We’ve got more health and fitness information at our fingertips than ever before and yet we’ve never before, as a society, been so unhealthy and unfit.
You’re familiar with the Goldilock’s Principle, yes?
How appropriate. That can be the first principle we discuss.
Okay, so the Goldilock’s Principle as it applies to the plethora of fitness resources that abound on the almighty World Wide Web, is this:
Too much info is just too much. It leaves us overwhelmed and scattered, taking the first step in 21 directions, only to find out we’re back at Square 1 again.
On the other end of the spectrum, too little information might not be enough. When our scope is too limited, we risk stagnation, dogma, and even burn out.
It’s gotta be juuuuuust right. We need to keep an open perspective, but filter our information in order to find a productive balance.
We need to drown out some of the noise.
“Tips & Tricks” are great. So are “hacks,” “challenges,” and “shortcuts.”
The novelty and out-of-the-gate wins are extremely motivating! They’re fun! There’s nothing at all wrong with them.
…Until…we get so caught up in all the fleeting little tidbits that we no longer grounded in principles.
If you think you might have lost touch a bit, over the hours/months/YEARS you’ve spent perusing fitness fodder, let me get you back on track with some foundational principles.
(If you’re just starting out in fitness, look here first. Etch this into your brain before your senses get inundated with porridge that’s toooooo hot.)
Principles > Tips & Tricks
Here are 5 FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLES from which you should never stray too far.
- Do compound movements. The bulk of the time you spend and the energy you exert working out should be devoted to training the 4 main movement patterns: squat, hinge, push, and pull. Also do rotation/anti-rotation exercises and carries. Well-rounded fitness demands moving the body with synergy. In other words, feel free to top off with some bicep curls, but know that fancy drop sets on the curl machine will only ever be icing on the cake. (And that cake will be dry, crumbly, and flavorless if you skimp on the pull-ups.)
- Train enough. Eat enough. Rest enough. Find out what “enough” is by keeping a log. I’m always amazed at the physical and mental obstacles we race to treat outside of the domains of nutrition, exercise, and sleep. It’s not rocket science. (It’s actually medical science, but the good news is, you don’t need to understand all the intricacies to implement the obvious.) By documenting your daily habits, you can identify patterns that may solve some of your biggest issues.
- Evaluate your fitness through the lens of your quality of life. Your fitness should enhance, rather than detract from, your quality of life. We all like to feel the burn; we appreciate a good DOMS. But–if your leg day causes you to feel unmotivated to take your kids to the park the next day, it’s time to reprogram. If you are missing out on special moments with family and friends because of your extreme methods of fitness, it’s time to rethink your approach. (Pat employs intelligent program design, with workouts that will produce profound results in a short period of time–and that invigorate you rather than deplete you. Start HERE to get free kettlebell workouts and get on his email list.)
- The Ten-Minute Method: Not in the mood? Not sure what to do? Lost in the mumbo-jumbo, trying to find the “best” routine? Just pick a thing and do it for ten minutes. Do it fast a whole lotta times and rest ‘til you can do it again. Repeat for 10 min. Or, do it heavy just a few times and rest ‘til you can do it again. Repeat for 10 min. Or do it once every 20s for 10 minutes straight. Practice. Grab a heavy weight or no weight and all, and just run through a few Turkish get-ups until your time is up.
- Define “success”; then, PR every day.
My dad and I had a very revealing conversation as we rode 50 miles of hilly, challenging terrain together over the weekend as part of a fundraising bike tour. It turns out we both hate losing but also aren’t even close to being the best at anything.
Rather than actually accepting this or taking action about it, we completely disregard the actual qualifications of winning. Instead, we competitive, both with ourselves and others, to be the best according to standards that we have arbitrarily invented for ourselves. In case any of my dad’s “casual riding buddies” are reading this, I won’t go into detail about how my dad “wins” his Tuesday night rides. (It’s not by being fastest. We don’t think it’s fun to train for speed. It just against our family values, I think.)
I did the same thing when I registered for a powerlifting meet. Sure, USAPL’s guidelines clearly define that the person who lifts the most weight wins. But, who’s to say, really? The thing is, I know I’m not strong enough to win a powerlifting competition. And I know I’m not dedicated enough to train to be that strong because I just don’t care enough about powerlifting to let my other, personally-significant indicators of fitness, get put on the backburner. I went into the whole thing, defining success as following a powerlifting training program, hitting certain personal records of weight (actually, in my training sessions rather than the meet itself), and enjoying the scariness of the competition. I also had a psychological goal: to fully accept physique changes based on my training program.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, I totally support your lack of attempt to be “the best” at something. But I would definitely advise you to attempt to be “your best” at something–and then tackle that consistently. Even if no sane person would announce you the winner. Especially if no one knows that you’re competing.
Note: Defining your own success opens the door for you to be illogical, to a degree. If it makes you happy and it aligns with your personal goals, feel free to train in ways that attract scoffs from passersby.
Another Side Story: My brother has a biceps/triceps day during which he completes all prescribed bicep/tricep exercises from all of the other days of his programming. You see, he was following a 4-day split, but he doesn’t abide by “rest days” and he didn’t want to cycle through it twice per week, and thus, “Arm Day” was born. It’s a pretty terrible idea. Not very effective. High risk of injury. Makes him look like a schmuck. He claims all his other workouts are more fun without the curls, and he enjoys the physical and mental anguish of 9 sets of curl variations once a week. The truth of the matter is, it makes him happy. He has not defined his training success in such a way that it is affected by such silliness.
Oh, look, here we are, post 90 minutes of bicep & tricep work!
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Last words of wisdom on employing principles rather than exploiting every fitness hack from every fitness quack…
Stop asking questions that you already know the answer to, and just get to work doing what you know.
Stop agonizing about having an apple or a banana (because there’s that “one weird trick” about bananas–or so I’ve seen on every.single.sidebar.ever.); just don’t eat the junk you know is in your diet.
Don’t delay going to the gym because you don’t have a program yet; just go and spend 10 minutes on something, anything.
Don’t eat a gallon of ice cream because you messed up your fasting protocol; just get right back on track with your next decision.
Abide by the principles.
Let’s do a quick, 5-minute bodyweight workout that adheres to Principle #1!
Squat x 1 minute: Air squat, 1.5 reps (all the way down, half-way back up, all the way down, all the way up);
Push x 1 minute: Push-ups or incline push-ups;
Hinge x 1 minute: Glute bridges;
Pull x 1 minute: Pull-up or “chest-to-___” (get in a rowing position with your hands on a chair, bench, table, etc. &, keeping your body tight, pull yourself to it);
Rotate x 1 minute: Oblique twists.
Stay principled, folks!