Just enough vs too much

Just enough vs too much

I’ve said it before and I’ll said it again. I want people to walk away from workouts feeling they could do a bit more. This is particularly true for those who are new to it all. It takes time to learn where one’s limits are and how close to them you are. As the training age and confidence increases, you can start pushing yourself more. If you want to.

But I feel like I need to clarify something here. This doesn’t mean that training has to always be easy. It’s ok to feel tired immediately after a workout. Knowing you gave it your best. That’s how you progress.

But you shouldn’t have to carry that tiredness with you for the rest of the day. If you find yourself cranky, spacy, and overall “F!#* off, Mark!” for the rest of the day after each workout, you’re probably doing too much.

Maybe a poor sleep, high stress or mediocre eating habits are holding you back. Or maybe you’re doing too much to your fitness level. Either way, your day shouldn’t suck just because you did a workout.

Some workouts are low intensity, some are high. Most of them should feel about an eight out of ten.

Longevity in training

Longevity in training

Start easy. Keep it simple. Focus on making it into a habit. Not for 12 weeks. But to turn it into a lifelong routine, no different to brushing your teeth. You can always ramp it up later if you want to.

What’s the most efficient, sustainable and safest way to get to your goal? Not for everyone, but for you? This includes frequency, exercises, type of training and the environment. I’m sure there’s more.

There’s absolutely nothing you have to do. If it doesn’t feel right for you, don’t do it. Find an alternative that feels right.

Just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. It could mean the opposite. Maybe it’s a sign that it’s time to lean into that discomfort.

Never compromise longevity for performance. Both short or long-term. Unless you get paid to do so. Or have the financial and emotional funds to dig yourself out of it. Even then, it begs a question whether it’s worth it.

Does it fit in the box?

Does it fit in the box?

This is the only box I trust. All the truth stems from this box. My chosen box will never fail. It’s nice when all the answers fit into a one neat box. It makes our world feel a little safer. A bit more predictable.

Ketogenic diet. Paleo. Raw food diet. Vegan. Atkins. Zone. The list goes on. Only believing and trusting our own chosen system, and it’s all healing qualities, is at the same a powerful and a comforting place to be. The more we learn, the more indoctrinated we become. Give it time and eventually we come to define ourselves through the system we believe in.

The illusion of the system and its strength multiplies when there’s other people who also believe what we believe. More voices make it more convincing. And in groups we often fail to have the empathy for the people with other boxes. For those who believe just as strongly about what we think is wrong.

As you’ve probably realised, it’s not just diets. We see boxed thinking in training too. And every other facet in our lives. It dangerous. Both to our wellbeing and sanity.

Wouldn’t it be better to learn to see the good and bad sides of each box? Including our own. To have the empathy to see why someone else thinks the way they do. To consider why they might be right.

And finally, to have the rationality to disregard what doesn’t work, and keep what works. Even if it goes against the system we care about. Even if it doesn’t fit into our chosen box.

They’re watching

They’re watching

All the good stories are set in the winter. I remember being a little kid, no more than seven or eight, and wandering around our home and trying to find dad. As I got in front of a room with a closed door, I heard some muffled grunting behind it. I peaked in.

There he was on the floor, trying to keep it quiet (probably to get a brief moment of peace to himself) doing ab crunches on an old rag rug. “What are you doing, dad?!” It looked anything but normal to a little kid.

I also remember other times, again in the middle of winter, when I’d take the steep concrete stairs down into our basement. One careful step at a time, I would walk to the first fire door, somehow force it open and then hear it slam behind me.

Few more steps and I was at the second fire door leading to what we then used as our laundry. When my grandparents built the house in the 50s, it was an underground garage. Add in hundreds of litres of oil stored for heating the house and the original wood-fire sauna, and you’ll get an idea why all the fire doors.

Anyway, I am back at the second door. I’d peel open the twisted metal door and would find dad bench pressing, doing squats or arm curls. Windows packed with styrofoam on the inside and with snow on the outside to provide some insulation from the freezing artic temperatures. It was cold in there in January and February. Going in wearing just a t-shirt would’ve been a sign of blind madness.

