Whether you want to lose weight, build muscle, or get stronger – the four pillars of achieving any fitness goal are simple. And by simple I mean there are no intricate formulas or array of moving parts to keep track of. The “hard part” of health and fitness comes down to mental and emotional factors that play into the habits we have (including the stories we tell ourselves in the recesses of our minds). But the mental/emotional “inner game” of health and fitness is a topic for another day. Today I’m discussing the 4 pillars for achieving any fitness goal:
1. Eat Real Food.
By and large, if it comes in a bag, box, or wrapper, then you shouldn’t eat it. For the most part, if you can’t eat it raw or cooked with nothing more than an open flame, you shouldn’t eat it. And if you can acquire it from a pimple faced teenager in a window without having to get out of your car, then you definitely shouldn’t eat it.
So what does that leave us? Lots of vegetables, some meat, fish, eggs and fruit, and nuts and seeds – and in my experience that should be the foundation of diet regardless of your fitness goals. There are a few gray areas and “tweaks” that can be made depending on your goals and genetic predisposition to gain or lose fat and muscle. The most notable of these gray areas is dairy, which agrees with me fine in small doses but I typically recommend avoiding if you are trying to lose weight. But the only way to know what works for you is to test. Don’t make an assumption from what you read or what you hear in the gym – test and draw your own conclusion based on results.
2. Train outside of your comfort zone.
If you are trying to build muscle, you need to do that one more rep. If you are building strength, you have to add weight to the bar. If you are doing interval or circuit training you have to either do the same work faster or more work across the same time. And if you are training for a marathon. . . you might want to go to a different website.
Many times I’ve heard the frustration in the voice of someone who says some derivative of, “I don’t understand why I’m not getting stronger, I do 20 push ups every morning.” And I always think (and sometimes say), “Have you ever thought of trying to do 21?” For continued growth, there must be continued challenge. But this striving to always do more must be tempered with adequate rest and recovery.
3. Allow for adequate rest and recovery.
For most people, I think the fear of over-training is about as realistic as the boogie man. But under-sleeping. . . this is a factor that is all too common in modern society. As is high levels of stress. Traffic commuting to work, financial and career pressures, and relationship issues can all throw our bodies into a “fight or flight” mode that drains us physically, mentally, and emotionally absent healthy coping practices.
Meditation, spending time in nature, massage, many hobbies, and playing with children and pets are all examples of healthy coping practices. Numbing ourselves with alcohol and drugs, video games, and empty sex only lead to more stress once the numbness subsides and we are faced with the fact that the original stressors are still there waiting for us after the hangover.
4. Repeat with consistency.
Ah yes. . . the fourth pillar is where the gap between the pillars of eat/train/rest and the “inner game” that I alluded to at the beginning of this article begin to intersect. Anyone can have a good workout. Or a nutritious meal. Or a good night’s sleep. But the key is to repeat those positive actions day after day, month after month, and year after year.
A program with a relatively short timeline such as my 31 Day Fat Loss Cure can be good to build focus, especially when the discipline required for the eat/train/rest pillars has been absent for several years. But it is my hope that the initial 31 days is a springboard to a lifetime of healthy habits.
Whether you want to lose 20 lbs of fat or add 20 lbs to your bench press, achieving any fitness goal comes down to the same four pillars. Keep diet focused on real food, always strive to do a little more in each workout while tempering the training with proper rest and recovery, and be ready to make your changes life-long habits even if it’s a short term goal that gets you started.
What else is necessary to achieve your fitness goals? Does it really come down to the four pillars I’ve listed? If so, what is stopping you (or others you know) from being fit and healthy? What significance does the “inner game” play in achieving fitness goals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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