Learn to love the PROCESS

There are two views we can take on our goals. One is a process orientation, and the other is an outcome orientation. Naturally most of us tend use the latter, but the former is a much more productive view.

We spend so much of our lives focused on a future outcome that we are unable to enjoy the moments that go by until we get there. This is true of any aspiration you may have in your life whether it be fitness, financial, relationship, or any other type of goal. The first problem with this is; what a waste of part of your life! However long it takes you to lose that 10 pounds or make that six-figure income is time spent so focused on a future achievement that the present moment is wasted.

The other major issue with an outcome focus is that the accomplishment of the goal often does not bring the satisfaction we were hoping for. Our goals are always a moving target. Once we make 50k we want 100k, once we hit that we want 200k. There is nothing wrong with continually striving for more, except that if you will “only be happy when” you get to a certain outcome you will never be happy. Staking our happiness on the destination is setting us up for a pretty disappointing life.

Instead learn to love the process. Enjoy every minute of work put into the goal. Be proud of yourself for the effort you exert every day. Appreciate the continual growth you see in yourself as you chase your dream. Fall in love with the daily grind. When you take this outlook you will enjoy the days, months and years leading up to the goal. And, more importantly, it won’t really matter whether you get there.

I have huge, daunting goals I have set for myself in fitness, career, and life. These goals are going to take YEARS of work to get anywhere near accomplishing. If I hated what I was doing each day, and was waiting to be happy for this end result, I would waste years of my life exhausted and miserable. And potentially never even getting to that illusive “happy place.” Instead I use these goals as a motivator and a guide for my daily pursuits, but I enjoy all of the blood sweat and tears I put in along the way.

This means you have a couple options. You either learn to love what you’re doing, or change it. If you hate the job you’re doing, but it will lead to a comfortable retirement, is it really worth the decades you spend miserable? If you hate dieting and cardio do you really want to be a bodybuilder? Sometimes we learn to love things as we spend more time with them, but we also need to realize when this just won’t be the case. If something makes you miserable leave it behind!

So no more “I’ll be happy whens”. Don’t wait for retirement to enjoy this life. Love it every day.

 

Keys to Making Progress in the Gym

I see so many people at the gym sabotaging their gains because they either don’t do nearly enough, or do way too much. Some people don’t want to get huge or are afraid of injury so they don’t use enough weight, or only train a couple times a week. It is nearly impossible to make any gains without consistent training and decent volume. Others of us have a more is better mindset and push our bodies to the limit every day. Training in this constant state of fatigue is just as detrimental to progress as not training enough.

So how much volume and intensity should you be doing? This is an extremely difficult question to answer, as it is very different for each person based on genetics, gender, training experience, etc. For example, women can generally handle more volume than men. Also, the more trained you are, the more volume you can handle. It will take time for you to figure out for yourself, but I will give you a few ideas to start you out.

#1. You must work, and you must work hard.

In order to see progress, whether is be in gaining muscle, strength, or endurance, you must provide enough stimulus to the body in order for it to adapt. This includes volume and intensity. If you go to the gym and only do a couple sets, barely breaking a sweat you will not see results. If on the other hand, you do a lot of sets, but do not use heavy enough weights to cause damage to the muscle you will also not see results. The same can be said for endurance training. If you want to improve your 10k time you will not do this by running short distances once in a while (not enough volume) or by walking 10 miles every day (not enough intensity). You have to push your body in order for it to change. Working out should be hard.

#2. You must progress your workouts as you progress.

This is probably where I see the most people go wrong. In order to keep improving you have to keep progressing your volume, your intensity, or both. Many of us start out on our workout journey, see some gains, and continue to do the same workouts with the same weights over and over again. Our bodies adapt to the stimulus we put on them, so progress will come to a halt if you are not consistently increasing the stimulus. If you squat 100lb for 5 sets of 5 your body adapts and gets stronger. So in a couple months of doing this workout it will be easy for you, and you will have to lift more weight in order to keep getting stronger.

#3. Recovery is king.

Something that many of us don’t realize is that gains don’t happen in the gym, they happen when you’re recovering from the gym. When you hit a hard workout you cause damage to the muscles. Then when you are relaxing or sleeping your body repairs the muscles, and this is when they grow. This means that if you train too hard too often your body will not have the time to repair itself before your next sessions. If you never allow your body the time and give it the resources (proper nutrition) to recover, you will never see any progress. The more recovery you allow, the harder you can train. If you are unable to get proper sleep, nutrition, or have too much stress, you will need to reduce your training volume accordingly. Recovery is just as important as training, so don’t ignore it.

