The Importance of Ritual in Pursuit of a Fit Body
I’ve been training clients and developing personal training teams for large health clubs for over 20 years. If I can think of one thing that always seems to get in the way of progress for people wanting to attain a higher level of physical fitness, specifically a muscular and lean physique, that thing is consistency. More specifically a lack of consistency. Call it persistence, call it dedication, motivation, drive, call it what you want to but for this article I’m just going to say that it all ends up at “consistency.” No matter how well you plan, how determined you are to start that program and achieve those results, somehow you always look up a couple of months later and see that you’re nowhere closer to that goal than you were before. You lost consistent effort and focus and fell right back into the old habits again.
This article is not for the exceptions to the scenario mentioned above. Plenty of people have set their mind, made a plan, stuck with it and are in the best physical shape of their lives. But this can also lend support to my claim that consistency is paramount above all else because every person you know who has achieved that level of physical fitness you desire has demonstrated consistency of effort.
Let me, if I may, position this whole idea of improving your level of physical fitness in a different way. When we think of this as a chore, work or as something set apart from the rest of our lives we are doomed to fail. It’s nearly impossible to be consistent with something that is not part of your life as a greater whole. Physical fitness must become part of the matrix that makes up your life and then you can begin attaining new heights and seeing better results.
I present the idea of ritualized physical fitness. By “ritual” I mean just that! Ritualized physical fitness is something that is as engrained into your daily life as getting up and going to work, flushing the toilet when you’re done or brushing your teeth. This idea of ritual is what ensures you attain any level of fitness success you choose to attain. Ritualized fitness engagement will open the door to any fitness goal you hope to accomplish.
You must do the following things in order to make a successful ritual of your fitness lifestyle
You Must Achieve a High Level of Personal Honesty
Your fitness goals are going straight down the tube if you think you’re going to attain anything without taking a good long look in the mirror and deciding right now to be completely honest with yourself. This is the point where you identify everything and everyone that stands in your way and this is also when you identify exactly what you need to achieve your goals. If you can’t be honest about these things, your goals are doomed to failure.
You Must Create a System of Accountability
Now that you’ve been totally honest with yourself, you have probably identified the fact you need some help. This is the time when you need to set about identifying the people and things that are going to support your fitness goals and work to organize those in a manner that serves you best. Perhaps you have a friend who is very consistent with their workouts and eating and you need to begin spending more time engaging in these things with them. Maybe you need to shop around to find a fitness center that meets your budget and your needs to make your training very accessible and effective. This is the point in time when you should probably consider enlisting the professional guidance of a certified fitness professional with a track record for helping people like you achieve success and maintain it. Whatever you need, you’re the best judge of that, but it’s at this point that you need to go find those things and place them into your daily life in the optimal manner to serve your needs.
You Must Purge Your Lifestyle of Contrary People and Things
Some people and things just have to go! Maybe not permanently, but you must learn to manage people and things that detract from your fitness goals if you are ever to be successful in attaining them. If it’s a family member, work to position them to where they can do the least amount of harm to your efforts. Perhaps you don’t even tell that person what you’re up to so that you can avoid them trying to sabotage your efforts until you’re in a stronger place in life to deal with them. Often it’ll be specific interactions that you need to remove or reposition in your life. Friends meeting for drinks and dinner is a common hurdle that can easily be repositioned when you tell those people you’ll meet them for a quick lunch so that you have a limited period of time to engage them and you can plan ahead and ensure you have something of quality to eat. Before you know it, you’re out of there and on to being fit! Whatever and whoever it is, you have to find ways to purge your life of people and things that detract from your fitness goals.
You Must Prioritize Yourself
This one is a real challenge for parents. I’m here to tell you that all else being equal, a fit, strong, energetic parent is better than a tired, grumpy, overweight parent any day of the week. You can be a better parent to your children and a better spouse when you have energy, when you feel good and when your body is performing at its peak. There is no scenario where the overweight, tired you is better than the lean, strong, fit you. Prioritize yourself and watch every good thing in your life improve and see frustrating aspects of life melt away.
Now let’s chat about the ritual itself and the things I recommend you consider adopting
Most quality physical fitness programs are going to have some variation of these three (3) variables going on all at the same time for optimal results:
- quality personalized nutrition
- daily aerobic training (cardio)
- regular strength training (lifting)
This is the point where I need to make a disclaimer. If all of this information is news to you then the following is for you. If you already know all of this stuff than clearly you are either already in great shape or you may need to just focus on the items above to find consistency in your fitness lifestyle.
