In my PREVIOUS ARTICLE I discussed the importance of routine, and the value it has when working towards achieving your fitness goals and maintaining your desired fitness level once you are there. I think it is an important topic and warrants a bit more discussion.
To begin, it is worth reiterating that one of the most important aspects of achieving (or maintaining) or your fitness goals come down to creating a routine of doing the activities / behaviors that are needed for success, and having the discipline to stick to them. Some examples of this include:
- Strength training on a regular basis, 2x weekly minimum, ideally more.
- Getting in other forms of exercise such was walking, stretching, or playing sports
- Having a sleep schedule that you stick to that ensures you are getting enough rest and recovery
- Setting yourself up for success when it comes to nutrition, which typically includes something along the lines of:
- Grocery shopping at least 1x weekly (with a list you’ve made in advance)
- Meal prepping so you have healthy foods easily accessible throughout the week
- Creating an environment where you DO NOT have junk food temptations easily accessible most of the time
If you can do ALL those things on a regular basis, the odds are quite good that you will achieve and maintain your fitness goals. If you are not there yet, then assess where you are, and take small steps to start moving in the right direction. Once you have made that assessment, it is a good idea to start with the easiest ones that require the least amount of disruption to your current routine – these “baby steps” help build successful habits and get your momentum moving in the right direction. Importantly, they also boost your confidence that you CAN succeed at this, and believing that you can do it is a crucial part to the battle.
An example might be helpful. Let’s say right now you do almost no meal prep in advance and find yourself scrambling to figure out what to eat most days, and it often means you grab take out or fast food. I probably do not need to tell you that doing that eating drive-through food (or any sort of “grab and go” food) with any regularity will not support your health and fitness goals. Although obvious, it is also an important thing to point out that everybody eats (as compared to going to the gym, which not everybody does), so starting with improving your nutrition habits makes a lot of sense because eating is something that everybody already does … so all you need to do is improve an existing thing you do, as opposed to starting to do a new thing (which is usually more difficult).
- Pick one or two healthy recipes (primarily protein and veggies) that you want to make in a large batch
- Put the ingredients on your shopping list
- Sunday morning go to the store and buy them
- Sunday afternoon cook it all so that it is ready to go for the week
What if you don’t like leftovers? Honestly, you just need to deal with it. Nobody likes leftovers as much as they do freshly cooked food; you need to eat them anyway. This isn’t a “choice” – you NEED healthy foods readily accessible, and unless you are retired and/or have the budget for a private chef, this is the only way to do it that is going to fit your schedule. This is also where the power of routine comes in: it helps you do things that support your goals, even if those tasks don’t excite you. I’m sure you can extrapolate this concept to sleep, strength training, stretching, and so on, and adapt it to whatever part of that equation you want to focus on.
Shifting gears slightly, this article is titled “Balancing Routine and Intensity” and thus far it has only talked about routine, with no mention of intensity.
I also want to talk to the people who do a pretty darn good job of all the pieces of the puzzle and have their routine down pretty well. One thing I see as a challenge for many of these people is that their ability to stick to a routine is kind of like a light switch – it’s either all the way on or all the way off. They either CRUSH IT every time they go to the gym, or they don’t go to the gym at all. They either go all-in on some short term diet (usually 30-days of something like strict paleo, Whole 30, or another similar one) or they totally fall off the wagon and their primary food groups become chocolate and pizza for weeks at a time. In other words, if they can’t maintain their typical intensity then their entire routine falls apart. For the best long-term sustainability (and thereby success) you need to be able to dial back the intensity sometimes without completely falling off the wagon.
Let’s say you have an unusually busy work week coming up. One thing I have seen from people time and time again is completely skipping the gym for that week. I totally understand that it might be unrealistic to get in all your workouts in their typical duration and intensity, but I cannot advocate for completely skipping either. Skipping will break your routine, make it harder to get back on routine later, and usually skipping the workouts will also make it more difficult for you to feel energetic and mentally sharp enough to perform at your best at work anyway. In lieu of skipping completely, here are some suggestions:
- If you like to lift barbells here are some options:
- Do only your main lift for the day and then call it (e.g. skip any accessory work). This will get you out of the gym must faster, use less total energy, and keep you in the routine of lifting
- Do your usual workout but don’t go past “warm up weights” on your main barbell lifts. Typically most people take 2-4 warm up sets before they get to their “work sets” so you can just stop at the heaviest warm up weight
- If you want to go a little heavy but still “save some” for your busy work week, then just do one work set instead of the more usual 3+ work sets.
- If you like to lift kettlebells here are some options:
- Do a short workout of moderate intensity (or possibly even above moderate). I wrote an article for StrongFirst about a time where I needed to make my entire workout last 15-minutes or less; feel free to check that out and do some of those workouts if you are in a time-pinch.
- Do your usual workout with a reduced weight. For example, if you normally snatch 24kg then do the same workout with 20kg instead. This usually leaves you feeling nice and refreshed and does a nice job of keeping your skills sharp and even your calluses conditioned for when you’re ready to return back to normal weights.
- If Jiu Jitsu is your primary activity:
- Go to class and drill only, and don’t do sparring for that week
- If you want to do a little sparring, stick to flow rolls only. This will let you move a bit and get a sweat in without draining you too badly
- If you want to get a small amount of higher intensity sparring in while still keeping something in the tank, consider trying “positional isolation” sparring from positions that tend to be a little slower and not have as many explosive movements. The primary one that comes to mind here is half-guard, because it is fairly even top & bottom and is usually a slower tempo than takedowns or open guard.