It’s in our nature to be lazy

It’s in our nature to be lazy

Remember when we all used to live in caves and hunt our meat and gather plant roots for dinner? Yeah, me neither. So let’s take a real quick history trip to the Paleolithic era. (Don’t worry, this is a not a pro-paleo diet / an anti-carb write up.)

Let’s teleport ourselves to the day when our fellow homo sapiens had just discovered stones. And let’s make it a Tuesday. Because it’ll make sense for the purpose of the point I am trying to carve this week.

Ok, so here we are in the heart of the Paleolithic era. And everyone is eating coconut oil. Not. Welcome. I know, the jetlag is the worst. Lay off the wine next time you’re teleporting in time.

As you might have noticed, we are sitting on the ground. Feasting on this charred animal and these delicious roots. Here’s a secret. Eat as much as you can. Because there might be a long stretch between this and the next meal.

Ah, you’re finished with your meal? Great. See that dark corner there in the cave? Yep, the one with hay and mammoth skins on the ground. Go lie down there and be as lazy as you homosapiensly can. Like I said, it might be awhile before the next meal. Try to conserve as much energy as you can.

And don’t bother getting up for the hunt. It’s not like you and I would know what to do anyways.

BAM! Welcome back to 2021. Wild ride, huh?

As you just earlier witnessed in the Paleolithic era, it made sense for us to be as lazy as a human can be. We have evolved to conserve energy. Here’s the bad news though. Paleolithic era is just two and a quarter blinks of a mammoth’s eye in evolutionary terms. Our biology hasn’t even started to catch up with our modern lifestyle.

It’s annoyingly obvious that our evolutionary laziness works against us now. Most of us (at least in the west) are lucky enough to have an abundance of food readily available. No hunting, gathering, or even cooking needed to access it. And if we’re feeling super lazy, it’s entirely possible to outsource our chewing to a blender. All we really need is the will to swallow.

Anyhoo, we have to acknowledge and accept that laziness is part of our biology. We can’t help it. But we can’t use it as an excuse. We can’t become victims of our laziness.

If we want to live a vigorous life and age gracefully, we have to fight our inbuilt laziness with all we have. It’s not always fun. It takes effort. But our biology is unlikely to catch up during our lifetime.

So we might as well get on with it.

The punishment culture

The punishment culture

So much intensity and teeth grinding in the beginning. Nope, I am not talking about the first scene of Fight Club. But the reason why most people struggle to make strength training a lifelong habit.

We’d do much better by shifting the overall training culture away from the “no pain, no gain” nonsense. Away from the punishment culture.

Except for the chosen few, the punishment culture strategy doesn’t work in the long-term.

It doesn’t work for the 40-year-old mother of two who has done no strength training in 15 years. Or the 50-year-old man who’s 20 kilograms overweight and feels insecure about his body. And it sure as shit doesn’t work for the 60-year-old who’s struggled with back pain for the last 20 years.

What happens when these three people walk into a gym or to an outdoor bootcamp session dominated by the punishment culture? I tell you what happens. It’s likely that all three walk away feeling like they just shared a hug with an earthmoving truck. But they keep showing up because “no pain, no gain”. Right?

They keep showing up until one day soon, they don’t. They’ll wake up one day (they all share the same bed), and the thought of another punishing workout is too much to bare. The relentlessness tiredness buries the euphoric feeling that every trainee chases. And they quit.

How did we get here?

The problem has (at least) three sides. There is a certain stereotypical way non-fitness people look at strength training. Most people who join a gym or an outdoor bootcamp have stereotypical expectations of what strength training is all about and what it involves.

Arnold Schwarzenegger popularised bodybuilding in the 70s. There’s no denying that a lot of good things came out of it. He got non-fitness people interested in strength training. But unfortunately that 70s “no pain, no gain” mindset still dominates non-fitness people’s idea of training.

Crossfit, P90X and other hardcore training styles have kept this punishment culture alive. They’re marketable. Even if the most marketable training styles are not the most sustainable option for most people.

Then there’s the stain of the Biggest Loser.

Comparing that tv show to a real-life sustainable lifestyle change is about as accurate as showing someone Rambo III and drawing comparisons to what it was like to go buy milk from the grocery store before online shopping.

