What is the secret to reaching your physical and aesthetic goals? We all know it takes discipline, hard work and time. But what if I told you that doing less may actually help you reach your goals faster? The funny thing is, with some people, doing less would make a world of difference in their training.
You can only reap the benefits of your training if you have these things dialed in:
Nutrition is the steering wheel that guides the ship. If you want to build muscle, you need to eat more. It doesn’t matter what training program you are doing, you won’t build muscle and get bigger if you don’t eat for those goals. Likewise, if you want to lose fat. If you are eating more calories than you burn you won’t lose body fat.
Most of your muscle gain and fat loss happens outside of the gym. Your lifestyle is a major factor in you reaching your goals.
The tricky part about all of this is that there is no template for recovering from training. This is a highly individual aspect of physical fitness. We all have different stresses, training ages, sleep habits, do different training programs, and have different obstacles in our lives which affect our recoverability (young kids, careers, bad habits, etc).
Figuring out your optimal path to recovery can make massive differences in your progress in whatever physical goals you have.
Resistance training comes down to three main factors:
Your total workload per session, basically put this is reps and sets.
How hard are you training? This comes down to two different factors. The load you are lifting, and RPE (rate of perceived exertion).
How many times a week you train.
Unless you are filled with Mexican supplements, or a genetic freak you can not have all three of these factors at 100%. If your volume is high either your frequency needs to drop or your intensity needs to come down a few notches. All of these factors are interchangeable with each other. One goes up, one goes down, two go up, one goes way down.
How To Test Your Recoverability
Nowadays, there are many different ways to test your recoverability. The number one way is through your HRV (Heart rate variability). You do this by using a heart rate monitor first thing in the morning when you wake up, ideally when you are still lying in bed.
Heart Rate Variability is a measure which indicates the variation in your heartbeats within a specific timeframe. The unit of measurement is milliseconds (ms). If the intervals between your heartbeats are rather constant, your HRV is low. If their length variates, your HRV is high.
There are different ways to calculate HRV, but they all have to do with the amount of variation in the intervals between heartbeats.
Another way to test your recoverability is through your grip strength. If your grip strength is unusually weak you are probably under recovered. Test your grip strength by hanging from a chin-up bar for time. If you do this regularly you can give yourself a baseline to help you determine your day to day grip strength.
Nowadays there are a ton of different expensive hi-tech ways for you to recover. Often times people tend to gravitate towards these new trendy recovery modalities instead of just doing the simple, free recovery techniques that you can do anywhere.
In today’s age of Crossfit, Orange theory, and HIIT training everyone wants everything to be fast, intense, leaving you feeling like you are dead when you are done. There is nothing wrong with intense exercise IF you know how to recover from the intense stress you are putting your body through. If you can’t recover from the intense exercise you will NOT reap any of the supposed benefits from your chosen type of exercise. This is similar to getting in a car on the highway, stomping on the gas as hard as you can before learning how to handle and drive the car.
Look at the biggest physical specimens in the world. Professional bodybuilders. They are almost all super chill, calm individuals. These guys are genetic freaks, but they also understand the benefits of chilling the hell out as much as possible. If you want to get big and build muscle stress must be kept in check.
When we train hard we turn on the sympathetic nervous system. This is the fight or flight system. We want to be in this state for training or any other physically demanding or stressful environment we are in. A lot of people out there nowadays live in a sympathetic state all day. They are always stressed. They are basically redlining the engine all day every day. When you are in a sympathetic state you will not burn fat, you won’t build muscle, and you won’t see a ton of results from your training. You have to do something to slow yourself down, to engage the parasympathetic nervous system.
This is a big reason why generalized group training classes are not going to help you reach specific goals. Everyone is different and the stresses they go through outside of the gym should be the guiding factor in how they train. Especially if they have aesthetic goals in mind (losing body fat, building muscle). But nobody talks about this because it isn’t sexy. Most people don’t want to put the work in to really change their bodies, and they would rather just continue living their life without thinking of the big picture of their overall health. They “feel” the hard training at whatever group workout they have chosen. The workout ends and they just walk out of the gym and go straight back to their stressful lives with no regard to the fact that if they do not take steps to shift their body into a parasympathetic state they will not reap any of the benefits from the punishment they have put themselves through.
