The New Year is something to be celebrated but for many of us, it’s full of false starts and empty promises made to ourselves. How disappointing!
Then again, how can it not be? Just look at the magazine covers we face:
Women especially are bombarded with superficial messages about how to finally lose the 10 pounds, solve our skin problems, get better hair, be “hot and happy” — as if the two can’t exist without the other — every year. Heck, every day!
No wonder we end up falling short year after year. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after years of failed attempts it’s this: Sustainable fitness is a way of being, not a destination. If we do it right, it becomes a lifestyle and we can automate the process of staying healthy as long as we follow a few guiding principles.
Here are the five key pillars for long-term, sustainable fitness, health, and general well-being that will make 2018 (and beyond) successful.
Pillar #1: Strength Train You Must
You know what the easiest way to lose 10 pounds is? Lifting weights.
Want to know how to manage stress better? Lift weights.
Curious about how to be hot & happy until you’re 80? You guessed it…lift some damn weights.
Strength training will always trump 7 days a week of straight jogging or detox programs of fancy tea and $500 juices. Think about it. Lean muscle mass makes up about 50% of total bodyweight in young adults but decreases to about 25% between the ages of 75 and 80.
My Brazilian grandfather lived to 98 years old. Ninety-freaking-eight! That’s before all the advances in healthcare, technology and medical science we have today. Retirement considerations aside, do you have a plan in place to sustain your health for that long?
If the answer is no, start looking at your exercise methods. No, you don’t have to give up doing marathons or SoulCycle, but you must still lift heavy ass weights if you want to keep your bones strong, your muscle mass intact, and have the physical freedom to move, drive, and live your life on your own terms well into your 80s. Strength training is a must.
Pillar #2: Get more ZZZZs
The most underrated recovery tool of all time is sleep. This applies to you whether you’re an athlete or a CEO of a billion-dollar company. This idea that in order to succeed in life we must work around the clock, “Sleep when you’re dead” or run off five to six hours of sleep is so ridiculous and ineffective that it makes me want to scream.
Sleep deprivation is so powerful on the human body and brain that it’s been used as a weapon of torture to create real psychological harm. Consider how moody, dysfunctional, and lethargic you feel after a bad night’s sleep. Now imagine feeling like that day in and day out.
If you’re aiming to get stronger or improve athletic performance, sleep aids the muscles and tissues to recover properly. If your goal is to maintain or lose weight, sleep loss can lead to increased blood pressure, cortisol secretion, and impair immune and metabolic conditions which could lead to more weight gain. See the problem?
Yes, life comes at us pretty hard and sleep suffers from time to time. But if you want to live long and happy and maintain a general level of fitness, then quit acting like martyr and get some sleep.
Pillar #3: Track the now, during, and after
When I talk to women about their fitness goals, I usually get something to the effect of “I want to look like what I did in college,” which is typically at least 10 years ago. It breaks my heart to hear this because this perspective does nothing to tell you about where you are right now, and therefore sets you up to fail from the get-go.
If you want to make a serious change in your fitness or health, quit looking backwards. You no longer live there. Instead, look at where you are right this second and ask, what is working? What isn’t working? What are my struggles right now? What is my lifestyle like right now?
It’s tempting to look at old pictures or old clothes and say “I want to look like this again.” But ultimately, that keeps us stuck in despair and dissatisfaction. If you’ve been using the past as “motivation” for your future self, stop it right now. Instead, take a look at your lifestyle now. Create an action plan that works with your current life as it stands now, and track your progress beyond the scale. Then, keep tracking yourself throughout the year to assess what’s working and what’s not working. This may sound intense for some but there are multiple ways to track progress without it taking much time:
- Take before, during, and after photos
- Write down your workouts and track the amount of weights you’re using
- Get your body fat percentage tested every few months
- Make notes about your energy levels, mood, skin quality, sleep quality, etc.
- Use one of those activity trackers to monitor everything for you
You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you are in the present. Start there.
Pillar #4: New tribe, who dis?
Surrounding yourself with the right community during key phases in your life will either accelerate your goals or keep you stuck. For example, when I was the half-marathon queen I joined running teams and became friends with more runners. We spent weekend mornings running together and then talked about races when we went out at night. It was amazing to be surrounded by that tribe and I cherish those years with my running buddies.
A few years later, I hung up my running shoes and started Olympic weightlifting. I joined a new gym and had to build a new tribe consisting of lifters to keep me motivated. Eventually that led me to powerlifting, and my powerlifting tribe became my accountability partners, teammates and workout buddies.
When your goals change, your tribe must also. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your old tribe, it just means you’re part of another one. Consider it an expansion of your community. If you’ve been failing at achieving your fitness goals the last few years, maybe it’s time to check your tribe and start building a new one. This can start with hiring an online coach, joining a gym with a strong community, participating in a race club, or getting involved in team sports so you meet like-minded people.
Pillar #5 Consistency is the main ingredient
With all these pillars to consider, number five is the glue that holds it all together. Consistency has nothing to do with willpower. It has nothing to do with accountability or motivation. Out of 365 days of the year, you might be motivated to show up for half of those days completely jazzed to workout and eat tupperware dinners. The other half might require literally dragging yourself to a workout, going through the motions, or just “clocking in” your time.
Last night I did this from my bedroom. I did a half-ass workout while watching Netflix and even though the workout itself was lame, I was proud of myself for just showing up and being consistent. I know myself well enough to know that by next week I’ll be well-rested enough and ready to workout hard.
So know this. Consistency is everything, but it doesn’t mean going 100% everyday, all year round. Some days we have it and some days we don’t, but what matters is showing up even on the days that don’t feel stellar and we’re just not in the mood. Show up for yourself.