Which brings us to the side number two. Trainers often feel pressure to cater to these expectations. At least young, new trainers do. I know I did when I first started.

But the biggest issue is the fitness industry’s lack of empathy for people who are not that into fitness and strength training. We think that you enjoy training as much as we do. Sure, you might fall in love with strength training, eventually. Or at least to not feel the same way about training as you might about colonoscopy.

All of that takes time. If we crush you to the ground from the get go, you never stand a chance to enjoy the training. That’s the third side, for those counting at home.

All of this is to say that the punishment culture is a self-reinforcing cycle. Until we decide to break it. It’s not as marketable. But it’s definitely more sustainable for most people.

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

Better than a cocktail of caffeine, discipline and willpower

“Oh, The View is on again!” An accurate comment from a client’s witty husband. After 18 months of Zoom, he’s well aware of what our early morning small group sessions involve.

The most important thing about your progress isn’t the training program. Unless you have super specific sport or adventure goal, it doesn’t matter that much what you do in your strength workouts. As long as it’s balanced, suitable for your body, progressive, and challenging. At least most of the time.

The most important thing isn’t your willpower either. Willpower comes and goes. Most of us eventually run out of it. And use it as a lame excuse.

It’s not even the discipline to show up. I know, I know. Asking people to “just show up” is sort my thing. But having the discipline to show up isn’t the most important thing.

The piece with the most positive impact on your progress is finding people, or a person who’s company you enjoy. It can be a friend. Or a group of people whose vibe seems like they’re probably not dickheads. It could even be, gasp, a trainer. Holla at me!

Either way, enrol with someone who doesn’t make you want to order your flat white with a side of mercury. Training with someone you connect with is better than a cocktail of willpower, discipline, and the perfect training program.

In our morning sessions, everyone gets in a workout. But the commentary is 10% training and 90% movies, tv shows, music, food, and yes, politics. Ok, it’s more like 5% and 95%.

It just so happens that everyone gets along. Plus, my strict “no dickheads” – policy means that I only work with extremely pleasant people. Like I said, holla at me.

Yes, if your goal is to make strength training a twice a week habit, you need the discipline to show up. But showing up is a lot easier when you can look forward to delightful conversations. Ideally about topics that you enjoy.

Training hard doesn’t mean that you can’t spend 95% (Ok, 96%) of that session talking about something else than the actual training.

The four commitments

The four commitments

Here’s what it takes to live vigorously. To age gracefully. And to have a healthier relationship with fitness.

First, the commitment to regular practice. The practice of learning a new skill. For some it’s touching toes for the first time since pasta salad and sundried tomatoes were hip.

For another, it’s about getting ten pullups. And for someone else, it’s simply the practice of being active. It could be a full workout. Or a walk, a bike ride, or a swim. Maybe it’s just a few stretches while watching Billions.

It could take 90 minutes. Or just long enough to heat the leftover pumpkin lasagne in the microwave. We’re ticking a box. Every day. And we will slowly become the person who is physically active, daily.

Second, the commitment to moving at our own pace. To worry less about what others do. And focusing on what pace is right for you. For today.

Third, the commitment to ‘compete’ only with our self. Trying to become little better each day.

Fourth, the commitment to plateaus and boredom. To show up, not because we’re motivated to do it, but because we made the commitment to regular practice. See the first commitment.

I’m sure there’s more. But that seems enough for now.

A one long workout

A one long workout

There was a time when I wouldn’t even consider training unless I had an hour for it. Then, we had a kid.

And that hour turned into 45 minutes. Four days a week became three. I had a good two-year run with that schedule and felt better training less than I used to.

Then, COVID. And another kid. Then, lockdowns and working from home and no daycare and 9pm curfews and toilet paper wars and I am getting out of breath writing this.

But you see where this is going. Having 45 minutes for training is as reasonable as hoping for Slayer to put out a Christmas album.

Like everyone else, I’ve had to adjust my expectations about what’s a good workout.

Now the week is a raging success if I get in two uninterrupted 20 minute workouts. That’s usually a quick warm up followed by kettlebell swings and push-ups or overhead presses. Maybe a set of carries in the end.

