2017 is about to wrap up and it’s flown by. It probably seems to fly by quicker towards the tail end of the year because everyone has their sights on the holiday season, almost wishing the time away. But it’s also a good time for reflection. Like have you accomplished those resolutions you set 12 months ago?
Big up if you have! Achieving goals don’t happen without some effort and discipline. Was it rewarding accomplishing those goals, though? Or perhaps you didn’t meet your resolutions. You could have smart goals and well laid out plans to achieve them, but you may still end up indifferent or not having accomplished them at all. And that could be down to knowing your why.
Because you want to get stronger, put 10kg on your deadllift, get your first pull-up, rehabilitate an injury, look better naked, or out-run your grandchildren. Everyone’s why’s are different, but knowing your reasons has the same effect. Your why’s–the reasons for doing something–guide your actions and influence your feelings.
Why we program and coach the way we do at CFJ is based on several why’s, but there’s one big why governing all of that. Lifelong health and fitness. That means more people with a better quality of life, throughout life. It means more people living an active life for as long as possible. It means people who are more capable, in general.
So as much as we love seeing a full PB Board and a busy PB Bell, we’re okay if you don’t get that PB. You aren’t always going to PB everything all the time. You still had a good workout. You’re doing more than sitting on the couch which is more than just about the rest of the population. And you’re fitter and healthier than when you started with us. You are also (hopefully) making better decisions around your food and recovery. That’s what matters.
What matters to you, though? What is behind your decision to come to the gym? Let us know in the comments section below.
“I can have dessert because I’ll burn the calories in training tomorrow. That’s why I like to do lots of exercise–so I can eat anything.” It’s a culture, and not a surprising one given that people in the developed world are hedonistic eaters. In general, people eat to feel good. When you do feel good your body’s reward system encourages you to repeat the behaviour that’s providing the pleasure.
So you keep eating, whether it’s too much good food or lots of bad food. You know that even too much of a good thing can be bad, but it feels so good that you just “can’t” stop. But that’s okay, because you’re training! As long as you expend the same amount of calories that you consume you’ll be good, right?
Not quite. The calories in versus calories out equation is far more complex than that. More importantly, your body needs nutrients to function healthily. So all the training may be offsetting some of the calories you consume while making you fitter, all the bad calories are affecting both your health and body composition.
It’s similar to the effects of too much steady-state cardio coupled with insufficient food. In that case you end up slimmer but with a high percentage of body fat. In both cases, dietary habits outweigh the effects of training, leaving you with a less than ideal body composition and lacking in health. Those sorts are pretty easy to spot in the gym too. You’re either looking at a slim athlete who crushes bodyweight and endurance based workouts but gets crushed by any form of load. Or a well built athlete with a big engine, and a beer belly!
I’m in favour of eating for pleasure too. You’ve got one, short life so you best live it well. But you want to live it well for as long as you are around, and that’s why health and fitness are placed on the same continuum. You can, and should, be both fit and healthy. And you can enjoy food while still being fit and healthy. It comes down to your mind set.
Eat for health and performance, instead of training so that you can eat. Give your body the quality fuel it needs to support your levels of activity while not supporting body fat, and do so most of the time. You won’t be able to out-train a shitty diet for very long.
As with anything of value, achieving better health and fitness requires ongoing work. You’ve got to keep turning up to training, and you need consistently strong efforts in training. You’ve got to stay on top of your nutrition, and you need to take care of your recovery needs such as sleep, stretching and rest. All. The. Time.
Such a consistent effort surely requires motivation. How would you even get started without some form of motivation? You need discipline too, though. Self-discipline, to be precise. But what’s the difference between the two?
Motivation is defined as “your desire or willingness to do something.” It’s the fuel that gets you started, and we know that the hardest part of any task is getting started. When your motivation is high you have momentum. However, that momentum is based on emotion and emotions tap out quickly.
You see, your reasons for training and eating well may never change. Whereas your desire or willingness to take the necessary actions for those reasons is fickle.
Let’s look at the example of ‘Jane.’ Jane has just confirmed her wedding date six months away. She wants to get there in the best physical shape possible so unpacks her moldy training gear and books her sessions for the following week. She’s super motivated and the excitement about the wedding encourages her momentum.
