Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 4

Discipline, Training, Exercise

Starting is easy. Following the plan the whole way, that’s another matter entirely.

Discipline Practice 4 is the simplest of them all, but perhaps the most difficult to do.

Imagine a simple analogy:

You are planning a road trip to go see New York city. Three days before the date you had set, you decide not to wait, and leave immediately. You pack the car in a hurry, and forget to bring the camping gear you were hoping to use to save on motel rooms. Half-way to New York, you see a signpost for Philadelphia, and figure you have enough time, so you’ll go there as well. You spend a large amount of money on a hotel room you find very late at night because you’ve driven too far and are by then exhausted and can’t drive any farther.

The next morning you drive around Philly a bit and finally head towards New York. You get there to realize the main thing you wanted to see, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, is closed, opening again only two days later (which would have been fine had you gotten to New York on the expected date). Having few other options, and to make yourself feel a bit better, you once again splurge on an expensive hotel, and the next morning drive back home, where you end up disappointed about your trip because you did not see what you really wanted to see, and spent way too much money…

I can’t put it any plainer than this:

Stick to the plan.

Yes, this one is really called “stick to the plan.”

This holds as much for training as for racing, though it is perhaps more noticeable in the latter case.

Whether you are training with the help of a coach or by yourself, you must have a plan for reaching better fitness. It can be a simple plan, like what No-brainer Fitness is recommending (moving more, on a daily basis), or it can be a detailed training regimen to reach some particular goal (like participating in an Ironman triathlon). No matter. A plan is a plan. Everybody makes them.

You don’t need to be a project manager to understand the proper way to plan for something.

  • Step 1: First, you figure what your objectives are, and where you currently are with respect to those objectives. This allows you to figure-out what is missing, and thus what needs to be done.
  • Step 2: Then you make a detailed, phased approach, a Plan, for bridging the gap.
  • Step 3: Next, you execute the Plan. You do what was planned, step by step, day by day.
  • Step 4: Finally, after the conclusion of the Plan (your fitness event, race, or simply the end of the season of activities), you review the results, and assess whether anything needs to be done better next time.

Because there is always a next time: another season, another event, another goal.

The same holds true for a race plan, but in much more condensed form. You have a goal, there is a starting line; you race, following an established plan, and then you cross the finish line. Whether you cross it after the expected amount of time depends in large part on your training, but also on how well you followed the plan for the race itself.

But here’s what almost invariably happens: at some point, perhaps on many occasions during the execution of the plan, you diverge from what the plan said.

This could be during a training session in which you decide to do something different (typically, more, or simply completely different training), or during a preparatory event, when you decide you feel really good and will go full out instead of keeping the planned pace. Or during the race, where you go too fast, too soon, because you are really excited and think you can do better than planned.

You’ve gone through Step 1 and Step 2, but then you don’t follow Step 3 properly, often leading to a lesser result than hoped for. And when you get to Step 4, lots of reasons can be found to explain what happened (a.k.a. excuses), but seldom do you recall that Step 3 was not followed properly. And you may even blame the Plan itself, or the coach, when in fact it was your Step 3 that was the problem.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having some flexibility with respect to following plans. In particular when listening to your body clamoring for rest, or having to deal with unexpected conditions like the weather or unforeseen family obligations.

And perhaps the Plan was not a good one, or not good enough.

But here’s the thing: If you don’t follow the Plan as closely as possible, you cannot claim that it is not a Good Plan. And you don’t really know how to make it any better.

In training and exercising just like in life in general, we’re supposed to keep learning. Or at least avoid making the same mistakes more than twice (see how much leeway I give us?). The planning process is there to facilitate that learning.

But the only way it works is if you have the discipline to stick to the plan.

Picture from Pixabay.

More alike than not… except in the details

Sports, Exercise, Performance, Athletes

A diversity of shapes and speeds at the Rome marathon a few years ago. All athletes, in a way.

Time for a story. (Isn’t it always?)

Once upon a time, in pretty much all lands on this planet called Earth, the thinking of sports federations and elite coaches was that an Olympic athlete had to be of average height and build, with lean bone and muscle mass providing a streamlined body type.

For all Olympic sports.

