Most of us would do just fine getting a seven and a half, an eight at most, out of ten. No, that doesn’t put us on top of the class. And no, we probably won’t win competitions where we’re judged by our performance or how we look in our underwear. But do we really care? Because seven and a half gets us where we want to go.
Seven and a half gets us the strength to enjoy the activities we love, the health for longevity, and the body that we can feel confident in. And long term we’ll do better than trying to be a straight-a student.
Most of us don’t have the time, energy, and let’s be honest, the enthusiasm to get the perfect marks in health and fitness. Not 52 weeks a year. Accepting only 10 or nothing will remove the flexibility we need from a sustainable approach to health and fitness.
Because despite our best efforts, life will kick in. And when we cannot get a ten, it eats into our motivation. It can make us feel like a failure when we can’t give health and fitness our full effort. Leading us to a cyclical all-or-nothing approach.
But once we aim for a seven and a half, we’ll give ourselves the permission to not be perfect. We accept that good enough is, well, good enough.
Often the afternoon sweet cravings are nothing more than hunger carried over from the first half of the day. The solution could be as simple as eating bigger meals for breakfast and lunch.
For breakfast, vegemite or peanut butter on toast just won’t cut it. As delicious as they are, neither will keep you full. Instead, more calories are in order. Most of us do well with around 400-500 calories. Including at least a palm size (or two) of protein and some fruit/berries or veg. Or both. Whatever.
As for lunch, that light salad isn’t enough for a human who wants to rage all afternoon. Instead, try having a full grown up meal with some carbs and fat in the mix. 600-800 calories sounds about right. Including at least a fist size or two of protein and a minimum of two fist sizes (or 1/3 – 2/3 of the plate) of vegetables.
But dammit, sometimes it’s just nice to have a cookie. And that’s cool, too.
As I am closing in on 10 years as a trainer/coach/whatever there are certain past practices that I now look back at with an awkward awe.
I’ve been thinking about some mistakes I’ve made along the way. I wouldn’t call them regrets, but signs of professional growth. And sometimes, ripples in my evolution as the person I am today.
With that out of the way, here are (some of) my coaching “ughs”.
Mistake 1: Strict movement screen for everyone
I used to feel superglue-like level of attachment to this one. Doing a mandatory screen was tied to my self-held identity as the “rehab-trainer”. Or the “movement guy”.
Most people new to exercise know that they suck at it. They don’t need reminders of it. So instead of focusing on what’s not working well, let’s find what they can do well and squeeze it for all it’s worth to make them feel good about themselves.
I still like the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) for it’s simplicity. I can get it done in about 10 minutes and it tells me a lot about what’s going on with the person in front of me.
FMS is handy if the individual has significant training background (quite rare with most of my new clients), returning to training after clinical rehab, or has a super-specific movement/strength related goal.
But I find myself modifying the screen heavily for those who just want to “feel and look better”. Especially if they’re a beginner to working out. For them it could be as simple as doing an initial workout, adjusting the exercises as necessary, and seeing where they’re at. Then building a training plan around it.
Mistake 2: It’s all about movement
A bit of back story. I went all-in with nutrition and lifestyle side of health earlier in my career. If you read my blog 2015 it mostly revolved around those two topics. Then once I got my book out in 2018, I shifted to “only movement matters.”
Again, this nicely fit into my self-held professional identity.
Now as I’ve learned more about stress, lifestyle and pain, I’ve circled back around realising that the lifestyle side is at least as important as movement.
We can ease a lot of our movement problems by improving our lifestyle with sleep, stress management, breathing and diet. These have to come first. Most of the time.
Mistake 3: Everyone needs the perfect ranges of motion and control in every single joint
In the past, if you came to me with a specific goal, regardless of what it was, I gave you correctives (sigh…). The goal was to make every joint work close to perfection. Let’s just say that the motivation for clients to follow these correctives at home wasn’t great.
I was giving clients stuff to do that I thought was important. Without listening to what was important for them.
Now I only focus on a specific joint if the person needs that to safely reach their goal. Even then it comes down to having the conversation whether they care about improving that specific are, or whatever.
Or can we get them where they want to go another way. Mainly by bypassing that “problem” area altogether. In these cases I will explain the reasons behind why we do what we do and how it carries over to to their goals.
97% of the time my clients’ goals are not gym specific, but what they want to do outside of the training sessions. Be it kayaking, gardening or getting in and out of the car without engaging in Mission Impossible-level of planning.
Once we’ve had that conversation we can decide whether spending time on specific joint mobility is in their interest. Or do we lateralize* exercises as necessary to get the training effect.
