Planning

Meal Prep...Preparing to Succeed

The key to successfully maintaining a nutrition plan is preparation.

You see? If you wait until you're hungry to think of nutrition, the cards are already stacked against you. It's inevitable that you're not going to have the time, availability of ingredients, or proper quantities or measures.

The fix? You guessed it. Preparation.

  1. Plan your meals out on paper for the upcoming week. Know what you are going to eat, when, and what nutritional needs are being met.
  2. Use this plan to purchase all of the ingredients when you do your grocery shopping. 
  3. Spend some time over the weekend preparing your meals for the upcoming week, and package them in the correct quantities for each day. (Refrigerate when applicable)
  4. Buy a food scale to make measuring easy. A basic food scale will cost $10-$20. 
  5. Save your plan and and recipes for future use. You will find that your prep time will get shorter and shorter, while your meals will become elaborate and diversified as you go. Just like anything, practice makes perfect.
  6. Make meal preparation part of your routine. 

*Please consult with a certified/ licensed nutritionist or your doctor before beginning any nutrition plan. 

Using Your Food Journal to Effect Positive Change in Nutrition Habits

You've been diligent on keeping a detailed food journal for a few weeks now, and, if you're like me, there probably are some surprising results! 

Without a journal, we rely on a memory that is selective at best. We congratulate ourselves for ordering a salad for lunch, and forget that it came with fried chicken strips and a half a cup of ranch dressing. We feel great about our breakfast of oatmeal, yogurt, and fruit while disregarding the doughnuts we munched on. We also tend to remember the big stuff while overlooking impulse decisions, such as taking a piece of candy from the bowl at the office each time we walk by... and we walk by it 15 times a day!

So? What do we do with this journal information?

First off, I would recommend approaching nutritional change through baby steps. Small changes, one at a time, over time, will most likely result in better decision making and long term adaptation to lifestyle habits.

Let's use the sample listings in the previous post, for example. 

In the first journal listing, a few opportunities jump right off the page; and to get yourself started, only pick ONE:

  • Eliminate one of the two Glazed Doughnuts - Equates to 1,344 calories per week
  • Exchange a small order of French Fries in place of the large size. - 1,960 calories per week
  • Replace either the Large Soft Drink or the Can of Soda for a water (you'll see huge results by eliminating all soft drinks) - potential of 3,010 calories per week
  • Only have 1 Chocolate Chip Cookie rather than 2 - Equates to 700 calories per week

These results assume one eats these, or comparable foods, each day.  However, it drives home the impact of one small tweak. 

Just like increasing weight or reps when exercise becomes easy, once you've managed your first change, then move on to another. 

This way, we are controlling our change without the feeling like we're depriving ourselves. As you see from the examples above, even a small change can equate to some pretty big numbers over a week's time. 


Bear in mind, the information I've provided is an example on how to effectively change nutritional habits, and not meant as a recommended nutrition plan for any particular goal. Please consult your doctor or a licensed nutritionist for more information on the specifics of nutrition that meets your individual needs. 

Getting a Handle on Nutrition

Many people are sold on the untruth that nutrition is an all-or-nothing proposition. One either consumes pizza, bacon, beer, and cookies, or survives on raw carrot sticks and brown rice; there's no in-between.

This mentality makes nutrition, commonly referred to as the dreaded "diet", a very unpopular topic that most gladly avoid. It's the proverbial 800 pound gorilla in the room. 

The truth is, swapping one set of eating habits for another overnight just doesn't work. By going this route, it doesn't take very long until we feel deprived, hungry, and miserable. This is when one treat leads to two, two leads to three, and before you know it, old habits return with a vengeance. 

How do we change this mindset?

First, start a food journal. 

Eat as you normally would and write down everything you have. Do this for 2-3 weeks to establish your baseline. Be honest and keep it simple. I started mine by noting what I ate, the quantities, and the calories. As my goals evolved, I started tracking protein, sugar, fats, and fiber as well. 

A food journal can be a notepad, a spreadsheet, or even a smartphone app; whatever is easiest for you! 

Here is an example:

Hint: You can easily find nutrition information online, and, after a couple of weeks, you'll probably notice a lot of repetition. At that point, it becomes mostly copy and paste.

Why a food journal? 

1. It's a great way to actually understand our eating habits and pinpoint easy opportunities for change.
2. Like our method of tracking our workouts, a food journal will help in monitoring our progress.
3. We can link effects of various types of food on our fitness goals and and overall health.

Here is where I invite you to begin your food journal. In upcoming posts, we will cover what to do when our nutritional baseline has been established.

