I don’t feel any older, but I’ve been looking forward to publishing this post for months now. After 28 years on this earth (it was my birthday this past week) these are the 28 things that I view as being the most important things I’ve learned about fitness in my 6 years of coaching.
It’s long, I highly recommend you read the little blurb I’ve written about each tip, but if you want the Cole’s Notes Version, go here.
1) Start with Why.
Understanding why you want to do whatever it is you want to do, is the first and most critical step in fat-loss or any fitness-related pursuit. Why leads to purpose. It also helps you understand that you have the control over your level of fitness.
2) Achieving the right mindset is more important than the exercise or nutrition regime you choose to utilize.
What separates Michael Jordan from the rest of the pack?
To separate the great players from the good players we need only take a look exclusively at the mindset skills great players develop.
The leaders in every field arguably develop better mindset skills than the rest. Mindset skills have been shown to be more effective in any fat-loss or performance pursuit than the nutrition/exercise program.
Yet, almost nobody in the fitness and health field preaches mindset skills…
Most importantly, recognize that you choose whether or not to operate from a high level of mental functioning for any given task.
3) Having purpose is far more effective than setting “Goals.”
Goals narrow our focus too much, when we live a life according to purpose we align goals with that purpose, rather than living from goal to goal.
A better approach is to align yourself with your values, a purpose, and maybe a mission or vision statement. Goals and other short-term markers come with ease if you have purpose first.
4) Understand where you’re coming from.
People who know who they are find it far easier to fit fitness into their lifestyle than those who don’t.
If you associate yourself as a triathlete, then you’ll do triathlons. If you associate yourself as an athlete, you’ll play sports. I
f you view yourself as hiker, you’ll hike. If you need to perform, it’s more incentive to eat well and train accordingly. If you view yourself as fit, then you’ll find it easier to stay fit.
If you don’t view yourself in a positive light, seek out some mindset skills discussed above for strategies to change how you think.
Here is a good place to start.
5) Get started, taking action is more than half the battle.
Most people put off changing, they put off losing weight. Understandably, if you’ve struggled with weight-loss, nobody wants to feel like a failure repeatedly, which is why mindset becomes so important.
I put mindset second on the list for this reason, if you’re operating from a high level of mental functioning, you can commit more easily to a process of change.
Committing to change is one of the toughest parts.
If you can simply commit, then you can worry about how you’re going to do to achieve what you want to achieve, what you need to do to get there, then you find a good mentor, and implement a realistic plan.
6) Address Limiting Factors One at a Time
Most people try to change too much, too soon. It is a common misconception that change has to be massive to be meaningful.
As a result, most people try to change their entire diet or their entire workout regime overnight. A
re we really surprised when we fall off the wagon a month later?
How many times have you been successful juggling 10 different thing at one time? I’m willing to bet marginal success at best.
I know I said, don’t narrow your focus too much on singular goals, but you should focus on singular behaviors, skills and habits if you want to change them.
Bottom-line, it is far more effective to take action on one thing at a time, than it is to overhaul everything at once.
7) Once you’ve started that one thing, aim to achieve consistency with your new habit, behavior, or skill.
Near perfect practice, makes near-perfect.
As a recovering perfectionist, I can assure you that you don’t need to be perfect to get results but establishing a high rate of consistency translates into better results.
Generally, and I’ve talked about this before, if you want outstanding results aim for 90% compliance or higher, but not perfect.
80% compliance will get you there, but the time-frame for 80% over 90% is nearly twice as long and you may short yourself slightly.
I use 80% as a reference for maintenance, however 70% may also be good for maintenance phases. It can sometimes depend on the balance one is trying to achieve and some other factors.
You have to form consistency before you can make it more difficult or challenging.
8) The journey is more important than the destination.
The process is what is missing from most people’s lives in anything they wish to improve, there is no magic bullet or pill you can take to change anything really.
You will not change anything overnight. There is a holistic journey that everyone must experience for themselves in order to discover how it fits within their lifestyle.
Being aware of your surroundings is important on this journey. Focus on experiencing your journey, and your various destinations will take care of themselves.
9) You need to commit to a process/plan/program.
The best plans make a few turns along the way and cater to your needs, just remember the journey is more important than the destination.
Everyone thinks they know what they need to do in order to drop some weight or improve performance and I hate to point out the obvious, but if you truly had knowledge how to lose the weight or enhance your performance, you would have done it already — my tough love comment of the post.
Until you actually go through the process of change, or improvement and you execute on it, you don’t actually have an understanding, you have an idea or knowledge of.
10) That process/plan/program needs to last for at least 3 months in time.
Preferably 6 or more. I’m not saying you need to write out a 5 year plan, as no one knows the future, but I will say that short-term plans, mean short-term results.
If you plan on putting in 30 days, well you might enjoy those results for 30 days. If you want longer, more concrete results, you gotta put in the time.
You get out of a plan, what you put into it, and in this case one of the most important things you can do is dedicate time and effort to the process. Think long-term, and you’re results will last.
