You have to cover the basics.
But you can’t cover the basics if you don’t know them.
Learn about the basic that everyone needs to see results, no matter what kind of plan they follow.
If you want to be fit, you have to set a foundation, as this will give you the ability to get fit.
Getting fit is a two-step process:
Step 1: You challenge your body
Step 2: Your body adapts to the challenge
You cannot only focus on the first step and forget about the second.
There are certain things your body needs so that it has the ability to adapt.
Without those things, it will maladapt.
Maladapt is a fancy way of saying “feel worse” or “get injured.” Either one can bring your training to a screeching halt.
In his bestselling book Becoming a Supple Leopard, Dr. Kelly Starrett outlines a simple checklist (one of my favorite types of systems) for those basics.
Here is the checklist:
•No Warm-up or Cool-down
No Warm-up or Cool-down
Even though it is technically true that you don’t need to warm up...
You should always warm up when you have the opportunity.
This does not mean if you are running late to the gym or rushed for time, skip the warm-up. In that scenario you can shorten the workout, shorten the warm-up, or both.
It means, if there is an emergency and you have to spring into action, then you have to spring into action. This is most common with tactical athletes (police, firefighters, military, etc), who have to respond to life-threatening emergencies as part of their job.
But emergencies can suddenly happen to any of us at any time, and you need to be able to perform.
Warming up properly in all other instances will help prepare you for those times when you can’t.
The warm-up prepares the body for exercise.
There are two kinds(1) of warm-ups: general and specific.
A general warm-up increases the ability of the body as a whole. This means the physical warming up of tissues as well as psychological readying.
For example, jogging on the treadmill before a weight training session at the gym. It warms up your body, which helps you perform better. Additionally, you can take some time to focus and prepare mentally.
A specific warm-up prepares your nervous system(2) for specific movements. This is usually the movement you are planning on doing.
For example, doing some light squats before doing a heavy set of squats. The light ones help your body practice the muscle firing sequence (called a pattern). This helps you perform better on the heavy sets.
There is a danger of overdoing a warm-up, and exhausting yourself, especially if you are very out of shape.
A warm-up of 5-15 minutes is adequate for most people.
However, there is little danger of overdoing a cool-down, and almost no excuse for skipping it.
The purpose of a cool-down is to slowly reduce the exercise intensity, so your body can get back to normal effectively.
If you are driving and want to stop, suddenly slamming the brakes is a poor option.
Your body will recover better if it is allowed time to shift from intense exercise to being at rest.
This can be as simple as walking after a training session. This is a great way to let your body cool and your breathing normalize.
The worst thing you can do after a workout is sit down immediately. There is a mechanical element to our bodies. When you bend joints (for example hips and knees), you also bend blood vessels. Blood carries the nutrients (for example oxygen) that allow us to recover.
Think about what happens to the water flow of a hose when you bend it to 90 degrees.
While any light activity will do, you can maximize your time by incorporating things such as self-massage, stretching, mobilizing, breathing drills, etc.
It is important to remember that exercise is a stressor, even if you are using it for “mental” stress relief. You need some time to de-stress before you head back to the “regular” stresses of life.
For most people at least 10-15 minutes is sufficient.
Your body needs sleep. A non-negotiable 7-9 hours.
Can you survive and function on less?
Absolutely, but you will pay the consequences.
A very incomplete list includes(3):
Your body simply cannot recover without sleep. If you add exercise to your life but don’t rest and recover enough, things will start to break down.
While there are times in life when you have to miss sleep, it is usually a problem of prioritization.
We stay awake watching TV, surfing the internet, reading books, or hanging out with friends…instead of sleeping!
Schedule your sleep, prioritize it, and get it.
Once you have scheduled the time we can figure out how to optimize it. If you have problems falling or staying asleep we can improve it.
But the first step is to be an adult and make enough time to get enough sleep.
Water is of major importance to all living things. Up to 60% of your body is water, if you are an adult.
But the younger you are the more this increases: newborn babies’ bodies are up to 78% water, which drops as you age.(4)
Being dehydrated will affect almost every part of your life including. (5)
The question is how much water do you need to stay hydrated?
The answer depends on a variety of factors, including size, age, activity level, and climate.
Another factor to consider is that pure water is useless for your body, you actually need electrolytes to absorb it properly. This is why drinking around meals is especially valuable.
