The start of a new year brings with it new resolutions, whether they be fitness, diet, relationship or financial goals. I think it’s a great idea to try and harness the group energy of millions of people around the world who collectively are hoping for a better, healthier life. The power of the group experience is well documented in both Eastern and Western research traditions. But many view these resolutions with an eye of doubt and suspicion. The problem with resolutions arises not with what people ask to create or achieve but when people try to control how and when they will arrive at their intended goal.
Let us use improving your fitness as an example of a resolution… You realize you could be in better shape. You look around for inspiration and get attracted by the sexy stuff like the Smolov, SEALfit, MovNat or the Portal methods. You embark on a workout plan created for elite or experienced athletes by gymnasts, navy seals or lifelong fitness professionals. And inevitably you end up 3 months later, burnt out, empty of motivation, with a new sense of failure and totally turned off to the idea of improving your fitness level until next summer.
The most common reason for failure is not that the goal you set yourself was too lofty nor that your body is not built for that type of fitness. The truth is that most of us forget about the stepping stones that lie on the path from where we are today to where we want to be, to who we want to be.
Stepping stones the ego is loath to admit are necessary. By ignoring these you set ourselves up for inevitable failure. We tell ourselves start at the top and hang in there, eventually this body will catch up and perform as I expect it to… But it more often doesn’t and leads down a road littered with pain and injury.
The solution? Keep it real. Begin with building a solid foundation of general fitness before embarking on one of the more elite training modalities. It’s like warming up the engine of a car in winter before speeding off to work in the morning – if you didn’t start slow and exercise patience and persistence your engine would be in trouble pretty soon.
Here are four foundational elements you should focus on at the start of any new fitness regime. Start with number 1 and then add on the subsequent elements as you progress:
- Get lean! Returning to your appropriate body composition is a key first step to any fitness goal you plan on achieving in 2016. It is going to be super challenging to work on any fitness goal, e.g. the perfect pull-up or climbing Kilimanjaro, if you’re carrying around excess body fat. There are no special exercise routines or gadgets that will help you lose fat faster, despite what the marketing department may try to make you believe. A lean body is made in the kitchen, not in the gym. You can’t exercise away a poor diet.
- Get flexible! Every physical movement we undertake is supported or limited by the range of flexibility of your connective tissue (i.e. joints, fascia, tendons and ligaments) – can you move through a healthy range of motion without pain or injury? Increase this range of pain-free flexibility and you will increase your gains in all elements. You should be able to at least touch your toes, squat easily and reach both arms overhead without over-curving your lower back. Use yoga, pilates and other flexibility guidelines to build up your flexibility and inner core strength.
- Get strong! For example, to do the perfect handstand, you will need your forearms, shoulders, back and core muscles to be strong enough to get you into the pose and keep you there. To complete an Impi Challenge, you will need the muscles of your arms, shoulders, lower and upper legs, feet and your core to power you through the course. Build up basic strength before embarking on complex and elite fitness regimens – this will be healthier for your body and for your sense of self-achievement. Work towards achieving goals with foundational strength-building movements like push-ups, squats, deadlifts and pull-ups before moving on. Men should aim for 25 push-ups, 25 squats, double bodyweight deadlift and 5 pull-ups and women 15 push-ups, 15 squats, 1.5 times bodyweight deadlift and 1 pull-up.
- Get fit! Big muscles and fancy footwork don’t make for a fit body. Get your heart and lungs in shape so they can help you push through to the finish line without crashing your circulatory system! Aim to achieve a 5km row and a 5 km run in under 45 minutes for men and 48 minutes for women.
As you can see, “unsexy” eating and flexibility first, “sexier” strength and fitness second. When you’re comfortable and confident with all 4 then add in the elite conditioning stuff on top.