I’ve been involved with fitness for nearly 20 years.
Distance running, road biking, weightlifting. Yoga, pilates, spin. High reps and low reps. Rest pauses, drop sets, giant sets. Periodization and progressive overload. 5x5, GVT, HIIT. Intermittent fasting, IIFYM, keto. Personal training, coaching, consulting.
I’ve done them all.
Some worked well, some were complete dumpster fires. But I learned a lot from each and every experience.
Here are 10 golden rules to follow if you have any intention of getting and staying fit in the long term.
1. Drink more water
There’s a reason this one’s first.
You need water.
Water lubricates muscles and connective tissue, aids in digestion and boosts skin health. It regulates body temperature, improves organ function and boosts physical performance. I could go on, but you get the point.
2. Stick to your workout program for at least 90 days
Too many people develop a workout program only to ditch it for something else two weeks later.
It can be tempting to jump to the latest and greatest training fad. I dropped everything once I discovered high intensity interval training a few years back. But if you switch things up too soon, you won’t give yourself enough time to see results.
You could very well be on a path towards your goal. Don’t sabotage yourself by making changes too quickly.
Stick with your plan for at least three months. If at that point you’re not satisfied, then make the necessary adjustments.
3. Prioritize recovery
In fitness, just like in life, people prioritize performance.
I want to run a 6 minute mile. I want to squat 300 pounds. I want to get promoted at work. These are all objectively good goals. They require dedication and commitment over a lengthy period of time.
Performance drove my fitness for years. Do you know where it got me? Injured, unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
It wasn’t until I focused on recovery that I made my biggest gains. Once I stopped working out with reckless abandon, once I put some brains behind my brawn, I found my body stronger and more capable.
Giving your body the time it needs to properly recuperate works wonders for muscle growth and development.
Ease off the gas. Prioritize recovery. Your body (and mind) will thank you.
4. Don’t obsess over nutrition
Fad diets are all the rage today. I should know, I’ve tried many of them.
I finally realized how nonsensical most of them are when a prominent advocate of If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) told me how Pop Tarts were part of a healthy diet.
Talk about an “aha” moment.
The truth is, nutrition isn’t some crazy enigma. Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? 80% of the time, eat healthy, whole foods from reliable sources. 20% of the time, cheat a little bit. You don’t have to eat healthy every second of every day. I tend to lean more towards 85/15 personally.
If you still have questions (and even if you don’t), consult a nutritionist. They can help you find gaps in your diet and make the necessary adjustments.
5. Get enough sleep
This belongs in the “duh” category.
I am a completely different person when I’m sleeping well vs when I’m not. Sleep is one of most important factors in determining my mood, performance (in anything), and general well-being.
Many of us don’t get the recommended 7–9 hours each night. We’re distracted by TV, social media and video games well into the night.
The solution? Plan for it. Build it into your schedule like you would a company meeting or a social event. I have sleep setup as a recurring event in my iCal, for example. I am literally sent reminders to go to sleep.
It may seem trivial, but it helps. Especially in the beginning when you’re looking to establish the habit.
6. Incorporate resistance training into your routine
I’ve heard every excuse in the book against resistance / weight training.
- “Weightlifting will make me too bulky”.
- “Too much muscle will affect my [insert sport] mechanics”.
- “Too much muscle will make me a slower runner / biker / swimmer”.
These. Are. Just. Wrong.
I can’t tell you how much my distance running has improved since I started resistance training. My legs are stronger and more resilient. My core is much more stable. My performance running one mile or twenty is much better.
Not to mention my propensity for injury has gone way down (in conjunction with the commitment to recovery I listed above).
You’ll feel better, look better and perform better. Turns out, strength is one hell of a drug.
Yes it’s possible to perform resistance training at home. Here’s something to get you started.
7. Switch things up
Sometimes progression stalls for no rhyme or reason.
Everything is going well with your training until one day you stop seeing results. This is known as a hitting a plateau, and most everyone experiences one eventually.
The body is an amazing machine, adapting to literally any stress placed upon it. And make no mistake, working out is a stress. The body will acclimate over time. Workouts that used to challenge you no longer provide sufficient stimulus to spur growth and development.
Switching things up is often what’s needed to bust through a training plateau.
I’m not just talking about going from barbell squats to hack squats and barbell to dumbbell bench press. I’m talking about changing training modalities, adjusting rep ranges and varying intensity levels.
5x5 training works wonders for kickstarting strength and power. German Volume Training (GVT) can help boost endurance and intensity. Even subtle changes like swapping exercise machines for their free weight equivalent can have a significant effect.
Play around a bit. Experiment with new and exciting exercises. Use this as both a physical and mental reset.
But remember, once you do make adjustments, stick with them for a while.
8. Learn as much as you can
Accumulating knowledge is a superpower.
Not enough people take the time to really understand fitness’ complexity. They see their favorite influencer push a new supplement or they read one article on intermittent fasting and think they’ve got it down.
Take the time to research, review and analyze fitness concepts that interest you. Develop and plan your workout programs. Ask questions about thoughts and ideas you don’t understand.
Breaking a mental sweat is just as important your physical one.
Don’t just take the information presented to you at face value either. Especially in the fitness industry. Its intent is primarily to sell and peddle, not educate and inform. Opt for sources that end in .edu, .gov or .org. If a source doesn’t appear to be legitimate, it probably isn’t.
9. Get medical check-ups regularly
I get my blood work done once a year. Realistically it should be 2–3x per year. I’m working on that.
A few years back I found that my creatinine levels (used to evaluate kidney function) were slightly above normal. “Increased muscle mass can result in an increase in serum creatinine level in the absence of change in kidney function,” says MD Kevin Pho.
In other words, creatinine can be slightly elevated due to increased muscle mass, not necessarily because of decreased function.
Following the advice of my doctor, I made a conscious effort to drink more water (see rule #1), scaled back my weightlifting a bit and upped my running mileage slightly. My levels were back to normal 6 months later.
Many insurance plans allow for one free check-up / physical per year. If you’ve got it, use it.
10. Use a coach(s)
Lebron James has a coach for every aspect of his training.
Along with his fleet of basketball coaches, he employs personal trainers, personal chefs, recovery specialists and therapists. It’s been estimated he spends $1.5 million per year on his body alone. He clearly understands the importance of taking care of his body.
Love him or hate him, he’s an exemplary blend of longevity and performance.
I understand not everyone has Lebron James’ resources. But that doesn’t negate the message of getting the professional help you need.
If you’re stuck in a rut, wallowing in injuries, or just not satisfied with your fitness in general, do something meaningful about it. Hire a professional, whether it’s a personal trainer, nutritionist or life coach. These folks have gone through the rigmarole of becoming certified in their area of expertise, so we can (usually) trust what they have to give.You don’t have to work with these people forever. Learn from them, use the tools they provide, then apply to your specific needs over the long term.