We pin our hopes and wishes to the randomness of the world around us. Doing the best we can to reach our goal is a one thing. But a part of the success comes from crossing our fingers, hoping that a stray event doesn’t derail us from our grand plans.
And all along our happiness is on hold. Days, months and years go by as we wait for a better tomorrow. That day when we can finally move into our dream forever home, walk up to the shiny double door fridge and reach in to take a gulp from the carton of triumph that looks a lot like milk. And realise the damn thing is actually out of date.
We are guilty of the same with our health and fitness. Focusing on goals we have no full control of. Whether it’s to lose ten kilograms in two short months before summer. Or being able to outrun a reversing 2007 (red) Toyota Corolla by mid-February.
As much as we’d like to think we are the big wheel of our destiny, there’s only so much we can do. Sometimes success is just a matter of dumb luck. It’s the difference of being in the right, or wrong place, at the right, or wrong, time, with the right, or wrong people, while holding the right, or wrong, brand of deodorant. Reaching a specific end goal requires a lot of things to go our way.
Hoping that the earth will align to our benefit is delusional.
It’s a modus operandi for unhappiness. Focusing single-mindedly on the end goal could mean we end up going through our entire life without ever being content.
When focusing on the end goal, we have the tendency to follow actions and habits that have a short shelf life. Strict diets, excessive training, working all-nighters, taking truck driver showers.
These are actions that have a best before date with little to zero carry over to the not-so-perfect real world. Times when we are muddling through life and the earth seems to spin backwards just to mess with our being.
Even in sports focusing on the end goal is risky. The athlete is putting her focus on to something that she has no full control of. Again, a lot in the world has to go her way.
Yes, some people run through walls with the end goal in sight. Like, I don’t know, Michael Jordan. But the chances of you or me (definitely not me) being like Michael Jordan? Slim. And so, the alternative becomes much more appealing.
We can focus on what we can control.
We can align our actions, not with the end goal, but with who we want to be, today. By focusing on the moment we’re in right now. Whether it’s to lose fat, get stronger, or to win the local pub darts competition. To play the best game we can. Choosing the habits we can control and adjusting them as necessary.
Doing so allows us to build habits we can maintain forever. Something that the narrow focus on the end goal doesn’t. We are more likely to feel fulfilled and content when we have (almost) full control of our actions.
We can’t control what we can’t control. But we can do the best we can with the control we have. We can start by asking, what are the daily habits of the person I want to become?
Then, all we have to do is to keep our promise. To follow through with what we said we would do.
Slim and toned models trying to entice you to join our gyms. Topless, fit looking guys on their paddle boards to sell our services. Lose fat, oil up the abs, look chiselled, bounce ice cubes off the butt.*
Not appealing? Fair. Not everyone’s motivated by specific, easy-to-measure, look-like-a-cover-model-who-sleeps-with-a-barbell aesthetic goals. Focusing only on fat loss and muscle building and striving for the glistening fitspo isn’t everyone’s jam.
But you keep coming back to the aesthetic goals. Only because you think you should. And so you keep living through the repeated sting of failure.
The industry has made you feel you lacked motivation. The willpower to follow rules. The hardheaded determination to push through. Like you don’t fit in. And this might have been going on for years.
You’ve resorted to thinking the fault must be yours.
Because why wouldn’t you be into looking like that person? Everyone else (even that 73 year old grandma) seems to froth over it. Training in their tight Gym Shark pants and crop tops.
So the result for you is always the same. You cancel your gym membership, wish well to your trainer, and swear to never return. This shit just isn’t for you.
Then the next year, just when the first wave of summer heat kicks in, the tension of being left behind grows too strong. You return. You try again. Maybe even make some progress. Until the sad trombone blows another exit tune.
What if the goals that the industry wants you to have are wrong?
Maybe you keep feeling like a fistful of failure because deep down you’re not motivated by a purely aesthetic-driven training. It might give you a short-term push, but there isn’t momentum to keep you rolling. You can’t find enough meaning behind it. It’s time to look elsewhere.
The good news is that you can focus on any goal you want. Turn the attention inwards. Start showing up for other reasons than superficial, industry dictated goals.
Show up for whatever gives your training meaning and purpose. Especially if you feel that awkward tension of going against the grain. Learn to ignore the noise of what the others think you should do.
