I have conversations with people all the time in the gym about what they can do outside of the gym to help maximize their progress. In no particular order, here are five things you can do to get the most out of your training:
1) GET ENOUGH SLEEP
“Enough” will vary from person-to-person, but is rarely less than 7 hours. I suspect that for many people it will take some changing of habits in order to get that much, or more, consistently. I would go out on a limb and say that for most people the primary culprit of not getting adequate sleep is too much time spent on technology – watching Netflix, playing video games, or being on social media, when you should be going to bed. Not only will getting more sleep benefit you by giving your body more time to recover and leave you feeling more alert, refreshed, and motivated, there is also evidence to suggest that it can reduce the likelihood of injuries.
2) LIMIT NEGATIVE THINGS IN YOUR DIET
I’m not going to sit here and say “eliminate” because we’re all human and like to enjoy some of our favorite foods and drinks from time to time. I do it, I am sure you do it, and most everyone we know does it. That said, it would be silly to think the frequency and amounts are of no consequence. There is a big difference between eating dessert on date night Saturday night compared to doing it 7-nights per week. The biggest culprits here are going to be sugar, alcohol, snack foods, and greasy meals. I would say sugar in particular is a big culprit because it is the most socially acceptable to eat at all times of the day – breakfast cereal & a muffin in the morning, syrups in your latte, soda with lunch, a cookie for an afternoon snack, and of course all the dessert options at night. Start with a small change that you feel confident you can implement consistently, such as no added sugars on Mondays, and once you have that ingrained into your routine you can build on it.
3) MEAL PREP
While we’re on the nutrition end of things, try to make sure you have convenient access to nutritious foods. Many of the people we work with have lives that “can get away from them” if they are not careful … kids, careers, and so on. When these unexpected challenges come up, one of the first things to go is healthy eating – instead they rely on drive-thru meals or whatever else they can come up with quickly. Speed and convenience become more important than quality when it comes to food. The solution needs to be making nutritious food convenient – since experience shows us that convenience will always win out if it becomes and either/or situation. The most important aspects of nutrition for most adults are going to be the two P’s: protein and produce. I suggest that you dedicate a couple hours each week to shop for protein & produce and cook it in enough quantity to get you through the majority of the week. If you are able to do that consistently the return on your investment will be immense.
4) DRINK WATER
I am never ceased to be amazed at how many people drink no water throughout the day. I’m not saying you need to drink a gallon a day or anything, but the amount of people I have worked with who drink no fluids of any kind between their morning coffee and then wine with dinner is astonishing.
5) LIMIT “SELF-IMPOSED” STRESSORS
There are unavoidable stressors in all of our lives – there is only so much we can do about that. What you can do is try to stay out of your own way when it comes to what I’ll call “self-imposed” stressors. Admittedly, these can often be difficult habits to break, so don’t feel pressure to tackle them all at once – instead, bite them off in small increments. What do I mean by “self-imposed stressors?” It can be a big category, but essentially I am referring to things that:
- Stress you out (even if you don’t realize it at the time)
- Are within your control with respect to how much (if any) of it you include in your life
Some examples will probably be helpful:
- Reading / watching the news. Seriously, does anyone get less stressed out by reading the news? Typically it is completely the opposite. Several months ago I deleted every single news app from my phone, and within a week I felt noticeably less anxious. These days I typically go online only on Sundays to see what is going on, and that is enough to keep me informed without adding undo stress
- Establish boundaries for work. Even if you are a small business owner, you DO NOT need to be “on call” 24/7 for non-emergency situations. This one can be hard for many people, myself included, but trying to establish dedicated windows where you are un-plugged from work will do wonders for your stress levels.
- Limit time on social media. For all the benefits that social media brings us, it is undeniable that it comes with many downsides. People tend to share an unrealistically favorable view of their lives, which leads to you comparing yourself to them in an unhealthy way. Algorithms want to keep your attention and so they will often feed you stories and posts that spark emotion – with the strongest emotions typically being anger and fear, meaning you will be shown a lot of content designed to elicit those emotions. On top of all that, too much time spent scrolling tends to leave you in a “brain fog” and will probably result in you feeling, and being, less productive throughout your day.
Now that we have some examples, I’ll share one thing I do that has been a huge help to me and I hope it is useful to you too. As you probably noticed all three examples from above have to do with being on technology to the point where it becomes a net-negative on your stress levels (not good for anything, let alone recovery from your workouts in the gym). For the vast majority of us, our smartphones are the primary device we use for all of this, and I am no exception to that. So, I decided to limit when I would have my phone with me – the concept is pretty simple, if my phone is not with me then I cannot be on it.
What I do is put my phone away as soon as I get home from work (for example in a drawer where I cannot see it), and it does not come out again until the next morning AFTER I have had a cup of coffee. Any text messages, DM’s, or emails that come in during that window will all have to wait. Most mornings I get up about an hour before Mira, which means that I am just sitting there drinking coffee and petting the dogs without my phone – to many people I probably look like a crazy person!
I would venture to guess that for most people taking 10-15 minutes to drink a cup of coffee without your phone and with nobody to talk to (besides your four-legged family members) would be pretty difficult – you would feel agitated and stressed that you DIDN’T have your phone with you. I would then encourage you to ask yourself how “healthy” you think it is to be so stressed & agitated about not having your phone for what, in all reality, is such a small amount of time. Then, extrapolate that to how much stress you think that device is actually adding to your life. Circling back to #1 (sleep) I also would encourage you to ask yourself how restful your sleep actually is if you have a habit of being on your phone a lot right before bedtime. I understand that this will not be an easy habit to break, but if you want to lower your overall stress levels and improve your recovery between workouts, then developing “healthy smartphone habits” can be a huge step in the right direction.