Now that a goal is laid out, what other strategies can we employ to see our vision become a reality? here are a few quick tips to get you on your way.
- The Principle of Kaizen: The principle of Kaizen is one of my favorite approaches to self-improvement and one that I have talked about frequently on my podcast. The basic idea of Kaizen is to create continuous, consistent, small improvements (8) on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis. I have literally told people if you have never done any type of exercise for an extended period of time to start with one rep. Do one push up, one squat, one second plank, etc. and that’s your first workout. That may seem silly, but most people quickly lose the desire to keep exercising because they do too much too fast and get burnt out, unbearably sore, or hurt.
Overtime you will develop strength and continue to be able to do more and more reps and/or weight. The ancient Greek story of Milo of Croton is the perfect example of this. Milo was an incredible wrestler, dominating the Olympic games, among others. Legend has it that one day a small calf was born near his home, and everyday he would lift the animal up and carry it on his shoulders. Eventually the bull grew to it’s enormous full size, but because Milo picked it up everyday, his strength developed along with the bull’s weight (1). Now, if this story is true or not we may not know, but the principle is the foundation for physical improvement which I will discuss next.
2. Progressive Overload: Progressive overload is simply the gradual increase of the stresses placed upon the body (aka Milo lifting the bull). I see many people in the gym repeatedly do the same exercises, for the same amount of reps, at the same amount of weight, or the same length of time at the same speed on the treadmill over and over and over again week after week, month after month, etc etc etc. and wonder why they never see any improvements. It is because they are not utilizing the principle of progressive overload.
The body is a wonderful and highly efficient machine that will quickly adapt to whatever stresses you expose to it. This is why if you don’t do anything, your body quickly adapts to that state of doing nothing; your muscles atrophy, you cardiovascular endurance declines, and your mobility worsens. On the flip side, when you exposure your body to new and challenging stressors it adapts wonderfully. However, you must continually increase the stress placed on the body, or your improvements will eventually go stagnant and you will plateau.
It is important to note, however, that we shouldn’t overdo it and jump to extreme increases in frequency, intensity, or duration of the exercise. We need to keep in mind the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) first created by the brilliant scientist Hans Selye dealing with disease(9), but has since been adopted by the strength community. The GAS has three phases: Alarm, resistance, and exhaustion (7). The alarm phase is when the body is introduced to a new stressor, following this their will be a brief dip in homeostasis (the normal, consistent state of the body). Following this, if allowed proper recovery, the body will then be in resistance phase where it is coping with the stressor. If proper recovery strategies are utilized a new benchmark will have been created from which a new, more challenging stressor can then be implemented. We should avoid stage three as much as possible, as we do not want to end up worse off than when we started.
3. Periodization: Periodization is the fancy lingo used in the strength and conditioning community for having a long term, structured plan. I see far too many people wander into the gym with no sense of a plan. They move around like zombies from machine to machine, do a few reps, and move on. This will not produce the results you are looking for. You have to have a structured plan, utilizing the principle of progressive overload if you want to achieve your goals. Follow this link to learn more about the ins and outs of periodization.
4. Positive Self-talk: This may seem silly, but I promise you it goes along way. I constantly listen to the athletes and clients I train for use of negative language and I will also correct them on it. Do away with the “I can’ts” “I don’ts” “I’m bad at this” “I’m not very good at these” etc. Being positive is not just some new-age crystal mumbo-jumbo. It is rooted in science. To learn more about this and to be better at being nice to yourself check out the book Mind Gym.
5. Discipline Over Motivation: One of my favorite people is Jocko Willink, and he has a mantra, “discipline equals freedom.” There are so many different motivational videos out there, tips to stay motivated, etc. I’ll be honest, I use them, I listen to motivational videos sometimes, but I do not really on it. And neither can you. Let me repeat, YOU CANNOT RELY ON MOTIVATION. Motivation will let you down, I promise. After the newness and excitement, and “motivation” of going to the gym wears off, you come to a very critical crossroads. It is at this point that most people start slacking off. This is when your discipline needs to take over. You need to do the things you don’t want to do today, so that you can do the things you want to do when you are 70. Jocko says that the training session you don’t feel like doing is the one you must do. People look at me and see how much I get after it and think I have all the motivation in the world. The truth is, on a typical week I am only motivated to go to the gym maybe 2 or 3 days. I have the discipline to go do it.