Focus on being present, moving and doing something for yourself and your longevity. Internalise goals that are harder to measure. Pay attention to how you feel after you’ve exercised. How clear your mind feels and how much more energy you have for the rest of the day.
Embrace your goal, regardless of what it is. Even when it’s hard to measure.
And then, two more tangible concepts that might help.
One. Stop grinding yourself to the ground in each training session. Instead of making the workout a punishment to expel your past, show up to do just enough. Leave feeling better than you did coming in.
The barrier to show up for another workout is lower when you know you won’t feel like a bag of ground meat afterwards.
Two. Find people who support your approach. Those who welcome you as you are and want to be. Show up with, and for, a small group of people who share your values and your interests.
A group who would miss you if you weren’t there. Share stories. Discuss things that matter. Support and encourage each other to keep going. And move while at it.
Build a stronger connection. With yourself and with the people who help you show up. And then, help them show up as much as they help you.
If that resonated, here is the good news.
I’ve got two openings for Zoom small-group personal training.
Your program, based on your body (and goals, duh). Sessions run Monday, Wednesday and Friday 7.45am AEST. (Your time?)
And because it’s Zoom, you can join from anywhere with a decent internet connection.
$480 / month for two sessions a week. $720 / month for three weekly sessions.
During times of uncertainty many struggle with direction in training. Redirecting our focus on to a majestic goal can be like throwing aviation fuel to a nearly extinguished training fire.
Choose a challenging end goal
This should feel slightly unreachable, but not utopistic. Think climbing the Everest base camp vs jogging across Sahara without stopping for a pee. A goal that spikes you with nervous energy. Something that excites you about what’s possible when you really try.
We are more likely to stick with a training goal when the alternative is letting another person down. Make a promise that you will want to keep. Even better, make a promise that will be emotionally painful to break.
If your friend is fitter than you make a pact that you will join them on this once in a life time adventure. If your fitness levels are on par train for it together. Keep each other accountable.
Sign up and pay for the end goal(if possible)
This can be tricky in the lord’s year of 2020. We don’t know what the future holds for travel and expeditions. But there are still things you can do.
Invest in hiking gear. Buy a tent. Get that expensive beanie from Patagonia. Whatever. Pay good money for something that you’d hate to see go to waste.
Set milestones by working backwards from the end goal.
If you’ve got 12 months to prepare, what needs to happen every month, or every two months for you to reach your goal? Lay them out and share with your accountability partner.
Set action orientated weekly goals.
Milestones are immovable. They don’t come to us, we need to get to them. What are the actions, habits and rituals you need to put in place to hit these milestones?
This could be strength training on specific days. Short rucking during the week and longer walks on the weekends.
Drill deeper on your weaknesses and start working your way up.
Training goals are typically set in three to six-month intervals. With my clients most goals fall into three somewhat fluid categories: return to activity after an injury (could be a sport, could be gardening), train for a specific sporting event (not always a competition either, but to participate), or look good for Barcelona*.
All great goals for the short-term focus they bring to training. But we can do even better.
What if you’d have an additional long-term goal that makes you feel warm, fuzzy, weepy and all the other overly positive skirmish adjectives one can think of?
Think not in years, but in decades. Lifelong, if you will. An aspiration that can feel slightly out of reach, but provides a framework to guide all your future short-term goals.
To be clear, you will still set three to six-month goals, as hardcore as you might want**. But achieving these goals shouldn’t take anything away from your life-long aspiration.
To give you an example, when I’m 85 years old I want to go for long walks in the nature, carry bags of groceries up the stairs without hips exploding, and throw frisbee and semi-kick football with my possible grandkids. Every short-term goal I set has to fit in within the framework of my long-term vision.
If any three to six month training goal between now and 2069 will make me less likely to move and exists like that 85 year old white haired rioter, the short-term goal is not for me. I have to either scrap it altogether, or adjust the approach so it still supports the future me.
Now, what are you really training for?
*This is not some poor attempt at corona virus related joke. What’s going on in Spain is horrific. Rather, Barcelona really was one client’s goal last year. And he nailed it. **Although, if you’re like me or most of my clients, hardcore is probably not your jam.
Blog idea from Dan John’s long, heartfelt goal on dancing at his granddaughter’s wedding.