When you are sympathetically dominant you are more likely to have more inflammation, stress and have trouble losing body fat.
A parasympathetic dominant individual will have a host of benefits including better learning ability, insulin sensitivity, and improved fat loss and muscle gain. Being in a parasympathetic state has even been shown to improve your digestion and assimilation of nutrients in the body.
When we train hard we want to be in a sympathetic state. But we need to learn how to turn it off. We are in control of our bodies, we just don’t know it all the time. We need to match the energy system to the task at hand.
Your body can only handle so much high intensity without burnout. You have to match your recoverability for your training. There is no other way to be successful.
How do we put ourselves into a parasympathetic state after training?
Recovery is not a passive modality. Recovery doesn’t come from being sedentary. You have to be actively helping your body recover through movement, soft tissue work, dynamic stretching, and proper breathing techniques.
One of my greatest mentors Dr. John Rusin has written what I believe to be the gold standard of recovery models. I have personally been using it for over a year and I have noticed a big difference in not only my results in the gym but my mood and state in my everyday life.
- Global Soft Tissue & Self Myofascial Release Techniques
- Extended Bi-Phasic Positional Stretching
- Flow Based Mobility Sequence
- Low Intensity-Impact Steady State Energy Systems Development
- Positional Parasympathetic Breathing
If you train hard 4-5x a week you must be doing at least some of this recovery system to help you turn on the parasympathetic nervous system. This system has been used with great success with powerlifters, bodybuilders, weightlifters, pro athletes, and the general population alike. You must focus on recovery if you want to achieve your physical or performance goals.
It literally takes minutes to start the shift into a parasympathetic state. Start by laying on your back with your feet elevated on a bench. Take a deep nasal breath into your diaphragm, hold it for a few seconds and then slowly exhale through your nose. Try to exhale longer than then you inhale. That is the simple version. There’s a great breath work app called shift state that will guide you through the recovery breathing process.
Now I know what you are thinking. You aren’t a professional athlete. You are a regular everyday human. Training isn’t your life. You just want to be in great shape and be able to move efficiently. I get it.
It’s hard enough to make time to train with your family, your career, and whatever else you have going on in your life. Adding on another 15-30 minutes to every training session is not what you want to do.
So what do you do then? Modify your training so you don’t need to focus on recovery as much.
The first thing I would do is cut down your higher intensity workouts. Then I would set up a resistance training program around your schedule. All you need is 4-5 hours a week if you do things correctly.
Now everyone’s schedules, lives and stresses are different so just giving out a template of how to train is not going to help everyone. The biggest thing to remember is you can’t out train poor sleep, and a poor diet.
Step 1 Nutrition
Get your nutrition in check. Eat foods with no ingredients. Meat and plants. That is the simplest way to look at it. Keep it simple so that you don’t have to add the stress of trying to deal with a complicated meal every night.
Then have some fast absorbing carbs and protein after you train. Carbs help to raise insulin levels in the body which blunt cortisol levels. This is one way to help flip the switch from sympathetic to parasympathetic. Try to focus a large amount of your daily carb intake to before training and after training.
If you are training hard, and have a lot of stress in your life, following a fad diet like keto or practicing intermittent fasting can increase stress levels in some people. I found this to be true for myself as I went through a whole year of intermittent fasting and what made me stop was I noticed myself getting very agitated and stressed at the end of my fasts.
We need quality carbohydrates in our diet if we want to be able to recover from training effectively. The whole carbs make you fat thing is a myth. Too much of anything will make you gain fat. It’s just way easier to overeat on carbs and sugar. People who cut out carbs when they start a fat loss plan will lose weight but it’s usually because they ate a lot of processed carbs and sugary foods. Of course they lost weight. Focus your carb intake around your training, and eat for what your goals are.