Lateralizing could mean something as simple as elevating heels to squat instead of spending time on ankle mobility. Or landmine pressing instead of spending time on shoulder mobility.
Mistake 4: Being a dic(k)tator with lifestyle habits
This ties with me not listening enough. I was trying to create the perfect algorithm to teach habits. Putting them in a strict order and expecting everyone to follow through.
I’d like to think I am now better at meeting the person where they’re at. Instead of going “this is what you need to do”, it’s more “ok, what do you think would be helpful to work on?”. Then we go from there to whatever direction.
It’s about moving away from dictating and leaning into guiding. Most of the time, the client has better answers than I do in improving their lifestyle. They just need help to get the ideas out and forming them into actionable steps.
Mistake 5: It’s all about strength
I used to be relentless about the need to get stronger and stronger. This is what I valued in my own training. So the answer for everyone, regardless of their goal, was to keep getting stronger.
I still think strength, to a point, is worth cultivating. But it’s only a one part of a system and equally important as cardiovascular fitness, movement, lifestyle, and diet.
Let’s be honest, most people couldn’t give a high flying poop about how heavy they lift in the gym. With some clients we talk about the colours of kettlebells (or plates) instead of how heavy they are. They just don’t care. And I have to respect this.
If the client only cares about ticking off the “I trained today” box, then we focus on making her workouts enjoyable, rewarding, and relatively challenging. It’s only a piece of their active lifestyle puzzle, not something that their life revolves around.
And as I’ve seen over years with these clients, weights do gradually get heavier as the person gets stronger. And with most it’s often them who suggest a move to a heavier weight, not me.
Live, make mistakes, and learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
And one thing’s for sure. If I write another post like this in 10 years’ time I will probably question some things I am doing today. It’s a sign of getting better.
*As per Charlie Weingroff’s Training = Rehab approach.
You don’t need much for the home gym to cover your training needs. When we acknowledge and agree on the reasons for training at home in the first place, convenience and results, most of the home equipment requirements dwindle down to few essentials.
As long as we treat training as work, a practice of getting better for life, and not a source of excitement in itself, we can make the convenience and results collide efficiently.
The non-negotiables for a functional home gym
Two by two metres of space. Theoretically enough to swing a full grown, slightly overweight male cat* around without hitting him on the walls, windows, ceiling fixtures or furniture.
If a separate room or garage is not an option (reality for most) and you live with other people, it’s best to use a corner of a room. Less chance of someone walking into your sacred training space in the heat of the moment.
For those living in houses without corners. Well, you just have to deal with the geometric shapes you’re in bed with the best you can.
Forgiving flooring. A carpeted floor is fine for most. But two meter by two meter square of thin exercise foam adds a layer of comfort. It’s soft for the knees, but still sturdy enough to train on without feeling like you’re lifting weights on a mattress. It also keep the sweat of the carpet, which is a kind of nice.
I find that the more traditional rectangular yoga mats slide all over the place and never cover enough of the ground. Interlocking pieces forming a square just work better. If you’re placing these on hard floors get some form of non-slippery, grippy thing to hold them in place. People at Bunnings are generally nice.
These squares are not the most environmentally friendly item out there. But at least you can also pack them into a neat pile when not in use.
Fever the better, I say. Most women will do fine with 12kg and 16kg in the beginning. For most men 12kg or a 16kg and a 20kg will get you going and progressing for a while.
Whether you buy dumbbells or kettlebells will only matter if planning to do swings and other kettlebell specific exercises. Sure, you can swing with a dumbbell (or that cat), but it’s not as ergonomically enjoyable (for the cat) and, I would argue, safe as with a kettlebell.
Side note Bob (in the middle of the text) Other than swings and other kettlebell specific ballistic movements, dumbbells and kettlebells are more or less interchangeable.
For kettlebells get a solid iron piece without any plastic. There are also adjustable versions, but I’ve never tried one so can’t recommend them without reservations. Not sure how sturdy they are or how the weight is distributed. Both things to consider.
For dumbbells an adjustable pair will cost a bit more upfront, but it’ll be a long while before you need to buy more weights. Honestly, it might be all you’ll ever need. And it’ll save heaps of space too once you need to go heavier to keep progressing.
Few of the adjustable options look somewhat ethereal. Like they could’ve been used by Captain Kirk in Star Trek. Might add an element of spaciness into your existing decor.
Also check Ebay and your local stores to compare best value and shipping options.
That could be all the equipment most of us ever need.
As long as we are still clear on the purpose of training: progress to be better at the things we enjoy doing outside of training. With a little bit of creativity and a shied for boredom this gets us going.
