through an Instagram feed without seeing several “new variations” of exercises. While this can be great for adding spice to your workout, it can also completely hijack your consistency in performing the basics. Like I mentioned in my last post regarding ‘growing your own personal Exercise Encyclopedia,’ it’s so important to know and be comfortable with variations, however, they should never take precedence over the major moves.
Objectively look at your workout and the exercises you are currently performing. Compare that with the amount of time you have to spend in the gym and ask yourself: ‘are you fully maximizing your time?’ Remember, compound moves build the most strength and muscle, burn the most calories and subsequently positively improve your metabolism the best. Never major in the minors!
#3 Supplementation is Extremely Overrated
There’s an adage regarding weight loss that says, “You’ll never out-train a bad diet.” The same is true regarding supplementation- you’ll never be able to use supplements to replace poor nutritional habits, or a lack of training. Over the years, I’ve been asked hundreds of times by clients and every day gym goers, what’s the best pre-workout/ post-workout/fat-loss/BCAA supplement etc.?
It’s admirable to ask a fitness professional this question and not just type it in on google, however, the answer has always been the same and most likely disappointing to them- it depends. Every single person is different and responds differently to supplementation. I usually recommend that before they start jumping off the deep end into the wild west of the supplement world, take an objective look at your training and nutritional habits first.
If you’re not eating or hydrating properly surrounding your training session, and you’re only doing 3 sets of 10 with sub-maximal weights, with your rest times being wildly inconsistent, then supplementation is not going to fix your lack of results. This is the “magic pill” syndrome, where most people are looking for the quick fix. They want that supplement “stack” that is going to just catapult them towards the results they want. Unfortunately I have bad news- there is no magic pill, or supplement stack- it begins and ends with YOU and the effort and commitment you put into training hard and eating right, most of the time.
Over the years I’ve taken many different pre, intra, and post-workout supplements, and yes I have some preferences that have certainly assisted in my performance and then recovery, however, when I first started 10 years ago, I did not take any supplements. I also always cycle off supplements as well- the bottom line is nothing you see in GNC or Vitamin World is FDA approved, and we don’t really know the long term effects on even the safest products on the shelf. The supplement industry (and fitness industry in general) are still in its infancy stages, so to be taking any supplement long-term, I feel is risky.
There are natural (and cheaper!) ways to achieve the same basic effects as some of the supplements you pay $30-$60 for. In lieu of a pre-workout, you can have an apple with peanut butter and some black coffee. Right there you’ve got some natural sugar (from the apple), protein and a little carbs from the peanut butter, and caffeine from the coffee. Yes, most pre-workouts have varying amounts of BCAA’s in them to assist in “muscle buffering capacity” (in other words, prevent the build up of lactic acid, and thus enhance performance). However, the research on BCAA’s is relatively inconclusive with their actual benefit in regards to supplementation. We produce essential amino acids continuously in our body, and ingest the rest through proper nutrition. I would argue, you’re need for a pre-workout would be more placebo-based than anything else.
Post-Workout (depending on the time of day you train) you can have a recovery meal, rather than a recovery shake. Eggs and oatmeal in the morning will give you protein and complex carbohydrates, while grilled chicken and brown rice give you an afternoon or evening option. The main purpose for taking a post-workout shake is to assist in the process of muscle recovery- helping to repair the broken-down muscle fibers. However, eating a meal high in protein with a side of complex carbohydrates, will just as effectively assist in muscle recovery- again without spending the large amount of money on a product that may or may not have the advertised ingredients! (Any supplement that is not 3rd party tested, has often been debunked on not having the amount of protein advertised on the label)
In conclusion, supplements can certainly assist in your fitness journey. However, they must be viewed strictly as supplemental to great training and nutritional habits. If you don’t have either of those, then there is no legal supplement in the world that will fix your issues. If you do find some supplement combinations that work for you, be sure to cycle off them for at least a month at a time to let your body reset. Listen to your body honestly and if you feel any sort of chest fluttering or GI distress, immediately stop taking the supplement and turn to a more natural option.
(To see more on supplementation, click here)
#2 Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
There is no magic exercise combination or one special diet that will make your fitness dreams a reality- in order to get your body to change, you must get yourself outside of your comfort zone. This should occur in the gym through vigorous exercise, in the kitchen by making proper nutritional choices and with recovery, by turning off the TV and getting the proper amount of sleep. (For my purposes, I want to focus on the training benefits of getting comfortable being uncomfortable!)
When you initially begin your fitness journey, doing 3 sets of 10 for sub-maximal weight for 6 or 8 exercises, each training session will yield results- especially if you were doing little to no weight training previously. However, after several weeks, your body will stop adapting and you’re going to start blaming things like genetics, or you’ll think you’re doing the wrong exercises. Your commitment will naturally start to wane, and next thing you know, you’ll be back to an inactive lifestyle, falling well short of achieving your goals.