 

It all comes down to finding the balance of pushing yourself hard enough to make gains, but not so hard that you are unable to recover. Finding that balance is tricky, as it is different for everyone, and is a constantly moving target. (The fitter you are, the more volume you will be able to handle). What you really have to do is learn to listen to your body. Start by making sure your workouts are hard. They should hurt, the weight should feel heavy, you should feel tired, and you should get sore. BUT it should be possible. Don’t go so far that you can’t finish the reps without extremely long breaks, or that you can’t move the next day. Then make sure you do everything you can to recover. This includes eating plenty of healthy food, sleeping, and relaxing. The best way to determine if you have recovered properly is how your next workout goes. For example, if you do 5 sets of 10 squats at 100lb on Monday, then on Thursday, your next leg day, you struggle to do 100lb for a set of 6, you are not recovered from Mondays workout. In general, if you are struggling to accomplish something that is typically doable for you, you likely need more time to recover.

It will take some trial and error to find the amount of volume that your body can handle, but once you find that sweet spot you will see great progress. The secret to all the gains: train really hard, but not too hard 😉

 

How should you train?

I think one mistake that a lot of us make is pigeon holing ourselves into one specific style of training. I’ve seen so many people get stuck doing bodybuilding style training day after day, year after year, never getting any different results. I see the same thing with cardio queens, who do tons of cardio every day, and their progress has stalled out, but they just push harder. When we learn a training style, and see results (which you inevitably will at the beginning of any program) we convince ourselves that this specific training style is best. We never even think about trying anything else

One major problem with this is that it is likely that whatever style training you began with is no longer optimal for your goals. This could be because your goals have changed, or your body has adapted and is ready to progress. For example, if you start out training each body part one day per week, you will very likely see gains at the beginning. This is because you have gone from zero to one. As you get bigger and stronger, though, gains become much harder to come by. For this reason, you should progress your training as you progress. When one day per week becomes easy, add a second day. Also, if your goals have changed from wanting to get big to wanting to get strong your training must change accordingly. Different goals require different training methodologies to obtain.

Another problem is staleness, both physically and mentally. I don’t know about you, but I get really bored going into the gym and doing the same thing every week. If you are bored with your training you are unlikely to push yourself, and will tend to just go through the motions. If you are not putting effort into your training you will not see improvements. Our bodies also develop adaptive resistance. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the first time you do a new exercise you get extremely soar, and a little less sore each time after, eventually not getting sore at all. This is because our bodies get used to a certain stimulus, and will see little to no progress with that same movement. It is important to switch things up to avoid this issue.

Something else that I have found in trying out numerous different training styles along my fitness journey, is that they all tend to be lacking somewhere. If you want to be the best overall athlete that you can be, I don’t think any one type of training will get you there. Specifically, bodybuilders tend to look good, but not be extremely strong. Powerlifters are incredibly strong, but are usually pretty out of shape in cardiovascular fitness. Crossfitters are very fit, but have imbalances due to a lack of accessory work. If you get stuck in one training style you are likely missing out on the benefits of others. I think that even if you are competing in a sport it is beneficial to draw from other sports to enhance your performance, especially in the off-season or further from a competition.

So what’s my advice?

  • Make sure your training is appropriate for your current goals
  • Make sure your training progresses as you progress
  • Make sure you at least switch up exercises or rep ranges when your body (or mind) adapts
  • Make sure your training program isn’t missing an important link

Ultimately I think that the best training program is a combination of many other programs. This is how I program for myself as well as my clients. I think that every training style has benefits that can all be utilized to create one well-rounded program. You can be strong, fit, and look good all at the same time. So try everything! This doesn’t mean you have to ditch your current training style completely, but try switching it up every once in a while. You might find something you love, while getting better results along the way.

 

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Why You Need a Plan

Many of us are somewhere on our fitness journey, but are unfortunately headed nowhere fast. This often isn’t due to a lack of effort or even inconsistency but just a lack of planning. You need a plan because it’s the only way to ensure you get where you are trying to go.

For years I went to the gym every day with no plan at all or just a body part in mind. I would get there and start picking random exercises. Some days I would have an awesome workout, and others it was, “well at least I went, right?” And I made progress. I definitely got a little fitter and built some muscle. But I didn’t make nearly as much progress as I could have made with a plan. Now I write my programs weeks or months in advance.