But if we really want we could add few more things…
To add an element of variety: TRX and/or chin up bar and some resistance bands
I use TRX as an example of a suspension trainer because that’s what I have had for close to a decade. It lasts and it does what it’s meant to do. Just know that there are other cheaper options available too.
The TRX is marketed as the ultimate full-body workout solution, but that’s a bit far-fetched. It’s absolutely brilliant for row variations and a decent helper for rear foot elevated split squats. And using it for just those two exercises makes it worth having. Most of the other exercises you can do with it are just fluffed up marketing hype.
TRX can be used on a door frame, tree, telephone pole, or Hodor so no need to get the hammer drill out just yet.
The chin up bar’s usefulness is along the same lines.
It’s brilliant for… chin ups. Sure there are other things you can do with it. But I don’t think you really need it if chin ups are not your jam.
If you have the strength and desire for chin ups, then adding a removable bar to a door frame is worth the little money it costs. It gives you the option to do vertical pulling which without a bar is pretty much impossible.
Side note Bob (in the middle of the text) Chin ups are one of my favourite exercise so I bolted a bar onto our garage brick wall when we moved in. Yes, just that one exercise makes it worth drilling large holes into the wall.
If you currently can’t phantom doing a chin up (be it because of strength, pain or carrying too much weight) skip this piece for now and get a TRX instead.
Resistance bands on the other hand are surprisingly versatile.
Considering that they cost about the price of a movie ticket. They can be used for a variety of pulling and pushing exercises and even for some low body strength work.
Resistance bands are also good to have for so called prehab exercises. Archer rows, rotator cuff work (yes, it’s still a thing), glute work…
The light and medium bands are enough for most. Perhaps the one up from medium (more than medium?) as well. But the heavier bands don’t do much for home training. Unless you’re planning on pulling Volkswagen Golf up and down the driveway.
Side note Bob (in the middle of the text) Avoid the urge to go super cheap. Don’t buy some half baked resistance bands made by a one-eyed pirate using strawberry bubble gum and parrot feathers. Those might last a workout. And end up costing you an eye at the start of the second.
Again, it might be worth rummaging through Amazon, Ebay and your local stores for best bargains and shipping.
If you have the space and funds: a landmine…
If you do have the space, a barbell with a landmine attachment and some weights would be awesome. Great for shoulder friendly pressing (most people can’t deal with strict overhead pressing with kettlebells and dumbbells) and single leg work.
Landmine makes training more versatile, even fun. I am a fan. But it is a decent investment in both money and space so it’s not for everyone.
Postage might be an issue. Check local stores first to save on shipping. If you do ship it though see if there is an option to have the post(wo)man deliver it on a motorbike. Pay extra if necessary. Then go camp outside and wait.
The rest of the equipment options fall into the category of “nice to haves”
Stability ball, slides, ab wheel can all add variety to your home-based core, glute and hamstring training. But are by no means essential for progress.
I have all three but rarely use any of them for obvious reasons. Stability ball is flat because it takes too much storage space. I left the ab wheel at work. And slides don’t work well on garage concrete floor.
The upside on all these is that they are cheap. So if you have the space (and suitable floors for sliding), why not?
Stability ball – can also be used when birthing a baby. Two birds, one stone*. Slides – woolly socks on a slippery surface works well too Ab wheel – although slides might do the same thing
Less is better
Unnecessary pieces of equipment just add to the clutter and draw our attention away from training. It’s like using a guitar amp with too many knobs. Too much time spent finding the right sound and less time on what really matters: playing Paranoid.
Keep it simple. Focus on the work.
As we already covered, training at home (or anywhere, really) is not a way to inject excitement in to our lives. It’s just training to get better at whatever we do for excitement outside of training. Get it done and move on.
Yours, in ethereal training space, Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Starship Enterprise**
*With swinging cats and stoned birds this post reeks mistreatment of animals. I condemn all that. We have to two cats. Neither have ever been swung.
**It’s all a lie. I had to Google that. I’ve never watched a single episode of Star Trek. I just don’t get it. There you go. Now you know.
The internet has made all of us experts on everything. Be it coronavirus, gluten (“bread makers are puppets of the big pharma!”) or the geopolitical situation of the South China Sea.
I know how how to manage my own money. I’ve even read a book or two on personal finance. I know how to spell Warren Buffett. But that doesn’t make me a financial adviser.
Just because we have the access to information layered with our own personal experiences doesn’t make us experts.
I recently read through a long and frustrating thread in a Facebook group for hikers. Someone was asking for advice on what to do with relentless back pain that’s stopping him from hiking.