How To Decide Your Next Training Goal Part III: Measuring Fitness and Filling The Gaps
This is the third and final part of the series. If you haven’t read Parts I and II yet, I recommend you give them a geez before diving into this one. It makes this Part III far easier to get into.
You wouldn’t watch The Godfather Part III before watching the first two, right? Not that I am comparing this to The Godfather. It’s just the first that comes to mind when thinking of a trilogy of any sort.
So this last part is less about how to determine your next goal and more about taking a step closer to that goal.
Fitness – the capacity to do shit
Fitness doesn’t mean cardio, bodybuilding or any of that. At least not today in the bubble that is this blog. Fitness means do you have the capacity and the goods to absorb and adapt to the stress required by your next step?
You’ve looked at the standards from Part I and Part II and perhaps seen some gaps in either your overall health, body composition, movement, strength, conditioning, or a combination of some of them. But gaps for what? What is it that you are specifically training for?
It could be a sport related goal, but it doesn’t have to be. As you’ll see in the first case study, a client in his mid-60s wants to be more fluid and graceful stepping in and out of his car. That’s the stress he needs to absorb and adopt.
The second case study is a lady who wants a better butt to elevate her Kardashian game. For her the immediate goal of absorbing and adopting stress means that she can handle the best exercises that deliver those results.
Finally, in the last case study the client’s goal is a more typical athletic endeavour. For her it’s about being able to return to competitive outrigging and dragon boating and to paddle pain free after a shoulder surgery.
Let’s look at these case studies. It can help you to narrow down your training program and get the results you need to keep progressing towards your goal.
Case Study One: hip mobility to get in and out of the car
A client in his mid 60s has started to notice how getting in and out of a car has become difficult, even uncomfortable as of late. He is already seeing an osteopath for the hip and wants to emphasise this goal during his personal training sessions too.
The curve ball of a thing is that although he has 45 minutes of training booked twice a week, he’s always around 15 minutes late. We need to be able to do the best we can in 30 minutes, without completely ignoring other aspects of his health.
I am telling you this to show that you don’t always need long bouts of training to move the needle forward. A good sessions done is better than perfect that never gets even started.
Here’s a sample of how I divide the session based on his goals.
0-15 minutes – movement prep / hip mobility x 1 round
Diaphragmatic breathing to encourage posterior pelvic tilt
Hip, shoulder, scapula rotations on all fours
Rockback to heels
Hip Pails/Rails in modified pigeon stretch
Rockback to heels
Glute hip bridges
15-25 minutes – power / strength circuit x 2-3 rounds
Lateral step (crossover, cross behind) to slam x 5 ea
Reverse step to high knee (trying to crossover to bring knee and elbow to touch) x 5 ea
Single leg squat to box with an isometric hold with the first rep x 8-12 ea
TRX Row x 8-12
Lateral crawl x 5 ea
25-30 minutes – conditioning x 5 rounds
Rope full body waves – emphasising hinging x 20s work : 40s rest
Depending on the day we might go 20 minutes of warm up / hip mobility followed by 5 minutes of power / strength and 5 minutes of conditioning. It’s not perfect, but you do what you can in the time you’ve got.
Case Study Two: Butthurt
A lady with a goal to get her Kardashian to pop. A more advanced client with a few years+ training history.
0-5 minutes – movement prep x 1 round
Breathing to center the busy mind
Hip, shoulder, scap rotations
Downward dog to step to rotation
Glute side bridge
Squat to stand
5-40 minutes – strength x 3 rounds
A1 Lateral lunge to pulse x 5 ea A2 Hip thrust march x8 ea
B1 Trapbar Romanian deadlift x 6-8 1.5 reps B2 Vertical cable row x 6-8 1.5 reps
C1 Pike push up x 5 C2 Step down heels touch x6-8 1.5 reps
40-45 minutes – conditioning x 5 rounds
Skillmill 30s work : 30s rest
Case Study Three: Return to competitive paddling
Bilateral shoulder surgery. Now at the stage of building more power and strength to return to competitive paddling.
0-10 minutes – movement prep x 1 round
Hip, shoulder, scap rotations
Big 3 shoulder activation
Glute side bridge
Cable shoulder external rotation (standing 9090)
10-45 minutes – power / strength x 3 rounds
A1 Get up to hand x 4 ea A2 Split stance chop slam x 5 ea
B1 Trapbar deadlift x 8-10 B2 Landmine single arm press x 8-10 ea B3 Single arm seated row x 8-10 ea
C1 Elevated push ups x as many as possible with perfect form C2 TRX row x 15
Done on her own on a different day.