Such athletes were selected and tested early, then subjected to years of grueling training. Only a very small portion of even such “ideal” athletes rose to the top of each sport and were deemed good enough to represent their respective countries against the rest of the world. (The story does not say what happened to those who did not rise to the top, but rumour has it that they started hating sports, and took up knitting instead.)

This had come about because there was a clear picture of the “ideal” human shape that had endured to some extent since the time of the original Olympic games in Greece. But with more clothing. No doubt the statues of antiquity, and later re-born in the Renaissance, had helped solidify such an image of the perfect athlete.

Allied to that image was the notion, very much born of religious thought, that only through a lot of hard work and pain could the most gains be made in training. Fierce competition, even among teammates, was seen as the way to build stronger individuals.

Thus many countries went about, and generations of kids, teenagers, and young adults went about their training. Only a very small portion of all those who started in such programs ever made it, and they won medals and set world records.

But this story is not about world records and Olympic medals. It is about how athletes were selected and prepared to compete.

It all changed, of course, when atypical athletes started winning medals and breaking world records. This came about because many countries simply did not have athletes with the expected, “ideal” body type. They were not expected to win, yet there they were, running faster, jumping higher, lifting heavier than the rest.

Suddenly, coaches caught on to what biologists must have realized much earlier: That there might be something about the specific genetic make-up of an individual that might make them better athletes at SOME sport in particular.

Nowadays, we fully understand that notion, and athletes are not expected to look the same across all sports. That explains why we see a lot of Kenyans and Ethiopians win marathons, and tiny little guys and gals ride race horses. Volleyball players are tall and somewhat lanky; ping-pong players somewhat short but extremely quick.

You get the picture. We each have specific genetic variations that make us more or less good at some activities or sports. Some are very visible, others not.

As the eminent (running coach) Jack Daniels pointed out in a seminar I attended a few years ago, you would not expect Shaquille O’neal and Mary Lou Retton to perform at an elite level at each-other’s respective sports. (The reference to those athletes provides an idea of the age of Jack Daniels, and of the attendees, not of the date of the seminar.)

Big differences are expected, for instance, between a basketball player and a gold medal winning gymnast. (Just to be clear, for those of a different age…) Mary Lou could not possibly dunk a ball, and Shaquille might very well break the asymmetric bars. Hence athletes are largely selected based on their body types nowadays.

Tragically, what hasn’t changed (yet) is the notion that training has to be uniformly hard and painful for everyone. That is why we see PE programs in schools that are still based on (unfriendly) competition and pitting everyone against each other to be the best, or to meet some specific standards of fitness arbitrarily defined by someone.

That’s in large part been identified as the prime culprit for turning the vast majority of people away from doing sports on a regular basis. If all that seems to matter is winning, and there can only be one winner, that means there are a lot of losers. And nobody likes being a loser.

So it starts by hating PE, then it becomes hating sports. Except for those you can watch while drinking beer, and even then, it is watching games, not playing.

Exercise, Movement, Daily

Watching is definitely not the same as doing.

At the same time, the understanding that we are all different has been taken much too far: Nowadays, a lot of folks think that they are simply not athletic, not meant to do sports. There are winners, who are jocks, who are meant to do sports, and then there’s the rest of us who should not do sports. Who cannot do sports.

Given the premises of differences between individuals and of personally hating sports, it is understandable that many reached the (erroneous) conclusion that they are not meant to move.

But the reasoning is incorrect, and one of the premises is false.

The facts, based on biology, are all pointing in the direction of our bodies being meant to move. Needing to move. Regularly.

Hating sports and exercise is a learned behaviour; it can be unlearned, replaced by something better.

We are all different, but even in our visible (and invisible differences), we are more alike than not.

The story time being over, I’ll conclude this post by pointing out the ways in which we are alike, and those in which we differ. And I’ll come back some other time to the fascinating topic of how to learn to like exercise.

Ways in which we are all alike: Basic morphology and physiology

Cells, Physiology

The marvelous machinery of life.