 

Nutrition: The Other Side of the Coin

We've invested the sweat, spent the time, and yet the results just aren't there. At least not those we would expect given the effort. Prolonged periods of limited results only increase the chances of us giving up. How do we get over this hurdle?

Rather than look for new exercises, or spend additional time exercising, let's think about nutrition

Many people will continue to consume their normal meals, snacks and all, thinking that a good workout can overcome bad dietary choices. Not true.     

Becoming fit on exercise alone is a myth. 

Becoming fit on nutrition alone is a myth. 

The fact is, we need to manage both sides of the equation in order to be successful.

Right now, you probably think the word 'diet' is going to enter the picture. 'Diet'; as in small portions of vegetables, grains, and all of that 'healthy' stuff that isn't fun to eat. Well, fear not. That isn't going to happen.

What we need to do first is understand how we're fueling our bodies, and then make small adjustments to maximize the quality and manage the quantity of what we eat. Finally, we need to do this in such a way that we do not deprive ourselves of the enjoyment of the culinary experience. 

Let's break this down next time. Hint: If you've been following the blog, you already have the tools to hit the ground running on this one. 

Weights, Reps, and Form - Where to Start and When to Increase

What is a good starting point for weights and reps, and when do we decide it is time to increase them?

First, let's look at this rule of thumb:

  • Muscle Tone: Low Weight/ Many Reps
  • Strength: High weight/ Few Reps

Personally, I am looking to increase strength, so I opt for the latter option. In that regard, I began with a weight that I knew I could lift correctly for at least two sets of 4 reps. When I was able to build up to two sets of 6 reps on consecutive days, I would increase the weight and only expect 4 reps. If I could get 5 or 6 on the first try, I would keep 'leveling up' each session until I reached the point where the last rep of the second set of 4 was difficult to lift correctly. Normally, I like to get 8 - 12 reps per exercise per session with the last rep being almost impossible. 

When you are starting out, you may find that sometimes your starting weight is ridiculously easy, or it may be too difficult. I say stick with the easy weight and learn the correct form, increasing weight or reps next time. The more complex the movement, the less weight I would add on. Example: for a push press, I would only increase the weight by 5 pounds, but a leg press, I may add 20. If the weight you choose is too difficult, there is no shame in lowering the amount in order to get your reps. It will happen; you will get there, so don't worry.  

Remember, it's not about how much you can lift, it's about how well you lift. It means nothing if your form isn't correct. A correct push press of 20 pounds trumps a sloppy one at 50. So the first month or so of any new exercise should be a learning period to find the perfect intersection of weight and form. 

To recap: Two sets of 4 reps, the last rep should be difficult while still keeping correct form. When you are able to do 2 sets of 6 reps, increase the weight and lower the reps back to 4. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 

Choosing an Exercise Regemin

Now that we have a way to script our exercise and track our progress, we need to come up with a list of activities that will satisfy our fitness goals. As mentioned previously, this could be a list of stretching, cardio, lifts, or some combination of these.

I'm not going to delve into specifics here, because everyone is different in terms of goals, body type, limitations, etc... What works for me may not work for others. Given the nature of progressive resistance, what works for me today may not work for me tomorrow.

Here are good places to find movements that best suit your needs, with some pros and cons of each:

Internet

Pros:

  • Unlimited information
  • Ability to convey form/ movement through video
  • Free

Cons:

  • Unlimited information
  • Qualifications of contributor unknown
  • Quality of information directly related to instructor experience

Books

Pros: 

  • Easy to locate and isolate Information
  • Great for Reference
  • Portable

Cons: 

  • Text/ Pictures may not fully demonstrate or articulate correct form
  • Finite scope

Smart Phone/ Tablet Apps

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Interactive

Cons:

  • May require Internet Connection
  • Charges may apply for premium content or features
  • Requires phone/ tablet be available during exercise

Friends

Pros:

  • Team environment/ Fellowship
  • Excellent motivation

Cons:

  • Perpetuate bad habits
  • Convey incorrect information

Certified Personal Trainer

Pros: 

  • Trained and Certified in sport and exercise curriculum
  • Customize fitness regemen to fulfill client needs
  • In-Person/ Hands-On coaching
  • Immediate feedback

Cons:

  • Expensive (Some Require Gym Memberships)
  • Some may be sales oriented (future training sessions, nutrition products, equipment, etc…)

Scripting and Tracking Fitness: The Basics

Scripting and tracking your exercise routines is a simple but excellent tool to sustain motivation and increase performance. The best part is that you can find ready-made templates in most fitness books, on the Internet, or as smartphone apps for free!