In order to get your body to change, you must give it a reason to change. For example, if you want to break a PR on an exercise, training sub-maximally at higher rep ranges will not help you achieve your goal- you must train with your max weights, and push yourself beyond the point of failure (with the help of a spotter of course!). If your goal is to build muscle, then you can’t do individual exercises with just 3 sets of 10- you have to get outside your comfort zone. Add in volume by pairing exercises and perform additional sets, making your sets more like 5 x 12 or 6 x 10. In order to lose weight, there has to be components of your workout where your intensity is through the roof- whether that’s through a HIIT circuit, metabolic finisher, or sprint workout. Look at your workouts and honestly ask yourself, are you pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone?
Physical change will never occur comfortably. You’ve got to feel your muscles on fire at times, your lungs burning so bad your doubled over, or have a spotter help you complete a set. These are examples of living outside your comfort zone within the gym. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable will be initially challenging mentally. The key is being able to turn your brain off and push through the imaginary pain.
I say “imaginary” because when your muscles are burning from lactic acid, or your lungs are on fire because you’re sprinting or going so hard with an exercise- that’s pain that will immediately go away once the exercise is stopped. It’s important when you’re pushing yourself, to distinguish between this imaginary pain and “real pain.” Real pain would be a shooting sensation in your joints (knees, shoulders, elbows, ankles and lower back)- if you experience that type of pain- that is grounds for not pushing through. Understanding this key difference is essential in living outside of your comfort zone. Know that the burning of imaginary pain is only temporary, and once the set is concluded you’ll feel better, but not before your body has been given a reason to change!
Keep in mind, you cannot train exclusively outside of your comfort zone though- this would certainly be grounds for injury. You must pick your spots, whether it’s the last few sets of a sequence, or a metabolic finisher to the workout- those are great times to go beyond the point of failure. Having these moments within your workout will exponentially improve your mental state as well, because you’re performing a perfect simulation of life. You’re imposing controlled adversity upon yourself, understanding that it’s only temporary so you’ll continue to push through until the set is complete!
When people ask me how I’ve achieved the physical goals I’ve set for myself, my answer is extremely simple- when everyone else stopped at rep number 8, I’ve developed the ability to turn my mind off and push to 15. When everyone else was jogging for the last 30 seconds, I was all out sprinting until I couldn’t take another step. I implore you to give your muscles and your body a reason to change- and watch the results take off!
#1 Consistency is KING
In each of the lessons I’ve learned over the course of the last 10 years, there’s been one single underlying element, that has made all the difference: the ability to consistently repeat healthy habits. Every training goal I’ve set for myself, or clients, has been achieved through a commitment to consistent and positive action. Being capable of repeating healthy habits will make any fitness goal you set for yourself attainable.
Over the years, I have routinely fielded variations of the following questions:
- “What is the best workout?”
- “What is the best diet?”
- “How many days per week should I be training?”
- “How long should my training sessions be?”
- “How can I lose weight/build muscle/gain strength?”
While there are individual nuances that go with each of these responses, there is one truth that is present in every single answer- CONSISTENCY IS KING. Whatever goal you have, and whatever route you chose to take to reach that goal, is your own individual decision. There may be a more efficient way or a safer way to reach your goal, however, there is really no wrong method- as long as you can be consistent.
In order to achieve your health and fitness goals you must be consistent in each of the following areas:
- Training Frequency
Being consistent with your recovery starts immediately after your training session. At the conclusion of your workout, it is imperative to rehydrate, and consume a protein filled meal or a shake. From there you must continue to stay hydrated throughout the day, and also take advantage of recovery methods such as foam rolling, extra stretching, a massage, hot bath, etc. The last piece to your daily recovery should be a commitment to getting a great night’s sleep.
Everyone is different regarding the amount of sleep they need; the old adage of adults needing 8 hours of sleep is not necessarily true (or sometimes realistic- if you’ve got a new born especially!). Some need 10 hours of sleep to function highly, while others only need 6. The biggest challenge for you, is to find the right amount of sleep that works for you, then work to consistently hit about that hour total every night. It will take diligence to turn off the tv and miss the end of a sporting event or show, BUT, consistently getting the proper amount of sleep will do wonders for how your body responds and recovers to vigorous training!
As I mentioned in my last post, it is important to view your eating habits as a nutritional lifestyle as opposed to a diet. Diets are short term, and often present a “restrictive mindset” regarding what you can’t eat. You don’t need to be perfect with your nutrition to get great results- you just need to be consistently good! My recommendation that I’ve used for years is make your goal to have 19 out of 21 meals per week be nutritious and wholesome meals- leaving you 2 flex options, that ideally you’d have on non-consecutive meals. If you make the proper nutritional choices 19 out of 21 times that leaves you at a 90% success rate- which combined with proper training habits, will over time yield sustainable and lasting results!
