10 things you should know about training before embarking on your next regime. A list for mountain guides, weekend warriors, and all those in between.
Many people around this time of year, myself included, will no doubt make a plethora of New Year's resolutions. The narcissist within all of us starts to dream of rippled abs, marathon legs, and a new PR on some badass Olympic lift. New goals, new horizons, new year. So why am I writing about this? Because I think I have recently managed a good bit of self-improvement and I think you can too. I am here to encourage those lofty goals and reinvigorate the dream of self-improvement that comes with every new year. If not for abs, for health. For wellness. For the feeling of waking up, knowing that you may not be your best self but, by god you are on your way there. And if you work hard and stick with it, the transformation will become apparent, for you and others, both inside and out.
For the past four months, I have been training under my coach Scott Ferguson, Ph.D. Scott, approached me at the end of my summer in the Cascades and asked if I would be interested in being an athlete of his, with the indefinite goal of making me the best alpinist I could be. Think endurance athlete + climber + power to weight ratio. Since then I have logged more hours in the gym than I can remember, had great days, shit days, and have tweaked my diet an endless number of times. Furthermore, I've probably experienced more emotions on a cardio machine than I would ever like to admit. But through all the work, all the sweat, and all the chaos, I have learned some invaluable lessons. Lessons that I hope, no matter your goals, will give you something valuable. Maybe reading these lessons will cause you to try something new, set your own goals, or lead you on the path to being in the best shape of your life. Regardless, I hope you enjoy the read and realize that there really is, no better time than now.
1. SET GOALS
The bottom line is you have to know what you are working towards. Anyone can go to the gym three times a week but if you don't know what you want you will inevitably waste your time focusing on the wrong things. Not to mention it is quite hard mentally to justify continuous devotion towards something if you don't know what that thing is. Set SMART goals. In other words, set goals that are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. This will allow you, or your coach, to implement the right exercises at the right volume, at the right time. A specific goal would be something like, run a half marathon by April 1st, touch your toes by your birthday, or climb the west buttress of Denali in May.
2. TRACK PROGRESS
Without some system of continued measurement, progress is meaningless. With modern phone apps like Strava, Training Peaks, and Movescount by Suunto it is extremely easy to manage your progress along any sort of timeline. The free versions work very well and for most of us that might be all we need. If on the other hand, you hire a professional coach, are getting serious about planning your own regime or competing with others than the paid versions might be for you. The gallery below shows examples of each of the aforementioned applications, which I use, and some pertinent information regarding each of them. Click on the images for more information.
3. MONITOR YOUR VITALS
How do you know how much work you are doing? Well, basic caloric metrics can be applied to any workout if you know your weight and age but every BODY is different (see what I did there?). And what does a calorie count really mean to you? Besides the good feels, not much. The only way to be 100% accurate on how your specific body is reacting to your specific training loads is to monitor your vitals. One of the most valuable things I have yet done with my training was to buy a Heart Rate monitor. For the whopping $60.00 price tag it has an astronomical return on investment. Most monitors these days can sync with a smartphone or smartwatch... I have done both. Not only will this little diddly tell you how hard you worked, it will also tell you what heart rate zone you are currently working in. Don't want to spend the cash? Grade your performance post workout with a letter grade. Too many C's and you know you're working too hard.
4. NUTRITION IS KING
There is no other study in today's society surrounded by more pseudoscience than that of diet and nutrition. So do your homework. There are no quick fixes, and if a diet seems too good to be true, it probably is. Nutrition makes up the foundation to which all of our effort and progress will be based so it's worth spending the time and getting it right. Although there are a million miracle diets out there, realize that every individual is different. Realize that you need something that you can stick with indefinitely. Not for a week, or a month, but for life. Creating eating habits that will stick with you for years to come is the true accomplishment here. And when in doubt on whether your food choice is a good or bad one, remember, "You are what you eat", and almost everyone can agree that the less processed the ingredients and the less refined sugars, the better. When you start to figure this one out, you will feel, look, and perform better than ever. For those interested in some of the pseudoscience behind nutrition check out the "What Should We Eat" podcast by Sam Harris and Gary Taubes. It is linked here, and highly recommended.
5. SLOW IT DOWN
I have learned that most people, including myself, have a tendency to work out way too hard. The thought that you have to be completely exhausted after a workout to see progress is not only wrong it may be doing more harm than good. Most of my training is cumulative, with multiple workouts a day, or only one rest day a week, and time and time again I am told that I should feel better after the workout than I did before. This has taken four months for me to comprehend and I think I am finally getting it. Like nutrition, fitness is a game made for the long haul. It's not what you can do for the next month, its what you can do indefinitely. Progress may seem slow but the results will come when they come. So walk those hills, take the weight down a notch and make sure you are in this for the long haul. Want to be 100% accurate that you are working your body in the right zones? Invest in a Heart Rate Monitor and see for yourself. As you can see on the figure to the right the majority of my training is in Zone 1, at or below 145 bpm.
6. TRUST YOUR BODY
There will be days when you feel like shit when your body aches from overworking when your diet is messing with your energy levels beyond repair, and when it seems like you are sliding backwards rather than pushing forward. In these times, trust your body. Maybe substitute a casual run instead of your hard HIT workout. Instead of bench press try push-ups. If you are doing some work, rather than sitting on your couch, than your probably progressing. If you really feel terrible, maybe you need a day off. We all have our ups and downs. With life comes uncertainty, so remember, every wave has a trough and a crest. So when you hit rock bottom that just means you're on your way right back up.
7. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
With access to just about any amount of knowledge you could desire the internet makes paying for things like a training program, or a coach seem obsolete. This could not be further from the truth. Working with a coach has allowed me to hone in on my specific goals and create a pathway to achieving them. You go to a professional to get your car serviced, your teeth cleaned, and to plan your lifetime financials...Why should your body be any different?
8. THERE ARE NO SHORTCUTS
If it's a quick fix, no matter the fix, it's probably wrong. If a diet says you can eat a million cookies or an exercise program that will give you ripped abs in only 7 minutes a day... they are probably frauds. Real progress, real results, take real effort and that means doing things that are hard, that means working out when its less than convenient, that means skipping dessert most days a week. Self-improvement above all else takes discipline and a true re-evaluation of life's priorities. It's not that we can't do most things, it's that we just don't care. So wake up and give a shit.
9. ACCOUNTABILITY IS PARAMOUNT
Nearly everyone will skip a workout, quit early, or manage to not go hard enough. Have I? Sure. But what I've found is that if someone is holding you accountable than you are far less likely to do it as frequently or at all. If you pay for a professional trainer then this part is pretty much-taken care of. If not you will need to figure out something that works for you. Find a friend, family member, or roommate to hold you accountable. Make yourself vested in your own self-improvement physically, emotionally, and socially. The larger your safety net of accountability the less likely you are to drop off, burn out, or give up.
10. HAVE FUN
One of the hardest things for lots of people sticking with a fitness program or diet is that they just get tired. They get bored of the same routine, the same food, and the same places. In all honesty, they just get burnt out. So make it fun. If you have the chance to run on trails rather than on a treadmill, take it. If you have group fitness classes to join well, try them out. Mix things up so you don't get stuck in a rut. Mix up your food, your exercises, your regime. Variety is the spice of life. So get out there, and make it LIT fam.