January 1st is coming and people are gearing up to change their lives in 2009. Before we begin talking about making resolutions, let's examine the context of and the results of resolutions people get and finally how to actually get results.
Let's just say it's been a year since you put on those dress pants. Let's say they must have shrunk a lot. Let's say the next step is taking a long hard look in the mirror any begin to wonder where those extra inches came from. Now begins a walk down memory lane. Begin your walk down memory lane when you were in the best shape of your life. For many it was high school sports or boot camp. For many it was 19 years old and life consists of working out or in more sensible reality just hanging out with your friends being active. For many of us it was decades ago. Most everyone can remember preseason in whatever sport or team that they were on. The coach had you run up and down the bleachers, doing sprints until your eyes bled, push-ups or man makers until your arms were going to falloff. Drill after drill day after day the coaches would get you both mentally and physically ready for your season. The result was when we stepped on the field, or mat or the court for the first day of real practice you were in great shape and ready for anything.
Fast-forward to the super tight dress pants. Internally you start a conversation that goes something like this: I know what I'm going to do, go get a gym membership, get my old sweat pants and sneakers out I'm going to run around like a madman. I'll do all the things we did in high school when I was 17 years old and I will feel and be that way again. The trip to the gym begins with one last stop at Wendy's for a double cheeseburger because you know that's not going to fly once you start working out seriously. The lobby of the local globogym is filled with supplements, diet bars, and kids who are not as old as the sweatpants you are wearing. You know you want a gym membership so you can train like you did in high school, but still the salesman insists on walking around show you all the shiny things. They ask you what you trying to accomplish, homes in on your weakness (self-consciousness) and then the brochure comes out. You end up taking out the least offensive three-year contract with print so small you could not have read it when you were 17.
The reality check: You are ready to try out your new membership. Your first day first day of running around like a madman begins at 5 AM, of course because anything later would be too easy and you would see yourself as a sellout, which results in a great sweat. Then you wait in line for one of the gerbil machines that you attack like a Velociraptor going after the first mammal. You spend the rest of the day vaguely numb but you feel pretty good because you finally did something you can be proud of. You go to bed that night somewhat motivated to wake up at 430 and drag your butt to the gym for day #2.
Then it happens, the alarm clock goes off you put your feet on the ground and it feels like someone put ice picks up and down your legs. You may fall or stumbled to the bathroom or something else but for sure you begin to look for reasons to get back in bed. The cycle continues for a few days or weeks but the lack of accountability, knowing coach isn't there to take roll call and slowly, the motivation goes away. The nice kid who sold you the membership is back to his job as a waiter so he never calls to check on your progress. This is meant as a tongue-in-cheek explanation of what happens to people when they make the typical fitness resolutions during holidays. (Or worse yet, you become so insanely bored on your gerbil machine that reruns of Gilligan's Island really do become interesting, the net result is the same)
REFRAMING THE PROBLEM
There are some major flaws in the thought process. First people often compare themselves to when they were in the best shape of the lives, usually many years before. Here is the wake-up call for all ex-uber athletes: you're not going to be 17 again! The last 10 or 15 or 20 or 25 years of sitting at your desk earning a living, paying a mortgage, paying your bills and going to Super Bowl parties have taken a toll. The comparison of what we were capable of in our prime versus what we are capable of now is often very different. The five-minute mile you ran at states your senior year when you weighed 160 pounds will kill you today. In our heads, we are still capable of those deeds; in reality let's just say it's a little different. The first real step for any resolution (true fitness program) to be successful is a reasonable assessment of where you are now. If walking on a treadmill for five minutes now seems like a marathon it is just a data point. If you are capable of doing 1/2 pull up and that is also a data point. If you are capable of six good push-ups then that is just a data point. Whatever the data point is, it is just a data point.
The single data point has no real value. What these data points do is give you is a snapshot of your current fitness level. It is neither good nor bad it just gives you a place to start. Start slow and get lots of data points. Knowing where you are today is crucial to knowing if you are making progress. If you are not recording your results, then you are wasting your time.