Dad had this homemade, rusty weights set that he bought from an old neighbour in the city they used to live. The lore is that the neighbor was a professional hockey player who sold the set as he graduated to the big league. Either way, gripping it made your hands smell like old iron. And if it would’ve been any colder in that basement, your hands would have gotten stuck to it for good.

Whatever training that dad was doing, either on the bedroom rag rug or in the basement, looked odd to me. But it was also intriguing. It made me curious about what it was all about. And why was he doing it to himself?

It wasn’t until much later, once I got to my mid teens, that I started training myself. I’d make my way into the basement trying to copy what I’d seen dad do. As I was training there one day, I remember him coming in and saying how once I can bench 100kg I am as strong as him. That kept me going for years.

The reason I started training and have kept training for the last 22 or 23 years, is because of the example that my dad, intentionally or not, set. He didn’t tell me to do it. He just did it.

It’s the same reason I want my kids to notice me training in our garage every now and then. I hope they grow up to see training as an important part of an active, healthy lifestyle. The same way as walking or eating vegetables is.

They’re only young. But I know they’re watching.

What to measure?

What to measure?

There are a lot of things we can measure with training. Reps, sets, time, distance, heart rate, steps, pants, weight, waist, consistency (my favorite) and more. The list can be as long as you want it to be.

The people with a data orientated mind like to track every possible trackable metric. It’s what keeps them engaged. For someone else, too much tracking becomes overwhelming. And a just another reason to not turn up.

Measure whatever keeps you accountable. Whatever keeps you showing up. Whatever suits your personality.

Regardless of whether you track everything or none of it, it comes down to this. Are you getting better (stronger, pain free, fitter, more energetic and so on) at the things that you care about and the activities you love doing?

In the end, that’s all that matters.

Reflect what matters. Train accordingly.

Reflect what matters. Train accordingly.

Periodically, it’s worth checking whether your training and fitness regime match what’s important to you. And since this lesson here is best illustrated by my evolution, please forgive me while I toot the horn that feels the most familiar. My own.

In my teens and twenties, my fitness routine was all about the looks. And so my training and the frequency and intensity I put in it reflected that. I trained, a lot. Everything revolved around getting in the daily workout and eating a certain way.

Combining that with the ego and know-it-all attitude of an insecure twenty-something and I was also injured and in pain, a lot.

Now in my late 30s with two kids, wife, business, more humility and less ego (I think!) my training reflects that. Workouts are rarely longer than 30 minutes (I’d like to inch closer to 45mins, but see the part about kids).

Rarely do I do over three sessions a week. Sometimes just two, based on what’s going on with life (i.e. kids). I walk as often as I can. Mostly with the kids in tow.

Now, when something doesn’t feel right in the workout, I adjust why I’m doing and try to find a better way. When I feel like I’ve done enough, I walk away to come back next time.

Compare that to my 20-something year old self who pushed through everything. Tiredness, pain, you name it. Because, male bravado and shirtless Brad Pitt movies and Bruce Willis and Die Hard and was John Rambo still a thing?

Today, no ego-driven training or lifting goal is worth risking an injury and the potential for missing out on family time. Sure, niggles still happen. But not to the extent that they affect life.

And yes, it’d be a lie to say that looks don’t still play some part in my training. If only I’d known what I know now when I was younger.

Oh, well.

Reflect what matters. Train accordingly.



I’ve been lucky to train an amazing bunch of people over my ten years as a trainer and coach. And although there’s been some who haven’t gotten the results they’ve set out to get (and that’s ALWAYS on me one way or another) a majority of my clients have gotten good results. Some of them have even achieved incredible results.

When I think of the clients who’ve achieved these incredible results, one quality stands out in all of them. It has nothing to do with talent, being gifted or possessing god-like athleticism. But everything to do with perseverance.

All of them focused on making health and fitness a lifelong habit. They were and still are committed to consistency. Both in and outside of the workouts. Whether it’s getting in the daily steps or gradually improving their eating habits.