As they say, ‘failing to plan is planning to fail…’ but that plan also needs to be somewhat flexible and allow you to ad-lib a little bit.
Hence the necessity of skill/habit/behavior acquisition.
11) Relate, Repeat, Re-frame
These 3 little R’s should become a main stay in your vocabulary.
You need a partner in crime you can relate to, a mentor/coach you can relate to, or a social setting that is conducive to your change. You then need to repeat good skills, patterns of behaviors and habits with their help.
Then you need to re-frame your previous identity, whether you were 30 lbs heavier or the slowest one on the field, work to erase that identity from your psyche.
It won’t be easy, but this is a very effective 3-step strategy for change.
12) Emphasize Little Wins
Stopped eating TV dinners. Good for you!
Started eating vegetables with every meal? Right on!
Started hitting the gym three times a week instead of twice a week? You’re rocking it!
Little things add up, especially when it comes to change. Take note when you accomplish good things, develop good habits or skills and change bad behaviors into good ones.
That’s how people really change, small successes done sequentially over a longer period of time, not these huge changes done abruptly.
13) Encouragement from others and developing internal motivation is far more important than external rewards for the little wins.
One caveat to the statement above. I generally recommend to avoid giving yourself external rewards for little wins, it reinforces a bad habit. Instead, focus on feeling good about yourself for accomplishing them instead.
Soak up a little encouragement from those around you, develop a great support network.
14) Eat Whole Food.
The more whole the food, the better in my opinion. It’s possible to eat a 3000 calorie bag of potato chips in an evening, no problem, try to eat 3000 calories worth of potatoes.
This guideline can apply if you’re a vegetarian, a vegan or an omnivore, it doesn’t matter how you choose to eat, this one guideline can impact your health like no other.
Avoid packaged foods, food with more than 5 ingredients, that can be heated in 5 minutes or less in a microwave, or have words you can’t pronounce in the ingredient list.
Avoid things that are bleached, are white when they should be brown (rice, white-bread), are flour based (especially white flour), are deep fried, are loaded with sugar or preservatives or provide liquid/empty calories.
15) Cook most of your own food.
There is a little trick with this one though too, if you do want to eat a brownie, have a cookie or a piece of cake, a slice of bread, or a bowl of pudding or any other favourite past times you’ll appreciate it more if you make it yourself. AND…it will be so much better for you than the store bought stuff.
I mean if you are going to eat processed foods, if you make it yourself you’ll:
a) Reduce how much of it you consume, due to limited time to make everything.
b) Know what ingredients actually went into it’s design.
c) Appreciate and respect the food that much more as your 10% food for the day/week.
16) Healthy Food Consumption is Largely Based on Dosage and Variety.
I don’t count calories and I don’t recommend that other people do either (except as a periodic experiment/evaluation) but dosage is critical.
If you follow the two guidelines above, dosage usually takes care of itself, but this little tip can go a long way too.
There are nearly 300 chemicals in an apple including cyanide, it’s not toxic, because of a low dosage.
It’s important to remember not to demonize the nutritional components of food, but to think of food as a whole. Carbs are not necessarily your problem, but eating the wrong kind of carbs at the wrong time, probably is.
All nutrients appears to have a time and place.
I do not recommend eating nothing but chicken breast or potatoes as part of a healthy diet either. Make sure you get a variety of whole food in your diet.
17) Healthy Food Consumption is also largely based on ‘Nutrient Timing.’
Specifically, the right kind of carbohydrates can be of huge benefit post-workout but a terrible choice just before bed-time.
Protein and fiber consumption with meals, impacts how the meals are digested and nutrients absorbed into our blood stream.
Fat consumption is often necessary for our body to absorb certain fat-soluble vitamins (kind of makes you wonder how they get into your blood stream from a pill huh?).
There are all kinds of these little things that can impact how we eat and our body composition as a result.
18) The optimal diet for every person is remarkably different.
People spend a lot of time arguing over what good eating is or should be.
I respect your beliefs, but please understand that we are only at the very tip of the iceberg in our understanding of how food works for everyone.
Food interacts with our genes, our cells, our beliefs, our culture, our digestion system, our values, and a multitude of things no singular diet plan will be able to explain.
Instead I’m all for helping people come to a healthy eating pattern that works around those issues listed above.
Paleo may work for John, but is terrible for Mary who enjoys being a ovo-lacto vegetarian.
19) Supplements are just that, in place to supplement what should already be a healthy diet.
I do on occasion use supplementation protocols, but they should never over-ride my aim of teaching people how to eat better.
They are in place to enhance the nutrition, not replace it, unfortunately this is what a lot of people do.
You may be taking a greens supplement (one I might recommend), but it should not be in replacement of 5+ servings of veggies a day.
I also occasionally like fish oil, and quality protein powders. I may use creatine or BCAA’s with more advanced clients, but we’re talking performance gains at that point.
20) You Can’t Outrun your Diet
A lot of people try to do this, and I just don’t get it.
Why exercise like a madman if all you had to do was give up bags of chips, or candy bars to get the same results with less time and effort spent on the workouts?