The basic parts of any fitness tracker are:

  • Date - The date on which the exercise occurred.
  • Exercise - The activity that you did. 
  • Reps - Short for "repetitions". This denotes the number of times you did the exercise.
    Example: One dumbbell curl = one Rep. 5 squats = 5 Reps. 10 push-ups = 10 Reps.
  • Sets - Groupings of the same exercise usually separated by a short rest period. 
    Example: 5 squats, 3 times, with a 90 second break between each 5. This means you would do 3 sets of 5 squats for a total of 15 squats. 
  • Resistance Unit/ Weight - The amount of weight used in each rep.

Certainly, if you choose to add the ability to track stretches, cardio, and other specialized movements, your template will require more customization. 

Using the terms above, our tracker may look something like this:

Date
Exercise Reps Weight
Weighted Hip Bridge 5
5
Dumbbell Row 5
5
Chest Press 5
5
Leg Press 5
5
Dumbell Laterals 10
10

Notice that each exercise has two rows? This means we would do two sets of each. 

Or, we can show the same thing like this:

Date
Exercise Reps Sets Weight
Weighted Hip Bridge 5 2
Dumbbell Row 5 2
Chest Press 5 2
Leg Press 5 2
Dumbbell Laterals 10 2

Each template assumes that we will fill in the weight after the exercise. 

Again, the basics can be modified to fit your exercise plan. If you wish to do an exercise that is measured in time, laps, or distance, then you can track those as well. 

Once you found a template that you like, you can make a photocopy or transpose it to a piece of paper (like a 3x5 memo pad or notebook), spreadsheet, or app. Personally, I prefer keeping mine stored in a spreadsheet template which I print for use. The best option is the one that is easiest for you to carry to the gym and keep current.

Scripting Your Exercise Routine

Thus far, we have defined our root motivation for choosing an active lifestyle, and in that process we came up with at least one achievable goal in which to initially measure our progress.

Now, here is where most people adapt the shotgun approach to exercise and throw all of their energy into a random flurry of activity unrelated to their goals and motives. As we've discussed before, this method is usually short-lived and unsustainable. 

Let's avoid that trap now by adopting a more reasonable tactic; I strongly encourage scripting an exercise routine in advance.

What is a scripted exercise routine?

Quite simply, it is a list of exercises (stretching, cardio, weights, etc...) we plan to accomplish in a single session. 

What are the advantages of using a scripted exercise routine?

By understanding what we plan to accomplish in each training session before hand, it maximizes our time and effort spent exercising. Thereby, it assists in allowing us to realize positive gains more readily. It is an excellent tool to guide our activity and document our results.  

What good does it serve to document our results?

Documenting our results during each training session has a several benefits. First, it gives feedback on performance as to whether we are ready to progress in weight or duration the next time out. Secondly, keeping records helps to easily identify areas where we may need special attention in order to progress, sometimes pointing to auxiliary exercises or modifications in technique. Third, the records we keep today set up the script for our next session. Finally, being able to see tangible results of each session over time becomes a powerful motivator. Even after only a few sessions, seeing the result of our accomplishments makes us more likely to continue and progress towards even more amazing results!

Bear in mind, professionals who rely on fitness for success or survival approach their training with a purpose. Why shouldn't you?

Next time, let's talk in more detail about how to script our exercise routine!  

Brief Recap

Remember, we are exploring the following steps to getting active:

  1. Define our Motivation
  2. Plan our Workout
  3. Execute on that Plan
  4. Measure our Progress

We just finished discussing step 1, Defining our Motivation.

Next, we will discuss step 2, how to Plan our Workout.

Stay tuned.....

Step 1: Define our Motivation - Getting to the Root

What makes exercise, or any activity enduring and worthwhile is not the goal, but our underlying motivation. 

Goals are to motivation as leaves are to the root of the tree. 

Great. What does this mean?

It means that goals are great tools to measure short-term progress on our true motivations. Nothing more. 

By nature, each goal has a definitive end whereby success implies the cessation of activity. Prolonged failure has the same result. Either way, it's "game over." Basing a lifestyle on a subjective outcome that has a limited scope doesn't bode well for long term engagement. 

Looking back to our example in the last post, by focusing on just that single leaf, all of our awareness and energy was tied up examining the temporary product of an infinitely dynamic organism. So, when the leaf dies, we are unaware that the rest of the tree eminating from the root remains. We lose perspective; we become lost. 

Just as a tree has many leaves, our motivation can be realized through numerous, interchangeable goals. The art herein is to utilize a particular goal until it no longer suits our motivation, and swap it with another goal that is a better fit. This method ensures a higher probability that progress over the long term can be sustained.

Getting to your root, or motivation, may take some time pin down what you really want to achieve. Sometimes, what we say we want and what we really want are  two different things.

Many people list losing weight as a reason they want to become active. Excellent start. Now, ask yourself "why?".   

