In honour of this column’s five-year anniversary, I’ve put together a short list of the most important lessons to share with my readers. These are the lessons that inform my entire training philosophy, rules I use to guide my clients as they navigate their way through the often-confusing world of fitness. With gyms across Canada reopening, it’s my hope that these tips help you to emerge from lockdown as an even better version of yourself.
Goals are great, purpose is better
Like a lot of insecure teenage boys, when I first started lifting weights I had one goal in mind: get as big as humanly possible (never mind that I had no idea what I would do with all this muscle). It should surprise no one to learn that this “goal” died on the vine, as do pretty much all externally driven goals that lack a defined purpose.
Setting goals helps to focus our mental energy. But goals are only one part of a much bigger picture. In order for a goal to truly resonate and inspire lasting motivation, it has to tie into a greater purpose. Wanting to get in shape to run a 10K is a fine goal. Wanting to get in shape to run a 10K with your kids in order to raise money for ALS research because your beloved uncle died from that awful disease? That’s how you connect your goal with a greater purpose.
Activity is as important as exercise
Let’s compare two imaginary people. Person A is your classic gym rat: She’s in the gym by 7 a.m. at least three days a week, hitting the weights with her trainer, plus a boot camp every Saturday morning. Her office job is demanding – long hours spent sitting at a desk, lots of meetings, lots of responsibilities. When she finally wraps things up for the day, she’s usually too exhausted to do much else other than crash on the couch until it’s time for bed.
Meanwhile, Person B starts each day with a brisk 45 minute walk capped off with 10 minutes of silent meditation. He’s an entrepreneur who runs a small business out of his home. Work days are long, but he still finds time for movement breaks every hour or so. Sometimes he’ll take part in an online yoga class before dinner, but he doesn’t make it a priority. On weekends he likes to explore the great outdoors: hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing.
Now, which person do you think is in better physical health? I say it’s a toss-up. It would be great if Person A got up from her desk every so often, maybe incorporated an evening walk into her routine, and Person B would benefit from some dedicated strength training. But in both examples we have people leading busy lives, people who are doing their best to reach the recommended 150 minutes of weekly activity. One person chooses to make use of a gym, one person chooses not to. One person opts for high-intensity protocols, one person does not. There is value in both approaches. What matters most is that you commit to an active lifestyle that reflects your true values.
Assemble your A-Team
For me, exercise is a solitary pursuit. I’m not into group fitness, I don’t like working with training partners, I don’t even like listening to music. I’ve always preferred to workout alone, usually in my backyard or a quiet public park. But this doesn’t mean I’m an anti-social misanthrope. Behind the scenes, there’s a deep network of friends and colleagues I rely on to keep me motivated and inspired – friends and colleagues without whom I’d be lost at sea.
Building meaningful connections during a pandemic can be a challenge, but it’s not impossible. Since COVID-19, I’ve been exclusively following the body-weight programs created by the folks at GMB Fitness. GMB’s unique approach to training is one reason, but the thing that really keeps me coming back is their supportive culture. Through the magic of the internet I’ve connected with their head coach, their chief executive officer, their lead trainer, and I’ve made Insta-friends with a local trainer who also follows GMB’s programs. This group has given me all the feedback and encouragement I’ve needed to stay focused.
In his 2016 book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, the great Sebastian Junger says humans need three things in order to feel a sense of contentment: We need to feel competent at the things we do, authentic in the way we live and connected to those around us. Whatever your fitness goals may be, try surrounding yourself with people who promote this ideal. It’s the ultimate training hack.
Paul Landini is a personal trainer and health educator in Kitchener, Ont.
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