This is an interesting topic for me, it conjures up headlines from the gossip magazines you can’t help but gaze upon while in the check out line at the grocery store. “Firm buns in 7 minutes” or “The best fat burning secrets revealed”! Most of us realize that these headlines are come-ons to get us to buy magazines, I hope no one expects that they are going to change the way they look in a matter of minutes.
The question is… how much time do we really need to commit towards exercise to see appreciable changes in our weight and health? I was asked to shed some realism to this topic and I think this approach is simple and as real as it gets.
So, what things do we need to include in a well rounded fitness program and how can we keep our commitment to fitness while juggling our busy lives? Most experts would agree that there are four components that require attention in order to achieve “fitness”. They are:
You might be thinking, “tell me something I don’t know”! Well, if you’re like many people, who have jobs or kids or both, what you may not know is how to find the time to fit all of this into your hectic lifestyle. The number one complaint among adults who don’t exercise is that they don’t have time. I believe the more appropriate reason is that those who fail to make the time just don’t have a plan that has worked for them thus far. Exercise is not rocket science. The more complicated that you make the task, the less likely you are to succeed. My advice is to follow the K.I.S.S. principle (keep it simple stupid)
DEVELOP A PLAN. Sit down and think about your daily schedule and honestly ask yourself, when would be the ideal time to set aside just 60 minutes. Try and make this time in your day remain constant. Don’t try and squeeze in an hour instead of lunch one day, after work the next, and some early mornings on other days. Commit to a scheduled hour of exercise at the same time of day at least five days per week. If you need to lose weight, make that seven days per week.
If you make the argument that you get home too late and you wake up to early, I suggest you give up some of the down time you may be spending in the evenings staring at the television and get to bed earlier. If you hit the sack an hour earlier, you can gain that hour in the morning, it’s as simple as that.
FIND THE DISCIPLINE. Usually exercise discipline comes from lots of short term goals. Tell yourself, you’re going to stick with it for two weeks without missing one session. This way it does not seem so daunting. It’s no longer about changing your lifestyle which seems all but too late! It’s just two weeks. Generally after these two weeks of dedication you’ll feel empowered and you’ll be more apt to continue for another two weeks.
PREPARE YOURSELF. If you have to get up real early, set your exercise clothes out the night before so you don’t waste valuable time trying to get out the door. Next, make sure you have the right things available in the refrigerator so that you don’t make poor food choices. It may be wise to start packing a lunch to take to work with you or even pre-preparing dinner meals so that you have the right food choices ready to go when you get home.
Now that you have a schedule and are well prepared to embark on your fitness quest you need to ask yourself some more pointed questions;
If you are overweight and out of shape, begin with walking. I recommend avoiding a treadmill if possible. Walking outdoors is better exercise than walking on a treadmill. Walking outdoors is “rate dependant work” where walking on a treadmill is “rate independent work”. What this means is that in order to move forward, you must engage more muscles to accomplish the task, on a treadmill the belt moves without your help and you simply keep up with the movement which actually takes less effort.
Cardiovascular exercise is the heaviest burden on the clock; dedicate 70% of your hour to whatever exercise you take on to fill this important component of your fitness regimen. Regardless whether you’re walking, jogging, or riding a bike, if your primary concern is weight management; be sure to put in the time.
KEEP YOUR STRENGTH TRAINING SIMPLE. If you belong to a gym you have plenty of options. Personally, I love training outdoors; even in our facility most of our functional strength training occurs outdoors. Consider the benefits; generally all you need to do is walk out your front door, develop a route that your comfortable with for safety sake, maybe even have a few different options, one with some hills and one that is reasonably flat and away you go. Think of the time you saved not having to get in your car and drive to a training site such as a gym.
ADDRESS YOUR BODY AS A WHOLE INSTEAD OF ISOLATING MUSCLES this approach to training is how body builders exercise. I don’t recommend following this style of training. It is complicated, and it detracts from a functional theme which is what I believe is going to provide you what you really need. Over the past 20 years that I have trained people for fitness, they typically tell me “I don’t want to bulk up, I just want to tone”. To tone muscle it needs to be worked.
PERFORM THE UP’S
The key to performing these exercises is “leverage”. For example if you are vertically challenged and can not pull yourself up, you can use some simple cheats to assist you. We employ a very large rubber band that we attach to an overhead chin bar and place one foot into the bottom of the loop, much like a stirrup which helps to off set some of our body weight and compensates for our weakness. As you become stronger, you simply perform more repetitions or a smaller rubber band. With push ups you can work first from bended knees until you gain the strength to hold your entire body weight up.
Step ups are easy to manage in that you can work from a lower to a more challenging height and finally, add some external load. Sit ups are also an exercise in where you can limit your body weight by changing the lever point.
Each of these four exercises is highly effective and involves groups of muscles rather than isolating muscles and this should always be your goal. Attaching the body from a global perspective saves time and builds functional strength. In the beginning they are very challenging but if you employ the correct leverage you can manage the amount of actual work you have to perform. Over time as you become stronger (and you will) you can improve the level of difficulty and you’ll find that even as simple an approach as I have portrayed you will derive significant improvements in your fitness.