They made space for and built a reasonable value of health and fitness into their identity. Not for six or 12 weeks. But for life.

Whether you train with a trainer, other people or by yourself, book the workouts (and other healthy activities that are important to you) in your calendar weeks, if not months, in advance. If possible, block the same times for each week. Then honour and protect those times with teeth.

Show up whether or not you feel like it. Only reschedule when you’ve exhausted all the other options.

You’re communicating to others that your workouts are important to you. People learn to respect your time. And hopefully stop asking you to book meetings and catch ups on those time slots.

You’re also reinforcing the story you’re telling yourself. You’re now someone who has committed to training and rarely skips a workout. Show the same commitment towards the other healthy habits that are important to you.

None of this means that training or healthy eating has to be the top priority in your life. I actually discourage it. Orbiting around training, strict eating, constantly worrying about your looks and trying to optimise every inch of your health can and will make life flat, lonely and one dimensional.

Rather, to become the healthy, fit and strong person we want to be, our health and fitness needs to be one of the many lenses which we look through our life and the decisions we make. It has to become part of our identity.

Ten thousand steps

Ten thousand steps

Let’s be real. If you work full time, and a mostly sedentary job, have young kids (or others who need you with burning intensity every single day), getting in ten thousand steps every single day is a challenge. Maybe even impossible.

Yes, we should park the car further from the station. Choose the stairs instead of the lift or escalators. Take calls while walking. Suggest a walking meeting over sitting down for a coffee. Drink more water so we need more toilet breaks (ok, that just sounds annoying and highly unpleasant). Because all of it will add up to the daily total.

But still. There will be days when, despite our all our will, getting to even 3000 steps would be an overachievement. Even with all the eyebrow raising toilet breaks. Especially if your only commute for the day is to get from the bedroom to bathroom to kitchen to home office. And then back.

On these days, and it breaks my inner spirit to say this, just let it go. Try again tomorrow. Get a bit more on the other days. Maybe you won’t make up the difference. It’s highly unlikely you will. Yet every additional step away from zero counts.

That’s what being reasonable is all about.

You’ll have to take it

You’ll have to take it

There is never enough time. And there never will be. It’s rare that your boss and colleagues are ever going to give you time to exercise. Or to do other healthy habits that are important for your wellbeing.

Work will take as much time as we will give it. If you never say no, either to yourself or to others, there will always be another thing to attend to. If the people you work with know you as the one who always says yes, who do you think they will ask when the next problem needs solving? You.

The family is no different. They don’t do it own purpose, but they might be blind to the fact that you need time.

Domestic duties and housework never stops. We always have more things we could do. And the only way to get around it is to decide when to stop. To say no. Either to yourself or to your family.

Same goes with various social activities that we choose (or think we are forced and peer pressured) to do. The only way to carve time is to learn to say no to friends. Regardless of how dear your friends are to you, you can’t always put them ahead of your own health and wellbeing.

The only way to free up time for exercise and any other healthy habit is to decide to make space and time for it. And then carve it yourself. Even if it sometimes upsets other people.

In the end, the people that really care for you will understand. They want to see you succeed in the things that are important to you. They will respect your no. And they will respect you more for saying it.

But you have to tell them first.

The diet continuum

The diet continuum

You don’t have to “go off the diet” because it’s a special day or a holiday. And there’s no need to “get back on the diet” once it’s all over. A healthy diet is not on or off.

Some overarching guidelines might be helpful. On most days aim to keep most of your meals healthy, nutritious and delicious. And some meals on some days can land on the far indulging-side of the continuum.

Then, there are the odd days when most meal are a closer to indulging than nutritious. That’s fine too. Even expected. That’s life.

Besides, even if you’d only eat chocolate all this weekend, it makes little difference in your long-term progress when eating somewhat healthy and nutritious most, not all, of the other times.

The end goal is to live on a continuum where everything is allowed. Even better, every food is allowed guilt free and with pleasure. It’ll take practice and determination to shatter some long-held beliefs about the foods you eat. But it’s a place worth striving for.