The 3 principles you should always abide by:
1. Move as much as possible every day
2. Training: focus on “what to do”, not “how much to do”
3. Training: PLAY
4. Recover, sleep, and hydrate
Think of our ancestors:
• They moved constantly throughout the day: walking around, lifting light objects, etc.
• They did short bouts of “high intensity”once or twice a week: running away from a threat, fighting, chasing a prey.
• They lifted heavy objects once or twice a week: carrying water, stones and logs, building shelters, etc.
• They listened to their body: they slept “with the sun”, they rested a lot, and they didn’t need reminders to drink water.
So follow the same principles!
Here are my simple guidelines
Guideline #1: Move!
Objective: move as much as possible, mimicking our ancestor’s continuous movement.
What I personally do:
I. I use a Google Chrome tool with a 25min countdown timer: every 25min, I stand up and stretch my hip flexors, back, shoulders and neck.
II. I have a timer on my phone: every 50min, I go for a 5-10min walk around the office, the building, or the block.
III. I use a FitBit and do my best to hit the 10,000 steps per day target, even if that means walking around the house in the evening.
Note: the 10,000 steps per day is based on ancestral standards (steps our ancestors walked). The average for most people today is less than 6,000!!
Added bonus: the human body is designed to burn fat at very low intensities (e.g. walking). This means that the more you walk, the more fat you’re burning on that day.
Guideline #2: Working out
In line with what our ancestors did, we’re trying to achieve 2 objectives:
I. Become stronger
II. Become faster and more agile
And this applies to both men and women.
What?! Weight loss is not an objective?
No, it isn’t I’m afraid! That’s because weight loss is a CONSEQUENCE of getting stronger and faster!
When you become stronger and faster, your body feels less threatened by various stress factors. When this happens, your body doesn’t feel the need to “hold onto fat” anymore!
Besides, training to get stronger and faster is more fun and more rewarding (physically, mentally, and emotionally). This in itself lowers stress, cortisol, and therefore helps drop fat.
How do I get stronger?
I. Lift heavy weights twice a week.
II. Focus on compound movements (e.g. squats, deadlift, presses, Olympic lifts).
III. Use a weight that you can lift 4-6 times per set ONLY.
IV. Lift heavy weights when “fresh and rested”, not tired from another workout
V. Completely change your exercises every 2 weeks.
Note on why use such a heavy weight: Using weight that you can lift 8-12x helps develop muscle size, not strength. Using weight that you can lift 12x or more focuses on building muscular endurance, not strength.
Warning: make sure you get professional advice on proper movement for these exercises, especially if you’re new to weight training.
What I personally do:
I. I lift heavy weights twice a week.
II. Day 1: Legs & Back. I focus on heavy compound movements using weights I can lift only 4-6x per set. I do 5 sets per exercise. Examples include: Squat, Deadlift, Pull-ups, Row, Weighted lunges.
III. Day 2: Chest & Shoulders. Same principle. Examples include: Bench Press, Shoulder Press, Shoulder lateral/front raises, Weighted Dips.
How do I get faster?
Before I get into that, the exercises that get you faster are also designed to build cardiovascular fitness, boost metabolism, improve agility, improve glycogen storage capacity, and improve muscular endurance. So you’re killing 6 birds with one stone!
I. Do “high intensity” exercises once or twice per week.
II. Do them when “fresh and rested”.
III. Variety is key: you can combine bodyweight training with high intensity cardio, or just do high intensity cardio (e.g. Tabata sets).
What I personally do:
I. Do HIIT twice per week.
II. Typically 20-45min.
III. I combine bodyweight movements with high intensity running or rowing.
IV. Sometimes I’ll just do high intensity cardio: 4 rounds of Tabata sets, or 400m run repeats on the treadmill, etc.
Here is a sample workout, which I did this past Saturday:
Warmup: 5min row, 5min jog
Main set: 5 rounds non-stop of
- 10 high box step-up with 8kg Dumbbells
- 10 dips
- 15 leg raises on bench
- 15 cheek to ground push-ups
- 10 pull-ups
- 1km run at max sustainable speed
I’ve created over a dozen different variations of such workouts, some focused on quick movements to build speed and agility (e.g. burpees, rope skipping, box jumps), others on muscular endurance (e.g. 50 squats, lunges) and so on. Some have shorter runs at the end, others have rowing instead of running, etc.
Once again, the key is variety.
MOST IMPORTANTLY: never ever walk into a gym, onto the running track, or onto the pool deck without knowing EXACTLY the purpose of the workout. Write it down, read it, and keep it in mind during every minute of that workout. The quality of your workout depends on it.
Guideline #3: Play!
What better way to combine the first 2 guidelines than with play?
I don’t mean board games of course! I mean getting a group of people together, heading to the park, and designing a workout that hits all your objectives. It’s fun, it makes the time pass by quickly, and it achieves your fitness goals.
Throughout most of the year, I have a weekly group session every Sunday in a park: every week I completely vary the workout: sometimes it’s focused on “fast and furious”, other times on “explosiveness and plyometrics”, at other times it’s more focused on muscular endurance, or even pure strength, etc…
But what I also do for every one of these sessions is introduce “play elements”, like rewards, punishments, banter, etc.
You can easily do the same, and all you need is some creativity and one other like-minded person!
Guideline #4: Recover
I. Lower Cortisol: exercise (as well as other stress) causes a rise in Cortisol. If you don’t bring it down, you can’t lose weight, it’s that simple.
II. Create adaptation: when you stress your body by exercising, your body responds by getting stronger, faster and more efficient at burning fat. But that only happens if you LET your body adapt.
I. Sleep at least 7 hours per night, more after a day of hard exercise: your body “absorbs” the benefits of a workout while you sleep. Impair sleep and you’re stressing your body without getting the adaptation.
II. Yoga: the deep breathing routine of yoga allows more oxygen to reach your muscles, helping with recovery. In addition, yoga improves flexibility, mobility and core strength, all of which are critical to remain injury free.
III. Yoga (again): the deep breathing and slow movements in yoga will lower Cortisol.
IV. Drink at least 3 liters of water per day: your blood volume is highly dependent on how much water you drink. The higher your blood volume, the more oxygen and nutrients you’re delivering to your brain and muscles, helping with faster recovery and lower stress. Your body loses water when you sweat of course, but also through your breath and skin during the day and when you sleep, especially if you work in an air-conditioned environment (which dries the air).
What I personally do:
I. Yoga twice a week – a great way to recover between days of hard workouts.
II. I start my morning with 1L of water. I drink at least 4L in total per day (excluding what I drink during workouts).
III. I sleep at least 7 hours per night. I never sacrifice sleep for exercise, because it WILL backfire.
Good luck! As usual, any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to ask by replying or commenting below. Happy to share sample workouts too…
Bottom line: KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Finally, here is a sample WEEK for me:
Sunday - 1: Strength – Legs and Back -45min
Monday: Strength – Chest and Shoulders – 45min
Tuesday: Yoga – 60min
Wednesday: Swim – 45min
Thursday: high intensity workout – 35min
Friday: Yoga – 60min
Saturday: high intensity workout – 45min
Sunday - 2: complete rest