There are a lot of new diets and dieting protocols floating around today. Some may work, some may not; some are sustainable, some you will fail by dinner time on the first day. Some help your friend lose 30 pounds of fat while you gain two. The truth is that many of these plans work when performed correctly; however, you have to look at certain factors. How long can you keep this up? What’s my plan once I hit my goal weight? Am I missing essential components of a healthy lifestyle? Why am I doing this, and is there a better, longer-lasting solution to reach my goal? The problem is that a fitness newcomer who doesn’t know what asparagus is may try to diet like a body builder during the final week of contest prep.
If you’re new to fitness or looking to get started, own these concepts before attempting more advanced methods. Here are 5 fitness journeys you should take that are not only sustainable, but also free and guaranteed to change your life if you haven’t already mastered them.
Getting More Sleep
Every year we are finding more information on why sleep is so important. Sleep plays a vital role in recovery from workouts. When your body is recovering is literally the time when your gains are made. Workouts lead to cell and muscle damage; recovery provides the adaptations. Sleep also keeps your hormonal profile in check. Whether it be cortisol, which helps you deal with stress; leptin and ghrelin, which control satiety and appetite; or testosterone and HGH (Human Growth Hormone), which aid in any number of things from recovery to libido; sleep plays a role in producing and maintaining all of these hormones and more. In addition, getting more and better quality sleep will help you stay alert, focused, and patient throughout the day.
So what can you do to improve your sleep? Sleep in a cool room that’s as dark and quiet as possible. Invest in some blackout curtains, tape over small electronic lights (seriously), and put in some earplugs. Avoid alcohol before bed or staring at too many white or blue lights (think televisions and phone screens). Most importantly, get to bed a bit sooner.
Goal: Sleep 8 hours every night in the darkest, quietest room possible.
The importance of water is incredibly understated. Would you drive a car without oil if it was available in every faucet in the world? No. So why are you dehydrating yourself day in and day out? Roughly 60% of the adult human body is comprised of water, and it’s being stored in every cell of your body. Everything from the quality of your feces to the viscosity (thickness) of your blood is affected by water intake. Even your neurological system, a system based around sending and receiving electrical signals, needs its conductor to operate correctly.
If you are depriving every cell in your body of something that it needs, I can promise it is affecting your workouts and your ability to lose weight and gain muscle. So buy a water bottle with measurements etched on the side and drink more water.
Goal: Drink 64 ounces of water every day and 98 ounces on training days.
Eating Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of the vitamins and minerals you’re missing (for the most part) when you’re eating protein sources and empty carbs. “But I heard bananas are full of sugar and will make me fat?” If you are eating fast food or dessert on a weekly or monthly basis, you should not be worried about bananas at all. “Well, why should I care about vitamins and minerals? They don’t burn calories or build muscle.” This is true, but your body does, and your body works better when it’s given the right tools.
Some benefits include improved energy production, immune health, skin health, eye/vision health, absorption of nutrients (say, maybe protein?), and bone density to name a few. You can also add better maintenance of blood pressure via improved elasticity of blood vessels, better blood clotting for wounds, and improved removal of free radicals from the body (those little suckers ignite cancer).
Aside from the direct benefits, one should note 200 kcal of spinach is going to take up FAR more room in your stomach than 200 kcal of brownie, leaving you feeling fuller. I missed listing a textbook-worth of other benefits, but if any of those sound cool to you, then it’s time to get fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Goal: Add 2 more vegetable sources and 1 more fruit source into your daily diet.
Bringing the Intensity
One of the biggest factors that may be holding you back from making progress in the gym is intensity. Your workout should be a challenge to you, and you should be breaking a sweat every day. If you’ve never played a sport or had anyone coach you, there’s a good chance you may not know what it feels like to truly work hard.
This is not to be mistaken for grinding through bad form, but you should always be pushing your limits in some facet or another. The cool thing about your body is that it is an adaptation machine. New muscle, a strong heart, mobility; these are all adaptations to stresses you put on your body. If you’re not giving your body a reason to change, it never will.
Next time you hit the gym, leave the phone in your locker, focus on your next set while resting, and experience what a 30-45 second rest period actually feels like. Get under the bar before you truly feel ready, try supersets to ensure you stay working, and do a couple more reps on a set if you feel you have it in you. Give your body a reason to change, and it will reward you.
Goal: Break a sweat during every workout.
The least sexy but extremely necessary aspect of fitness is mobility. You’ve got to stretch, people. Stretch with some gumption. Stretch like you mean it. Hitting the mats after a workout and holding five stretches, one time, for 30 seconds each is simply not enough. Next time you’re sitting on the couch cramming in some Netflix, set the timer on your phone for 5-10 minutes and mobilize a couple areas of your body. Hold some deep stretches for 1-3 minutes. Embrace the stretch, feel the deep muscle pull, and try to get deeper into the stretch by the end of the session.
Working out and training is a necessary thing, but every time you contract a muscle against resistance, you are teaching it to squeeze stronger, tighten, and shorten. Muscles can only squeeze, tighten, and shorten so much before injury occurs. Injury prevention aside, if you don’t use full range of motion on movement patterns, you’re leaving strength on the table. Think of your muscles like a catapult. Which will send a boulder flying further—pulling the catapult halfway back or completely back?
Finally, logic tells us that a bigger movement equates to more work being done. More work being done equates to more calories being burned and more muscular adaptations being created. So stretch, gain full range of motion, use that range of motion, and burn more calories and build more muscle.
Goal: Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and mobilize every night.
These steps and concepts are a great place to start. These are things I wish I knew when I first began my fitness journey. These are things I neglected that ended up holding me back for years. Of course, there are many other important aspects of fitness, such as form and macronutrient intake, but those are preached in every gym and in every blog across the world. There’s no lack of information on the subjects. On the other hand, the 5 concepts above are usually only mentioned as an afterthought. So practice, fail, and get a little better about these habits every day. Be patient and persistent. Most importantly, learn to enjoy the journey rather than rushing through it.
It always benefits you to have a professional instructor guiding you along your path for all the details. Having a professional by your side, who is educated in the matters of fitness, nutrition, and the human body, insures you are getting the most mileage for your efforts. I am an ACE certified personal trainer with a B.S. in Exercise Science and I have a strong passion for coaching others in all matters of fitness. Click HERE to view my profile page. Please contact me with any questions.