The strength portion of your fitness hour can be extremely effective within just 15 minutes. Four exercises, performed four times for up to 15 repetitions each. If you do the math, that’s 60 sit-ups, push ups, chin ups and step ups. If you take one minute to perform each set of 15 repetitions and take one minute rest between each set, you’ve exercised for 8 minutes. If you struggle and rest you can add 7 more minutes to complete the task.
So there you have it; a no cost, easy to remember, highly effective exercise program. It may lack the flashy headline drama and romance perceived in the tabloids but they’re goal is to sell magazines; my goal is to help you get in shape!
A few years ago, my wife and I were traveling through Europe and spent some time in a little town called Luso which is located up a mountain pass in Portugal. It is a quaint little town like many others we visited, where the center of town serves as a gathering place for the local village people. Here we sat in an outdoor café having a late lunch when we couldn’t help but notice something unusual happening at the central fountain. It appeared to us that many of the town’s people were converging at this fountain at nearly the same time carrying large jugs. Our first thought was that it was the beginning of some type of festival or celebration. Upon further investigation, we realized that all they were doing was gathering water from the town’s fresh water spring which fed this fountain.
The reason I share this story with you is because it parallels with our theme due to the extreme nature of the work everyone performed as a daily unconscious ritual. Mind you, there are no flat roads in Luso, you are either walking straight up or down a hill. In the case of this water gathering, the people came down the hill with empty jugs only to return home with full jugs. We witnessed women well beyond 65 years of age lugging what must have easily been 5 gallon jugs in each hand up a cobblestone road that in my estimation had to be a 20 percent grade. It occurred to us how ridiculous it would be to ask any of them what they do for exercise. My guess is they would not even understand the question. They simply went to collect water. I thought of how strenuous it would have been for me to complete this same task. Needless to say, we had a good laugh over that!
Exercise has evolved in our lives as a solution to our sedentary lifestyles. Hundreds of years ago people worked hard and then rested, People did not put in a full hard day’s work and then decide what they needed to do for exercise to make up for the listlessness of the day. There was never a thought of how fit one could become if they trained themselves. It was all about survival. If I don’t hunt or farm today, we don’t eat. Go back a thousand years and early man was on the same par physically as an elite marathon runner, slight of build, very lean with amazing endurance and general strength. Fitness was a result of his survival concerns. He was constantly on the move seeking food and shelter from the elements, while evading the many predators that survived on the same premise.
Today our lust for comfort is virtually killing us. Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc… are all manufactured illnesses of man.
It pleases me to see the retro-fitness mindset moving to the front of the line where fitness is concerned. We’re getting out from beneath the neon lit warehouse style exercise clubs, out from the air conditioning and into the sunlight and the environment to re-invigorate our bodies.
Personally, I have relearned fitness by completely changing the direction in my training protocol by getting away from the “gym mindset…” I have owned health clubs for several years in the past. Now, I have completely changed that entirely making nearly all of my training inspired by nature. Our functional training facility today is all outdoors behind our lab and store at diaz human performance. Where it may not be plausible to climb trees and jump from boulder to boulder in our urban settings to sharpen our physical skills, I recommend that we take advantage of the opportunities that do exist in our neighborhoods and local parks.
As a fitness consultant, my first advice would be to watch children at play. What you’ll see is a total abandonment of process. Children are jumping, tumbling, crawling, rolling and by preference, many times barefoot. No rules, no structure, just wild jostling and sheer enjoyment.
I am sure all who read this are aware of the many fitness Boot Camps and possibly even Cross-fit centers that have been sweeping the country. These types of training systems rely on one fundamental premise; the return to functional movement as opposed to contrived and restrained applications of training that is the staple of typical health clubs.
For runners, triathletes or athletes involved in team sports, the environment is a far more likely to provide the cross training effects they seek through alternative exercises to their sport. If you walk through a busy health club and listen to the dialogue that occurs between trainer and trainee, the term core will come up all too often and generally out of context, not only in commentary but in application. If you truly understand the concept of training, this word should never really need mentioning. If you train the body from a global perspective as opposed to segregating body parts from machine to machine as is typical in a gym setting, you cannot avoid core engagement. It as if to say, “Ok, now you can breathe.” Of course you breathe, of course your core should engage, provided that you train the body and not the body parts.
Running is a great example of a global exercise as is swimming, climbing or crawling on all fours.
Let me cap off this article with a few suggestions in respect to training either for sport or general fitness.
1. Make a conscious effort to spend some quality time training outdoors. Not just on your bike or running, but get in touch with the ground.
2. Take off your shoes and run barefoot. Realize the benefits that come from allowing your feet to make contact with the ground instead of the constant bondage and de-sensitizing cruelty that shoes present while running and training.
3. I live in California with easy access to beautiful beaches and the ocean. If possible, why not get into the sand and play? Remember doing cart wheels or tumbling as a child? These youthful activities awaken your agility skills and balance.
4. Swim in the ocean and allow natures anti-inflammatory bath invigorate your body. What better way to recover from a tough workout!
5. Finally, allow your self some tranquility, by simply lying in the sand with eyes closed while focusing on nothing more than the ocean as it crashes on the shore.
So many athletes operate on the assumption that they must always push themselves to improve. The fact is, we only benefit from the work we do while we rest. This is when the restorative properties of our bodies truly go to work. So, my advice to you this article is not technical as is the usual case. To the contrary, it is about becoming in touch with our primal spirit and finding the edge that exists when we embrace nature once again.