When you have a goal in mind, it’s easier to specify the training program to get there. Find the gaps in your current health, body composition, movement, strength and conditioning as they relate to your end goal. Then fill those gaps appropriately.
And if your current goal is a more elusive, say “to stay healthy and don’t get fat”, that’s fine too. Just make sure you are not not letting any of the aforementioned aspects of health and fitness to deteriorate too far from the baseline.
Thanks for reading the full series. You’ve been great. I thought I’d never get this out in time.
How To Decide Your Next Training Goal, Part I: Overall Health Markers, Movement, Body Composition
To get clarity on what to focus on next in your training requires a thorough inspection of where you currently are. Let’s face it, most of us like to do things that we’re good at while ignoring the stuff that we suck doing. People who build muscle easily like to get bigger while ignoring movement. Those with flexibility for days often neglect strength. Some love cardio, but spit at lifting. And so on.
But allowing our weaknesses to stay weak stops us from thriving. Be it in a sport or life in general. I say, enough. Let’s have a geez and systematically cover each aspect of health, strength and fitness to see where you currently stand and what you should work on.
Overall health markers
Blood count, cholesterol, inflammation, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for, matters. Training, performing and trying to be an all around healthy, well-functioning person with bad bloodwork is like driving the highway with a handbrake on. Difficult, slow and annoying.
Book an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be the best person to tell you what to look out for and what, if anything, needs fixing.
If your bloodwork is not quite what they should be this brings us to your first goal: improve your blood work. Whether it’s exercise, meds, diet or perhaps drinking less Jagermeister on your next Caribbean holiday, sort it out.
120/80 is ideal. As you know, you can get this checked everywhere these days. At the doctors, gym, or the convenience of your own home.
If you’re constantly getting a high reading, talk to your doctor. Maybe it’s any of the things we went through with bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more on the mental side. Meditation, mindfulness and general stress management strategies could help too. Or maybe it’s your genetics. Regardless, worth figuring out.
Moving like a human should
Not getting joints in the optimal positions to adapt to stress means that you are not getting the best out of your training. You’re leaving results on the table, not building strength as efficiently as possible, maybe even risking an injury by forcing a joint to handle a load in a position it cannot get into without compromising something along the way.
You know, the folks who overhead press without proper shoulder range of motion and end up doing the good old low back arch so deep it’s more like a standing bench press. Makes my eyes bleed drops of sorrow.
What sort of ranges of motion you need in each joint depends on what you are training for and what you need in your sport. Being able to lift your arms overhead is not really that big of a deal for a runner. But it becomes an issue for a swimmer. Still, it’s nice to be able to scratch your forehead, regardless of your sport of choice.
There are two fundamental movements that everyone should be able to do, regardless of the training goals. This tells us that the body has at least the absolute basics covered.
The absolute minimum movement standards everyone should be able to do
There can be a host of reasons (individual joint restrictions etc) beyond the scope of this article, as to why you can’t touch your toes or do a squat. And if you have a big gut that stops you from performing these movements, your time is probably better spent on losing weight instead of movement skills. That might be all you need. If which case, feel free to skip the Body Composition section below.
But these following drills work for the majority who lack the stability for toe touch or squat. Yes, it can be a stability problem even if “my hamstrings are too tight”.
Every healthy human should be able to squat and touch their toes. Once you have the toe touch keep retesting it every once in a while to make sure you still have it. Checking squat is not that big of a deal if you do squatting (bodyweight, goblet, barbell…) with a good form in your program.
Before running head first into the prickly forest of body composition: I don’t care how you look. What you’re about to read is based on what science tells us about health. Not on what the People Magazine tells us about looks. Bodies come in all shapes and forms and different body compositions are more suitable for different sports and activities.
Health on the other hand is relatively universal. The good old Body Mass Index (BMI) works well for the sedentary, or obese, but I am not fond of it for the rest. It can skew the results for healthy, active population since it doesn’t differentiate between lean muscle and fat.
Using a simple waist measurement is more accurate. Carrying excess fat around your waist is a bigger health risk compared to the fat sitting on your hips and thighs.