The National Institute of Health has published intake guidelines on various nutrients which you can look at HERE.
According to the report on water and electrolytes a resting adult male should consume about 2.5 liters per day.(6)
If he is moderately active it should be increased to about 3.2 liters per day.
It is important to note that being in a cold environment does not lower the water you need. But a hot environment does raise it.
With regard to women the report states “Limited data were available for women. Women are physically smaller, thus they probably have lower water requirements due to lower metabolic expenditures.”
I recommend that women consume 2-3 liters a day, and men 2.5-3.5 liters a day as a starting point.
Then you should adjust your intake based on how hydrated you are.
The color of your urine is an easy and reliable(7) method for checking your hydration state.
The most popular way of doing this is a chart created by Dr. Lawrence Armstrong; you can find a great digital one (and sign up for a paper one) HERE.
The chart is not perfect as there are many factors besides hydration that can affect your urine color. But it is a great starting place for most people.
Often people intuit that they are eating too much “junk.” Then they search for (and start) a “diet” to remove the junk.
However, this is the exact opposite of what is fundamentally wrong with how most people eat.
The first rule of good nutrition is get enough of the nutrients that you need.
Say you decide to build a nice solid brick house to protect you from the big bad wolf.
If you don’t have any bricks, you won’t get very far.
What if you have the bricks but don’t have the cement to stick them together? What if you have bricks and cement but don’t have the tools you need?
Your body is very skilled and creative when it comes to keeping you functioning.
But no amount of skill can fully compensate for lack of resources. If there are no bricks, but there are sticks, you can still figure out how to build a house. But the house might not hold up well to stress. If there are no sticks but only straw available then the house will be even weaker.
Also food “cravings” are often the result of nutrient deficiencies. All natural unprocessed sweets are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber.
Brown sugar is not a natural unprocessed sweet. Molasses is not a natural unprocessed sweet.
A stalk of sugar cane is a natural unprocessed sweet.
You cannot get fat chewing on stalks of sugarcane.
Fruit is the most common natural unprocessed sweet. All fruits are great sources of nutrients. Which is why your body associates sweet with nutrient density.
Unfortunately with processed sugars the only nutrient they are dense in is...sugar. Which won’t stop the craving if your body is searching for other nutrients.
Chances are that your body is searching for nutrients.
Research done by Dr. John Berardi while he was at the University of Western Ontario showed that 85-90% of exercise and nutrition students were deficient in a key nutrient.(8)
Instead of eating less bad food, focus on eating more good food.
Supplements are not enough. The absorption levels are often much lower than the intake and we still don’t know all the nutrients your body needs.
But we know all the nutrients that are found in real food and if you eat a variety of real food you will be ok.
Your focus should be tons of fruits and veggies (at least 5 servings a day of different colors and types) as well as whole food sources of protein and healthy fat.
Once you increase the good stuff there is simply less room (as well as less craving) for the bad stuff.
Too much of anything is bad for you!
Think of this typical day for many people (maybe you are one of them)…
Sit and eat breakfast, then sit in a car on the way to work. Get to your desk and sit down for the entire workday. Sit in the car on the way from work, get home, and sit on the couch to watch TV. Sit in front of a laptop to get some things done, then sit down and eat dinner. Sit while slouched over your phone, then get ready for bed to do it all again...
Too much sitting is dangerous. In fact, seated office workers suffer from more body injuries than workers in every other industry including construction, metal, and transportation.(9)
This means that sitting for a living is more dangerous than lifting heavy objects for a living.
Some common ramifications of too much sitting are:(9)
The amounts of sitting we are doing are large contributors to the rising obesity rates and health care costs.
Your body needs to rest, but rest does not always mean sitting. In fact, the best rest you can get is walking.
We call this active recovery. Light movement helps you recover better than no movement.
A good example of this is the standing desk. An effective standing desk isn’t designed to help you stand still. It is designed to help you move in place while still being able to work at a desk.
We can’t maximize movement well in a sitting position while working. This is because your hips are the prime movers of you body and they are locked into a half folded position and grounded.
So first find ways to minimize the time that you sit down.
Leisure activities are the low-hanging fruit. Going for a walk is better than sitting down and watching TV for entertainment.
These days you can even watch TV on a treadmill.
