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Have You Taken the Next Step?

I respect the hell out of you.

I respect the hell out of those who have made the conscious decision to prioritize their health.

I respect the hell out of the concept of Paleo, the Paleo community, and everything that Paleo has come to represent.

With all of that said, I have even more respect for you if you’ve taken the next step.  What’s the next step?  Glad you asked…

The next step is replacing the word Paleo with [insert your name here].  After making this swap, Paleo becomes the gateway drug (and a damn good one at that) to a life-long pursuit of a grander high.  It kicks in the door to ideal health as defined by you.

As we all consume countless articles, blogs, resources, and studies and endlessly analyze and debate them (that’s what it means to be Paleo, right?), it becomes clear that health is a complex beast.  Complex enough to make your head hurt.  Very few things are inherently good or bad.  The right answer to any health-related query is almost always “it depends”.  Every cause and effect relationship relies on countless variables.

Navigating those waters is neither sexy nor easy, and that’s exactly why I respect the next step so much.

It is a journey from a safe construct to a confusing world.  It replaces “eat this, not that” with endless self-experimentation and customization.  It requires large doses of confidence, courage, and a sense of adventure.  Not to mention brass cojones.  This is where I shout out the Robb Wolfs and Amy Kubals of the world who are providing more detailed “next steps” like autoimmune protocols.  Clearly right for some and not right for others.

Now let’s shift gears, because this is not a post about nutrition.

Instead, we segue to exercise, the Robin to nutrition’s Batman (or vice versa if you prefer).  The “next step” analogy works just as well with exercise.

Since Crossfit is clearly the most popular exercise protocol in existence today and is forever connected at the hip to Paleo, let’s use it in our grand analogy.

Crossfit is like Paleo.  It is the gateway drug.  It is likely something that delivers outstanding initial results and kicks in the door to ideal health as defined by you.

Here’s the punchline.  In your exercise world, whether that has included Crossfit, P90X, 5x5s, or any popular protocol, have you taken the next step?  Just like moving past “eat this, not that”, have you moved past “lift this, not that”?  Do you have the confidence, courage, and sense of adventure to recognize where such programs are helping you, neutral, or hurting you?

Taking the next step took me years.  It took personal failures and triumphs.  It took milestones and injuries.  It took countless body composition fluctuations.

In my business of personal training and overseeing the health transforming journey of others, it took hundreds of client examples.

It was and is all worth it.  Ten fold.  One hundred fold.

That is why we’re here.  I want to help you navigate past the “should and shouldn’ts” and embrace exercise concepts that make you look, feel, and perform like a champion.  I want to help you attack the exercise world with the same vigor that you assess your response to dairy, grains, legumes, or any other food.

Here are 10 considerations for your personal exercise journey:

#1: It Starts With You

It’s ok to be selfish.  Really, really, really selfish.

The exercise discussion begins with your vision for you.  Nothing else matters.

Fight through the mainstream airbrushed visuals of perfection and theexaggerated transformation stories and the very human tendency to “keep up with the Joneses”.

What’s right for you?  Where do you stand today?  Where do you wish to stand in the future?

This is the starting line of your newfound courage.  Only you can script the appropriate sacrifice-to-results equation for your goals.

#2: Want vs. Need

As long as you are not tearing your body and health down, there is no right or wrong answer to the exercise equation.

There is no inherent need for barbells, kettlebells, TRX bands, or any other en vogue tool.  There is no inherent need for Barre, HIT, spin, or any other en vogue method of training.

These tools and methods are means to an end.  Some are undoubtedly better than others at achieving certain ends, but again, this is not a matter of necessity.

Do not let anyone belittle your exercise decisions because of their devotion to a particular set of tools or methods.

#3: Long-term > Short-term

I often tell my clients that I am paid to keep the long-term in mind.  I take this responsibility very seriously.

We’re all wired to highly value short-term results, and that makes this the most difficult item on the list.

Think back to your most “successful” weight loss or muscle gain experience.  You know, the one that you think back on so fondly.  You know, the one when you lost 30 pounds in 5 weeks…

…and, you know, the one that produced an equal or greater rebound shortly thereafter.  And, you know, the one when you put in seven intense workouts per week that tore you down and smashed your immune system.

Was this truly a successful experience?

The truth is that the body rarely holds onto such extreme results, and the truth is that these experiences are rarely healthy.

The most successful exercise program usually is not the one that generates preposterous short-term results.  It definitely is not the one that tears you down and results in a massive rebound.  It always is the one that makes others’ jaws drop after years (plural), not weeks (plural).

#4: Strength = First Priority

Improved strength is the great enabler.

Strength unlocks the ability to do anything you want safer and better.

This applies to you whether you wish to deadlift 500 pounds per repetition or you need to lift a small child 50 times per day.

