Fit Forever: A Training System for the Rest of Your Life

How do I look like you?

What are you training for?

These are the two common questions I get when I am approached at a new gym or by people wanting to know more about me. I’ve attained a physique I am proud of and a level of fitness that is above the average person.However, I never started out like this. I didn’t have above average strength or endurance. I still have much to work on in terms of my mobility.So what motivates me to train day in and day out? There’s no sport that I am playing or competition that I desperately need to be in...My vision for physical development is less about goals and more about a system I can implement forever. I’m inspired by seeing those that are no longer able to move well as they get older as well as those many times my age that are able to run circles around me. I want to be Fit Forever.Through this process I’ve developed a set of principles to guide my journey and be able to help others discover that fitness isn’t an on again/off again relationship when you want to lean out for the summer. It’s not about crushing yourself on a grinding PR and getting hurt or feeling depressed because you had a burger from McDonald’s this week.It’s about playing the infinite game of fitness through your whole life rather than the finite game of short term goals. Fitness is a lifelong endeavor, and through these principles we can develop a holistic program that gets us to move better, get stronger, and go longer every day.

Mindset and Motivation

The proper mindset dictates how well you still stick with a program. Having finite goals makes fitness a finite game. Being Fit Forever is about an infinite game of fitness. You will increase your capacity and sometimes overreach, but as long as the macro trend is up, you are making progress. As powerlifters, bodybuilders, professional athletes, etc get further in their careers they aren’t chasing numbers from day to day. They are focusing on quality and command of movement and letting the numbers push gradually over months and years.

How do I get started?

The first step is to make a habit out of training. Building momentum is the key to making habits stick.The mindset we want to have is that we are all athletes, therefore we will train like athletes. When we think of athletes, people like Michael Phelps, Simone Biles, Michael Jordan come to mind. Although we may never reach their accomplishments, we strive to be 1% better than yesterday just as they do. The fitness habit we create becomes part of our identity, we train because we are athletes.From there we look at the process of how to maintain this athlete identity. Begin with something simple such as laying out your workout clothes on the side of your bed. Put your workout clothes on and do light warm-up exercises such as air squats, push ups, pull ups, crunches, and walking. Commit to doing these type of body weight exercises first to let your body get used to pushing itself and you can then move toward going to an actual gym. This is how we prove to ourselves that we are athletes - per James Clear in Atomic Habits, the two step process to shape your identity are

  1. Decide that you want to be an athlete

  2. Prove it to yourself with small and consistent wins

Every time you start a workout, you are an athlete. The exercises you do follows the functional movements you want to get better at in real life. From workout to workout you want to improve some part of the process: one more pushup, pushing through a hard set of squats, running just a little faster. There will be ups and downs over time, however each workout validates the belief that you are an athlete, because athletes show up every workout to get better in some way. Your intent feeds the process that feeds the outcomes you desire.

Diet

Being an athlete that is Fit Forever means not ascribing to a fad diet or weight loss plan. It means ascribing to a set of principles of eating in order to prevent confusion and eliminate dogma.The principles of dieting are as follows

  1. To Lose Weight, you must consume less energy than you expend and vice versa

  2. Eat food as close to its original form as possible

  3. Earn your carbs

  4. Focus on overall aesthetic, not the number on the scale

Energy Balance

The basic principle from #1 is simple. Eat less than you expend, and you will lose weight. Eat more and you will gain weight. You can’t control where it comes and goes, as that’s determined by many variables, most of which are out of your control. However, you can make sure the calories you consume are used effectively by maintaining a consistent workout habit.Some resources to determine base calories and primers on the “math” of nutrition

  1. Nerd Fitness Guide to Healthy Eating

  2. Eric Helms Nutrition Pyramid - Video Series

  3. For those that just want a template - Renaissance Periodization

  1. Becoming Primal

Focus on eating food with as little processing as possible. This throws out all fast food and most packaged products. Realize that life happens and you can’t avoid it at times. When you can get the majority of your meals from whole food sources (eggs, chicken, beef, fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, etc.) you can afford to have a “free” meal here and there with little effect to your diet. Remember, we are about a lifelong pursuit of fitness, a day in the grand scheme is not going to make or break your journey.

Examples

  1. Paleo

  2. Whole 30

  3. Primal Blueprint

Earning Your Carbs

I stole this one from the guys over at Power Athlete HQ. It makes sense to me that since carbohydrates and glucose are the main fuel source of the body, you must make the body do work in order to utilize the carbs you are putting into it. To further support this theory, nutritional timing puts most carbohydrates around and during the time of training. It’s no coincidence that many coaches time their carbs around bouts of heavy training or hard work. They realize that in order for the body to be at its optimal capacity it needs the reserves of fuel to feed the muscles being worked.

Overall Aesthetic

Form follows function. The recent trend in the fitness community is that “strong is the new sexy” which is an overcorrection from the skinny lifestyle that most ascribed to not long ago. Going back to our mindset, we are choosing the life of an athlete and doing athletic movements. Therefore we will look like an athlete because we are putting in the proof every workout. Athletes eat and look the way they need in order to perform their best. They don’t need 6 pack abs or a tiny waist in order to do so. In general, athletes have to choose whether they want to gain mass or lose bodyfat in order to achieve their optimal performance. To visualize this I like Marty Gallagher’s perspective:

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Exercise

The part of fitness that everyone seems to focus on and can be as simple or as complicated as you want. Social media is flooded with workout ideas and programs that are more flash than substance so we have to have a rubric to measure what makes a good program to be Fit Forever. Being Fit Forever stands on the base of three pillars

  1. Strength

  2. Conditioning/Endurance

  3. Mobility

Strength

The bombshell at the bar, strength is what strikes awe in people. Heavy weights, barrel chests, Popeye forearms. How do you even get there?As an athlete, we have to determine what the basic athletic movements are:

  1. Squat

  2. Hinge

  3. Lunge

  4. Push

  5. Pull

  6. Carry

If a program incorporates all of these movements we are on the right track for developing a solid base of strength. The next part of the process becomes how we progress infinitely. The basic principles of training for athletes are:

  • Individuality - how does the training affect you?

