The 10 Commandments of Fitness
1. Thou shalt eat to feel good and look good
Jim Gaffigan said it best in his stand up routine, "Well, I ate pancakes this morning ... guess I’m not showering today." A symbiosis exists between nutrition and exercise. When you eat non-nourishing food, you lack energy for exercise. When you're sedentary, you're also likely to eat out of boredom. I'm not innocent of indulging in the late night snack — nobody is perfect — but the truth is, you don’t have to make huge changes to see results. When I eat healthy food early in the day, I'm more inclined to eat healthy and be active the rest of the day. Don’t deny yourself an indulgence here and there — no food is so bad that you should never eat it. (Except perhaps artificially engineered food components like hydrogenated oils, to which I will dedicate more time in a later post.)
2. Thou shalt count calories in and calories out
There is nothing magical about losing weight. It's a simple matter of eating fewer calories than your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) burns. (You can estimate your BMR with calculators online, although if you want an exact number, it is best to consult a nutritionist.) To lose weight, find your BMR and eat less than it, or increase your BMR through exercise and building muscle. Of course, as stated in commandment one, eating nutritious foods will send you on your path to health much faster.
3. Thou shalt move to lose
Ever wonder why you aren't reaching your weight-loss goals in spite of hitting the gym and being smart in the kitchen? My old workout regimen consisted of isolated muscle exercises, but over time I realized I was not reaching my goals of becoming more defined and athletic. I realized I was not training properly. Fitness isn't just about isolated workouts and specific diets. It's about your whole body. One great way to see this is through full body, compound exercises. Whether high-intensity (such as the interval workout I provided last week) or low-intensity (a walk around the neighborhood), using your body as a synchronized unit is a very effective way of losing weight and feeling better.
4. Thou shalt not spot reduce
Believe it or not, the jury is still out on spot reduction. Much like the previous commandment, the rule here is that body fat is reduced body wide. Endless crunches will not give you six-pack abs if you are generally overweight. 30 minutes of running on the treadmill might be just as effective. The only way to get that flat stomach you're wanting is to reduce overall body fat and build lean muscle. Once the body fat is sufficiently low, the abs can then be trained to grow and show under the existing fat. Visible abs are very hard to come by except for those who are incredibly conditioned or naturally very lean. Confusion surrounding this fact has been capitalized on by companies with late-night infomercials, but it's a safe bet that almost all of them are as ineffective as they are expensive.
5. Thou shalt stretch
Stretching is one of the best things you can do to prevent athletic injuries and strengthen muscles. I tend to stretch after workouts, and not before, because I believe that having the muscles too limber prior to a workout can impede athletic performance. I do, however, make sure to warm the muscles and the joints before engaging in any physical activity. Stretching may also be part of the answer to many chronic muscular ailments such as lower back pain, runner’s knee and shin splints.
6. Thou shalt covet thy neighbor’s performance
We can’t all look and perform like celebrities or athletes. But why not use their knowledge and experience to better ourselves? Find an athlete or celebrity who's physique or physical fitness level you admire, then find how he or she attained it. Many celebrity or athlete training regimens or diets are available on the web, and this is a great way to incorporate new knowledge that you can be confident will work. For instance, I try to train like Ray Lewis, the linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens and my favorite football player. When I am tired during a workout, I envision the vigor and intensity that Ray would employ to push on and finish the workout strong. I also try to compare my quantifiable performance statistics to those of professional athletes, even if there is a huge disparity. A quick inspection of the NFL.com site or Olympic performances on YouTube will give you an appreciation for what the human body can do. The goal is to stay inspired in your workouts and set your goals high.
7. Thou shalt have fun
Workouts that are boring suck! Don’t force yourself to lift weights if you hate it. Likewise, don’t run on the treadmill if you get bored after five minutes. Find a physical activity that you love to do, and do it. Not only are there countless physical sports that train and condition the body, but through advances in technology, there are now video games that will not only work you out, but track your progress. Find what exercise format you are passionate about, and have fun doing it. Many times, there are multiple exercise formats that will get you similar results. For example, I hate running for long distances on the treadmill, so I started doing interval training instead. I ended up getting even better results from the intervals because I found myself more motivated to do them. And if exercising-for-exercise's sake isn't appealing, you can try a number of other reasonably intense physical activities for results. Gardening, home improvement, basketball, horse shoes ... you name it, as long as you're up and moving, you're improving. Find something that uses your body, and that you're willing to burn some calories doing.
8. Thou shalt find exercise
Exercise hides in unsuspecting places. Next time you clean your house, time yourself. Try to beat your time on the following cleaning. By simply moving your body slightly faster during daily tasks you will burn more calories. This is an idea we all know about, just like taking the stairs over the elevator, or walking instead of driving. If you're creative about it, however, there are tons of opportunities for this kind of exercise every day. Offer to carry your friends’ bags while shopping -- a keg from the car to the party! By becoming the designated workhorse, you will see these small pieces will add up -- and your friends will love you!
9. Thou shalt love thyself
Respect your body to get the most of it. Also understand that we are all different, and no two bodies will ever be the same. Now you might say, “Jesse, didn't you just tell us to admire athletes and celebrities?” Yes, I did, but those are in terms of goals, not reality. Most professional performance athletes and celebrities work out year round and have a team of trainers and nutritionists to help them. They can afford to pay people to keep them motivated and knowledgeable on the latest effective trends. In some cases, even though the person whom you admire may be skinnier or more muscular than yourself, it does not necessarily denote that they are overall healthier. Do what feels right for your body in terms of nutrition and fitness. The more you beat yourself up for gaining weight or skipping a workout, the less you’ll feel motivated to continue to make good choices. Be nice to yourself, you’ll stay happy and thank yourself later.
10. Though shalt connect mind and body
Getting your mind in sync with your body is a learned process. This includes listening to the body over time and recognizing patterns to make informed decisions and build good habits. This also means identifying what makes you feel bad, and what feels good. For example, I used to eat fast food all of the time. When my girlfriend explained to me that she never eats it because it made her feel like crap, however, I realized I had never really considered how certain foods made me feel. I started taking note of how I felt after eating fast food. I realized that it often makes me feel like crap for the rest of the day, and I often wake up feeling bloated with a sodium hangover the next day. This is something I hadn't noticed or didn’t care about before. After a long night, if I'm tempted to drive through a Wendy’s, I take a moment and think about how it will make me feel. This often outweighs how delicious I think the food will be, and I've realized that the food itself is rarely as delicious as I imagined it would be. Building the mind body-connection also includes using the mind to motivate the body in order to push it beyond the perceived feeling of fatigue. I always believe in remaining safe during a workout, and never pushing past the point of true exhaustion, but in my experience, the body often wants to quit before it's truly tired. Safely pushing yourself in any discipline requires careful and precise practice. Getting into the habit of pushing yourself when you feel tired is a necessary element of self improvement, and I've found it will translate to other facets of your life, making it more valuable than just in the case of a good workout.
Jesse Michel is a graphic designer at Mountain Xpress, and an active athlete. All opinions and advice presented here are his, and he is solely responsible for the content.