  1. We all have the same number of limbs, fingers, heads, internal organs (types and numbers), etc., and they all are built according to the same plan. (Yes, I know, there are accidents of biology, but the basic plan before those accidents is the same.)
  2. We all have muscles connected to bones in order to makes us move; those muscles all work according to the same principles, and allow sensibly the same movements to be performed by everyone.
  3. We use carbohydrates, lipids, and to a lesser extent proteins, to generate the energy that allows our cells to function. Including muscle cells, which are used to move our bodies. More specifically, there are fast and slow ways of generating that energy, and although they vary in relative terms, they are all present in all of us.
  4. We all obtain such nutrients from eating; our digestive system, comprised as it is of our own guts and the microbiome therein, functions fundamentally the same way in all of us. Besides nutrients, we need water and oxygen (not too much) for our metabolism to operate.
  5. We need to move; for our bodies to be healthy, we need to move. The stress imposed on our bones, muscles, and internal organs by intense activity is what keeps bones strong, muscles large(-ish), and organs performing their normal functions. Including digestion and waste disposal.
  6. All of our bodies respond to exercise (or to a lack thereof). If you exercise regularly, the body changes to adapt to the exercise, and the organs and energy systems hum along. If you don’t exercise, the body “relaxes” and things start to breakdown, fat reserves accumulate, digestion is slower and we get constipated, etc.

That’s just how our bodies work. We are all very much alike.

Ways in which we differ: The details of performance

Because of the details of how each of us is shaped (tall or short, thick-boned or thinner, etc.) and how cells function physiologically, there are aspects of performance in which we differ. Specifically:

Sports, Physical Activities, Training

So many sports, so many choices…

  1. How much endurance we have (mostly due to differences in energy systems at the cellular level, though that’s trainable to a great extent, perhaps the most of all aspects of performance)
  2. How fast we can be (also highly trainable, but limits imposed by physiology exist in each of us, also at the cellular level in muscles)
    How strong our muscles can be (small differences there)
  3. How big our muscles can become (bigger differences there)
  4. How flexible we can be (muscles, ligaments, but also joint movement; we can’t all be circus performers!)
  5. How coordinated we can be (agility, efficiency, also technically trainable to a great extent)
  6. How a wide range of our senses perform (eyesight, hearing, smell, etc.) and how efficiently our brains put all of that together

Taken together, and in the right combinations, the accumulation of small differences is what, along with adequate training, makes top performing athletes.

So, while it remains true that there can only be one winner in each discipline, and that at the top level (Olympics, for instance), only a small portion of the population is equipped to truly compete, we all have the potential to take enjoyment in some physical activity. And we may even do pretty well, locally or within the cohort of people our own age.

What matters most, however, is that we are all alike in fundamental ways. We all need to move, a lot, to keep our one and only body functioning optimally for a long time.

It’s up to us to figure-out what makes us enjoy it the most.

Exercise, Endurance, Physiology

The author, laughing at a well-deserved muscle cramp, after having completed an iron-distance triathlon.

For an interesting discussion of physiological differences in triathletes, see the recently published book Triathlon Science by Joe Friel and Jim Vance.

Pictures from Pixabay and the author.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 3

Exercise, Health, Discipline, Balance

Balance, a key aspect of health. It starts with how you approach exercise…

This practice is short, and you may see it as an extension of the previous practice, but since it can be applied separately, I chose to treat it this way.

The practice is deceptively simple, and it is possible that only few will relate to it. It may be because it is nowhere near applying to you, in which case that’s great. It may be because you are denying it, in which case I hope this short discussion will at least raise some flags in your mind.

Here it is: Maintain the balance.

As you exercise regularly, perhaps even train in a specific sport like running or triathlon, allow yourself to relax from time to time.

In other words: Don’t be a “stick-in-the-mud” always focused on your training. Allow yourself some leeway, through activities with family and friends or even by doing other sports just for fun.

Too many sports or fitness enthusiasts, particularly if they discover such physical activities later in life, go overboard and spend way too much of their time, energy, and money, pursuing exclusively that activity.

Many call it “having a passion”; however, although I’m no psychologist, from the perspective of a coach it smells a lot more like “being obsessed.” It is as if the new-found activity is a pressure release valve from something else (everything else?) in life. And it ends up taking too much space.

Or the activity is taken so seriously that it prevents the spreading of the joy of moving to others. I’ve seen it: Perfectly good opportunities to share one’s enjoyment of, say, running, with a partner or friend because it is not “optimal training.” What a shame! Partners/family and friends should come first, at least some of the time.

