I've written many times about what are the most essential components of health and fitness for those over 40. You can even read in depth my thoughts about it in my Fat Loss at 40 book.
One of the bigger issues with this is due to my personality. You see, I don't like wasting time or words. I want to cut to the point, get the message across and move on.
That can be problematic because people then think I have somehow missed something. They confuse word count with effectiveness. Back when I wrote for various magazines I would sometimes be forced to write more than I really wanted because the articles had to be a certain size for optimal SEO.
So when I write about things like 8-7-4-3-2 people think that what I have laid out is something ineffective. They mistake my seemingly simple answers and assume that there wasn't mountains of study that went into those answers. That I chose to not bore the reader by placing endless scientific studies to back up my ideas is more my desire to not waste anyone's time than it is an effort to overly simplify things.
This can also be problematic during the 28 Day Challenge. People take my stripped down ideas that have removed all the fluff and try to remove more. They don't understand that it took me thirty years to bare the essentials back to just what is contained within the 28 Day Challenge. Stripping it back is like trying to save weight on a race car by taking one wheel off. There's nothing in there that doesn't need to be there.
As an example for how powerful the original idea of 8-7-4-3-2 is let's look at what a week of training following that system is actually like:
- Sleep 8hrs a night.
- Walk at least half an hour a day, or 3.5hrs/ week.
- Eat clean, healthy food daily in line with your calorie needs.
- Train your cardiovascular system 3 times per week.
- Train strength 3 other days per week.
Adding this up it means that we're already up to 9.5hrs of activity per week. For some perspective, the government guidelines for exercise are 150mins per week or 2.5hrs. So this is nearly 4 times more than the minimum recommendation. But it doesn't end there because the 2 is for recovery work. It says that you need to spend twice as much time on recovery as you do on stressful training. So if you train an hour a day then you need to spend 2hrs a day on some type of recovery method like massage, foam rolling, meditation, yoga, etc.
As a bonus, your daily walks do count towards this, but we still need to find 12hrs total to counter the 6hrs of actual training. If you walk an hour a day instead of half an hour, then you need another hour per day, 6 days per week, taking your total time focused on your health up to 18hrs per week, or over 7 times the amount of activity for the week that the minimum guidelines recommend.
Despite its seeming simplicity, that is going to get amazing results when you tie in the sleep and diet elements.
To get a new result that is far beyond anything you've accomplished before, you have to be prepared to do things you've never done before. As the saying goes, "if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got".
The Big Four are:
- Fat loss/ body composition
- Aerobic fitness
- Maximal Strength
So what does it take to make these elements work?
Let's dig into diet to see what might need to change for you to go to the next level with your diet:
Alcohol likely needs to be either reduced drastically or removed completely. It stops you burning fat effectively making your diet work much harder than it needs to be. It causes poor sleep making training the next day harder.
You will need to eat with a purpose every meal instead of making your choices based off emotions. Your food will need to be chosen based upon your desire to achieve a goal, not on how tasty or satisfying it might be right now.
To go along with that, can you put off short term reward for longer term achievement? Many cannot. They seek to soothe the insecurity they've felt during the day with food and alcohol.
Boozy lunches and weekend brunches will likely be replaced with chicken salads and hikes or runs. Are you prepared to be mocked for your food choices at work functions and choosing health over conformity? (This genuinely happens yet you could order a bucket of KFC and a beer and no one would say a word out of fear of fat shaming you. But they'll happily fit shame you for trying to better yourself).
Late nights will need to be reduced or removed too. Poor sleep makes you crave bad food choices the next day making it twice as hard to stick to your diet.
Snacking in front of the TV will need to be removed too. So will TV time actually. No one with a six-pack is eating a bowl of chips or ice cream while watching House of the Dragon. Instead, they're probably tucked up in bed so they can get up early and train before work.
Are you mentally prepared to accept that most of the so called muscle you built is nothing more than fat? It's very common in the gym to hear people talk about their weight as if it's a badge of honour. Most people are carrying far less muscle than they think they are and when they strip it back it's eye opening for them. In general, most people are carrying double the body fat they believe they are. Are you mentally prepared to appear much smaller? I can think of many clients I have had who would rather be fatter to appear bigger than to actually be healthier and leaner.
