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Vince Lombardi was once asked why, given his talented players, his offense was so simple. He answered, “because it’s hard to be aggressive when you’re confused.” Success in fitness is about focus and aggressive implementation of the fundamentals. With so many articles and pieces of advice competing for your attention it can be very hard to stay focused long enough to get results. Nutrition and fitness ADD can keep you spinning in circles forever. My hope is that you can use the checklist below to help filter and focus all of the information coming at you into a plan of attack.
1. Do you really have a fitness program?
The definitive test for this is if you or your coach can produce a written/typed program about what you are doing this week, next week and a few months beyond? (Ideally it’s based on a periodization scheme that makes physiological sense, and has been tested with people like you.) Most people can’t answer “yes” to this question, so this is usually a great place to start because it will allow you to maximize the time you’re already investing in exercise.
Cooking is a good metaphor for fitness programming. You can think of a program like a recipe – it tells you how to get the end result you want (what’s the dish you want for dinner?). Workouts are like the individual ingredients – they are a crucial part, but you’ve got to use the right ingredients in the right amounts in the right sequence and in the right ways in order to get the dinner you want. Random workouts are like throwing random ingredients into a bowl with your fingers crossed.
Good places to start:
- Muscle growth: when it comes to muscle gaining info on the internet, I think Jason Ferrugia is one of the best in the business.
- Fat-loss: here’s an effective program I wrote a few years ago. (Yes, it still works:-)
Strength: if we’re talking about strength in terms of the big 3 (bench, squat and deadlift) then Wendler’s 5/3/1 is a great place to work your way up to a double or two and a half times bodyweight deadlift.
2. Do you have a nutrition plan?
At the most fundamental level you need two things to call it a plan:
(a) a clearly articulated set of principles that changes will be based one.
(b) specific, actionable things you are working on improving right now. An example would be add 1 fist-sized serving of veggies to each meal (as opposed to the vague, “eat more veggies.”)
Places to start
- Steal somebody’s set of principles. (Feel free to use mine.)
- Pick 2 things to change, and make them specific and actionable.
A prescribed meal plan that you follow to the letter goes in the advanced section because they are really, really hard to keep up over time. You’ve got to carry around all of your own food in a little cooler, and you can’t go off plan (i.e. eat out, or at someone else’s home).
3. Do you get at least 7 hours of sleep per night?
6 hours seems close to 7, but please remember that hour makes a huge difference for almost every human. At 6 hours per night most people are excessively hungry (especially for sugar, salt and fat), have compromised strength, recovery and metabolism (especially carbohydrate metabolism). So, it really doesn’t matter if you want fat-loss, muscle growth, sports performance, or max strength – sleep is imperative. If you are not getting the results you want and you’re not sleeping a minimum of 7 hours per night, then this is an area to work on.
Places to start
- At the risk of sounding insulting, work backwards from the time you need to wake up – when would have to go to bed? Having this simple bed time target in mind gives you a specific goal to shoot for vs. feeling guilty because“ I should sleep more.”
- Work on improving basic sleep hygiene because improving sleep quality is almost as important as sleep quantity and maximize results on your current schedule.
4. Do you drink at least half your bodyweight in ounces?
Without enough water most people are hungrier than they should be, recover poorly, and have artificially limited workout intensity. Proper hydration is vital for your body’s ability to efficiently cool itself, and when you are dehydrated you overheat quickly and get very tired quickly.
Place to start
- Keep a water bottle with you. Making the right thing the convenient thing sets you up for success because strategy always trumps willpower. If you have to think or work (even a little bit) to do the right thing
5. Are you consistent with you exercise?
Over the past 16 years of keeping client records on results, we’ve found that 10 per month is where success really happens. Basically this means that you are trying to get three days per week. Two weeks of 5 days a week and then two weeks of nothing won’t work very well.
6. Are you consistent with your nutrition?
A good rule of thumb for nutrition is the 90% rule – follow your nutrition principles 90% of the time. You can relax 10% of the time and “treat” yourself with a reasonable portion of something else. Over time people will drift to 80%, and expect that their results should just be reduced by 10%. This is not how nutrition works – 20% treat is twice as much as 10% treat, so results go way down or stop altogether because usually 80% is maintenance.
Where to start:
- Keep a food log for a week and get a complete and objective look at how consistent you are. 99% of the time people have a little (or big) epiphany about their behavior and figure out what to fix.
7. Can you move well?
Exercise is movement, and if movement quality is compromised then the quality, intensity and safety of your workouts will also be compromised. People who put a lot of fitness on top of dysfunction often find themselves under a glass ceiling – they get hurt and backslide, or they find a strength level that they just can’t move beyond. Grey Cook has a great quote that sums this up: “Move Well, then move often.” It’s important to have an objective and quantitative standard for movement
Where to start:
- Get your Functional Movement Screen (FMS) score from a qualified professional. It will break out your scores on the fundamental human movements and let you know where and how to focus your efforts. You can find someone local to you right here. (I don’t receive anything for my endorsement.)
Wrapping it up
Information isn’t power, only applied information is. So, please, pick one thing from this list and put it to work for you today.