My Journey to Optimal Fitness: 6 Key Questions

10347612_10101475572862565_3537202384012228908_nIf you’d have met me as a 12 year old schoolboy in North Wales, UK you would not have necessarily put me in the category of ‘most likely to become passionate about Fitness’. I was far more at home playing on my Sega Mega Drive or eating my entire body weight in Prawn Cocktail crisps (it’s a British thing). Cross Country runs were sure-fire to set me up for a preventative Asthma attack and going to the Swimming baths induced multiple nervous toilet runs before I even went in the water.  As for Football, well, let’s just say I was a great substitute for a jumper used as a goal post.  ‘I’m just not a sporty type’, I would say if challenged.

My passions were academia by day and the contents of my Mum’s fridge by night.  So what changed?

Build until the Beat Drops: Repeat.

As I left the fields of North Wales to go study in urban Manchester I was soon enticed by the bright lights of the party scene.  In wanting to not only flash the correct dance moves but also look like I had ample tickets to the Gun Show I began chasing after a better physique.  Having never built any solid foundations around fitness however my weight and fitness level yo-yoed for over 12 years.

Anyone who knows me well will remember that on almost every birthday eve of my 20s I would declare ‘Next year will be the year I get myself Six Pack Abs’.  At the time I was probably around 15 Stone or 95/100 Kilos with a waist line that was a walking advertisement for Greggs the Bakers Pie Loyalty Scheme.  

The thing is, whatever I am into, I am into 100%.  That means if I am passionate about something be it a cause for social justice, a bacon based recipe or even a musical genre you will know about it within minutes of meeting me or from just a few scrolls of my social media feed.  The curse of such a disposition is that I can be all or nothing – once I’m done then I’m done.  It was all about short-sharp bursts.  Much like the High NRG Dance I was chasing after!

How this translated into my work out regimen has been that I have been laser focussed, self-sacrificial and pouring everything in then, when life gets complicated, other challenges arise or I got bored then I’m out.  

It’s amazing how much of an impact learnt behaviour and limiting self belief can have on you well into adult life.

What’s the tonic to this ailment then? The answer is ‘Habits’.  

Aggregation of Marginal Gains

The problem with the way I was approaching things before was that you can only live completely self-sacrificial for a while.  Equally if you are so laser focussed on the end result you can come to begrudge the journey and the time it is taking you get there – this is where we end up defaulting to short cuts like ‘Get Abs in 4 Weeks’ programmes, BuzzFeed Ads that promise to get you slim with just one wrap, steroids or even cosmetic surgery.

We didn’t knock our bodies out of shape in a day and getting them (back) to optimal health won’t be done in a day either. It’s more about changing the 1%ers.  Only very recently I realised that I needed to be making, small sustainable changes to my daily routine that would allow me to sustain my progress – my workouts have now been far more focussed on getting my form right and less so on smashing out as much as I can.  There is a lot of excitement out there about Functional Movement with enigmatic characters like Ido Portal leading the charge – he has a rocking body but doesn’t just make it about how many reps/kgs he can lift.  It’s about working with your body to make it the best it can possible be.  Check him out here.

It’s true that a relentless focus on the small stuff, to build these habits, can sometimes fly in the face of my over achieving male ego but it is this same focus that will take me where I need to go in the long run.  After all I don’t just want a six-pack for my 20s/30s I want to have optimal fitness all my life long.

The Prize is in the Process

My old Personal Trainer, Ryan Davies, noticed that I was far more into the short, sharp bursts of activity than I was going for a 10K run for example.  With that in mind, especially knowing that I was due to move to Australia, he recommended I look into CrossFit.  I soon found a box with a welcoming culture, a relentless focus on improvement and a sport that anyone could enter at any level and see marked improvement.  Namely CrossFit Ignite in Waterloo. This ticked all my boxes.

Finding a sport or exercise regimen that you can get excited about is key, as this allows you to focus on the process.  Can you set short-term measurable goals and celebrate success?  That will help!  If you hate cycling with a passion then getting on a bike 5 times a week probably won’t get you motivated.  That isn’t to say that when you get momentum in overall fitness you may not want to get in that saddle to prove to yourself, or others, that you can do it.  In the beginning it comes down to knowing what makes you tick, how you operate and harnessing this to make the best version of you possible.