Also aim to be consistent with your meal timing- don’t bounce from intermittent fasting, to 6 meals per day to 3 meals per day- let your body get into a routine nutritionally as well. Commit to a style of eating, and stick with it for at least 4-8 weeks to evaluate the results and if it worked for you. Remember there’s no universal right or wrong style of eating; individually it depends on what you can do consistently for 6 months, a year, 5 years etc.
Training Frequency & Exercise Selection
I’d rather see a new client walk in the gym doors 3 days per week for 6 months than 6 days per week for 3 weeks. This is the ultimate test of slow and steady wins the race. The natural tendency, based on the type of society we live in, is that we want our fitness results yesterday! That desire must be put on the back burner- let it fuel your passion to keep showing up week in and week out. However, resist that temptation to hit two a-days 6 days per week. That is a recipe for burning yourself out, through either mental exhaustion or injury.
If you’re going from no activity to deciding it’s time to go to the gym, I’d start with 2 or 3 days per week. Especially if you’re resistance training, this will allow for the proper amount of recovery between sessions and it will also keep the entire process fresh (Remember, don’t confuse this recommendation with me saying you’re only getting 2 or 3 days worth of activity- I want you to have “Active Rest” on your days off from the gym as well). Gradually after a month or two of consistently hitting your 3 days per week, then maybe consider adding in an additional day. The worst thing you can do though, is go to the gym 6 days one week, 2 days the next then 4 days after that. Start small and work yourself up in gym frequency so your body can get into a routine as well as avoiding burning yourself out.
Once you’ve got your gym frequency down pat, it’s time to evaluate your exercise selection. It is important to always having your training sessions centered around fundamental movement patterns- regardless of your goal! The compound moves I mentioned before- squats, deadlifts, presses and rows- should be the basis for every training session. In order to achieve your goals, you must consistently perform these movement patterns with the proper variables (reps, sets, rest time). If you constantly are doing “new” workouts, with no emphasis on the fundamentals, then your body will never get stronger or progress in any one area. Essentially, you’d be spinning your wheels in terms of reaching your goals!
How to Become Consistent?
In order to become consistent in all 3 aspects of your fitness journey, you must fall in love with the process. As difficult as this might be, if you’re truly committed to your fitness goal, you must be invigorated to walk through those gym doors, or roll out your yoga mat, or meal prep your weekly meals. Some ways to help embrace and ultimately love the process, would be to clearly identify your “Why?” Are you exercising to fit into a wedding dress? Because a doctor showed you blood work results? You want to live a long and healthy life for your spouse and children? Your “Why” should give you goosebumps when you think about it, and should put some pep in your step when you think about the journey you are on.
The next key to being consistent is to set a workout time that is non-negotiable for you. As I’ve mentioned previously, I feel early morning workouts to be superior- mainly from a consistency standpoint. If you want to consistently complete your workouts, perform them early in the morning, before life can get in the way. If your fitness goal is important to you, you’ll make the lifestyle adjustments to make that happen.
The final aspect to making consistency king, is to always start small. In an instant gratification society, you must have patience and not burn yourself out. 10 years ago, I started exercising with a 3-day split with each workout being only 45 minutes. I did that for almost 3 months, before I only added in 1 more day. For years prior to this, I had been a yo-yo gym goer, where I was notorious for hitting 6 days per week and then I’d lose interest after about 3 weeks. Doing only 3 days per week, with quicker training sessions was perfect for me. It was enough time in the gym to start achieving short term goals, but it was also infrequent enough to keep everything fresh and not burn me out. When looking to build your consistency, start small and build a sturdy foundation in all aspects!
There are many aspects of my actual training style that have been tweaked and changed over the years. I’ve gone through different phases of bodybuilding, powerlifting, Olympic lifting, kettle bells and multiple Half Marathon Trainings. The lessons I’ve learned though have been intrinsic and present through each of these stages. These pillars have allowed me to achieve every fitness goal I’ve ever set for myself and help countless clients achieve theirs.
As I’ve mentioned multiple times, prior to 10 years ago, I was a Yo-Yo gym goer. These pillars have allowed for me to make fitness a priority in my life and never wander far from my goals. Since the health world is constantly evolving, I’m very much looking forward to the new lessons I will undoubtedly learn over the course of the next 10 years in the fitness industry!
Yours in Fitness and Health,
Your Final Reward Will Be Heartache and Tears, If You’ve Cheated the Guy in the Glass.