Her first two weeks are rocking. She’s met her attendance goals and is already feeling better–she’s got even more momentum! But week two ends with unpleasant news, her wedding planner has ditched her. Naturally, Jane is worried and miserable. She opts for some wine-o-therapy over the weekend and come time for her Monday morning training session is lacking both energy and motivation to go. So she skips the session.
And the next because she’s guilty about missing the first, and then feels less fit so misses another, and then it’s the weekend and oh look, wine!
Desire, willingness and excitement–the emotions that drive motivation–last only for three to six weeks. You lose the emotional drive as the task becomes habit and that’s when your momentum drops.
Self-discipline refers to “your capacity to control your feelings and actions in pursuit of your goals.” Whereas motivation refers to why you start a task, self-discipline refers to what you do to achieve the end goal. It is self-control.
Discipline enables you to keep going even when your motivation is wavering. Discipline, however, is more difficult to achieve than motivation. You feel good when you’re motivated, but with discipline you learn to ride out the bad days, the failures and the crappy emotions. It’s like getting through a nasty workout–it’s uncomfortable, but you know it’s going to be good for you so you stick it out.
Discipline is arguably more important, but you need motivation too. Here are some tips to make the most out of the good motivation while establishing discipline.
- Set SMART goals
- Ride out the three to six week motivation wave, once you’re through that you’re naturally developing discipline
- Make the most out of your momentum by making your goals public
- Acknowledge and accept that you will have bad days, they’re a part of the process
- Strive for balance by rewarding yourself for the small wins
Adhere to a behaviour for eight weeks and it becomes a habit, and then tasks that required a lot of effort become a breeze!
“Just breathe,” I said to an athlete during a conditioning piece. Hunched over with hands on knees and trying to gulp what appeared to be chunks of air, their response was “How do I breathe?” I wasn’t quite sure how to answer! See, breathing is like a beating heart. Unless due to a birth defect or some form of trauma, it’s an innate activity. We don’t have to think about breathing for it to happen, it just happens because if it didn’t, we’d die.
Breathing is largely controlled by the autonomic division of the nervous system (ANS). The ANS acts subconsciously to control bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing and digestion. Although changes in your breathing happen subconsciously, we are able to consciously affect respiration.
It’s a skill essential to life and performance in the gym, and better breathing is trainable, just as strength and endurance are. As your ability to control your breath improves, so does your ability to maintain focus and presence in all situations.
Before we go through some tips to controlling your breathing, some knowledge. Your respiratory rate increasing has more to do with getting rid of carbon dioxide than getting more oxygen in. Carbon dioxide is a toxic byproduct and incorrect breathing, such as hyperventilating (unduly increasing the rate of breathing), increase carbon dioxide levels.
Do you have the habit of taking lots of quick and shallow breaths before a heavy lift or at the start of a metcon? That’s hyperventilating and can make you feel light headed, dizzy and can even result in you blacking out. So it wasn’t because you were bracing so hard 😉
This is your first step to taking control of your breathing. It helps to be in a quiet place with little distractions. Without trying to change your breathing , simply take note of your breathing. How many times do you breath (in and out) in a minute when relaxed and at rest? What’s happening to your abdomen and rib cage as you breath? Are you breathing in/out through the nose or mouth, or both? The idea is to be able to clear as much thought from the mind in order to be able to devote most of your attention to your breathing.
- Put your hand on your belly
- Take a deep breath in through the nostrils and push your hand out with your belly
- Then exhale fully, pushing your hand into your belly towards your spine
- As you repeat, focus on expanding the belly, then your lower ribs and finally the upper ribs before exhaling
This is where you start to control the rate of breathing more. Remember to focus on the belly breathing.
- Time the length of your inhalation, starting with 3 seconds
- Exhale for the same duration
- Start your next breath in immediately at the end of the 3 second exhalation but ensure that you’ve pressed every last bit of air out during the 3 second interval
- As you improve your ability to fully inhale and exhale, increase the duration but keep the durations of the inhale and exhale exactly the same
This is something you can implement in any situation to regain control of your breathing, which in turn improves focus and performance.
This final step is what the SealFit team use and recommend for the ultimate control of breathing. If it works for Navy Seals, it should work for you! Once you’ve mastered the timed breathing, move on to this.
