When it comes to fitness and nutrition, we don’t have to be perfect to obtain great results. I get the feeling that people think they must be impeccable in these areas of life, and if they falter, they give up completely. The perfect kind of workout, the perfect kind of diet, and the perfect kind of life. People are always searching for that perfect solution. Look at some of the extreme fitness and nutrition programs that have become popular in recent years, they are often hard to sustain for the average person and over the long haul. In fitness, I am referring to programs such as CrossFit, P90x, and Insanity. For conditioning, you have the increasing popularity of ultra events. In nutrition, you have diet trends such as low carb, paleo, vegan, and calorie restriction to name a few. Often times, people find these training programs/schedules or diets to be difficult to adhere to and sustain over a life time. What if I told you that we don’t have to be perfect? If we were pretty good, most of the time, we could see great results and reduce the chance that we will get burned out. Let’s take a closer look at these two categories mentioned above.
When it comes to fitness, the majority of us would be doing good to engage in some focused movement each day. High intensity programs are all the rage, but most people don’t need to push their limits on such a consistent basis. They just need to go above and beyond their regular daily activity if they want to get stronger and improve their conditioning. As long as you keep a good level of consistency in your training program, missing a day here and there is not a big deal. You don’t have to follow your training plan to a T. Unforeseen life events come up and as long as we have created consistency over the long haul, we can maintain our fitness levels and not lose much when we miss some training time. If you are training at high intensity all the time, eventually injury or mental burnout can catch up with you, and you may wish to quit altogether. Over a year ago, I typed a post about a concept I had created, called the pyramid of physical training. At the base of the pyramid, I had mobility (ankles(sagittal), hip, thoracic spine, shoulders) and stability (knees, lumbar spine, scapula). If you have issues in these areas, it can really affect your movement. Quality movement can be built upon a great foundation of mobility and stability. Generally, exercises to improve mobility and stability can be done everyday. Natural movement can be found at the next level. These movements consist of balancing, climbing, combatives, crawling, jumping, lifting/carrying, throwing/catching, running, and swimming. Having the ability to perform these movements keeps us strong, mobile, useful, and independent into our old age. It’s probably not really necessary to go beyond this level in the pyramid, but for those looking to maximize their strength, they will want to strength train with the fundamental human movements in mind. Push, pull, squat, hip hinge, loaded carries, and groundwork (get-ups, tumbling, rolling, etc). As you reach higher on the pyramid, it becomes more about aesthetics. What it comes down to, is we should simply move often, move well, and move with purpose. When we feel good, workout with intensity, when we feel worn down, back off a bit. Keep things simple!
Nutrition appears to be an extremely complicated topic. Just gaze upon the hundreds of diet books that litter the bookshelves in the local bookstore as I often do, in disbelief. It’s even more confusing when they appear to contradict one another. In Dan John’s new book, Can You Go?, he presents the idea of the pizza to veggie scale. John credits Registered Dietitian Marc Halpern for this idea, presented in the form of an arrow. According to Halpern’s arrow, pizza and candy can be found on the left hand side, while vegetables, meat, and fruit can be found on the right hand side of the arrow, near the point. “Move to the right as far as you need. Your perfect place is a blend of health, lifestyle, and values.” Check out this following excerpt from John’s new book that summarizes it all nicely. “Out there on the far right, at the tip of the arrow, is diet perfection. Forget it. Choose more salads and vegetables, but don’t try to be faultless. When it comes to diet and nutrition, especially in terms of caloric restriction, doing more, better, is where things work best. Less candy. More Veggies.” I also think it’s important to find solid guidelines for nutrition that we can all agree on whether we are high carb, low carb, paleo, vegetarian, or vegan. I have always liked the following list from Denise Minger’s book, Death By Food Pyramid, which is a list of things that health promoting diets omit.
Industrially processed vegetable oils
Chemical preservatives and lab-produced anythings
Nearly any creation coming in a crinkly tinfoil package, a microwaveable tray, or a McDonald’s Takeout bag
If we want to be lean and healthy, eating pretty good, most of the time, should suffice. Now if you have a goal to compete in a figure or bodybuilding competition, you will have to move closer to the point of the arrow, thus coming closer to nutrition perfection. I am biased and lean towards a low carb, paleo approach that would be deemed extreme by many, but when it improves your health immensely, it’s an easy choice. I know low carb and Paleo has been bashed in the media lately, but take note above, moving towards the right on the arrow and omitting the above list of items looks an awful lot like a low carb, paleo diet. Just food for thought, no pun intended.
Halpern’s arrow really opened my eyes to the idea of trying to grasp perfection and going to the extreme. It’s not just true about nutrition, it can be about anything in life. Do we really have to be perfect? I am saying, “no, we don’t!” If we are pretty good about being active and eating well, most of the time, I believe we can obtain great health, strength, and body composition. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to reach perfection, and giving up if you don’t reach it. Perfection is not necessary! If everyone and everything was perfect, life would be awfully boring. Instead accept the challenge to be better every day, in every way, and embrace the journey.