When you go into the gym knowing what you’re going to do you will tend to get a lot more accomplished. You’ll spend less time debating what exercise you want to do next and more time getting the work done. Even on days you’re not feeling it, when you would normally do a couple exercises and leave, you get in there and check everything off your list. Planning ahead keeps you accountable every day.

Just as importantly, when you put a training plan in place everything within each workout is there for a specific reason, and each workout contributes to the bigger picture. When your workouts are strategically created to work together in a specific way, you will yield the best results. If you do not plan ahead, it is easy to leave important things out, or overuse certain muscle groups. Having a plan directs your adaptations to accomplish your specific goals.

Now let’s look at nutrition.

When you ask most people how their nutrition is they say it’s pretty good. But what does that mean? Do you think that you “eat pretty healthy,” but have no idea what you’re actually eating? This is the case for most people. And it could possibly work for some, but that based on lucky guessing. The issue is, if you have specific fitness goals nutrition plays a large role, and “eating pretty good” probably won’t cut it.

The main determinant of whether you’re gaining or losing weight is total calories consumed. If you have no idea how many calories you’re taking in, and it varies greatly from day to day, how do you expect to lose or gain the weight that you want? It becomes a game of luck. If instead, you track your food, and eat the same quantity each day, it becomes extremely simple to alter your plan to get the results you want.

Macronutrients also play a large role in both body composition and athletic performance. Not planning and tracking your macros can lead to undesired outcomes. Most often we tend to eat a lot more fat than we realize, and for most people, keeping fat pretty low is the optimal diet. If you want the best results you have to feed your body the proper way to get there.

 

If you take a road trip, you are going to reach your destination a lot faster if you have a route mapped out to get there, rather than driving around aimlessly. When we have no plan in place we are relying heavily on luck to achieve our goals. I think it is a better option to set a plan that will take you exactly where you want to be.

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Goal Setting

I am a goal junkie. I am completely obsessed with goal setting. I set goals every day for every aspect of life. While I may take it a bit overboard, I do believe that goal setting is a very beneficial technique for accomplishing anything in life.

Most of us have been taught to use the SMART (specific, measurable, adjustable, realistic, time-bound) acronym for goal setting. I think this is definitely an important step, as it helps to create optimal goals. Because this is a commonly covered subject, I am going to skip it and instead talk about a couple crucial parts of goal setting that I find are often ignored or forgotten.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Goals

I’d loosely define a long-term goal as one that takes 6 months or more to accomplish, and a short-term goal as anything shorter than that. Where we go wrong here is using one without the other. Having both short and long term goals is so important. A long-term goal is the destination, and a short-term goal is the map to get there. If we are missing either one of these we will end up lost.

First, set your big exciting long-term goal (make sure it’s S.M.A.R.T.). Once you have that, fill in the time it will take to get there with smaller short-term goals. There are two techniques I use to fill in short-term goals. One is to divide your goal by the months you have to get there. For example, if you want to lose 100 pounds in a year you would divide 100 by 12 months. Your short-term goals would then be to lose 8.33 pounds each month. The other is to work backwards from your goal date and set milestones. For example, my goal is to lift a 900 pound total at USAPL nationals. My current total is 766. I found a qualifying meet that gave me 6 months before nationals, so I set my goal for that meet at 830 pounds, or about half way between my current total and goal total.

Long-term goals are important so we know where we are going, but short-term goals provide the necessary steps and keep us on track to get there.

Process vs. Performance Goals

The other distinction we often fail to make is between process and performance goals. Process goals are focused on the specific practices you will engage in, and do not take outcome into account. Examples would be things like “I will lift weights 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes,” or “I will run 3 times a week for at least 1 mile.” It is important to include process goals in your plan, because it will enforce the behaviors necessary to accomplish your long-term goal.

Performance goals, on the other hand, are focused on improving your performance in a certain area. “Improve my mile time by 5 seconds,” and “do 5 more pushups,” would be examples of performance goals. The benefit of this type of goal is that it pushes you to be better. It is important, though, that these goals be focused on improving your own performance, and are not a comparison to anyone else.

I highly recommend including both process and performance goals in your plan. I think it is more common to use performance goals, but process goals are often forgotten. Process goals will ensure that you are creating the habits and building the consistency needed to accomplish bigger goals. Performance goals will motivate you to work hard during the process rather than just go through the motions.

 

Goal-setting is much more than coming up with a SMART goal. Ultimately, you should have daily process goals that get you to your short-term performance goals, which are stepping-stones to your big long-term goal. These are all pieces to the puzzle, and without all the pieces the picture won’t come together as planned.