So now we look at what seems to be very simple diet advice and see that what it entails is a very large number of things to consider, plan for, and overcome. And this list is by no means exhaustive.
Let's look at the cardiovascular training:
Firstly and most importantly, what is your BMI? If your BMI is 30+ then some choices will be no good for you, like running. It'll simply expose you to too much risk of injury. Because you won't have a heavily engrained training habit yet it'll be easy to give up on yourself and quit at the first niggle. Instead you'll need to choose a method that is less load bearing. That will mean you need a big focus on food. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to change there eventually to get what you really want.
Do you have any injuries? If you've got knee or back issues then cycling and rowing may not be good choices. Are you prepared to go and get them treated, however long that takes, so that you can tackle them with a healthy body? If you don't have the money for treatment readily available, what will you give up so that you can afford treatment?
To really gain fitness you're going to need to push these sessions out for time, especially on weekends when you should have the flexibility to train longer. It's not unusual to do a 3-4hr session on a weekend. Again, late nights Friday that prevent you getting up early to get that in, boozy nights, and piggy brunches will need to be sacrificed to make this happen.
Because you're going to be out running, riding, hiking, and otherwise enjoying yourself, are you prepared to lose friends? Your friends who focus all their catch ups around food and not the company will fall by the wayside. Are you prepared for them to tell you that you're no fun, need to loosen up, and then eventually just stop speaking to you as you make them feel insecure about their own lack of health? (Again, this is no exaggeration as I have seen all of these things happen).
Do you know how to structure your training for maximum effect? If not, are you prepared to pay the money for coaching or spend the time reading up on how to do so? Or are you more tied to the cult of busyness and how tough you appear to others than a result?
Now let's look at strength training:
Are you injured? If yes, have you got the time and resources to get treated? You cannot build much strength or muscle on an injured body.
Given you are seeking to go to a new level, the knowledge you already have won't be enough. If it were, then you'd be at the new level you aspire to. Are you prepared to pay the money to learn or to spend the time to learn? Either way you're going to spend something to gain the knowledge you require. Personally, I can always earn more money. However, the clock is always ticking and I can never get back time. I would much rather pay for that knowledge right now than potentially waste my time learning the wrong things. (Again, I can't count the number of times someone can tell me all this crazy stuff they know but can't explain why their workouts haven't progressed in a year - they've focused on the wrong things and wasted that time).
Are you prepared to be challenged? Many aren't. They seek confirmation of what they like rather than actually achieving that next level. I have had people tell me that they aren't sore at all from workouts and are unhappy while telling me they've achieved a new level of fitness. They're not actually after that new level of ability, rather they seek to demonstrate their manhood or toughness as a badge of honour. Are you prepared to open your mind and take on new lessons, or are you stuck in your ways and more concerned about how your workout appears on social media?
Will you do the work properly? Pull ups are a great example of this. No one cares how many half pull ups you can do with a bent arm starting position and your nose barely clearing the bar. But are you tied to a number that makes your ego feel better, or are you tied to progress? Most people's egos cannot handle a big slump in their numbers.
Will you work hard? Most people coast. By far, the most common message I send a client is to tell them to add weight to an exercise. Most are coasting at about 60-70% while patting themselves on the back for even making it to the gym in the first place. Are you prepared to do the work every day?
Flexibility is such a massive subject it would require its own post to do it justice. Suffice to say that because the basic formula is that you will spend twice as much time on recovery methods as training methods that your attention to detail, knowledge, and consistency is twice as important as for the others (with the exception of food, which is probably two times more important again).
Look at the list above. The seemingly simple advice I wrote about initially years ago in 8-7-4-3-2 comes with dozens of behavioural changes that need to be made. Does that seem so simple now?
But that's the real power of the program and the Big Four. If you change them you will change the person you are. That way you're now doing something different, which means you will get that new result that has always eluded you.
No more trying to cram a new habit on top of the rest of your life. Rather, create a new life and mindset that focuses on these elements and craft new habits around them that support that lifestyle.