Like any good relationship, work on finding some compromises.
Eating great doesn’t mean chicken breast, rice and steamed veggies.
Food needn’t be boring for it to be healthy — believe me I cook a lot of tasty dishes that are very healthy and I hope to show more of them in future — and it doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive either.
People have a large misconception of just what healthy eating is, largely because they don’t consider tip #6. Remember, don’t try to change too much at once, including your eating.
21) Resistance Train
Women generally avoid this like the plague, but it doesn’t have to mean, lift like a bodybuilder or a power-lifter to get results.
This is another huge misconception by most (propagated largely by the health and fitness industry itself!) people trying to obtain a healthy body weight.
I’m going to make sure I get some good testimonials for this in the upcoming months.
Resistance train for life. My approach is that you should at some point throughout a training cycle lift something that challenges you in a 3-6 rep range (1-6 even, bone density for the ladies), a 6 to 12 rep range (muscle density for the optimal physique) and a 12+ rep range (muscular endurance to carry on).
If you’re going to follow a template for fat-loss training, this article sums it up pretty well — not how I would entirely word it but concepts 1 through 5 are close.
22) Train Compound Movements, follow up with accessory movements as needed.
Most commercial gyms, drive me mad.
Rows and rows of machines, as far as the eye can see, none of them teach you how to move effectively or address real world concerns.
I’m a firm believer that compound movements tax the body more, leading to faster, better, more long-term results.
When combined with good resistance training methods, they also concrete good movement skills and improve injury resistance so you feel like a million bucks.
Give me some free-weights, some bands, a cable stack and a few toys and I can help you do a lot of things better.
Accessory movements like bicep curls, triceps extensions, etc… are always the icing on the cake and never the cake, save them for the end and focus on movements you need to improve over muscles you want to look better.
Good saying, “Train Movements, Not Muscles” your muscles just doesn’t work in isolation and neither do your movement patterns, so don’t train them that way.
23) Train Explosive/Reactive Power
One of the most critical muscle qualities we lose as we age. Want to stop yourself from breaking a hip at 60, train explosive power.
Not only does it improve the density of bone, but it empowers you as an individual to maintain a high quality of independent life well into what most people consider ‘old age.’
You can disperse force better if you maintain this quality, and it’s one of the first to go in age.
Jump, bound, skip, run, gallop, throw, and toss your way into your ‘retirement’ years.
24) Think of ‘Cardio’ as ‘ESD’ instead.
‘ESD’ stands for Energy System Development. You have 3 energy systems, your sprint system (ATP-CP, less than 10 seconds), your medium range system (glycolytic system, 10-120 seconds) and your long-range system (aerobic system, 2 minutes+). Those numbers are approximate and trainable qualities in individuals.
You should probably be training all of them periodically, but for fat-loss/management the first 2 are the most effective as they translate into aerobic developments, whereas aerobic work can’t develop your short or medium systems. It is not a two way street unfortunately.
I recommend doing intervals (provided they are safe, and you check with your doctor/fitness practitioner first) instead of long runs or cycles.
Unless you’re an endurance athlete, which is a completely different ball game.
25) Address your mobility (not just your flexibility)
Most people just stretch before or after a workout or training session. Not necessarily bad, just incomplete. Static stretch post-workout sure, but you should be warming up with some soft-tissue work or some dynamic mobility work — I’ll try to work on posting some examples in future — with the intent of developing better motor patterns.
There is a lot more to how you move than just your static flexibility. Find some specifics for yourself and master your movement.
25) The K.I.S.S. Principle
I know what most people think when I say this but here’s what I mean:
Keep It Short and Sweet
I think training sessions that last 2 hours are great for athletes, bad for most everyone else. Get in, do what you need to do and move on, whatever your objectives are. This applies to developing the maximal possible results from the smallest allowable effort. It also applies to making your workouts as effective as possible. You can accomplish a lot with a solid plan, a short amount of time, and a clear objective. Train smarter, not harder.
27) Stick to stuff you enjoy, or view as fun.
I wrote a post a while back on the Sawyer Effect. There is no reason every one of the other 27 points I’ve made here, can’t be considered fun, they are what you make of them. I do know that people don’t do stuff they don’t enjoy (or at least find value in) and that you can’t force, fear or fact people into change.
You’re much more likely to exercise, or cook if you’re operating first from a high mental state (optimal mindset) and second if you’re having fun with the process. Effort becomes natural, work becomes play, you find a state of flow, it’s a snowball effect of good stuff happening. Seek out positive experiences.
28) Work + Rest = Success
I got this quote from Mark Verstegen, an icon in my industry. I loved it so much, I have it pasted all over the place. It’s true not just in the gym or nutritionally but in life in general, work hard yes, but know when to dial it back. Certain people react to stress in different ways; some people get sick, some people get headaches, some people get anxiety, others lose their tempers – identify how you respond to stress and try to avoid that by resting regularly.
Also prehabilitation, rehabilitation and nutrition play a huge role in recovery. Make sure you take down time in your journey, you need it.