In the late spring of 2006, I packed all my personal belongings into my old Saturn SL1 (which had about 80 hp on a good day) and started on the long drive from Port Charlotte, FL to Schenectady, NY. I packed my final bag into the backseat and I got out the map to reexamine my route north (75 to 10, 10 to 95, etc.). I figured that the whole trip, if I didn't stop, was going to take about 23 hours. I got through the southern states pretty easily and was cruising by the time I got to Washington D.C. I was revved up and excited to get back home and I figured since I got this far just cruising, I could ramp it up and get back faster, so my foot got heavy and I started accelerating, passing cars as I headed towards the signs for 87, the final stretch. I was feeling great because I was going to be back early; I could unpack and meet some friends. It was going to be awesome. I was feeling so good that as I was passing cars on the left, I ended up passing the exit as well! I ended up having to go through Philadelphia and jump on two different highways before I could find my way back to the road I needed. Luckily I made it safely home about the same time I had originally estimated; I just added a full tour of the City of Brotherly Love.
If you are asking how this road trip relates to fitness, I don't blame you, but look at it this way. Everyone who starts some sort of exercise program has a goal or destination. This goal is going to take some time to achieve and you are going to have to map out a plan to reach it. Many people still start a program with intentions to achieve something and then just wing it. For example, start on the treadmill for 10 minutes; do some arm curls; go use the band for something because that guy in the Under Armour shirt used it. Imagine being in Port Charlotte, wanting to get to New York with no map (this was before I knew the genius of GPS) and just start driving around until you get to the city. How long would it take you to get there? It's the same with having a fitness program, and this is why many people struggle with the same goal for years! They don't have a plan. You need to get your road map out.
I understand that you have a goal and you want to get to it fast, so you go as hard as possible with your workouts; push it to the limit and your co-workers will ask if you're okay because you are painfully shuffling your feet around the office the next day after your workout from the day before. Is this the right approach?
The answer is—it depends.
I know, total cop out, but let me explain. A vital part of striving towards reaching a new level in your fitness is pushing yourself hard and staying focused. HealthPlex fitness pro, Amy Jones, has used the analogy of a "light switch". When it is time to go for it, you turn your switch on, and you're on. You give it a heightened focus, plan down to a T, and make big strides towards improving fast. One of the best examples I've seen of turning the switch on is a future bride preparing for her wedding. Talk about an event you want to look your best at.
Another example is marathon runners. They will go off food before they go off their running program before a big race. These are examples of accelerating your progress, but this doesn't mean you should train like this every time you step into the gym. Unless you have no other responsibilities except training, eating, and sleeping, it is mentally and physically draining to keep this intensity up 365 days a year. You will lose motivation, stop making gains, or lose your focus and go off-course. This is a big reason why most people stop exercising after 6 weeks of starting. The go too hard, too fast, drain all their energy, and can't get the focus back.
Health and fitness is not a quick fix, no matter what goal you have. It can be the most influential aspect of your life. Here are some key tips to getting in top shape properly:
1.) Know your calendar. Mark down events and times of higher demand or stress and you can plan out your training more easily. I know that when I work with parents of young kids in December, I know they have so many holiday parties, concerts, shopping nights, etc. and that it's probably not the best time to ramp it up. Know those key dates and plan around them.
2.) Take 6 weeks to ramp it up. Between work, school, kids, and other responsibilities, it is tough just to find time to get training in. The worst thing is for your workout to add stress to your life. That is why it is best to ramp it up within a timeframe. I have found that 6 weeks is a good time period for most people to really push the intensity and focus in their training. Most of the challenges and programs we offer at HealthPlex are 6 weeks long for this reason.
3.) Set a deadline. Just like the future bride mentioned earlier who knows that she needs to reach her goal by a specific date, putting a deadline to your ramp up will keep you focused during this time. Even if it is not a major event, put down a date and hold yourself to it. If your goal is to get back into your old jeans, put a date down and try on the jeans on that date.
4.) Plan your down time. Even when you are not ramping it up, you still need to train. You can still make gains while in your down time, but you should know your training program well so you don't fall into the trap of winging it. This is a good time to try something new. If you are looking at building strength up, try a kettlebell class, or learn how to use suspensions. Enter into a light competition, such as a 5k or a summer softball league. Enjoy this time to stay fit so you can ramp it up when you need to again.
In my experience as both a fitness professional and a human with goals, I have learned that you have to ramp it up and push yourself if you are going to break through barriers and make big gains. However, I have made some bigger gains during times when I was on cruise control because I tried something new or found something to add that helped me the next time I ramped it up.
In Dan John's new book Intervention (which I highly recommend) he refers to these workouts as park bench workouts and bus bench workouts. When on a park bench, we take time to enjoy the view, without much agenda or deadline. When on a bus bench, we are on a deadline, and we need the bus to come at a specific moment to keep on track.
Follow this track, plan ahead, and be fit for life!
HealthPlex Fitness: The Functional Movement Experts.