Where Did It All Go Wrong For Me This Year?

Fitness and weight loss can be simple, but we overcomplicate it and are too zealous in our approach.

Triathlon training was going great this summer.  My runs were getting faster, I was more efficient in the pool, and my power on the bike was increasing exponentially.  Just one problem: my life was getting incredibly busy on top of training.  Between the work I do for Be Well, flying for the Air Guard, and working on my MBA, training became a chore that I had to make sure fit into my schedule.  This turned out to be a recipe for disaster.

In late May, Dr. Anna and myself competed in a bike/run event down in Springfield where I placed 5th overall.  I performed well that day but realized I needed work on the bike.  On the way home from Springfield I bought a mountain bike to increase my training volume and outdoor rides.  Big mistake.

Too Much Exercise *CAN* Hurt Your Fitness

Over the next month I found myself training upwards of 90-120 total miles per week.  This training volume on top of the additional life stress left me feeling constantly injured and fatigued.  The term “overtraining” is thrown around a lot.  To be clear, overtraining syndrome is a significant condition that affects serious athletes and requires medical intervention.  I wasn’t overtrained, I was simply under recovered.  Either way, I recognized that I needed to press the reset button and get control of my body again.

After my third injury of the season I decided it was time to hang up the shoes for the rest of the year.  This allowed me to get back to exercising for health rather than performance.  Health and performance can certainly co-exist in the same training program but they have two very different requirements.

Training for performance in endurance sports requires maximizing both your aerobic fitness (with oxygen) as well as your anaerobic performance (without oxygen, higher intensity).  Effectively training both of these domains requires a lot of time, effort, and recovery.  When you try to sandwich all this training into a hectic life you can set yourself up for unforeseen issues like I did.  Training to be healthier is quite simple, and is exactly what we teach in the Be Well Chiropractic Lifestyle Program (BWCLP).  Below I will lay out the principles we teach in the BWCLP exercise class, and how I adhered to them (as well as the results I have seen from doing so).

Make Health The Priority, Not Performance

1) Increase Your Fitness With Higher Physical Activity Levels

Many people go to the gym for an hour a day and “check the box” for their daily activity.  Going to the gym for an hour is great, but what are you doing for the other 23 hours?  It is possible that despite the hour of exercise you’re getting at the gym, you are still sedentary for the remainder of the day.  For example, when I was training hard in the early summer moths, I would hit up a hard workout in the morning and often times do little or nothing the rest of the day due to the fatigue I accumulated from the workout.  

Since training was off the table for me, I altered my daily activity levels and started doing  the most foundational exercise that all humans should be doing regularly……walking.

First thing in the morning I take my cup of coffee and go for a 20-30 minute brisk walk before eating anything.  After my lunch break at work, I’ll go for another ten minute walk.  At night I’ll put a podcast on and go for another stroll that lasts closer to an hour.  Before getting hurt I was trying to pack all my daily activity into one big workout in the morning, now I am spreading that activity out throughout the entire day.  I have actually become far more active now then when I was training a lot. 

Of course you can do more than walk.  Get on the bike and go for a recreational ride.  Play pickle ball.  Play tag with your kids on the playground.  There are numerous ways to increase activity levels, the key is just being more active throughout the rest of the day rather than relying on your hour at the gym.

2)  Maximized Aerobic Fitness With Heart Rate Guided Training

Walking is a great start, but if you’ve ever been to one of our workshops you have heard me talking about heart rate guided training.  We like to set our max heart rate for training by using the formula: 180-age.  To understand why we use this formula, come to our next workshop.  The combination of running, biking, and swimming left me with nagging back, neck, and shoulder injuries to the point where running would only exacerbate these problems.  Since I couldn’t run as often, and walking only increases my heart rate to about 100 beats per minute (as opposed to my ideal 142), twice a week I strap on my heart rate monitor and head over to a treadmill for some incline walking. 

Incline walking is an underrated exercise for improving aerobic capacity.  If we lived somewhere with mountains, I would forego the treadmill for a hilly hike.  Unfortunately, we live in Illinois.  2-3 Times a week I’ll increase the elevation on a treadmill and walk at about a 4 mile per hour pace.  This pace on an incline can be surprisingly tiring, and it increases my heart rate up to “zone 2.”  To be clear, I don’t like treadmills, and these are the only workouts I do during the week where I actually feel like I am having to “force” myself to complete.  Everything else I do just feels like playtime.  

3) Increase Strength And Fitness With Bodyweight Training and Resistance Training 

I love the barbell and free weights, but unfortunately I found myself unable to do those as well.  This turned out to be an opportunity for me to develop strength in a different way;  Bodyweight gymnastics strength training.  I recommend checking out gymnastics bodies.  We wrote about the reasons why you should be doing bodyweight strength training last week.  If you’re unable to do good pushups, demonstrate mobility, or do a single pull up, bodyweight movements are your starting point before hitting the iron.

However, if you refuse to listen to that advice and you want to hit the weight room we recommend strong lifts or our friends here in town Method Athletics. 

So, What Was the Result of My “Less is More” Approach To Health and Fitness?

First, I’m working out far less.  Aside from my daily walking (which I consider fun time, rather than a workout) I’m only actually “exercising” for about 3-4 hours a week.  If you consider that there are 168 hours in a week, this is a pretty minimal investment. 

Second, I’m enjoying what I’m doing.  Gymnastic bodies is a lot of fun and the progress is different than anything else i’ve ever experienced, and happens a lot faster than I was expecting. 

Third, I’ve lost a lot of weight by doing less and at a lower intensity.  Intense training can leave you tired and hungry.  This can lead to over eating and being a couch potato on training days.  Not to mention the metabolic adaptations your body sometimes makes to endurance exercise (which we cover in class).  It isn’t uncommon at all for recreational endurance athletes to have trouble losing weight, or to gain weight during the season.  By lowering the volume and intensity of my workouts I’ve gotten down to my goal weight faster and in a more sustainably simply because I’m not as hungry anymore.  I weigh the same now as I did during wrestling season my senior year of high school.

How To Learn More

This was obviously a brief overview of my recent paradigm shift.  If you would like to learn more, attend our BWCLP workshops on October 15 and 22.  Yes, they’re on Saturday mornings.  That’s the only time I can do them due to my flying schedule.  If you haven’t attended one of our workshops yet, what are you waiting for?