Keep It Simple

I remember an athletic young woman who came in to the gym a couple of years back. She’d recently had a lay-off from training and had gained a few pounds. She had a program she’d put together and she wanted me to look it over. She planned on doing 3 days per week of weights, 2 days per week of cycling, 2 days per week of long, slow runs, and some “machines.” Also, she was going to go on a cleanse (don’t get me started…) to jump start her fat loss, then do a predominantly liquid and fruit diet she’d read about until she was back to her normal weight. Which supplements should she take? Should she buy whey protein?

I suggested that it sounded like a lot of work, but she might be able to do it. Of course, I was lying, but I’m nothing if not non-confrontational. I knew she’d fail…we all would.

In the book The Power of Less, Leo Babauta shows that given one clear task, 85% of people can stick to it. Give them a second task, and only 35% of us would succeed in adhering to the plan. At three tasks, we drop to less than 10% success.

One of the famous lines about fat loss is “don’t talk to me about supplements if you’re still eating Big Macs.” You get the point; do the simple stuff first, and see if it works. If you don’t work out at all, you don’t need to worry about a complicated training plan. If you eat out every day, forget about counting calories.

Here are a few very simple (not necessarily easy) tips to push you toward success.

  1. Limit the treats to one-a-day. This is a great tip from Lou Schuler, author of The New Rules of Lifting. Sure, eat some crap, but just one. One.
  2. Drink some water. Sounds silly, but how much do you actually consume? Start with a full glass at the beginning of each meal. Replace your special drinks with water as a terribly efficient second step if you’re trying to lose weight. Did you know that by simply drinking water instead of your daily glass of red wine you could lose 8 pounds a year? Plus, you’d save about $900 per year. And as much as you’d love to think it’s good for your heart, that’s not why you drink it.
  3. Eat more often. Sure you know this one, but the reason we do it is not so much to stoke the metabolism, but to keep you from being so dang hungry. We tend to overeat when we come to meal time ravenous, so follow this one little step to avoid it.
  4. Take some time and plan. You know the right things to eat. (If you don’t, as I’ve said before, ask a first grader) Make a plan to buy and prepare meals for all of your lunches and dinners for the week. Plan on having enough good stuff around that you don’t get tempted to eat junk. Very rarely are good-for-you foods conveniently packaged into bite-sized morsels, so it’s going to take some energy.

Don’t worry about doing it all at once. Try one thing and ask the question “Is it working?” If not, try adding another intervention. And another until you get it right.

The years are not counting up, they are counting down. Get your mind right, keep your goals simple, and you might just get a few more.




My Personal Trainer

My God, she is trying to kill me.

I was somewhere in the middle of racing between minute-long shuttle runs and weighted lunges, separated by just enough rest to start feeling nauseous before sprinting again. I felt cold. I really thought this was the end. Five rounds? Six? When would the hour end?

I would never make an athlete do this…

I’ve been designing, testing, and analyzing training programs for more than twenty years. I’ve made my living as a trainer for more than half that time. And although I spend a lot of time messing around with training, my own training often isn’t that great. In fact, this spring I was finding myself doing all the things I hate seeing my clients do: skipping workouts, shortening workouts, using too-light weights, eating after dinner, and generally dumbing-down every facet of my fitness. I was beginning to pay for it, too. My strength was waning, my weight was going up.

What the hell is she thinking?

I’ve designed my own workouts forever. I usually don’t have a hard time training; I like it and I like the  results. But this spring, the balance in my life tilted too far to one side. My wife, Ellen, and I welcomed a new baby in April, and things at our business are busier than ever. Even though there is a gym really close to my office, I wasn’t using it. On top of that, I wasn’t sleeping as well and energy to make good nutritional choices was strained. My first inclination was to let it slide, to get back in shape in the fall. But then I remembered an article written for personal trainers where the author asked four basic questions:

  • Do you think a good fitness professional is a valuable investment?
  • Do you think a good fitness professional can get someone to their goals faster than they can get there on their own?
  • Are you personally in the greatest physical condition of your life right now?
  • Are you ecstatic with your own strength levels and conditioning?

He followed these questions with this:

“I bet that 80-90% of those who answered will say – yes, yes, no, no.

So – extrapolating from that – what is YOUR trainer’s name? Why did you hire him or her? I bet most trainers don’t even have training partners – never mind a coach to help them with programming and getting to the next level.”

I needed help. I needed someone who would not listen to my whining, someone who would not listen to my analysis of how hard the work was.

This isn’t training. This is crazy.

I hired Jagoe Reid. Spending 45 minutes “working out” is not the same as training, and I knew it. I asked Jagoe for two things: accountability and intensity. I can work hard sometimes, but not all the time. As I get older and busier and (honestly) lazier, I need quality training more than ever.

Our first session was harder than I had expected, but I stayed upright. I remember thinking that she must be trying to prove something. I remember thinking that she was diabolically insane. I gave Jagoe her first job as a strength coach and this is the thanks I get? I thought back to the scene at the end of Star Wars with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader:

Darth Vader: I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.
Obi-Wan: Only a master of evil, Darth.

It wasn’t clear to me during the session whether this was going to be a good arrangement or not. In my mind, I started into all the rationalizations that usually crop up when the going gets tough. But, as tough times do, the session finally did come to an end. I was drenched with sweat, exhausted, and not looking forward to the long flight of stairs back up to my office. I was relieved and proud…just the way we should feel after a hard effort.

As the weeks passed, the training progressed and so did I. A month or more into it now, I am stronger, lighter, and feeling positive about things again. She makes me do all the things I should do. She looks for the weak links. She makes me explain why the scale isn’t budging.

I used to think I was the last person in the world that would need a coach. Now, I can’t see myself without one.