The general opinion about getting into excellent shape is that it requires amazing willpower, dedication, and an endless grind. I would argue that you can get lean, strong, gain endurance, and have amazing energy with relatively little effort.
I am a firm believer that the reason we want to make it so complicated is that it is easier to kill ourselves at the gym for a few months and then quit, than it is to systematically make lifestyle changes that produce sustainable results.
You don’t have to struggle to get into amazing shape and have lasting health. It’s simply a decision.
Let me give the 4 most important areas to understand once you are serious about addressing your lifestyle.
1. Make Long-term Health the Goal
Yes, even if you are trying to get six pack abs or dominate the obstacle course run, your focus should always be health. The things that provide us with the greatest longevity and overall well-being tend to be the same things that will get us lean and improve overall fitness.
By focusing on optimizing health by sustainable means, you will achieve all the physical goals along the way.
It’s so easy to put the emphasis on an arbitrary number. I will say this until I’m blue in the face, if you adopt short-term behaviors to achieve a number on the scale, it is inevitable that the weight will come back on. The short-term behaviors will cease, you will return to old habits, and then it’s back to the old weight.
Progression is the key. Most people want everything all at once. If you progress one habit at a time, the pay-off is further down the road, but the steps are relatively easy and the results tend to stick.
I hear the statement “trust the process” a lot. But it’s often regarding something that’s not a process at all. It usually means “trust that this pain will get you some fast results, just keep holding on!!”
A process is one where one thing leads to another. If you are willing to handle the bumps along the way and truly trust the process, you will see long-lasting results
2. Place Effort in Planning
All that willpower you are accustomed to mustering up for a long week of discipline simply needs to be transferred to a solid plan on a weekly basis.
Make the exercise and food decisions in advance so that in the moment you don’t have to fret over sticking to the plan. This means writing out meals for the week. Set aside 30 minutes and plan your shopping list and meals.
I’m not a fan of the 4-5 hour Sunday food prep for the simple fact that it seems to be unsustainable long-term. Anything that requires a massive block of time is not likely to stick. What if you get busy and miss your prep day? It usually means the week is shot and you are completely thrown out of your rhythm.
Instead, learning some quick and healthy meals that can be prepared in 15-30 minutes on a daily-basis helps to establish a habit and routine. If you tell me you don’t have time, then hand over your flat screen and smart phone.
Ironically, when we take the time to plan and build a structure, we have more energy and can better handle a hectic schedule.
3. Practice Focused Exercise
Why is it we feel the need to go from couch potato to Olympic qualifier? Would you believe that you can get a sufficient workout to build muscle, get lean, and feel awesome without leaving your living room? It all comes down to focus.
This is easy in the sense that it’s convenient, but I think a lot of people would prefer to do mindless exercise on a treadmill than take just few moments of intense focus in the comfort of their own home.
Before working out you must ask yourself “what am I trying to accomplish?” Focused intensity is what saves time and gets steady results. Ultimately you are trying to tax muscle to spur fat burning, improve cardiovascular function, and build muscle. This does not require hours on cardio equipment or lifting weights and can be done in as little as 15 minutes a day with just your body weight.
4. Trade the Meat for More Vegetables
If you think you eat enough vegetables, you don’t. Only 9% of Americans eat the recommended 2-3 servings a day . Double the amount you’re eating and you’re not even getting close to what will optimize your health. This is one where our culture has massively skewed our perception of what is healthy.
We tend to mask vegetables with a sauce or oil so that our taste buds have been endlessly rewarded with a strong sense of savory and sweet. To many people, some vegetables can border on repulsive.
Get ready to gasp, you should be eating AT LEAST 8-10 serving of vegetables alone on a daily-basis if you want to watch your health and fitness skyrocket. Does this mean becoming a vegan? Nope. It also doesn’t mean you must go hungry.
We hear the term “plant-based” and grimace because it brings up images of piles of kale and spinach with a side of broccoli. Providing your body with an endless supply of nutrients will give you high energy, hormonal balance, and ratchets up fat burning.
The myth has been perpetuated that if we don’t have meat in every meal, we are going to wither away. I assure you that you get plenty of protein and can spare a few calories for the veggies. Try getting a little crazy with this and see what happens.
So to recap, first you want to adopt the “health first” philosophy, then you build the structure of your lifestyle, next you practice efficient exercise, and finally you load your diet with nutrient density.