Sustainability in Fitness
“SUSTAINABILITY” IS OFTEN DEFINED IN TWO WAYS:
1. the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level
2. the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain an ecological balance
Per these two meanings, sustainability has become a big movement with regard to the environment. Increasingly we are becoming mindful of choosing products and processes that can be recycled and replenished and which do not harm people, animals and the planet.
These definitions of sustainability also apply to personal wellness and fitness. By shaping our workout goals accordingly, we can improve our chances of living a healthy, meaningful and fulfilled existence.
TRAIN, ACHIEVE, SUSTAIN
Sustainability, in physical training, is as important as the training itself. It is not just about working to achieve a milestone; it is about the journey of getting there. You can only look, feel and move better on an ongoing basis if you focus on the program as much as the desired results.
Unfortunately, many people gravitate towards a quick fix solution instead of building a sustainable program for staying in shape. As a result, they are discouraged when the initial success they achieve slips back to where they began. Then they give up on their training – only then to restart it again, falling into the same frustrating cycle. This “yo-yo” approach to training isn’t good for the body or mind. And it is a waste of precious time and money.
Only a sustainable approach to training – one that includes regularly exercising the physical, mental and spiritual – is the path to achieve personal goals and fulfillment.
How is this done? With a 15 year career in Exercise Science, here is my checklist of seven “must do’s” to succeed:
IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS…AND THEN LET THEM EVOLVE
Identifying your fitness goals before you begin is critical to track your progress over time. But equally important is being flexible about your goals as you change over time. If you don’t let your goals evolve, you will find yourself chasing results instead of building upon them.
For example: if you’re a woman in your early 20s, your goal might be oriented towards feeling confident in a bikini. Towards the end of your 20s, as your priorities change, you might become more focused on staying energetic to excel at a burgeoning career. Then in your 30s, your fitness goals might shift towards accommodating motherhood and family. Over time your life priorities shift; sustainable fitness is about evolving with those life changes.
Sustainable fitness is about understanding that workouts should never be static, etched in stone routines. To the contrary, they should be dynamic and malleable. They should evolve over time like a riverbed: always moving forward but with an ever-changing path towards the same goal.
STRENGTH TRAINING IS A MUST
To function properly, your body requires several healthy basic components, one of which is muscle. Healthy muscles are those that are nurtured, balanced, active, flexible and strong. By keeping your muscles healthy you improve your chances to live a life that is energetic and pain-free.
Strength training is an important way you keep your muscles healthy. A regular resistance regiment through the use of weights — including dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, and your body itself — is paramount. It is less important which tool or weight you use for strength training; it is more important that you focus on gradually but continually pushing and challenging the body to build-up strength and muscle over time.
While we often prefer to focus on the larger obvious muscles in our body, it is equally important to work the smaller less active muscles as well. This helps balance the body’s “kinetic chain” and reduces weakness, tightness, pain and wear and tear.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
Building and sustaining fitness over time requires consistency.
Training just twice a week in one hour sessions – where those two hours are focused, measurable and progressive – will produce results towards your goals. On the other hand, training rigorously but sporadically –with moments of dedication followed by periods of absence – will amount to little other than soreness and stress.
Consistency is far more important than volume. Rather than set unrealistic training expectations for yourself (where you miss workouts and then try to make them up) adopt a schedule that is achievable. Half of sustainable training is about coming up with game plan that you can live by and live-up to.
Hand in hard with consistency about when you work out is how you workout. Training that involves randomized routines is less effective at getting you up the goal ladder than a fitness program that flows and grows consistently, safely and measurably.
Randomization creates an atmosphere of “stop and go” which is not good for habit building and can be dangerous for your body (since it cannot benefit from the “muscle memory” of a previously learned routine). Your body excels in a program of progressive repetitions of increased range, load and volume. This helps you to get stronger, faster, leaner, more agile and flexible over time. Randomized workouts are confusing and unpredictable and deliver a fraction of the results of a prescribed workout.
Consistency can be achieved through a trainer or through an app / online platform, at home or at the gym. As you train yourself to be consistant and to follow a structure, you will learn how to safely diversify your routines to keep them interesting while moving you down a planned path of progress.
“THE HARDEST THING YOU WILL EVER DO IN YOUR TRAINING IS TO SIT OUT ”
KNOW WHEN TO SAY NO
“The hardest thing you will ever do in your training is to sit out.”
This truism was spoken to me by a martial arts instructor. It profoundly restructured my approach to sustainable fitness and a healthy lifestyle.
This may seem like odd advice to a person first learning how to physically train. But knowing when to stop, rest and recover is critical if you want to go, push and thrive.
A workout routine, if successful, becomes your habit; your habit becomes part of your everyday culture; your culture defines your identity; and your identity is tied up with your ego. So even if your body is telling you to take a break, it is hard for the ego to accept (the often must-needed) rest.
Why does your body sometimes tell you to sit one out? Because of the stress and injury that can be caused by overtraining. Many people derail themselves by not listening to their gut and pushing themselves too hard to the point of a melt-down.
Sustainable fitness requires striking a balance between the mental and physical, rigor and rest, leveling-up and lying down. To attain and keep the full benefits of training, your workout must be regular and measurable but also careful and mindful.
Saying no, for example, means working out hard in a class but then sitting out that extra fitness class to be with your friend. It means having rest days scheduled in your week to allow your muscles to recover and come back stronger. Perhaps most important, it means listening to your body and taking that break without enduring any guilt from yourself or others.
ALWAYS MAKE NEW GOALS
Sustainability entails maintaining a sense of purpose and desire. It is about looking to the future and setting new goals, hopes, and dreams. The same applies to your fitness routine. When you have reached the goals of your current program, establish new ones for yourself. The best way to keep your hard-earned results intact is to build on their foundation and focus on new milestones. Sustainability is about planning beyond today’s moment of success.
The true measure of good health -- physical, mental and spiritual -- is not predicated on one’s ability to achieve it; it is grounded in one’s patience to sustain it. Sustainable training helps you do this by keeping you in a healthy, happy, consistent routine. And by applying these lessons in sustainability to your life in general, little by little, action by action, you can make a positive impact on the world around you. As Vincent Van Gogh once said, “Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” May sustainable training help you accomplish small and great things alike.