6. Recover Like a Champion: Having the discipline to do your training doesn’t mean you need to, or should go all out everyday. You need to make recovery a priority. I always tell the athletes I work with that you have to recover harder than you train. Recovery doesn’t mean sit around and do nothing. You have to be proactive with your recovery, and you have to take it seriously. You have to take care of your body in order to go to the gym and progressively overload it, otherwise your fuel is going to run out and you are going to either get hurt or become too worn out to effectively train anymore. Here are my list of non-negotiable daily recovery strategies: Daily movement & mobility practice, staying properly hydrated, eating real foods (quit the processed foods, sugars, and soda), soft tissue work (massage, foam roller, etc), breath work, 7–9 hours of sleep.
7. Have A Support Team: Maybe the reason so many New Years resolutions fail is because there aren’t enough people supporting them. Unfortunately negative talk doesn’t just come from ourselves, it comes by way of family, friends, co-workers, social media, etc. It is important to block those people out the best that we can and start associating with what I like to call “high frequency people,” people who are positive, encouraging, and genuinely want to see you do better and reach your goals. Find people like that, and be one of those people to yourself and others.
8. Only Compare Yourself to You: There are so many ridiculously high and fake standards of photo-shopped fitness models that we are supposed to live up to. My advice? Forget about them. Sure, if you draw inspiration from them that’s good, but stop chasing what they look like. There will always be someone better than us, in better shape, whiter teeth, cooler hair, whatever. So stop worrying about it. The only person you should compare yourself to is who you were yesterday. That’s it, that’s the battle of life right there; you versus former you. No one else matters. Let them do them, focus on you.
9. Forgive yourself: You are going to stumble. Your discipline is going to falter. You are going to fail. You might even regress a bit. Guess what? That’s perfectly okay! What is not okay is giving up. We see this really in shape people and think it was a straight path to the top; its not. Remember almost all over-night successes take years to happen. Don’t be afraid of failing. Failing is your friend. I fail multiple times a day, and like Jocko says: “Good.” Failing is part of the process. Yeah, it sucks, its miserable, but only if you let it be those things. Look at failing as a challenge to get back after it and start crushing it again. And when you falter a bit, just take a deep breathe and forgive yourself.
I hope you found at least one thing on here of value. Please comment, let me know what you thought, share it around, and reach out and connect on my social media platforms. I do not receive money from any of the embedded links, I just think it is valuable information.
Good luck and go crush the year!
- Clear, J. (2018). How to build muscle: Strength lessons from Milo of Croton. Retrieved from https://jamesclear.com/milo.
- Diamond, D. (2013). Just 8% of people achieve their new year’s resolutions. Here’s how they do it. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/#4f8ae4ec596b.
- Esposito, E. (2016). The essential guide to writing S.M.A.R.T. goals. Retrieved from https://www.smartsheet.com/blog/essential-guide-writing-smart-goals.
- Kanbanchi. (2015). What is kaizen? Retrieved from https://www.kanbanchi.com/what-is-kaizen.
- Morgan, A. (2015). The principle of progressive overload. Retrieved fromhttps://rippedbody.com/principle-progressive-overload/.
- Mulvey, K. (2017). 80% of new year’s resolutions fail by February- here’s how to keep yours. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/new-years-resolutions-courses-2016-12.
- Richard, R. (2016). Stages of general adaptation syndrome. Retrieved from https://sanescohealth.com/stages-of-general-adaptation-syndrome/.
- Rouse, M. (2009). Kaizen (continuous improvement). Retrieved from https://searcherp.techtarget.com/definition/kaizen-or-continuous-improvement.
- Selye, H. (1946). The general adaptation syndrome and the diseases of adaptation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 6(2), 117–230.