And most of the time, that’s with a three-year-old sitting on me while I do push-ups.

I need more. For my sanity. So I’ve added tiny training moments wherever I can. Instead of just counting workouts, I now add up my weekly training time total.

And all these count:

  • Pullups on soccer goals while playing with the kids in the park.
  • Pushing the pram up the steepest hill when coming home from the park.
  • Step-ups or single leg squats on the couch while building a cubby house.
  • Carrying the kids around the house while playing. With random lunges and squats in the mix.
  • Crawling around the lounge room with a child desperately trying to cling to me.
  • Feeding the one-year-old while doing a handstand. Ok, this doesn’t happen. I can barely sit and breathe during meal times.

There’s no specific template to any of this. Anything that even remotely feels like training counts. The guiding principle is to do whatever I can whenever I can.

Technically, my entire week is a one long workout. Except that I count the rest between sets in hours and days instead of minutes.

The only goal is to emerge from the lockdown on one glorious day without having lost too much of strength and fitness. And ideally without a potbelly. But we’ll see about that.

Because how good is lockdown curfew cake.

Signing up is not the first step

Signing up is not the first step

In a moment of invincibility mixed with blue-eyed arrogance, we’ve all rushed through to the second step. Whether it’s buying a book, a course, or singing lessons from Ralph. We’ve all payed for something we didn’t end up using. Signed up for something we couldn’t fully commit to. All because we made the mistake of skipping the first step.

Before signing any dotted lines or wiring a single dollar, we have to make a plan. This is the first step. However loose it might be. We have to decide…

How much time we’re going to allocate to whatever we’re signing up for?
When in the week are we going to spend that time?
And how are we going to spend it?

Then we need to take an honest look at our loose plan. To open up our calendar to see if any of that will actually work in real life. Or whether we’re about to sign up for something we can’t finish. And not only waste money, but also our willpower and perhaps a piece of our self-worth.

Considering everything else we’ve got going on, have we over-committed? What if something unexpected comes along? Big or small. Have we left enough white space in the calendar to still stick to our plan? Even if it means changing our original approach.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. And neither do we. But can we reasonably expect our plan to give us the results we seek in whatever we’re about to sign up for? Or are we going to add unnecessary stress to our days by getting into something we can’t afford time-wise?

There’s wisdom in admitting that now might not be the best time.

“To look good” isn’t enough

“To look good” isn’t enough

You might feel immensely motivated about lifting your butt. I get it. I too wish for a better butt. But that enthusiasm about a beautifully elevated rear end will not last. Relying on pure aesthetics as a motivator when starting and trying to maintain a lifestyle change doesn’t cut it. No matter how you’re trying to slice it.

Wanting “to look good” works great for those who have to look perky for whatever reason. Movie stars, underwear models, Instagram influencers selling organic coconut oil, and narcissistic ex-partners. But settling for “to look good” will not float you and me.

We, that’s people who don’t star in movies or promote coconut oil, need deeper reasons and motivations to keep going when life throws its hard, annoyingly shaped, and unchewable pinecones at us. Looking good can be one of the motivators. But more likely, it’s just one of the many benefits of taking care of our health, strength and wellbeing.

Dig deep to find your motivations. Don’t settle for easy, mainstream answers. You’re getting close once your reasons prompt at least a semi-emotional reaction. That motivation is going to carry you through when “to look good” won’t.

You might even get a perkier butt in the process. And someone might even ask you to promote their organic coconut oil one day. Yay.

From a beginner to a master in 12 weeks

From a beginner to a master in 12 weeks

Most people experience the following mental parade in the first six weeks of beginning a lifestyle change:

  1. Blind excitement and enthusiasm
  2. The realisation of over commitment
  3. Awareness that this shit is super hard
  4. Overwhelm
  5. Disappointment and overpowering thoughts of quitting

Most people approach a lifestyle change with a black and white mentality. Either we do it 100% or we don’t do it at all. And we expect to get it right straight away without a struggle or without a failure. And it’s a problem that leads to a lot of folks dropping out. But I have the antidote. And it’s free.