After you increase the activity level of your leisure activities finding ways to be more active while working is next.
Some people choose to set up standing (or active) workstations.
If you can’t do this (or just don’t want to) you can also break up your sitting with movement breaks.
This could be as simple as standing up and stretching then sitting down and returning to work. The next level is to walk for a bit.
The best thing to do on these breaks is some self-massage or stretching that “un-does” the damage done by sitting.
The more frequently you do this the better. A reminder, such as a timer that goes off every hour to remind you to stand up, is an excellent idea.
If you live a sitting lifestyle I highly recommend another of Dr. Starrett’s books, Deskbound. It is a manual for how to manage a sitting lifestyle.
Stress is a very misunderstood term. What I really mean here is excessive stress.
Any intrinsic or extrinsic stimulus that evokes a biological response is known as stress.(10)
So everything is technically stress.
What we are really talking about when we use the word stress are things that are relatively challenging or cause a “sympathetic nervous system” response.
The sympathetic response is more commonly known as “fight or flight.” This is the bodily reaction to perceived harmful events, attacks, or threats to survival.(11)
The words “relatively” and “perceived” in the above two paragraphs are very important. Because stressors are relative to your ability and perception.
For example, let’s say I had you run 10k (~6 miles). There are people with heart conditions for whom this is too much stress, and it literally kills them. Others might finish, but be unable to function for the rest of the day. Others who could finish would get a good workout and go back to normal function.
But there are also ultra distance marathon runners who might do this as active recovery in the same way most people would use a 10 minute walk.
It is the “same” event, but the amount of stress it causes varies.
This is not limited to exercise - it is applicable to all types of stress. If you lost your job, had no savings, have a family to support, and are living paycheck to paycheck, it will cause massive amounts of stress.
On the other hand if you are a trust fund baby it might cause no stress at all. There is also everything in between. You can’t change the fact you weren’t born with a trust fund, but if you improve your financial situation the event of losing your job becomes less and less stressful.
Perception also affects how strong a stressor is. If you are a dog lover and you see a dog walking alone on the street, it might not affect you at all. Even if it barks at you.
But if you are deathly afraid of dogs and you see a lone dog, your response could be intense, causing you to run away with your heart beating in you chest. Unfortunately this will probably cause the dog to chase you.
If your stress response is in your head (perceived) and changes for everyone (relative), how do we know when you have too much stress?
By how you cope with it.
If the stress in your life is making you perform better, it is good. If it is not then it is too much (or in some cases too little).
Common signs of over-stress include low energy, headaches, stomach problems, aches and pains, tense muscles, chest pain, insomnia, nervousness, dry mouth, and loss of sexual desire.(12)
There are two options for dealing with excessive stress: remove some stress or learn to cope with it more effectively.
Removing the stressor is straightforward. If you are afraid of dogs, don’t hang out around dogs.
If you have financial stress you can lower your expenses (or earn more money) and start saving. If winter stresses you out you can move to a warmer climate (I chose to do this).
But this strategy isn’t always possible. In this case you need to handle the stress better, which is commonly known as de-stressing. A more technical way of saying this is activating your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as rest and digest, the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system.
There are an infinite amount of ways to do this; what is important is that you find some strategies that work for you. Some ideas are: breathing exercises, meditation, spending time in nature, disconnecting from technology, listening to relaxing music, or playing with a pet.
If you have some ways that are working well for you I would love to hear them, so send me a quick email at David@Magenfitness.com
Make some time in your schedule to regularly de-stress and start experimenting with ways to find what works for you.
Getting fit isn’t just about exercising more.
It is about putting your body in a situation where it makes itself fit.
If you are forgetting one of these basics, exercise is likely to make your life worse, not better. If that happens you are unlikely to keep exercising.
Set yourself up for success so you can enjoy a lifetime of fitness.
1 - Supertraining p.162
2 - It should be noted that there are general warm ups that seek to optimize the nervous system in a general sense. A good example of this is the Original Strength system. You can learn more about it at https://originalstrength.net/
3 - https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/10-results-sleep-loss
4 - https://water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html
6 - https://www.nap.edu/read/10925/chapter/6#88
7 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28802286
8 - https://www.precisionnutrition.com/balanced-diet-isnt-enough
9 - “Deskbound” Dr. Kelly Starrett
10 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5579396/
11 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fight-or-flight_response