On the surface, it seems so simple. That one (sleepy?) look in the mirror every morning might beg to differ for a lot of people though. You could run those four phrases by just about anyone and be hard pressed to find someone that would disagree with you about the potential results you would reap following this equation. People get it. They understand it. Living it, however, just isn’t that simple.
Look at exercise alone. The questions are endless. How much exercise? How many days/hours until the box is checked? What type? Strength or cardio? What exercises should be done for strength work? How many reps? Sets? What if something hurts? How much does it hurt and how do I modify things? How should I periodize my programming? What about cardio? Do you need any? Interval training or low-intensity steady state? Both? How long should the intervals be? How much rest? What about working in three planes of movement to maintain body balance? Core work?
That was literally what I came up with in 30 seconds on the spot. The list could go on…and on…and on.
Nutrition questions are even more complicated than fitness, with infinitely more possibilities for answers on how to do things the “right” way. I know how I approach it, but I bet if you polled 100 trainers, dietitians, and “nutritionists”, you’d come up with quite a range of stances on how to address these questions.
Sleep? Ha! The amount of people that tell me they don’t get enough sleep is rising, not falling. It’s pretty easy to see as well, from the way a person moves to the expressions on their face. This doesn’t even include the idea of getting quality sleep, or that in order to actually build anything of substance with a solid fitness and nutrition base, you need the sleep to recover and develop muscle. No sleep = no recovery = no results.
And then, my absolutely favorite, is stress. This one, in my opinion, is the most brutal for people to work on, and there is a lot of crossover with sleep/stress patterns. I have had clients balloon up 8-10 pounds over two weeks because of lack of sleep and the ridiculous demands of their jobs. 8-10 pounds!!! I’ve even lost a client because he worked so much that he couldn’t fit two, one-hour sessions into his schedule each week because he worked from the time he woke up until the time he went to bed around midnight most nights. Even if you were to train, how much of an effort could you possibly give when you’re mentally fried like that? Jobs, kids, family, friends (read: life) create stresses that most people are simply not equipped to handle to take advantage of any good work they may be doing in the other health categories.
Ok. Slow down. Breathe.
We’ll get through this. We’ll start at this place. We have the four categories. Now we have to assess, and we have to do so honestly. If you were to look at each of those categories - exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress - and score them on a scale of 1-10 in terms of how “good” you have been in each one, what would your score be? More than that, if you think you’re hitting a high score, but you’re not getting the results you crave, do you think maybe it’s time to reassess what’s going on? What would you change? How would you change it? Were you tracking everything the first time around to know what doesn’t work?
There's no doubt it can get frustrating. And it’s not that I’m going to give away answers to solve this equation. That’s just not how this works. It’s never that simple with all those variables to consider, and the sooner you realize it, the better. Only when this happens, can the real changes start to develop.
What I can do is provide perspective. This perspective, developed through years of experience, education, and experimentation (with many more years to come!), provides a framework for how to approach these issues and develop realistic approaches to better health and fitness. It may take some time, but we’ll get there. In the mean time, enjoy the ride, it can be the most enlightening part!