(Shameless plug: I did write about training with a spouse or life partner before. It is worth reading, if you can spare the time…)

Let’s be clear: If you do not move everyday, if you do not exercise regularly, you need to move more. That’s what you need to do to obtain and maintain the balance that you’ve been missing so far.

If you are in that group of folks who move a lot, and then move some more, and spend lots of time and money on your sport/training, you need to take a step back and relax a little.

Because going overboard in anything is unhealthy.

Especially if the focus is on looking a certain way, or performing to a certain level. That is unhealthy in so many ways that it warrants an entire post of its own. So I’ll leave it for now.

Passion is fine, though I would reserve that for sentiments like love, and perhaps an over-arching goal in life. Most of the time, what is described as a passion is in fact a fixation, an obsession.

Consider: If a key part of getting fit is to pay close attention to how our bodies feel, then it stands to reason that we should also pay close attention to how our minds are doing.

Listen to your body, and to your mind; both will tell you how exercise is making them feel. Beware of a mind that constantly turns to training, that finds refuge there from other aspects of life. Remain in control; maintain the balance.

The easiest way to achieve this is to relax, take things less seriously. And keep a clear order of the priorities in your life.

Picture from Pixabay.

Theoretically speaking…

Exercise Theory, Training, Fitness, Coaching, Sports Science

A little theory has never hurt anyone. Unless you drop a big book on your foot and break something…

Because a bit of theory never hurt anyone, and because about a year ago I promised I would do so, this post is about the principles underlying training methods aimed at increasing physical fitness.

Because that theory is well understood, and very simple, this will be a short post.

Because simply saying “you train hard, and you get better” is not enough, this post won’t be that short.

A bit of biology

No matter how complex, or simple, an organism, biologically we all are the same in that we interact with our environment to find our sustenance and proliferate. (By the way, even a single-celled bacterium’s complexity should not be under-estimated. But that’s another discussion altogether.)

A large proportion of those interactions can be summarized by a simple cause and effect relationship:

Stimulus ——> Response

Even if the initial action was a movement by the biological entity, the resulting stimulus of the environment on the biological entity will cause a response. For instance, you move your hand to seize a cup on the table; at a touch (stimulus), you feel the scalding heat of coffee therein, and withdraw your hand (response).

Another example: You are sitting quietly in a cafeteria when an alarm rings loudly (stimulus); you immediately get up and leave (response).

Now, often, as the examples above show, the response is one of fight or flight or avoidance. Much like if you start exercising vigorously and find it difficult, the response to the discomfort might very well be to cease the exertion. But sometimes the stimulus is a pleasant one, like sweet food (or sweet NOT FOOD), and the response then becomes to eat more of it.

There is always a response to the stimulus.

However, there is an extension to the simple cause and effect relationship when it comes to biological systems (i.e. living beings). This comes about when the stimulus is provided repeatedly:

Stimulus (repeatedly) ——> Response (each time) ——> Adaptation

Basically, when a biological system is subjected to a stimulus often enough, not only does it respond in the short term, but it can also modify itself (its behaviour, its own sub-systems) so as to be able to change the short-term response and even deal with the stimulus.

That, as you may be able to guess, is the basis for the Training Principle.

(Admittedly, human beings have big brains that allow us to speed up adaptation, and even predict stimuli we don’t particularly care for. However, how effective we are at doing that is still subject to debate. Revisiting the example of the fire alarm in the cafeteria, if your response is to stay put because there have often been false alarms, then your adaptation to the stimulus could end up costing you your life. But I digress.)

The Training Principle

Simply stated (in my own words):

Subject the body to a specific physical stressor (stimulus) repeatedly and provide sufficient recovery time from the ensuing fatigue (response) to allow it to become stronger (adapt) in dealing with that specific stressor.

That is how all exercise regimens and training programs function.

The trick, the real job of coaches, is to vary the correct details. Because the body will adapt to the stimulus it is subjected to, and only to that stimulus.