We should think of a lifestyle change the same we think of owning any other new skill. Be it learning Spanish, or the guitar. You don’t go from a beginner to a master in 12 weeks. It’s a continuum.

You wouldn’t expect to have deeply philosophical conversations in Spanish about the global power dynamics after 12 weeks of practice. And if you just learned how to hold the guitar the right way, you don’t expect to know how to play Mastodon’s entire back catalogue 12 weeks from now.

Yet we leave all of our reasonable thinking behind with a lifestyle change, adopting a healthier diet or starting an exercise routine. Most of us expect to master these almost immediately. Or at least within 12 weeks. Without a hiccup. Which then leads to disappointment, and often, quitting.

We give up because we think it’s not for us. That we don’t have the willpower and the discipline to do it. When the fact is that, we’re just learning new skills. And whether we like it or not, it’s going to be a struggle. Like most Adam Sandler movies, it’s going to suck sometimes.

The good news is that all skills get better with practice.

Beginner’s mind

Beginner’s mind

It has to go hand in hand in with a beginner’s body. When you’re first starting out, it helps to acknowledge and accept that you’re a beginner. To accept it as your starting point. To have the patience to learn (or to relearn) the exercises and to get the technique dialled in.

To acknowledge that in the long term you’re better off starting with less intensity in your workouts and gradually adding to it. To manage your body, but also to manage your mind and stay disciplined enough to keep showing up. Because very few people enjoy having the figurative shit beat out of them in workouts.

Sure, it’s one thing to make training challenging. Even tough. But for those who are crawling out of each training session, I wonder how long they’re going to keep showing up. Because, and this is a fact, most of us like to keep doing things that we at least remotely enjoy. It’s only for so long that we are going to keep sucking a lollipop with the wrapper on. It just isn’t enjoyable. No matter how much positive thinking we try to twist in it.

Breaking, changing, and learning habits is no different. If we make it too difficult in the beginning and set the bar too high, we’re doomed to give up sooner rather than later. It’s hard to keep showing up if we’re consistently falling short of the high bar goals we set for ourselves.

The better option, for most of us, is to set the bar lower. High enough so we still have to make an effort and grow from the challenge. But low enough that with a bit of stretch we can get over it without falling on our face.

It’s ok to fail occasionally. I’ll even argue that if we want to grow, learn and succeed it’s necessary to fail. But no one likes to fail and fall down all the time. No matter how much into kinky they might be.

Making things easy doesn’t sound very sexy. Especially when all you want to do is to copy what your uber-fit triathlete friend Sandra does. But you’re not Sandra. Well, you might be Sandra. But you’re probably not your uber-fit triathlete friend Sandra. And that’s ok. Start where you’re at. Not where your uber-fit triathlete friend Sandra is.

Prioritising you

Prioritising you

Constantly putting our well-being second, saying yes to more work, worrying about other people’s opinions and not managing stress, recovery and sleep are all going to stand in the way when trying to make a lifestyle change. These are Byzantine and annoyingly multi-faceted situations. Opening them can feel like trying to solve a motor oiled Rubik’s Cube with one arm and closed eyes. And often because of this, nothing gets done about them.

Which then stops people from getting the results they want. Embarking on a lifestyle change safari by only focusing on eating more vegetables and working out is better than nothing. But often about as useful as a coffee cup that can’t go in the dishwasher. I mean, that’s far from a functional everyday crockery.

Anyhow. Sometimes it’s possible to improve the situation with little everyday actions: mindfulness, meditation, time in the nature, having a hobby, keeping a gratitude diary, helping others without expecting nothing in return, (coming up for a breath in the middle of a list…. and let’s go again) or reducing alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, screen time, news.

But often these issues require bigger changes: starting therapy, visiting a sleep clinic, ending a relationship, pushing massive dicks out of our circle of supremacy, or changing careers. Sometimes we have to take decisive action to change how we live our life.

And as complicated as dealing with all this might be, here’s the upside: often when we work on them, the fitness results happen too. We might even end up looking better naked. Whoa.

If stress, sleep and fatigue are bringing you down, I recommend this free online test at This Way Up. You’ll get an actionable help on how to improve the way you feel. For free. And considering how our lives have been affected in the last year and a half, we should all probably do this.