Archive for the ‘Exercise’ tag
Last year I wrote The Unconventional Gym Bag: 5 Cool Things You Don’t Use and a few months prior, I wrote about Building the Perfect Home Gym. As expected, my training has evolved over the past year – and will continue to evolve – and the contents of my actual gym bag (and home gym) have also been upgraded. I take my training seriously – more seriously every year – and making sure I’m up-to-date on the latest and greatest is part of the fun.
While I’m a strong believer in self-experimentation, I also “keep it real” with basics in every training session. Loads of bodyweight workouts for general physical preparedness, and of course moving big iron for strength skill work. My strength & conditioning sessions (the primary choice for my entire adult life) consist primarily of the basics: kettlebells, deadlift, squat, bench press, and military press variations. Depending on my goals at the time, I vary the sets, reps, tempo, rest periods, and “supplementary” work. Sometimes the goal is to get stronger or bigger, sometimes it’s to get faster, and sometimes it’s to get leaner. I enlist the help of an awesome, experienced strength coach every few weeks or months to make sure my form is spot-on, and that I’m constantly improving (something I shouldn’t have waited so long to do).
I’ve also evolved my programming and have found a pretty good rhythm. After tearing my right medial meniscus after a July 4th Crossfit workout last year, I realized the hard way that there is a big difference between exercising and training. As much as I loved Crossfit workouts, anyone will sweat and feel spent if pushed to the breaking point. Training is different. Training is personal. Training is about goals. Now, every time I enter the gym, I have a goal to hit. That’s what training is all about. No more random daily workouts with no structure or sound programming behind them.
So what’s new in my gym bag? Let’s get to it.
After more than 16 years in the gym, I’m finally starting to train smart. Quality over quantity, strength over mass, and health over ego. Fitness is a lifelong journey, something I fully expect to be doing until the day I’m no longer around these parts.
I’ve learned a lot of great things through training, been (mostly) able to keep exercise as a habit over the years, finally created my ideal home gym, and even branched out and tried all sorts of new stuff like running, swimming, kettlebells, and different martial arts. It’s been a fun ride to-date.
So what prompted the recent change in intensity? I don’t really know. But it’s been building for some time and, starting with the birth of my son last year, everything about my training got more… well, focused. Could it have something to do with the fact that I’m now a role model for a little boy who looks kind of like me? Maybe. Probably. I really don’t know.
One thing that’s clear is that my gym bag these days looks quite different from years prior. My training itself has gone back to the roots. I don’t use any sort of machines at this point; I stick to dumbbells, kettlebells, and fixed bars. Yet I’ve become more interested in using toys like the ones below to help me progress, and I like to have them with me all the time at the gym. It’s the geek in me.
In order to benefit from any of these items, you need to already have a base of both knowledge and fitness. Don’t jump right into any fitness program without doing the obvious stuff first like talking to your doctor and ramping your training up over a period of months.
It’s probably no surprise that repetition influences the formation of new habits. The time and way you brush your teeth probably doesn’t vary much night to night; it’s habitual. Each night at 10:30pm (give or take a few hours) you probably grab that toothbrush, squeeze some toothpaste onto it, and go about your violent brushing ritual. I can almost guarantee you don’t alternate quadrants of your mouth each night (unless you’re just a little insane) because it’s probably not something you think about anymore. You just do it, and you’ll probably always do it that way unless you make a conscious change.
Do something enough times and it becomes a part of you – perhaps to a fault – and from that point on, it can be harder not to do something at all than to do it. In truth, most of our lives consist of habitual action each day. Have you ever been driving along and realized (too late) that you’ve gone in the completely wrong direction, because you habitually started driving to work even though you were originally planning to go to a friend’s house? Your conscious mind shut-off the second you got into that car and was on auto-pilot until you realized you were heading in the wrong direction. I don’t know anyone that hasn’t happened to.