Strength and its impact on musculature unlocks the ability to look and feel better.

This applies to you whether you want to be the next Ronnie Coleman or these popular Crossfit femmes (no ladies, contrary to popular belief, strength work will not turn you into a she-Hulk).

This revelation should not be intimidating.  In many instances, one strength focused session per week is plenty.  I’ve heard Keith Norris refer to a strength session as a “booster shot”, and that analogy works beautifully.

Make time for your booster shot.

#5: Have Some Fun

After recommending that you prioritize your booster shot, the remainder of your exercise world should revolve around the form of movement that you enjoy most.

I don’t care whether you enjoy Crossfit or Zumba.  Pumping iron in the gym or working bodyweight outdoors.  Old school Richard Simmon’s videos or new school Insanity videos.  Swimming or running.

To re-iterate a line from earlier, as long as you are not tearing your body and health down, there is no right or wrong answer to the exercise equation.

Let your freak flag fly, tune everything else out, and get on with your Prancercise.

#6: Know Why You Exercise

There is a quote from Dr. Doug McGuff that has stuck with me for a long time:

“Keep your training frequency such that you experience more days ‘above baseline’ than ‘below baseline’.”

In other words, if you are on your fifth stress fracture due to long-distance running (you know who you are), or you spend more time in a shoulder sling than out of it due to barbell lifts (you know who you are), or you regularly fry your central nervous system and spend weeks at a time recovering in the fetal position due to metcons (you know who you are), you may want to reconsider the purpose of exercise.

I’d argue that its purpose is to make you better.  To improve how you look, feel, and perform.  To leave you standing tall, proud, and productive.

The takeaway?  Appropriately dose your exercise.  Schedule your downtime.

It’s officially cool to rest and recover.  You heard it here.

#7: Let’s Talk About Your Form

Hot on the heels of our frequency discussion is one on form.

If you find yourself looking more like this guy than this guy, stop what you are doing.  Immediately.

I don’t care if you are being coached.  I don’t care if you are following a protocol.  Stop.  Right.  Now.

Respect risk versus reward.  Are those few repetitions in the moment really worth shelving yourself for a month with a nagging back injury?

Form first.  Intensity, speed, and weight second.  Period.  End of discussion.

#8: Training vs. Exercise

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend reading Mark Rippetoe’s “Crossfit: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”.

He discusses the concept of exercise vs. training, with exercise defined as movement producing an effect today, and training defined as movement producing a longer-term goal.

If you fall somewhere on the amateur-to-professional athletic spectrum, this is absolutely essential to understand.  You need to be training, not exercising.  Read Rippetoe.  Get the professional help you need to make this a reality, and stop spinning your wheels.

Everyone else, move it right along – exercising will do just fine.

#9: Consistency > Pursuit of Perfection

I’m sure you’ve heard quotes from top experts that promote working out in the morning.  Or maybe it’s the afternoon?

I’m sure you’ve heard quotes from top experts that promote working out fasted.  Or maybe it’s after a light meal?

Ignore all of these things.  What is your best bet?  To quote Larry David, “whatever works”.

Pretty...Pretty...Pretty Good.

Being a slave to the latest expert opinion gains you (at best) the final 5%.  Focusing on the final 5% is akin to getting your supplementation right and stacking it on top of a Ben and Jerry’s diet.

Address the 95%.  Adjust your workout variables to promote consistency.

#10: Stoke Your Inspirational Fire

Your exercise mindset is to be respected.  You cannot put your head down and power through long-term (that’s a short-term strategy).

Periodically assess the following variables to keep things fresh and your inspiration going strong:

  • Update your goals – You change each and every year and so should your goals.  Keep them current and make sure they represent the new you.  Do you need a new target?
  • Evaluate your environment – Look around during your next workout, and ask this question – is your workout environment inspiring you?  Whether you work out at home or at a top flight facility, assure that it is pumping you up and not putting you down.
  • Adjust your support system – Social support is powerful.  Do you need a workout partner or class crowd to push yourself a little further?
  • Tailor your music – My podcast co-host Dr. Colin Champ prefers Rihanna.  I prefer Killswitch Engage.  Change your workout tunes to whatever gets you moving.
  • Modify your pre-workout nutrition – What you eat (or don’t eat) before a workout makes a difference.  Don’t be a slave to it (see #9), but if you notice your performance suffering, make a change.

I have immense respect for the power of training.  It’s the path I have chosen for my life, and it brought me full circle from a chubby, insecure teenager to a fit, confident adult.  It can do the same for you and your unique set of goals.

Give the exercise world the same respect that you offer nutrition and it will pay huge dividends.

Here’s to your confidence, your courage, and your sense of adventure.  Here’s to taking the next step.

Header Pic: Whiteface Castle.  Licensed Under the Creative Commons.

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