THE ALL OR NOTHING PROBLEM
Many people have the problem of being all in or all out. People tell stories of what a great workout program they were once on, the great results they had but then they went on vacation. The break in the routine ended the workout program. People feel they have to work out five days a week are not at all. Nothing could be further from the truth. Ask yourself this: if my schedule only allows me to work out three times this week is that really bad? If my schedule has me on the road two of the next four weeks is at the end of the world for me to miss and come back to my schedule? Unless you're a professional athlete or striving for some sort of super goal fitness wise we are working out to maintain and improve our health. Is it a good idea while you are on the road to do a few push-ups, sit-ups and squat so you don't die when you get back your workout program, yes! The real key to success in fitness is consistency.
Definition of fitness success: Maintain physical ability to do all tasks life may present us. It would be really cool to be able to run a two hour 30 minute marathon, climb Mount Everest, swim the English Channel and be able to hold our own against a world-class MMA fighter. All of these events, while sensational, are probably not within the realm of good health and fitness for most people. A major aim of fitness should be to develop strength and mobility were life's normal tasks like water skiing, or playing ball with the kids or hiking in the mountains are easily doable at any age. Consistency, persistence and vigorous regular exercise are the prescription for fitness success. A successful program creates an environment and atmosphere that supports consistency and keeps you on the right path.
BOREDOM = ENEMY
One of the greatest fitness myths going is the idea of a routine. The only real acceptable routine and fitness is getting your butt to the gym. Beyond getting to the gym the only other acceptable routine is consistently getting to the gym. People often pick out a series of machines or workouts are exercises they feel comfortable with and the repeat them again and again and again. The sheer boredom of a typical split routine is enough to keep most people out of the gym. If someone can make it past the boredom, they end up with diminishing results. The human body tends towards homeostasis in other words it likes things the way they are. Let's say if you're running 5 miles a day five days a week for five years you stopped making real progress four years and 10 months ago. The concept of variation in training forces the body to keep adapting and continually making progress. The other real component of variation is that it keep training interesting. Constantly varying the workouts keeps your body adapting and keeps your mind fresh for the training.
Another twist on the idea of boredom is the iPod. Let me first start by saying I love my iPod. I like all the songs and books that it holds on it I liked it goes everywhere with me etc. and so forth. People go to the gym put their iPod on and blindly go from machine to machine or exercise having absolutely little or no interaction with any other human being. The sheer isolation and lack of camaraderie prevents people from bonding to the group environment is a key factor for long-term success and consistent fitness. Side note: If you can really hear the music or keep the head phones on your head, you need to train harder.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Before you sit down with the nice kid with the spiked hair, find a place that provides the following:
Look for a team. Find a place that has a strong community. Seth Godin's latest book Tribes explains a lot about what to look for. A tribe is a group of people who share common interests, common goals and look out for each other. Find a group of people who share a long-term view of fitness and good health. Find a group of people who share a similar worldview. Belonging to a group of people pulling in the direction you want to go is great support to achieving what you want. Once you are in a group like this, you also take on the role of a hand up for other people too. Being a part of a group of people who truly want everyone to succeed in their goals is life changing.
Find a coach or group of coaches. The role of a coach is to assess where you are now, where you want to go and come up with a plan to get you there. The role of the coach is to set goals, milestones and a swift kick in the ass when you are off the straight and narrow. It is funny to think of adults being chided for missing workouts but often that is what it takes. A good coach will help you stay the course. A good coach cares about your success. A good coach isn't always liked, but they are respected.
The training should be functional in the sense that it resembles everyday movements in terms of range of motion and actual human activities. The movements should allow for a component of intensity which will aid you in getting the results that you want. The programming should be varied so that you do not become bored with the training. The movements should require skill to learn and maintain it will also keep things interesting.
Find a place that turns fitness into a game. Keep score: each data point that you take should draw a line upwards into the right. The game that you are playing is good health and fitness. The game is measured in scores, times, smiles, and sweat angels. If you do not know what a sweat angel is it is high time you find out.
The above is what we and nearly 1000 CrossFit affiliates do across the world. No one said it would be easy but it sure is fun.