The typical answers recommended yoga for flexibility or adding specific exercises to improve core strength. There were also a few that recommended getting a massage and at least one who was adamant about not seeing a chiropractor. As in, you might as well drink cyanide. Apparently his back had been forever messed up by a chiro in the past.
These are well meaning people trying to help a fellow hiker. I get it. But reading these black and white replies is a warning exercise for anyone to not rely on advice from people who lack the expertise to give it.
Whenever the answer to something complicated like back pain is an absolute “do this, not that”, without any context whatsoever, it’s clear that the answer is based on purely personal experience.
Something worked, or didn’t work for the advice giver, or someone they know. It reminds me of how Peter Griffin was against getting a second hand car because his friend once bought one and, “Bam! 10 years later, herpes.”
Yes, some chiropractors might make your back (and wallet) worse
There are chiropractors who will sell you into seeing them twice a week for months because your “spine needs adjusting”. Whatever that means. But this doesn’t validate a blanket statement that all the chiropractors will ruin your back.
This goes for any other profession.* There are bad trainers, doctors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, dietitians, car mechanics, lawyers, fridge repairers… you name it.
Yet, just because we bite into a one bad apple doesn’t mean that the whole bunch is rotten. We just happened to choose a bad apple.
And yes, yoga might work.
But it might also make it worse. For someone whose back pain is caused by hypermobility through the trunk and hips yoga might not be the best solution.
This doesn’t mean that all the variations of yoga are bad. But certain types of yoga might not be the right for them, at this moment.
It’s tempting to believe in a straightforward solution.
We’re drawn to find simple answers. It’s comforting. Be it right or not. And we’re drawn to give simple answers because, whether we do it consciously or not, it makes us feel like we know what we’re talking about.
But the real world is more complicated. Especially with back pain where the real answer is often “well, it depends…”
Ironically, the (internet) answer to this man’s back pain problem was black on white
Towards the end of the threat, as I was just about to give up hope on humanity’s common sense and smash a hammer through my laptop screen before booking a ticket to Tibet to become a monk, there was a sign of hope. A signal leading to a relieving sigh. Words of wisdom from someone who was willing to admit they didn’t know.
“You should probably go get a professional opinion.”
Now, if we could only delete all the other well-meaning, but misleading comments.
*We make an exemption for homeopathy here. This profession has no science backing them up. Zero validity. Save your money. Buy ice cream instead. It’ll probably make you feel better.
When improving our health and wellbeing we can get sucked in the vortex of trialling different easy-to-implement habits. Less snacking, cut down alcohol, avoid the foods that grow on red desert sand, or removing carbs because:
“That guy on Instagram said so and, see, how lean is he?! I think I can see the outlines of his kidney.*”
Often we bounce from one habit to the next with no progress. Frustration boils over and we heave arrows of blame at anyone we can think of. Our limited willpower, unhealthy circle of friends, and our mum eating too much toothpaste when we were in the womb. Everyone gets their fare share of blame.
The struggle is palatable because we gravitate towards shallow, surface level habits. Don’t get me wrong, these have their place. But they need to be suspended on a thick foundation. We can’t hang these habits on air and wishful thinking. Heavy branches need a thick trunk.
And there just so happens to be a clear reason why the trunk is on the thin side for most people who struggle. And it has nothing to do with how much toothpaste your mum ate.
You’ll need to lie down for this
The lack of sleep is the magnifier of all our weaknesses and negative traits. Every single thing in life is a drag when we’re tired.
Navigating the world on limited sleep highlights our not-so-wonderful personality traits. Irritability, anyone?
It clouds our judgement. Be it with food, alcohol, or relationships. It makes following every other habit a drag. It makes training sessions feel like trying to do breaststrokes in quicksand.
And it reduces our concentration and takes us away from doing deep work. Just ask anyone with a newborn.
There’s a reason why parents with newborns are content at not taking on the world** for the next 6-12 months. Life is twice as challenging when lived through drooped eyelids.
Some of us live through their lives as if there’s been a newborn at home for the last ten years. Sure, there are some odd balls who claim to function on four hours of sleep. And tell everyone about it on Twitter. Like, uh I don’t know, Donald Trump.
But I think that he too could use couple more hours of sleep. To help him act less like a newborn himself.
Anyways. For the next month, instead of trying to improve your eating and exercise habits, focus on improving the quantity and quality of your sleep. This will radiate ease into everything else you’re trying to do.