That is why you will not gain much muscle mass by doing endurance training; that is why doing a lot of weight lifting (a.k.a. body building) will do almost nothing for your cardio-vascular capacity; and why doing always short bursts of intense activity may gain you some muscle mass and power, but will not make you burn much fat because that energy system is barely used in that kind of activity (you’d need to do longer, less intense activity for effective fat burning).

Moreover, note the potential pitfall in the principle: The body adapts to the stimulus provided. Which ultimately means that the body will not change beyond a certain adaptation if the stimulus remains the same.

That is why simply jogging 30 minutes per day will only get you so far in improving your fitness. To get even better fitness, you need to vary the stimulus once the body has adapted to it, or a little before that.

Sport scientists often use the acronym FIT to describe how the stimulus can be varied:

  • Frequency: How often one trains or exercises.
  • Intensity: At what intensities.
  • Time: Or duration of each training session.

Some even add a second T (making it FITT) by including Type, because different types of exercises also make a difference. For instance, doing core work, which is strength training, is now recognized as a way to improve running performance. But it was not the case until a few years ago.

I like FITT. That’s what coaches work with. That’s what is fun about coaching: Finding the correct mix of FITT for each person to get them to increase their fitness as fast, and as safely, as possible.

But it all starts with subjecting your body to the right stimulus. Or stimuli. Like getting up and moving.

The nice thing is that one of the ways in which your body will adapt, past the initial response of finding it hard, is to ask for more. You just have to use your big brain to deal with the temporary discomfort, and then you’ll be on your way to better fitness…

In a future post, and hopefully not in a year’s time, I’ll describe the many ways in which the body adapts to exercise. That’s also fascinating, and goes a long way in explaining why better fitness leads to increased odds of being healthy for a long time.

Picture from Pixabay.

Discipline: The 5 Practices – Practice 2

Exercise, Everyday, Discipline, Motivation, Purpose

Get moving, keep on moving, and celebrate your accomplishments. But curb your enthusiasm, or risk seeing it all come crashing down.

As I’ve explained before, discipline is what most folks erroneously think of as the means to stick to an exercise routine (and/or dieting plan). That’s the militaristic, stick-in-the-mud view of what it takes to be fit and healthy.

What you require, in fact, to get fit and remain healthy for a long, long time, is a clear sense of purpose. You should never have to use discipline to keep moving; it must be part of who you are, of how you exist on this Earth.

Purpose goes well beyond motivation, though motivation can do you for a spell. Without a clear purpose, however, even motivation will wane and your exercise habit will go the way of so many other good ideas that just end up sitting on a shelf in your head.

Does that mean discipline is useless? Far from it. But in this series of short posts, I’m trying to explain the ways in which discipline is an essential component of your lifestyle.

Those ways are what I call The 5 Practices. Because there are 5. Only 5. Well, 5 main ones that I could think of when I planned this series. Maybe there are more, but these 5 strike me as the main ones. Oh, just read the post, and let me know if you can think of any more…

So what is Practice 2?

Simply put: Curb your enthusiasm.

It is the discipline of not acting rashly even when we feel capable and eager to do more (i.e. too much), or things that we are not yet ready for.

I could have called it “Stick to the Plan,” but often the problem comes precisely from making plans that are overly ambitious or enthusiastic. Especially if you don’t have a coach.

And even if you have a coach, it is too easy to convince the coach that you are ready for the next bigger thing (or too much work for the coach to constantly talk reason to you, not to mention too risky that you’ll seek another coach if that’s the case).

So the second practice of discipline is something you must impose on yourself. Primarily about your own eagerness.

Let me be very clear, just in case: What gets you to exercise regularly is your purpose, sometimes assisted by the motivation to reach a specific goal. Discipline serves to constrain your enthusiasm so that you stick to the plan, doing no more than what you are supposed to, so as to avoid burning out or getting hurt. Basically, discipline is not what gets you to exercise, or gets you to exercise more: It is what gets you to do exactly what you are supposed to.

How does the need for this practice come about?

The positive effects of exercise on the human body (and mind) are undeniable. Physiologically, we are meant to move a lot, and our animal bodies are at their best when we do. Everyday.

This results, in the long term, in better fitness and better health overall. Provided it is done the right way, without excessive stress leading to injury, this is the way to maximize the odds of living a long and active life.