Everyone is different and responds differently to training. Some people are able to handle higher volumes of training while others may respond better to higher intensities. It is up to us to find programs that are suited for how our bodies best respond and making tweaks to programs as we learn more.

  • Specificity - Does the movement help improve your performance in sport or other activities?

If we are training for a certain sport, there needs to be time to break down the movement and figure out what translates to better on field performance. If we are training for general fitness for life, the same principle applies. That is why the basic athletic movements are so important to incorporate. We may not be kicking a soccer ball or throwing a baseball, but we will find many times were we are carrying heavy objects, pushing a cart, or pulling out weeds.

  • Progression - Is there a way to increase the difficulty once you’ve built a base in the basics?

To reach the roof of your ability, you have to climb the first flight of stairs. We must start with the basic movement and master it before we can move on to a more advanced variation. The longer we can progress with the simpler movements the easier it will be once we reach the next level.

  • Overload - Can you increase resistance/intensity of the movements to keep growing?

We’re not going to start squatting 500 lbs before we can squat with our own bodyweight. Part of building our capacity is to start light and progressively get heavier and harder. Doing so over weeks and months helps us get stronger without getting hurt by “ego-lifting”. You can’t do much from a hospital bed. Get the reps and weight that you can, and save the rest for the next session. Consistency is key.

  • Adaptation - Can we change exercises periodically to continually improve our strength in different movements?

After a while, heavy weights just aren’t as heavy anymore. We need to be creative and switch up the movements we train in order to improve our range of movement as well as give our bodies another stimulus to react.

  • Recovery - Are we allowing enough time between high intensity sessions to let the body rest and grow?

As much as we want to work hard, we all have limits. It is up to us to check our egos and rest between hard sessions. At the basic level, the more you train the more rest your body needs, regardless of your work capacity.

  • Reversibility - Are we maintaining a base level of fitness while developing other parts of the system?

When we focus on one aspect of training (strength, size, power) we will put other parts of it on hold as a result. This ties back into recovery. We therefore need to find a minimum amount of work we can do to maintain the levels of fitness we’ve achieved. This is not an exact science. However, we have an infinite amount of time to track and learn how we can best maintain our new capacities. Some have even studied on their athletes to give us a better idea of how long each adaptation lasts.From Cal Dietz and Matt Van DykeThe principles of specificity, progression, overload, adaptation, and reversibility are why consistency is so important if you want to improve your performance. Apply these principles to your training to get a better understanding of your body and how to achieve success.

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Resources:

  1. Westside for Skinny Bastards

  2. Ben Pollack's Programs/Courses - Great for learning how your body responds to training

  3. GZCL - Tier System Training and Cody's site for great writeups on how to think about progressing forever

  4. Power Athlete HQ Training Programs

  5. The Purposeful Primitive

Conditioning/Endurance

I’ve separated this from strength because it is what we have to balance in order to become Fit Forever. The strongest men usually aren’t the best runners, swimmers, or long duration fighters. They rely on one max effort to perform. We want to be able to maintain our strength over longer periods of time. This sacrifices a bit of the maximal strength and allows us to expand our ranges of movement that focusing on strength alone would not.The development of conditioning and endurance follows the same principles as strength. Although it is common to take to running, biking, and swimming, we can incorporate movements such as pushing, pulling, and carrying implements to improve our endurance as well. Be creative with developing your conditioning. The more tools in your toolbox the more your capacity improves.

Resources

  1. Hybrid Athlete and Complete Human Performance

  2. Joel Jamieson

Mobility

The oft neglected red-headed stepchild of basic fitness programs. We tend to leave this alone for longer than we need. Ironically it determines more of our strength and conditioning than the previous two combined.Look at every career-ending injury for athletes. They are in odd positions where they lost control of their body or their body was forced into a bad position. There can’t be a possible way to combat this through training, right?What if we decided to expand our ranges, train the odd positions, and control them? What if we could get stronger in these positions so we rarely, if ever, get hurt?

Mobility = Flexibility + Strength

Our bodies are limited to what our joints and muscles can do in conjunction with each other. The mind and body are very good at working around pain and preventing the body from going into positions it knows it isn’t strong in. Through controlled and progressively loaded environments, we can tell the body that it is ok in these awkward positions and be better prepared in the event they happen outside of the gym.Our joints are connected from top to bottom, and get good at compensating for weaknesses upstream and downstream. This is what can get us hurt. If we lack ankle mobility our knee has to compensate. When our knee compensates for rotation from the ankle, it has to rotate - which leads to the infamous ACL tear.When incorporating mobility into our Fit Forever program, we must look for a system that will follow the same principles as strength and conditioning. The focus then becomes on expanding, strengthening, and controlling our newfound ranges of motion so we are more than just wet noodles that can touch their toes and do the splits.

Resources

  1. Ian Markow

  2. Functional Range Conditioning

  3. Loaded Stretching and Relax Into Stretch

More than a Program

Incorporating these aspects into our training system creates more than just a program to follow for 10-12 weeks. Each cycle of training builds upon the next, and when we look back we can see how far we have come from the beginner stages.The system of being Fit Forever is about building and maintaining the base of strength, conditioning and mobility for your entire life. The focus is on longevity. The focus is on lasting effects to our bodies as a whole. We want to be strong and able well into our 60's and beyond regardless of how lean or massive. With the proper mindset and the basic principles, we can play the infinite game of fitness and pursue progress every session.