How to improve your sleep
Most of us need around 7-10 hours of good quality sleep per night. If you have the luxury to sleep as much as you can (most of us don’t) try not setting your alarm for the next week and see if there are natural sleeping patterns you’ll notice.
But before you bury yourself in the fresh sheets and blankets, get your house in order:
Spend money on a good bed and a pillow. Whatever “good” means to your body.
No caffeine after 3pm. Or earlier if caffeine kicks you into overdrive.
No screens 90-120 minutes before planned sleep time.
No alcohol before bed.
For busy brainiacs do a mind dumb on a notebook to clear your thoughts. Make a pact with yourself to come back to them in the morning.
Keep the bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Earplugs might help if your neighbours are dicks.
The bedroom should be a sanctuary only reserved for sleep and sex (and a book if it helps you to wind down).
Aim to be asleep by 10pm. Plan your evening accordingly.
That’s a start. None of us is perfect. I know I sometimes use my phone in bed. And tend to have an alcoholic beverage on Saturday while watching Netflix right until going to bed.
If you aim to follow that list on most days you might find that there is a different person hiding behind those sleep deprived eyes.
*I don’t get this. It’s like asking a guy with a great hair to cut my hair. **Although, caring for a newborn is harder than taking on the world.
On our daily walks with our son, I often have to lure him to keep moving forward. With a combination of “there might be a digger around the corner“, “maybe we can see a motorbike or a blue bus“, or “let’s go and see if the puppy is there today.”*
We also make the walk about collecting leaves and the fuzzy dandelion seed “flowers” which keeps him going for a good while. And I get it, for a two-year-old walking on a flat ground for the sake of just walking is probably as exciting as listening to someone analysing the intricacies of cricket is to me.**
But eventually the kid’s had enough, I lift him on to my shoulders and we keep going. That is until we come to a spot that’s not flat. Be it a grassy hill, an uneven trail to bounce along, or a set of intimidating stairs. Like an emperor on his high chair, he demands to get back on the ground and walk.
The bigger the stairs, the better. He loves going up and down, mostly with a struggle that he can just manage without falling. He finds walking more fun when it’s challenging. Because it’s novel.
And, that’s how he learns.
As adults, we tend to get stuck on doing the same exercises and same jazzercise classes for years on end. We only focus on getting the sweat on while ignoring our movement skills. Adding a sedentary work environment to the mix doesn’t help.
And this doesn’t really bother most people. Until it does. It’s usually a slowly increasing nagging pain or ache that over time becomes a persistent companion in training, and even everyday living.
Most people’s solution is to seek help of a professional, do some exercises for a while and then return to what they’ve always done. And then repeat this cycle over and over again without ever really fixing anything. I get it, we’re all busy.
But, a better option would be to get off that cycle by copying what kids do. By leaning into the basic movements we’ve forgotten and now find challenging. We could proactively put these movement problems into a judo arm lock*** before they get a hold of us.
Instead of only focusing on what gets you sweating, focus on what’s difficult. And I guarantee you’ll break a sweat doing them. These movement, whatever they are for you, will feel like you could fail at any moment.
With enough concentration you manage to get them done. And you’ll get better.
Just like a kid learning to walk up and down the stairs does.
*These are not lies. We see those things on most days. **I get it. There are sticks, it goes on for months, and you like tea. ***I hope that’s a term. I’ve never done judo. Except the verbal version.
The purpose of training our body at the gym is not to become better at training at the gym. No, we train so we can live a better, more fulfilling life outside of that space of bright lights and soulless pop music.
Similarly, the reason for meditating is not just to get better at being present during the daily 10 minutes of practise. The reason we do it is to have the benefits of the practise spill into the rest of our day.
The positive effect meditating can have to those roughly thousand minutes we spend awake each day is stronger than anything else we could learn. It gives us the power to set the tone for each moment and each interaction we’ll have.
Noticing a mood being present without letting it consume us. Instead of dwelling in a negative feeling for hours, or even days, we can acknowledge it being present and then do the hard part of letting it go. This will have a direct effect on the quality of our life.
Noticing the feelings of anger arising before reacting. That split second we spend noticing between feeling anger and reacting to it can’t be overestimated.
Noticing a cycle of thought keeping us in it’s grip. And being able to let go of it. Seeing it as a passing cloud instead of it being a part of us. With diligent practise of meditation all this can be untangled in matter of seconds.
We have the power to notice thoughts arising. To be curious about them without dwelling. To observe them with interest instead of making them part of us.
It won’t always be perfect. It won’t always happen in seconds. But the more we practise, the quicker we can let go of the thoughts that control us.
In the end, that’s what our whole experience is. Thoughts.