In the short term, the physiological effects of exercise are also very positive; finishing a tough (but fair) workout results in a kind of euphoria that is regularly compared to a drug high. Or at least a very real sense of accomplishment. That is followed by a pleasant feeling of quiet fatigue often attributed to endorphins.

While beginning an exercise regimen is tough, when the enthusiasm of “getting back in shape” is combined with the excitement of the high and the subsequent relaxing low, the effect is one of wanting to do more, as soon as possible. It is quite addictive.

The process of going from sedentary to getting back in shape, the progress of the very beginning, with all its positive reinforcements, leads many to do way too much, too soon, and end up getting hurt. And stopping altogether.

For some, perhaps because they are younger or they manage to avoid an early injury, the phenomenon takes place after a first race or some other major event: They get hooked, so to speak, and want to do more, go faster, register for lots of races, etc. And then they get hurt. They can end up sidelined for months without being able to do much; in some cases they stop exercising altogether.

Either way, the problem is one of too much enthusiasm leading to not following a sound plan that is tailored to develop long-term fitness. The kind of fitness that leads to health. Fitness to race, to compete, even if it is “only” against oneself, is not fitness optimized for a long, healthy and active life. It is too short-term. And often counter-productive.

What’s someone to do?

So as you embark upon a new fitness program, or as you prepare for a new season of training in your chosen sport, curb your enthusiasm. Have that kind of discipline to tell yourself to not do too much.

Exercise and develop your ability to do more at a safe, reasonable pace. You’ll still get there, wherever “there” is for you. In fact, you may end up there faster, overall, as some have suggested (put that part has not been proven scientifically).

By all means, do more than you currently are. And celebrate your successes as you keep on moving (that’s really important, no matter how small they may appear to you, or insignificant to others). If you are into that sort of thing, do register for more events because that can help keep you focused on your purpose and keep track of your progress. But do so in a reasonable way, and for the right reasons.

Call it maturity, or wisdom. Call it “what the coach ordered” if it helps. It is certainly what our knowledge of exercise science, and my experience as a coach, indicate is best.

Ideally, get a coach to build you a program that is suitable for long-term fitness, and follow the plan. Even if you think you can do more.

The simple truth is that we are not the best judges of what is enough or sufficient when it comes to ourselves. But by being aware of this blind spot and/or asking for help to deal with it, you’ll do much better in the long term.

And that is why we need the second practice of discipline.

Exercise, Everyday, Coaching,

Do more. But don’t do too much. If you want to keep on moving.

Pictures from Pixabay.

The message is simple (but it is worth repeating)

Movement, Diet, NOT FOOD, Everyday

A new beginning, of sort, so time to get moving again.

To get the ball rolling, not because of the new year but because of the launch of the No-brainer Fitness Facebook page (yes, I finally did that; one thing off my list, hooray!), I thought I’d re-visit the message of No-brainer Fitness.

Although it is the time of year for lists of resolutions and things to do, don’t be mistaken: This is NOT a list of resolutions.

It is much simpler than that. It is what should always be on your mind, every year, every day, every moment. To the point that it becomes automatic or, as I put it, a “no-brainer.”

About that name

By the way, for those of you curious about it, that is the point of the name “No-brainer Fitness.”

It is what Zen is all about. Far from being a mystical philosophy or esoteric design principle, Zen is about practicing something consciously so much and so systematically that thereafter you simply do whatever it is you have practiced without having to think about it anymore.

Anything you put your mind to long enough, practice hard enough, becomes second nature. Something in which your brain no longer needs to take an active part. Thus, a “no-brainer”.

The other meaning, that of something which makes perfect sense, and does not need to be thought through much, or at all, is also valid. Moving more is such a thing.

So let’s get back to it

One thing you need to know about No-brainer Fitness is that, although I get side-tracked at times, and try to infuse the posts with my own type of humour, I always get back on track.

Therefore, what you need to know about No-brainer Fitness, is that it stands for one single, very simple prescription, and two secondary recommendations:

1) Move more

Movement is the key to fitness and health. It has been shown time and time again, be it in terms of the effect of exercise on body functions, brain activity, and as was recently reported, our ability to age well and remain healthy and active for a long time.