How to make quality nutrition practices a ritual
1. create a list of quality carbohydrates, proteins and fats that you can assimilate into your daily eating right now
2. see my blog Healthy Eating on a Budget – with Complete Food List and use this to see where these foods fall on your list
3. use the following charts to organize meals – you’ll want to eat about 3 meals each day using this method with 2 snacks
4. Use the following guide to help you prepare your food portion sizes
5. Have 1-2 snacks each day between meals. Here are some decent options:
- whey protein shake with an apple
- 2 celery sticks with 1 tbsp. peanut butter each
- 1/4 cup almonds and 3 oz. beef jerky
- 1 cup natural Greek yogurt and 1 cup berries
- a Quest Bar
6. Eat a meal or snack every 3-4 hours
Once your have a basic meal plan organized and you have identified suitable foods to substitute for others, you’re ready to begin. You’ll need to make changes as your body improves, but having a firm starting point is they key. Start here using this information and progress as you see your body improving making changes only when necessary.
Make a ritual of your aerobic or cardiovascular training
1. Recruit a friend
Accountability for things like daily cardio sessions cannot be underestimated. I recommend doing cardio first thing in the morning when you wake up. This will ensure it’s done and you won’t allow anything else to get in the way. It’ll also energize you for the rest of your day, ensure you are up and moving early so you’re never late to work and you’ll probably sleep just like a baby each night. In the end, doing it at any time is fine, but I’ve found first thing in the morning to be very sustainable for most people as is doing it right before or after strength training.
I have a friend who meets me at 6:00AM every morning (7:00AM on weekends) to do AM cardio. We make it fun by doing it outdoors whenever possible. She brings her phone to track our distance and time and we walk a block then jog a block and go for as long as we need to go until our favorite coffee shop opens at 7:00AM at which time we are finishing-up our aerobic training when that door is being unlocked. This method of ritual has been incredible for me. I actually wake up eager to get started each morning because we have so much fun. We have a whole hour to do whatever we want running around different areas of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma so every once in awhile we’ll stop, take some photos, video ourselves doing silly things or whatever happens to make us smile that day. It’s a blast, we have the best time, and we get a great workout in the process. I recommend this method highly.
2. Join a class
Whether you prefer to run, cycle, do outdoor boot camps or like to do things like boxing, a class makes it so much better! During the cold winter months when I can’t comfortably do my aerobic/cardio outdoors, I prefer boxing classes. They’re awesome, high energy and you learn a valuable skill. Whatever type of class you try, if you can come away knowing how to do something you didn’t previously, you win. If you’re able to make friends and find new types of accountability and support you win again! Join a class.
Make a ritual of your strength training program
1. Make it a game
Technology is awesome and there are so many great ways to track and measure your performance. It’s called “the gamification of fitness” and it’s a real thing in the fitness industry. New apps, wearable technology and online resources are making it possible to have fun with your fitness efforts and can help you stay on track.
Sit down with a pen and paper and design workouts that make you feel like you’re playing a game. Whether you use numbers like sets and reps or whether you use time periods or some other variable, the gamification of your strength training keeps it fresh and interesting and makes the time pass so much more quickly.
Below is an example from a previous article called Shape and Tone Your Back – A Workout for Women
You can see the tiered design of the workout where you are doing each exercise in order going down the list. Every time you finish a round, an exercise falls off the list and you’re done with it. This type of gamification method lets you feel like you’re really moving through your workout quickly and allows you to get a lot of quality exercise while keeping your mind engaged in “the game.”
|1. Angled Lat Pull Down||15 reps||14 reps||13 reps||12 reps||11 reps||10 reps|
|2. Dead Lift||15 reps||14 reps||13 reps||12 reps||11 reps|
|3. Bent Over Row||15 reps||14 reps||13 reps||12 reps|
|4. Hyperextension||15 reps||14 reps||13 reps|
|5. Pull Up||15 reps||14 reps|
|6. Good Mornings||15 reps|
2. Hire a Certified Fitness Trainer
This may sound too simple and costly, but this really is the best way to ensure you get started on the right track and know exactly what to do each and every day. Interview trainers well, ask them for references and research their client successes well. Aside from being a built-in source of motivation, accountability and expertise, hiring a quality trainer will help take the guess-work out of your exercise and nutrition program and will allow you to move forward much more quickly. I recommend you look for a trainer who also has a Precision Nutrition certification so you are certain that they can help you organize your food in a responsible way.
3. Create a friendly competition
Some people simply need competition to engage in things like working out and eating clean. If this is you, find ways to organize your fitness lifestyle so that you can have a competitive component worked into the mix. This will keep you focused and working toward your goals while creating healthy habits that will last. Shop around with your local health clubs and see which ones offer a lot of of training programs that run in cycles. For example, I have set up a system of programming at the fitness centers where I work so that people can join a program at just about any time of year. Each program runs 4-6 weeks and each program has it’s own focus or theme. This keeps it fun, fresh and competitive for the participants. Find something like this in your community and you’re sure to win.
So there are my most basic thoughts on making your fitness lifestyle a ritual that will ensure your success. Remember, you cannot sustain an effort for something that is separate from the rest of your life. Your quality nutrition practices and fitness training have to be part of the rest of your life in order for you to be successful. Take the above tips, methods and strategies and work to apply them all into your daily fitness efforts and watch how quickly you move toward each successive fitness goal you set.
All the best to you my friend!