Forming positive new habits (and replacing negative old ones) is the only foolproof path to achievement there is. Your habits “accumulate up” to your goals – there can’t be real triumph without small wins along the way. You don’t just wake up one day as the president of your company, or as someone who exudes positive energy and contentment, without taking individual small steps to get there. This is the subtlety that’s lost on those people we all know who insist that good things don’t happen to them; not everyone realizes that it’s not just handed to you
One interesting thing about habit forming is that recent research has shown that each time you repeat a behavior, the context in which it occurs is linked in your mind to the activity itself. Context in this example refers to the things happening around the activity – the time of day, the music that’s playing, whether you’re in your car or sitting in your favorite chair, and so on. As explained by psychologist Wendy Wood and her team in Changing Circumstances, Disrupting Habits, an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “habit associations are represented in learning and memory systems separately from intentions, or decisions to achieve particular outcomes. Thus, walking into a dark room can trigger reaching for the light switch without any decision to do so.”
For many people, forming and keeping positive habits is a real challenge. Each habit can sometimes require a different mindset or a slightly different approach in order to make it into a routine, and that can make it awfully difficult to stay consistent. It turns out that our happiness is a direct result of how much control we have over our environment, and control is directly correlated with how well we’re able to form and maintain positive habits. If you’re able to identify changes in your current behavior that align to your values and bring you closer to your goals, and then keep those positive changes going on a regular basis, you’ll find that you’ll have a comfortable level of control over your life.
Think back to a time when you felt everything was in order in your life; you felt great in your relationships and with your family, your job was something you looked forward to each day, your finances were on a positive trajectory, and you were getting regular exercise. Heck, you were even flossing every day, making your bed, and staying on top of the laundry. Every night as you drifted off to sleep the only thing you were thinking about was counting sheep. Minimal stress, maximum smiles.
Compare that to how you feel right now – do you have that same sense of control over things? Do you find one or more areas lacking? How many things would you change if you could? If you’re sitting there thinking that something’s lacking, this post may help get you back on track. Yet thinking about the level of effort involved in getting everything going at once can be pretty overwhelming. Where to start?
The key is to stop beating yourself up about all the small things you’re not doing, and focus on getting just one habit back on track first.
In a series of studies performed by a social psychologist named Roy Baumeister, it’s been suggested that “improving self-regulation operates by increasing a general, core capacity. That is, as the person performs exercises to improve self-regulation in one sphere, he or she becomes better at self-regulating in other spheres.”
Ed. note: It seems like a rite of passage to post about habit forming on a personal growth blog. But the primary reason I’m posting this is because I feel I have something to add to the conversation, not just because I have Leo envy! Hopefully you pickup a trick or two from this post.
Forming new habits is hard. But it’s absolutely possible for everyone due to the plasticity of the brain and the core of human nature. If we are what we repeatedly do, then it serves to reason that our habits are somehow a part of us. What we focus on from minute to minute and day to day has a large part to do with who we are – and more importantly who we want to be.
It’s not uncommon to see people with ambitious goals and aspirations who haven’t formed any of the required habits to achieve them. For 23 hours and 59 minutes each day they’re mired in bad habits, struggling to understand why it is they just can’t get motivated or can’t make progress. The 1 minute each day they spend thinking about and focusing on their goals can’t help overcome the inertia of their habits.
Habits are the single most important ingredient to achieving real focus and real growth.
Social psychologists have been studying the process of habit forming for quite some time. In the late 1970s, researchers James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente came up with a model to help frame the various “Stages of Change”. While this model was formed out of a desire to cure smoker’s addiction, it’s useful to help identify which stage someone is in with respect to one or more of their habits, good or bad. People are often unwilling or resistant to change during early stages, but eventually become more proactive and committed to forming or replacing habits.
Keeping up with regular exercise, just like most good things for you, comes down to building and maintaining habits. It’s not always easy to throw on those sweats and make the trek to the gym or the park when the comfort of your pillow is so much more inviting – especially on a cold morning. But there are ways to make that sweat a little more inviting, possibly even fun!
First, let’s start with: why exercise at all? There are obvious numerous physical benefits to exercise ranging from reduced risk of heart disease & Type II diabetes to more physical strength for everyday activities. These benefits are simply too numerous to list in a single post and should really be common knowledge at this point for anyone over the age of 10. But the hidden benefits to exercise lie not in the body but in the impact to the mind.