Step 2 Exercise
Follow a quality program that you can stick with consistently. For people with busy careers, and families I usually suggest 30-60 minute training sessions. Get in the gym, get your work done and get out. Be efficient with your time.
Resistance training matched with proper cardiovascular training is the gold standard.
Find your minimum effective dose when it comes to cardio. If you are strength training correctly you shouldn’t need to do too much cardio. If you work in construction, or any other field that requires you to be on your feet moving a lot during the day you don’t need to worry about doing steady state cardio at all.
Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- 8-10k steps a day. If you move enough during the day to hit 10k steps you do not need to do any long duration cardio. The steps partnered with the correct strength training program will get you results, without crushing your soul with intense pointless longer than necessary HIIT training. Walking is great for lower back issues, and is very low impact on your body. If you have trouble getting your steps in each day try parking further away from the store, or using a bathroom at work that is far away from your workstation, don’t use elevators always take the stairs, or take a 10 minute walk after each meal.
- Give yourself 3 minutes after your training session to chill out. If you are in a busy commercial gym find a corner somewhere and lay down on your back with your feet elevated on a bench and focus on your breathing. If you have more time great, but get the 3 minutes in. Put headphones on and listen to something calming. I use the app Brain.fm.
- Train your anaerobic energy system 1x a week. This doesn’t need to be a long drawn out HIIT session. If you are constantly crunched for time 20-30 minutes will do just fine. Get your heart rate up to 80% of your max heart rate and do exercises that won’t beat you up. You want to do exercises that will fatigue you but not make your form breakdown. The first rep should be just as explosive as the last. I like programming circuit style training here with exercises that will hit different muscle groups for low reps with minimal rest.
Step 3 Sleep
Make sure you are getting enough quality sleep. Try to get eight hours of sleep a night. Eight hours of sleep a night will make a world of difference in your recovery, fat loss, muscle gain, mood, cravings, longevity, daily energy levels, and many other areas.
Sleep is more important than any supplement, any workout, any cardio session. If you are consistently having poor sleep or only getting four to six hours a night you are not going to recover properly and you will have a lot harder time reaching your goals.
I could go on about sleep forever. I could write a book about how important it is. Ask almost anyone who is uber successful with a great physique (other then the Rock, he is a freak outlier, normal people can not do what he does) and they will tell you they sleep at least 8 hours a night and they have a morning and evening routine to help their sleep quality.
Sleep is a killer of muscle gains and fat loss. No supplement can replace what you get from sleep. If you are not getting 8 hours of sleep a night, supplements are a waste of money. One night of sleep deprivation can make you as insulin resistant as a type 2 diabetic.
Here are a few great tips to improve your sleep habits:
- Get more sunlight during the day.
- Avoid screens or anything emitting a blue light within 2 hours of bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine a minimum of 6 hours before your bedtime.
- Keep your bedroom cool, nobody sleeps well when they are sweating.
- Make sure there is no light in your room, get it totally blacked out.
- Our bodies were designed to rest when the sun goes down and rise with the sun in the mornings. Our bodies were not designed to stay up until 4 am watching
netflixor playing video games.
- Get a
high qualitymagnesium supplement. Magnesium is the number 1 mineral deficiency in the world. Upping your magnesium intake can almost instantly decrease stress and increase quality sleep.
- Get your TV out of the bedroom.
- Strength train consistently.
- Avoid alcohol near bedtime. That night cap does not help you sleep better.
Focusing on your recovery and not trying to always push harder and do more will change the game for a lot of people. But it is hard to do. This is why it is important to have someone in your corner guiding you to get where you want to go.
We all need coaches in our lives. Mentors and people to guide us. Knowing when you have done too much and need to let off the gas a little is tough to figure out sometimes.There is so much more to reaching your goals then just sweating in the gym. That is the easy part.
If you have physical goals you want to achieve, you need to take your entire life into account. Your lifestyle determines how fast you reach your goals. There is a way to get where you want to be, you just need to figure out how to incorporate everything together to really optimize your performance in LIFE. Not just in the gym.
If you are interested in improving all aspects of your health, lets talk. I would love to help you find a plan that works for you.