To Thine Own Self Be True

Fitness sits at the core of everything we do.  If we are out of shape it can affect our mood, our productivity or even our relationships. As a hard-core ‘Fan of a Full Fridge’ I have long been aware of the emotional attachment I have to food.  If I am feeling anxious, I eat, if I am feeling tired, I eat, if I am happy, I eat. I kid you not when I say that one of my favourite things to do is to open the fridge, have a little look, smile at the readily available supply of food then close it again.  Knowing this allows me to self-check and be aware of my triggers – I also always ensure that I have healthy snacks at arm’s length and anything from the Tim Tam family out of the house (Side note: we really need to address our raccoon issue at home.  They break in, tear through the cupboards and eat their way through anything that isn’t locked down before throwing a few crumbs on my bed and running out of the door without a trace..  That is the only logical explanation anyway.)  Know your own Achilles heel and plan how to substitute the itch that it helps to scratch.

Sleeping’s Cheating, right?

Margaret Thatcher is famous for being able to survive on just 4 hours sleep a night.  Most of us aren’t running a Western democracy however and even for those who are running hectic lives you have to keep your sleep in check.  Most people need between 7 and 9 hours a night, more depending on how much you’re training.  It’s the body’s time to repair, restore but also to fill up the tank.  In my clubbing days we used the term ‘Sleeping’s Cheating’ – which when you want to stay up for a few days and listen to House Music then maybe it is.  But if you are looking to looking to get your life in balance and see the fruit of your labour then it’s quite the opposite.

This isn’t a revolutionary insight per se, but as a man who has been titled the ‘Fittest Man on Earth’, I’d recommend checking out what he has to say on the matter of sleep

20/20 Vision

Who do you want to be?  What are you running towards or from?  What is your passion?  Is it tangible enough for you to be able to touch it.  Without a clear picture of where you want to be you’ll never get there.

Right now I am sitting wearing my aspirational pants – yes that is a real thing.  I bought them with a view to one day being the right size to be able to fit into them and having them in my line of sight really helped to get me there.  I also have a range of Top Athletes on a Vision Board in my room. This way I can visualise where and who I want to be then set the goals to get me there.  It really works!

It Takes a Village to raise a Child aka Man Doth Not Bag a 6 Pack Alone

I can only imagine the atmosphere you get in the Olympic Village prior to the Games commencing.  Athletes surrounded by peers at the pinnacle of their field – all full of nervous excitement and anticipation.  I imagine it would be electric.  Everyone either egging each other on or benchmarking to see where they could get the competitive advantage.

A lot of our success in life has to do with our inner circle.  John Kuebler said ‘Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future’.  Now don’t get me wrong the last thing I wanted to do when I first got into training was to stand next to someone who made me feel like a Match Stick Man but in fitness, like in life, you need a mentor  It is with this in mind that I choose my inner circle of friends wisely and also have trusted professionals to speak into various areas in my life, not just fitness.  

Someone who is further down the path from me, who can hold me accountable, challenge, motivate and inspire you to go further.   It can sometimes cost time or money to do this but if you spend time researching the right guy/gal it can be one of the best investments you can make.

What Optimal Health Means To Me

Balance isn’t a sexy word but it is imperative if you want to build any form of a solid foundation.  Optimal is being able to say that you are looking at all the areas of your life and acknowledging where you can do better, then putting a plan in place to do so.  I don’t mean to project manage your self to within an inch of your life but you can not afford to ignore the delicious symphony that addressing health issues can bring.  If you can’t love your self then you won’t be able to do much for others, at least not for very long.

The above shows a snapshot of my journey so far.  It has been more of a tango than it has a consistent stride ahead but with the right advice, the right people around me and the focus on the right habits I am seeing a notable change in my direction.  To help nudge you to a similar place I have listed some questions below to ask yourself.  Be honest and be sure to comment with any questions/feed-back.  I’m no professional but I am passionate about progress!  Would love to hear your thoughts

6 Questions to Help Shape Your Fitness Journey

1.) What vision do you have for your future?  

Can you picture how you want to look or where you want to be?  Is it so real that it’s tangible? What practical steps do you need to be making today to get you there?

2.) What are your day to day habits?  

Maxwell Maltz, in his book Psycho-Cybernetics, says it takes 21 days of repeated activity to make something a habit.  What daily activities would help you get to your fitness goals?

3.) How are you tracking your progress?  

One of the addictive things about CrossFit is that you religiously measure your progress so you can see how you are improving week by week.  For you, this could be a tracking spreadsheet, Before and After photos or working through a programme with your PT.

4.) What are you feeding your self with?  How comfortable are you with your nutrition and with the information sources you are getting your inspiration from?    If you keep filling your belly and your mind like this, what do you imagine your life will be like in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years?

5.)  How are you finding time to rest? Do you have a regular sleep routine that allows your body to unwind and relax?  Check out this blog for inspiration.  PS Margaret Thatcher or no Margaret Thatcher, you need to know what’s best for your body!

6.)  Are you prioritising fun? We all hate ‘Organised Fun’ but sufficient play time is so key to topping up your energy tank and to not feeling like you are living on a treadmill.  Life is to be enjoyed not endured!

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