Some the prescription is to move more, move all the time, move everyday. Not necessarily training for a specific sport, which is great and I encourage, but at least get into the habit of NOT being sedentary and using energy-saving devices like cars and elevators all the time.

2) Don’t diet

So you’ve gained some weight over the years (who hasn’t?). Your sedentary lifestyle and sitting job are causing your mid section to expand faster than the rest of the universe? What’s the solution?

Go on a diet, of course!

WRONG!!!

The problem is, in a large proportion (pun intended), that you do not move enough. So the solution cannot be to change what you eat. At least, that is true in the same proportion as the cause of the problem.

So the first recommendation is to NOT go on a special diet, NOT focus on what you eat, and NOT obsess over your weight. And I’m not alone in saying it. (That, by the way, is a link to an excellent and very refreshing blog post by a dietician.)

Rather, get moving more, and slowly learn to listen to your body. Because, guess what, if you listen, it will tell you what it needs, and over time you’ll get to eat better, without counting calories or obsessing about food. (Obsession of any kind, even obsession about training and exercise, it NOT healthy.)

For more specific food advice, I defer to those who know more than I do on the subject. I prefer to stick to a simple (no-brainer) approach: Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants.

3) Cut back on NOT FOOD

Which of course does not preclude me from making further suggestions about what NOT to eat.

You see, the “Eat food, not too much, mostly from plants” statement above is not originally from me. It seems simplistic, but for full effect you have to consider what “food” actually is. And for that, you need to remember that we are, fundamentally, animals.

Animals eat plants and other animals. At least, that’s what omnivores like us do. They don’t eat inorganic matter, stuff that does not grow on plants or that don’t move of their own volition.

The way I like to put it, “food” is anything that comes directly from plants, or that has been transformed mechanically and/or chemically from plants by other living creatures. Another way of putting it: food is biological matter that has been minimally transformed by means other than other animals’ biological processes.

Yes, I know, it can get messy and scientific-y. So often I use a shorter definition: If you can’t find it in nature in the form you eat it, then it’s probably overly processed, and you should pass.

For instance, things like coffee, doughnuts, soft drinks, and booze, are what I consider NOT FOOD. (For more on that, feel free to read a couple of my past posts.) When’s the last time you came across a free-flowing river of coffee? Or a tree in which Coca-Cola bottles grow? Or dug up a plant and found perfectly shaped and wrapped Hershey Kisses in its roots?

You get the point.

Cut back on those NOT FOOD items is my second recommendation; you’ll not only remove unnecessary calories (and in some cases drugs) from your body, but you’ll make room for the real taste of food, and the refreshing feeling of water going down. And that’s why you should do it.

That’s it

The rest, as they say, is details. (That’s also, as they also say, where the Devil lives, but that’s another story.)

If you insist on seeing this as a list of resolutions for the new year, then consider that you don’t need a list. You need only one item:

Get moving more!

You body will do the rest; just pay attention to what it tells you in the process.

I’ve now taught you everything you need to know. But feel free to keep an eye on this blog, and like the brand spanking new Facebook page… (Please?)

Picture from Pixabay.

Injuries – A causation guide (of sort)

Injury, Movement, Training, Exercise, Triathlon

Move, move a lot, but make sure you don’t end up injured this year.

To start off the new calendar year, I thought I’d touch lightly on a very serious topic.

So this post will have a very serious component, and a more humorous one. (You’ll have to guess which is which. I’ll make it easy.)

Anyone talking about training, exercise, and racing of any king, has to talk about injuries. I’m a triathlete, and a triathlon coach, so of course I know about the topic, and I cover it with the athletes I coach.

When talking about this topic, we have to first share an understanding that injuries can, and do, occur. That comes with the territory of training. There’s no denying it. (Anyone who does, is selling you something, and most likely lying.)

Indeed, injuries (or pain perceived as injury by a newbie to exercise) is the primary cause for quitting an exercise regimen or training program. It seems a reasonable thing to conclude: If movement is what caused someone to get injured, then stopping to move is the solution. (That seems to be the reasoning of many General Practitioners of the medical profession, to the frustration of many coaches, including me.)

But not moving is, overall, worse for your health than moving.

