Make 2019 Your Year For Maximizing Your Fitness!
When January first rolls around, the season of excess quickly transforms to a season of new expectations – more than 40% of Americans report making New Year’s resolutions. But – surprise, surprise – 80% of those people are no longer following them by the first week of February.
So let’s make it a little easier on ourselves. Below are some of the most effective and most actionable tips for health and fitness that will help boost your self-improvement goals, without leading to early burnout. They’re my condensed cliff-notes of hours and hours of seminars from many of the world’s leading strength, conditioning and nutrition coaches over the past year.
1. Carbohydrates Aren’t (Always) The Enemy
Contrary to what some would have you believe, carbs aren’t always evil, but they do need to be regulated based on individual goals, digestive health, and activity levels. While a high-level athlete training twice a day needs adequate glycogen replenishment through carbohydrate intake, a desk-jockey’s carb intake should be minimal. Carbs should be earned – that means getting leaner and exercising more. And even then, studies have shown that if you’re exercising with carbs in your system, you’re burning carbs and not fat.
When you do indulge in carbohydrates, stay away from pro-inflammatory gluten and dairy. Instead opt for rice and other gluten-free grains that give you a muscle-building insulin surge without causing inflammation or digestive issues. And eat them after your workout, not when you’re being a couch potato (more on that later)!
*Note: If you’re diabetic or have blood sugar problems, your body plays by a different set of rules. Check with your doctor and nutritionist before making changes to your diet.
2. Sleep Is Non-Negotiable
Sleep is the greatest anabolic activity; it’s absolutely necessary for muscle growth, fat loss, and hormone regulation. Elite performers sleep 10-12 hours a day, including naps during the day. Getting 6 hours or less sleep per night has been linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, depression and even brain damage.
Dim the lights 2 hours before bed and do your best to avoid your phone or tv screen to improve the quality of your sleep. And get to bed earlier! Every hour of sleep before midnight is twice as recuperative as sleep after midnight. Getting REM sleep before 1am helps promote growth and recovery.
3. Workout Programming: Follow the Law of 72 Hours & Rotate Exercises
Muscles need 72 hours to recover after a heavy, taxing workout. You can’t train similar motor patterns within three days and give it your all, so split your workouts appropriately. Limit yourself to four main heavy lifting workouts per week max, with the other days options for accessory exercises or cardio.
Having a big library of exercises helps overall performance and prevents injuries by allowing you to choose accessory work that addresses weaknesses.
4. Food Choice Matters
“Grass-fed” and “free-range” were some of the biggest buzzwords of 2018, but the research hasn’t shown that grass-fed meat’s benefits justify the inflated price. It’s more important to focus on eating quality cuts of beef, bison, and wild game.
Do your best to eliminate processed foods and snacks, and choose vegetables and fruits that the body will digest easily (low-FODMAP vegetables like carrots, beans, cucumbers, broccoli, potatoes, and fruits like berries, bananas, oranges, pineapples and kiwi).
5. Warming Up Before A Workout: Stretching & Cardio Are A Waste Of Time
Stretching is useless, and cranking out cardio on a treadmill before lifting actually reduces insulin sensitivity by 46%, inhibiting muscle growth and fat-loss. That said, you still need cardio. Cardio should alternate between short low intensity (<120 bpm) sessions, which helps heart health and recovery, and higher intensity 1-3 minute bursts of resistance exercise (HIIT), which increases strength and helps burn fat.
The better warm-up option for preventing injury while improving form and strength? Do ‘potentiation’ exercises before your main lifts – isolate each muscle group involved in the main lift, choose a relatively light weight, and rotate 3 sets of 25 of each with no rest. For example, if the squat is your main compound lift in your workout, choose exercises that isolate each of the upper back, lower back and hamstrings for 3×25 without rest. Then attack the main lift.
6. Take A Brisk Walk After You Eat A Meal (Seriously)
A ten minute walk after eating improves digestion, decreases delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS), and helps with insulin sensitivity. But don’t by lazy – brisk 10-minute walks with an elevated heart rate outperform leisurely 10k-step walks for fat-burning and cardiovascular-helping benefits. Most strength and conditioning experts agree that you can totally replace steady-state cardio with short walks and HIIT.
Recent studies have also shown that short brisk walks improve enthusiasm, relaxation, and reduce nervousness at work, encourage creativity, and help with focus. Furthermore, research published in the journal Neurology found that people who walked daily preserved significantly more of their gray matter, and therefore cognitive function, than those who didn’t.
7. You’re Stronger After Chiropractic Care
Surprised? Research has shown that spinal manipulation increases maximum voluntary muscle contraction for 30 minutes and elevates cortical spinal excitability for at least 60 minutes. Chiropractic care has long-term results as well, with studies showing that athletes under chiropractic care for a 14-week trial period showed significant improvement in muscle strength, long jump distance and capillary blood counts.
A separate study found that athletes treated weekly for 12 weeks by a chiropractor showed a 16.7% improvement in agility, kinesthetic perception, power and reaction time compared to those not under chiropractic care.
8. Build Your Backside
For most people, if a muscle is on your backside, it’s probably weaker than it should be. The average person has weak lats, hamstrings, glutes, calves, traps, and rear deltoids. Build those up by making them a priority in your accessory exercise selection and you’ll see the results everywhere else.
What do I mean by that? For example, strengthening your latissimus dorsi/rhomboids with lat pulldowns and rows improves scapular position, leading to better pec recruitment and power on the bench press.
9. Increase Your Salt Intake Before Intense Workouts
Iodized salt stimulates the thyroid, immune system and the liver. When you ‘hit the wall’ in the gym, it’s far more likely because you’re low on sodium, not carbs. The single biggest thing you can do to impact stamina and endurance at the gym is increase your intake of iodized sodium.
10. Post-Workout Nutrition: Carbs, Not Protein
Your body super-compensates after a workout, so you need immediate replenishment of glucose and electrolytes. The optimum post-workout nutrition contains fructose (fruit juice) for stimulating your liver, dextrose for glycogen replenishment (the only time I’ll ever suggest my patients eat gummy bears), sodium for replenishing electrolytes, and caffeine for accelerating their absorption.
A high protein and fat meal should be consumed up to 6 hours before a workout, but not immediately after, as they slow absorption. Rule of thumb: protein and fat before your workout, carbs after.
*Again, this recommendation changes if you’re diabetic or have blood sugar control issues, so check with your doctor first.