- The belly and timed breathing techniques remain the same as above – belly breathing in through the nostrils with equal inhalation and exhalation durations
- Now, once you’ve breathed in, hold your breath for the same duration. Let’s go with 3 seconds again.
- Exhale for 3 seconds as before, but now, once you’ve pressed all air out, wait 3 seconds before breathing in again
- So it looks like this: In for 3s > Hold for 3s > Out for 3s > Wait for 3s > In for 3s and so on
- Gradually increase the durations as you get better, but maintain equal durations for each portion
Applying it to Workouts
The above methods are what you’re going to apply at rest during quiet time. That’s how you begin to develop better control of your breathing. But you’ll need to start applying it to training too, which will in turn set you up to manage your breathing in life situations too. The best way to apply the timed and box breathing techniques in a workout are to use your reps as the tempo. You’re typically better at breathing during strength work because it forms part of your bracing technique, so let’s focus on metcons.
- Running example: Breath in for two steps, out for two steps. Change the tempo according to your running pace.
- Rowing example: Breath in as you recover, hold your breath in the catch, breath out as you drive, pause in the release before going back to breath in the recovery
- Gymnastics and weightlifting movements: Breath in before you move or during the eccentric phase, exhale as you move or during the concentric phase, breath in and out if you do rest at the midpoint of the movement
These are just examples of how you apply breathing control techniques in a workout. It takes a lot of time to master, but the first step is awareness.
When practising the breathing control during quiet time, start with three to five minutes a day and then up it to 10 minutes. It requires daily effort, just as fitness does. Likewise, improvements will be dependent on your diligence.
At the very least, focus on your breath while moving, as opposed to focusing on how much you’re dying!
Something I’ve learnt over the years is that the silly season isn’t just defined by the period across Christmas and New Years when most people are away. The silly season starts in November and carries on through to some time later in January. So let’s revisit some silly season nutrition and training tips.
For me, it’s pretty straightforward – if you’d like to hold on to the changes you’ve made until now you simply keep doing what you have been. But I get it, it’s a festive time, it’s been a challenging year and you’d like to kick back. You should!
I always say that you’re going to be away for a month at the most. That’s just one month. It’s nothing relative to your lifetime, and about 5% of your training time during the year, IF you were consistent throughout the year. If you weren’t consistent, then you shouldn’t be worrying about losing all your gains during the holidays…..because you don’t have any gains!
So relax, enjoy your food and live well. But at the same time, I’d like to see you keep at least one foot on the wagon because if you do come off it entirely, it can take a very long time to get just that one foot on again.
Here are some tips to help you. Remember that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, and keep it simple.
Protein and Fat
Aim to get a moderate amount in at all meals and snacks. It keeps you satiated so you’re less likely to snack, and protein has a thermic effect so it keeps your metabolism ticking over. If you’re not doing any physical activity that day, have a bit less than you normally would.
A reminder: All veges and fruit, all starches, fruit juices, baking, sweets and chocolates, ice-cream, and all grain-based products end up the same way – as sugar. The goodies, however, spike blood sugar and therefore insulin, stimulating the storage of fat, especially if you aren’t exercising much.
Have the goodies, but make that your carb for that meal or snack. If you are training, have your goodies after training. Put simply, if you plan on having treats, have less or none of the ‘good carbs’ to keep total carb intake similar to what it would be normally. But don’t avoid the veges, roots, tubers and fruit entirely because you need the fibre, mineral and nutrients.
There isn’t a particular amount of water that you should be having. Drink if you’re thirsty and avoid sports drinks and off-the-shelf fruit juices. Opt for a freshly squeezed juice and avoid sodas as much as possible. Tea and coffee does contribute to your fluid intake. Alcohol does not so avoid using it as your hydration 😉
You don’t have to train as much or as intensely as you would normally to maintain your fitness. In fact, the down time will do your mind and body good. But keep active as a way of expressing your fitness. Play sports, hike, cycle, swim, and try different stuff. Walking can be especially beneficial. Go for brisk, long walks every day if you aren’t doing any other physical activity.
Eat for Yourself
If your mates or partners can have a burger, fries and milkshake for lunch everyday without much ill-effect, it doesn’t mean that the same will happen to you. Be realistic about your body’s response to foods, and eat accordingly.
I personally consider holidays a time for (more) food and lots of sleep. So don’t geek out too much about what you’re eating while away!