As a matter of fact, the best way to prevent injuries is to move more, not less, but to do so in a reasonable way. By reasonable I mean by using the correct techniques, and doing only as much as is necessary to stress your body into getting into better shape (once it has sufficiently recovered).

The Main Culprit

Let’s face it, athletes are often their own worst enemy: overuse (over-training) is the primary cause of injury in athletes. And that’s why you should have a coach, and, equally importantly, why you should listen to him or her!

Preventing injuries that can occur through intense training (and over-training) is obviously priority #1 of any coach. And that is achieved through well-balanced programs that include strength training and sufficient rest.

And constant reminders to athletes to take their rest days.

Once injured, the best approach is not to stop all activity, but rather to take some rest (complete rest at first, then some other activities can be recommended by a competent physiotherapist or even by the coach). Interestingly, that’s frequently how people get started into doing triathlon; through having to do other sports than the one in which the injury occurred.

A single-sport approach to training increases the risk of getting hurt, so triathletes have a slight advantage in injury prevention.

However, triathlon also has a bunch of other types of injuries you can fall prey to, so you have to keep them in mind, and be careful. If, in running, injuries typically come to feet, ankles, knees and hips from bad training (bad form, too many impacts, running too fast, too often, too long), in triathlon the same thing can happen, but to more parts of the body (shoulders, back, etc.). So you need to work on more parts of the body to fix an injured triathlete.

And in some cases you also need a mechanic…

The Other Causes

So, to balance this post, here are the main causes of injuries for triathletes, from the least likely to the most common, and tongue a little in cheek:

10) Drowning. Very, very, very unlikely.  Recovery is usually impossible. Near-drowning is another matter and can lead to the encounter of interesting people, but is not recommended as a potential dating strategy due to its risky nature.

9) Getting beaten during the swim (kicks, fists, etc.). It can hurt a lot, and even cause mild injuries, but usually one recovers pretty quickly, and completes the race. The injury can last for a while, from bruises to muscle cramps, and can have some long-term effects (fear of swimming in a crowd, which is just a little less scary than being naked in a crowd).

8) Getting hit by a car when running. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

7) Getting hit by a car when riding. Results can be very dire, so be very careful, because recovery can take a long time. Unlikely to happen, but it does.

6) Missing a turn while riding. Particularly when the road is slippery, but the main cause is usually going too fast on a road that is not well known. So “pilot error” is a factor. Consequences range from scrapes and bruises to broken bones. Recovery (and returning confidence) vary accordingly.

5) Getting hit by a cyclist when running. Hitting a runner or a cyclist while riding. Recovery depends on how fast and how heavy the hit… and any subsequent altercation between the runner and cyclist.

4) Colliding with another swimmer in the pool. Either through carelessness on your part, or because the other swimmer is a nincompoop. Again, recovery depends on how hard the hit and the ensuing argument, but is usually fairly short.

3) Swallowing lots of water while swimming; can lead to serious gastrointestinal (GI) problems, especially if the water is salted or chlorinated. Recovery usually comes shortly after vomiting.

2) Over-training (a.k.a. abusing your own body); doing too much, too fast, too long, in all three sports.  Rest, and a consultation with your coach (or a psychologist) typically helps… We’re talking fasciatis, tendinitis, stress fractures, etc., and things that typically happen to runners’ legs, but in our case can also happen to shoulders (swimming) and the back (cycling). Some cases require extensive leave from the sport, so never underestimate the risk of wanting to do more, or obsessing about racing.

1) Falling on your side, from your bike, while trying to un-clip your shoe at a stop sign or light. You can get bruised (hip and arm) or even break something (wrist, arm, collar bone). But most of the time the damage is limited to the ego, and recovery can be very fast if you just laugh it off. But this is by far the most common cause of injury for a triathlete, so un-clip soon, and often.

As you can see, the main causes are mostly accidents.  You have to remain tuned onto your body, but also and particularly aware of your surroundings at all times, during races and training sessions.

And that’s a lesson that valid all the time. The more mindful you are, the more attuned to your body and surrounding, the safer you will be. And the more healthy you’ll be.

Have a great year of moving a lot!

Fitness, Injury, Triathlon, Movement, Rest

Just because it is still early in 2015. Have a great year of fitness!

Pictures from Pixabay.