A possible answer may be, "To look and feel better".

But why do you want to look and feel better?

"To have more confidence and control". 

Why?

See where this is going?  

Try this on your own by writing down each answer, following each with "Why?". The deeper you go, the longer it should take. I encourage you to try this out over the course of a week to see how far you can go. I normally go 4 to 6 levels deep, depending on the topic. You may be surprised where this takes you, and all of the wonderful opportunities for motivation this provides. Remember, no two people will be alike and there are no wrong answers.

We do this so that when we lose 10 pounds, we don't pack it in and say goodbye to exercise. It affords us the option to keep going down this route to lose additional weight, or choose another active path altogether. Perhaps one may chose to switch goals and tone muscle, build endurance, or become active in a sport? Losing weight may no longer be important, but being active still is

Your motivation keeps you centered and engaged. Once you discover the root, you are free to explore and enjoy all of the fruits of the tree.

Next time we will discuss Planning and its importance to exercise.
 

Step 1: Define our Motivation

Let us take a step back and think on why fitness should be an important part of our lives.

I'm sure many people would say something along these lines of losing weight, getting stonger, getting back into shape, etc..

A good start, yet I would argue that the real reason, your true motivation, runs much deeper than this. 

Imagine your initial thought as the leaf on a tree. As you touch the leaf, you can inspect it's color, shape, and texture. Your leaf is very tangible in this moment. However, if you stand back, you will notice that this leaf is attached to a little stem, which may be attached to a bigger stem, and then a branch. The branch attaches to the trunk which held firm by the root. 

Your motivation is the root.

When the seasons change, that leaf may be gone, but the rest of the tree remains, only to replace that leaf come spring. Thusly, it is so with motivation. 

Motivation is not a static end unto itself, it is an ever evolving blueprint for our life.

As one leaf leaves us, thousands more emerge, all from the same root.

"Leaves, roots, blueprints? How does this help me do situps?", you're probably asking. 

In my next post, we will get to the root!

Planning Success !

In order to get back on track at the gym, here are some easy steps we can take now to organize our time and effort, make things fun, and experience results. More importantly, these steps will go a long way to making fitness a lifelong habit.

  1. Define our Motivation
  2. Plan our Workout
  3. Execute on that Plan
  4. Measure our Progress

I will talk in detail about each of these steps soon, but for now I will briefly describe each. 

Motivation: This is your reason for wanting, or feeling the need, to make exercise an important part of your life. Some people want to gain strength, lose weight, tone muscle, train for another sport, work out with friends, etc... Whatever your motivation, write it down and start your plan.

Plan our Workout: In a notebook or a spreadsheet, write down a small group of exercises that will help you realize your motivation. Start small and keep things simple for now. You will take this list with you so you can follow your plan without having to remember your routine. There's nothing less motivating or less productive than having to randomly guess at what to do next. 

Execution: This is actually following through on your list! You pick the time and the place, take your list, and get started ! Remember, keep it simple at first, and don't overdo; we want to make our exercise time fun.  

Measure our Progress: After each exercise on our list, make sure to note the date, the activity, and how we did. This way, we will know how to set up the exercise for next time. Trying to remember weights, repetitions, times, distances, etc... over the course of the next few crucial weeks will hinder progress. Additionally, this incredibly simple tool will transform your effort into a tangible body of work in no time at all. Every minute of every activity becomes permanent matter that we can see and touch ! When you look back on this list in a short few weeks, you will realize how far you've come and will be more likely to continue. Motivation becomes success, which fuels motivation; a circle of productivity that transforms effort into a healthy habit.  

Once you get started, you can always adjust your plan and your methods to better suit your needs. 

Details coming soon!

Failing to Plan...

"Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail" - Alan Lakein

Whether you've given up on your fitness resolution or wishing you had, now is the time to re-evaluate your approach. Jumping into the deep end just doesn't work for the long term. What we need is a good plan that is easy to follow and fun to do. 

How will a plan help?

Let's look at it this way. When was the last time you went on vacation and aimlessly drove random roads hoping to reach your destination? Vacation time is precious, so most people like to know where they're going and the best way to get there. That way we can maximize our time spent in an enjoyable place. 

Then why is working out any different? This time is just as precious! Yet, many choose take the 'shotgun' approach to exercise. That is, they manically scramble from one one activity, exercise, or machine to the next with little sense of purpose, hoping that something works. 

A good plan is a road map that will guide us to our fitness goal. It is a tool that eliminates guesswork and wasted time and effort. It will allow us to focus on the execution of the tasks at hand. Our plan will also allow us to measure our progress and make targeted adjustments along the way.

I will leave you with this for now. Until next time, reflect on what you did and did not like about your fitness resolution.