Here are the waist circumference thresholds, taken roughly at the belly button, that indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease : – For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more, and greatly increased at 88 cm or more. – For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.
Can you be too lean?
Sure can, ese. Being super lean and having a six pack is not necessarily the healthiest way to exist in this cruel world. I know it wasn’t the case for me back in the day. The social isolation aspects aside, being too lean might lead to amenorrhea, low libido, brittle bones and disordered eating. Being super lean has more or less nothing to do with being healthy.
The healthy body fat – For women anywhere between 22%-33% is healthy for most. – For men anywhere between 11%-22% is healthy for most.
Let’s talk about muscle
Having enough lean muscle mass, and consequently strength, means that you’ll probably perform better in your sport, and in the day-to-day activities in general
We lose muscle mass as we age so to keep functioning well in our old age it’s wise to build and a bit of a buffer of lean muscle. Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity for one.
Resistance training will not only help you to maintain your muscle mass, but it also fights off age-related bone degeneration. Peak bone mass is reached in ones late teens and early twenties and after that it’s all downhill. The steepness of the downhill can be greatly reduced by lifting weights.
So what is the optimal amount of lean muscle mass?
Unlike body fat, muscle mass doesn’t have an ideal, set in stone chart for optimal and ideal amounts. Instead, focus on keeping your body fat in the healthy range and averaging two to three moderate to heavy resistance training sessions per week.
Check Part II next week for the specifics to aim for. Or, if you work on a farm you can probably ignore the weights and just lift bales of hay.
What about too much muscle mass?
Yes, there is a point of too much. Having an excess of muscle mass might not be too good for your when looking through the lense of longevity. The heart has to keep pumping blood through a massive frame which can cause it to strain. Never a great thing for being alive. Then we can also make a case that excess muscle mass elsewhere in the body also means excess muscle in the heart itself. Again, probably not great for living.
I go on a limb saying that most people don’t have enough muscle on them. Too much muscle is only an issue for bodybuilders on gear who look nothing like humans. You know, the ones who make you think of Godzilla having sex with an earthmoving truck.
To decide what you should train for next requires a non-judgemental look at where you currently are. If any of the ones we just went through are off, well, you have your next training and health goal set.
Bloodwork: blood count, cholesterol, mineral and vitamin levels, and whatever else your doctor is in the mood for. Something not quite right? Sort it out.
Blood pressure: 120/80 is ideal. Maybe it’s what was wrong with the bloodwork. Or maybe it’s more mental. Mindfulness practice and improving your relationship with stress and life might help.
Movement: really depends on your sport of choice as well what you’d like to be able to do in day-to-day life. As a bare minimum for any healthy adult, you should be able to touch your toes and squat down comfortably.
Body composition: waist circumference can indicate an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. For women the risk is increased at 80 cm or more and greatly increased at 88 cm or more. For men the risk is increased at 94 cm or more and greatly increased at 102 cm or more.
You can also be too lean. The healthy body fat for women anywhere 22%-33% is healthy for most. For men anywhere between 11%-22% is all gee.
Muscle is metabolically active and improves how the body deals with the nutrients you throw at it. People with higher muscle mass tend to have better insulin sensitivity too. But too much muscle can put a strain on the heart. Although this is usually only an issue for those who are on gear and look like Godzilla had sex with an earthmoving truck.
It’s ok. You don’t always have to know what you want. In which case it can be helpful to ask yourself “what is it that I don’t want?” Take the opposite approach instead of trying to search for the ultimate answer.…
It’s easy to get overwhelmed when stepping your foot in a gym: rows of machines to choose from, there’s kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, bands, benches, suspension trainers, balls, walls, chin up bars and the mysterious “thing” that looks like a medieval torture device, once reserved for the witches. Quite frankly, the list reads like the inventory of your local hardware store.
You yearn clarity because it shaves time off your training while improving your results, so you can spend time on other, perhaps more pressing tasks. Such as finding your favorite left sock that’s been missing since Saturday. …
A lot of us think we need to know all the answers before starting. Or that the goal we choose now is going to last for an eternity, as if our interest are the same now and in 5 years time. So we paint these grand, and sometimes scary goals that requires enormous amounts of work. Focusing on process goals is a great way to achieve larger goals that might seem too intimidating at first. …