I’ve been enduring a bit of a fitness plateau lately – and my goals over the past year or so have been slowly shifting.
Right now my body is in great shape. I can run and move and do a lot of things. I eat well and can eat fairly flexibly to maintain this level of fitness. I look good, am happy with the way my clothes fit, and, for the most part, I’m happy with my overall “shape”.
For most people, this would be enough. This is the goal. This is great! Time to stop and maintain.
I, however, have never been satisfied to leave well-enough alone. I like to keep pushing. Whether it’s getting faster, improving my batting average (hey! softball is starting for me soon!), or lifting heavier weights, I like to continually improve myself. There is nothing wrong with this as long as I keep it reasonable. It just makes me different from a lot of people – but it also makes me the same as a lot of people. I have been happy to discover lately that there are a lot of us out there!
Over the past year I have shifted from focusing mostly on performance goals, to really wanting to focus on transforming the shape of my body. Being fit is one thing, being tight, lean, toned and muscular is another. I want definition. I want “pop”… curb appeal. 🙂
Boot camp was one step in the right direction. The focus is overall fitness and wellness, but also sculpting and toning. There is a lot of targeting that goes on in camp and many of the “wellness” oriented activites that we do also address shaping issues that we are concerned about. For example, we often warm up with a move called the tai-chi twist which involves twisting at the waist and using the momentum of your arms to fling your upper half from left to right. This sounds simple, I know, but it’s actually extremely effective. After 90-100 twists I will break a sweat just from this one movement. If you do it correctly and aren’t lazy about it, it’s a great way to warm up. It also stimulates your internal organs, particularly the kidneys (wellness) and whittles away at your waistline (shaping).
I bet you’re wondering when I’m going to get to the Big Five Fitness Lessons, huh?
Alright, alright. But first let me warn you. These probably aren’t going to sound very new or exciting. You know why? There aren’t a lot of tricky ways to go about getting fit. The late night TV commercials and quick-fix diet industry routinely return less than impressive (or fleeting) results because, in the end, the only way to really improve your fitness and get to where you want to be is to go back to the basics. So here they are; boring and glorious.
- Set specific goals: You always hear about goal-setting but the key to really making it effective is to be specific. My body-builder / weight-lifter friend from my old job (we’ll call him Beefcake, a name well-deserved) has a specific goal for the 4-week challenge we have recently agreed to. His is to “get sick obliques”. Because his body is already completely ripped, he’s focusing on just this one area. My goal is to drop at least 3% of my body fat. Your goal can be as simple as “walk 20 minutes every day for the next 20 days” or “eat 5 small meals a day (instead of the usual big-three) for the next three weeks”. If you don’t set goals you will languish in the dreaded pit of procrastination, I promise this to you. Even if you do set goals you will still languish if you don’t heed the next lesson.
- Make deadlines for these goals: Beefcake and I have set a timeframe of four weeks but it doesn’t matter what your time frame is as long as you set it. If you don’t have a timeframe the goal will seem unmanageable or overwhelming. If you just say “I’m going to walk every day.” you may become quickly bored or disheartened. Every day for the rest of your life? Say every day for the next three weeks. Then, in three weeks, you can re-evaluate, pick another goal, or keep on walking if it’s what works best for you. Setting timeframes is also important to me because I often feel guilty about disrupting our social life with my extreme nutrition plans. I find that if I can manage Sam’s expectations with a deadline, he finds my eccentricities much easier to swallow. And what usually happens is that he starts eating with me, and like me, and he ends up seeing the benefits. Thus, even when the time period is over, the new habits have become part of how we eat regularly. Another benefit of setting deadlines is that you get a big, fatty sense of accomplishment when you pull it off.
- Tell people about your goals: This goes back to a previous post that I wrote about how to get yourself up in the morning to workout. Build in accountability. The more people you tell, the more committed you’ll find yourself. Also, telling people is way more effective when you have specific goals with deadlines. It’s much easier to stay accountable to people when the goal is manageable, measurable and finite. So if you tell your friend that you’re going to walk every day for three weeks she can ask you in week 2: “Hey, how is that walking thing going? You still doing it?” And you can say, “Yup. One more week to go!”
- Write it down: I’m serious. Write this shit down! Put it somewhere where you can see it every day. When you write down your goals, also make note of your motivations. Why did you decide to set these goals, what are you after? This is a step that a lot of people choose to skip – they consider it fluff. In reality, writing your goals down solidifies them and makes them more real. They make you even more accountable. And they remind you. People usually choose not to write down their goals because there is a little part of them that isn’t totally committed, that wants to be able to back out and claim “I forgot” or “I got sidetracked” or “I don’t remember why I wanted that anyway.” Write. It. Down. Don’t make me say it again!!
- Picture yourself being successful: This is also one that people write off as being “fluffy” or too new-agey. I’ll admit, I was in that camp for a long time. But for a long time, I didn’t set specific goals. I just said, “I’m getting fit” and let that work for me. It did for a little while, but I didn’t make nearly as much progress as I could have. The beauty of setting specific goals with deadlines is that you have something specific to envision. I can stand in the mirror and envision myself with 3% less body fat in four weeks. You can envision yourself on the day that you complete your final walk at the end of the third week. How proud you will feel, imagine making the phone call to your best friend to tell her that you did it, envision how invigorated and motivated you will be to start planning your next goal. If you want to take this a step further you can even try making-believe that you have already achieved your goal. Try to tap into that feeling, that pride. Pretend you are already there. I discussed this technique earlier this week in “The Power of Positive Thinking”
So those are my five basic lessons. You thought I was going to give you some wicked workout move or something, huh? Well, I will. Later. But at the core of all the fancy-shmancy fitness stuff that happens at boot camp are these five things. Without these, that fancy-shmancy High Intensity Training and Isometric Agony is not going to get you anywhere, I promise you this.
The thing I hear from people all the time is: “I wish I had your motivation. I don’t know how you do it.” or “I wish I had enough time to do all that stuff.”
Here’s the truth. I started a long time ago with very small goals. Each accomplished goal produces a feeling of self-pride which stokes your motivation just a little bit. Consecutive goals stacked on top of one another create momentum. Momentum creates energy. Energy let’s you take your next goals just a little further.
Here’s the other truth. I don’t work out more than 6 hours a week. You think I’m some kind of fitness-fanatic who spends their life in a gym but it’s just not the truth. Right now, I do three boot camp workouts (1 hour each), two speed workouts on the track (45 min to an hour) and maybe a long-ish run (45min – 1 hour), if I’m lucky. That’s it.
The trick is that I do it every week without fail. I’m consistent. And I am 100% present to my workouts, giving them absolutely every ounce of intensity that I can muster. But, that’s another blog altogether.
If you’ve read this far, I’m going to leave you with one other Bonus Lesson:
- If at all possible, don’t rely on body weight as your sole source of measuring results: I know this can be hard. I am a numbers person. I like to measure things and have proof. That said, I have not lost a single pound of bodyweight since I started doing boot camps back in January. In fact, I haven’t even lost an ounce! I am exactly the same weight as when I started. At first, this was disheartening. In fact, part of me wishes I’d never known my bodyweight at all. But, bodyweight is misleading. It’s not telling me jack about what I accomplished. The real numbers that matter are the inch measurements and the body fat percentage, all of which are moving oh-so-slowly in the right direction. If you don’t have tools to measure body fat percentage, try measuring inches (tape measures are cheap, yo.) More importantly, focus on the way you look and feel. Your spirit will not lie to you – you will know when you are making improvements.
Coming up: Carb Cycling from a Carb Cycling Rookie (My New Nutrition Plan)