Something I’ve noticed recently is a move in the fields of exercise and nutrition, is a move towards more and more specialised solutions. Now, whilst I don’t think that’s a bad thing, and we certainly offer a number of services that do just that, from corrective exercise programmes to lab analysis, I don’t think that it’s always necessary.

Take one of my recent clients, we’ll call him Bob.

Bob eats ‘normally’, sleeps ‘normally’ and exercises/works out ‘regularly’.

What does that mean to Bob? It means he has a host of issues from fatigue, to joint pain, to gas, that he can’t explain, because he’s doing everything he’s supposed to. As a result he wanted to find the mystery reason why he’s having problems.

What does Bob’s story mean to me? It means he’s consuming too many refined or low quality foods, getting either poor quality or poor quantity sleep and he’s also likely to be developing muscle imbalances as a result of a poorly designed exercise programme (if he’s using a programme at all).

So why is there such a discrepancy in our viewpoints? Mainly because, with so much misinformation in the press and in the media, the average person simply won’t have the perspective necessary to determine good information from bad.

Now, at the risk of digressing slightly, let me hop up on my soap box for a second. I’ve spent the last 25 years studying exercise and nutrition and the last 20 years coaching and training people on those subjects. I’ve worked with people from all walks of life, of all age groups and with all manner of lifestyle works, literally hundreds of them.

As such I’ve had the opportunity to try most of the various exercise and nutrition theories on a large number of people, and consequently develop an ‘expert’ understanding of what works and what doesn’t, (I use the term ‘expert’ only in the sense that I train other industry professionals on these subjects, as well as writing educational texts for professional training providers).

And you know what?

Every day, I realise how much more I still have to learn. The human body is incredibly simple in some regards and yet incredibly complex in others.

So…….it always frustrates and astounds me when someone feels they can write their own programme or nutrition schedule, based on reading a few blogs or articles, or even completing a home study course. Because at the risk of sounding arrogant, I have an IQ of over 150, 25 years of academic study, 20 years of hands on practical experience of what works and what doesn’t, and I’m still learning. So if that’s true, how the hell can someone not in the industry, not studying and with only one subject, ‘get it’? Anyway, rant over.

Most of the time, what we do at Resilience Fitness is behavioural coaching. That means we focus on replacing sub-optimal or destructive behaviours with better ones. You see, we know after much study, practice and experience, what behaviours are required to get people the results they want, in 99% of the cases we encounter, (the remaining 1% are the times we normally get lab analysis, X-rays or MRI scans). The problem is that most people’s everyday lives are so far removed from those behaviours, that suddenly changing them is both impractical and ultimately unsuccessful (unless there is an amazingly powerful motivating factor, like a role in a movie, a wedding, serious illness/injury, etc.). So what we do instead is give people less than they’re capable of in some areas, and then we challenge them to excel in others. All of the goals however, progress the client towards the ultimate behaviours that will get them the results they want. Do they see benefits on the way? Hell yes. Generally we choose changes that have the biggest payoff, but require the smallest amount of effort. Not only does that help to keep our clients happy, but it also motivates them, because if those changes leads to ‘x’ results, then what else is possible?

The pace of our programme is also why we advise all of our clients to commit to at least three months of working with us. In that time they’ll see dramatic changes, but only if they commit to the process.

We’ll still work with people that want to go at it ad-hoc, but only if they’re serious and honest about the changes they want.

So, with that in mind, what should Bob be focussing on? The following are the cornerstones of every single successful programme out there. It doesn’t matter what it’s called, how it’s marketed or who’s behind it. If it’s successful, it’ll include these principles, (and by the way, my definition of successful is that it generates long-lasting health, well-being and performance benefits, not how much money it makes):

  1. Food is predominantly un-refined – The less that’s been done to your food, the more of the good stuff it contains you’re likely to get.
  2. Food is consumed when you want it – Various programmes advise 1, 3, 5 and even 7 feedings a day. The most successful ones are based on a system that works for you. The trick is making sure your nutrition needs are satisfied. If you can do that with one meal then great, but for most people that’s somewhere between 3-6 meals a day.
  3. Food tastes good – If your food tastes like crap, it doesn’t matter how good it is for you, sooner or later you’ll either stop eating it or become a food martyr. Both outcomes suck.
  4. Exercise is balanced – Everything is good, in moderation (including moderation). Most of the programmes we see are unbalanced and favour the things people ‘think’ they need to work on. On the odd occasion someone’s doing the right things, they’re unwittingly doing them badly. Why? Because they’ve never been shown or taught how to do them properly. Instead they’ve tried to figure it out for themselves. There are 7 fundamental movement patterns; horizontal push (bench press), horizontal pull (rowing), vertical press (overhead pressing), vertical pull (pull ups/pull downs), squat (lunges, step ups, split squats), hip-extension dominant (jumping, deadlifting, swings, hip bridging) and trunk rotation (uni-lateral throwing or twisting movements).  If you train all of these equally, you’re unlikely to become messed up. Obviously, if you’re already messed up, the odds are you’ll have to do more of the ones you’ve done less of to catch up.
  5. Exercise is meaningful/enjoyable – If you’re not getting anything intrinsically from your workouts, it doesn’t matter what the extrinsic value is. What I mean by that is, if you don’t enjoy your workouts or feel a sense of achievement/satisfaction from them, then you’re more likely to let life get in the way. One of the main benefits to client-testing is it gives people a sense of accomplishment to experience progress.
  6. There's a proper warm up before exercise - A proper warm up includes some myofascial release and exercises that prepare you for the work ahead. All of our clients are advised to use a foam roller or trigger point tools. Those that do, very quickly 'get it'. They also have a warm up schedule to complete before every workout. No-one performs at their best without a warm-up, and why would you want to get better at being your worst. If you're on the fence on this one then read this post by Bret Contreras reporting on a recent study done on foam rolling, and another post here from Eric Cressey on how to warm up properly.

Everything else, better sleep, improved mood, more energy, reduced inflammation, reduced illness, etc. all come as a result of doing the above.

So with that in mind, here’s the take home points.

  1. Focus on the big picture. If the basics aren’t in place then get those sorted first. In most cases that’ll get you the results you want, but if not and you still have a problem, it’s a lot easier to identify.
  2. Sort things out a little bit at a time. It should feel easy. Give yourself permission to take your time, unless you have a serious reason for not doing so. Focus on the end goals above and start moving towards them.
  3. Get help. Accept that you’re not the best person to help yourself, you’re too close. If you’re near us, then get in touch. If not, then get in touch any way, we may be able to recommend someone in your area who can help.
  4. Don’t take it too seriously. The key here is the ‘too’ part. It’s easy to become obsessed with some of these things and that can leech the fun out of almost anything. Stay focussed on what’s meaningful to you, but have fun along the way.