I am 100% ready to return to my regularly scheduled blog-writing here at UGD, but first, a little insight as to why my personal posts have been few and far between lately. See, up until recently, my life has been pretty steady. My days looked a lot the same – I do enjoy a bit of the Groundhog Day, so I tend to find a routine and stick with it. Wake, gym, my 9-5 job, coaching or writing for the blog or 603 site, early to bed, get up again the next morning and do it all over again. I liked my routine, and it afforded me the ability to eat well, sleep as much as I needed to and train five days a week, without fail.
This summer, my Fitness Train derailed when Life Stuff hurled itself across my tracks. I found myself skipping meals, missing workouts, sleeping nowhere near enough. Once I realized my tracks weren’t going to clear anytime soon, I did the best I could to run my own Health and Fitness trauma center. I triaged Life factors carefully, knowing most would survive, but accepting there would be some casualties along the way. Sleep and food came first. If I didn’t eat enough, I at least ate well. If I didn’t sleep enough, I at least took naps. Training only happened when I was well fed and well rested. Those days were sparse, but if I didn’t train at all, I at least kept moving.
As of today, my casualties are high. I haven’t trained consistently since July. I’ve lost a ridiculous amount of hard-earned strength, a ton of met-con capacity and, based on yesterday’s snatch grip deadlifts, most of my kinesthetic awareness for movements that I used to be able to perform in my sleep. My deadlift is down by almost 30#, my front squat is back where it was at the beginning of the year and I’ve lost a couple of dead hang pull-ups.
It was a Fitness train derailment of the most spectacular fashion, and there’s not a damn thing I could have done about it.
If you’re like me, health and fitness is one of the most important efforts in your life. You’ll do anything for the sake of your diet, exercise and sleep - working out while on vacation, bringing your own food to business meetings, cutting out of social occasions early because you’re training the next morning. But no matter how bad you want it, no matter how hard you try… sometimes Life Stuff hurls itself across your tracks. You get sick, your kid gets sick, work blows up, school blows up, families have crises and friends need help. It happens, and the only thing you can do is ride it out as best as you can, generating as few casualties as possible.
So how do you manage around a Fitness Train derailment, and how do you get moving again when your tracks are finally clear? Here’s my best advice, based on my own recent experience. First, when Life Stuff comes up, do your best to maintain your normal routine for as long as you can. You can juggle a lot for short periods of time, so if you can already see light at the end of the tunnel, suck it up, abandon extraneous activities and just stick to the basics. Deal with Life, eat well, sleep well and train. Narrow your scope for a few days to preserve what's important until the crisis passes.
In it for the long haul? Here’s where you have to triage – and listen to me carefully. Eating well and sleeping enough come first. Just focus on that, and if that’s all you can do, that’s okay. Eat only Good Food, sleep as much as you can, and supplement for cortisol management. Those are your top priorities, and if you can keep those up, you’ll maintain an awful lot of your general “health”.
If you’re eating and sleeping well, get to the gym when you can. Here, you’ve got two options. If you’re feeling good and up for training with some intensity, then get to it… but make those workouts count. Screw the Filthy Fifty – your only priority is maintaining strength. Met-con capacity is cheap and dirty – it goes fast and comes back faster, so save your "cardio" for better days. Instead, deadlift. Press. Squat. Do some clean and jerks. Hit the big stuff hard and heavy. But what if you're not feeling up for deadlifts? Mat Lalonde reminded me of a very important point a few weeks ago. Exercise, even at a slow and easy pace, is extremely effective in helping to manage stress and cortisol. So if you’re not able to train with your normal intensity, just do something. Walk your dog, swing a kettlebell or play with your kids. If nothing else, keep moving, because in terms of triage it’s better than nothing.
Once you put the Life Stuff behind you, now it’s time to get back into your routine. I am just this week ready and able to start fresh – and I’ll be the first to tell you it’s not easy. I did the best I could with what I was working with, but I hate that I had to let so much go in the process. I feel weak, uncoordinated, more tired than I should. And I’m so far off my routine that I’m having a hard time climbing back on board. So here’s what I’m doing to get back on the train to Dieselville.
First, I spent my first ten minutes in the gym yesterday doing nothing but complaining. “My deadlift feels awful. I’ve pulled way more than that with better form. I can’t remember how to snatch at all. My pull-ups are way too hard. Everything is sore, and I’m breathing too hard, and this totally sucks.” As unproductive as that might sound, I needed to get that out. I mean, come on… it DOES suck. Being as fit as you were and then having to start even a little bit over SHOULD make you want to pitch a tantrum of exit-gate-at-Disney-at-6PM proportions. So it's okay to complain. Take a few minutes and let it all out, because once you’re done - you’re DONE. Not one more word out of you on the subject of “used to” or “should be” or any other brand of self-pity, anger or bitterness. You simply leave all that behind and GET GOING.
Find your routine again. Make fitness your top priority for a few weeks. Get to the gym at all costs, eat good food no matter what it takes, kill your TV to get that nine hours of sleep. Get yourself back to that place where this is just what you do, where it doesn’t feel forced (even if you have to force it at first).
In terms of training bang for your buck, get your muscles back. I can't afford to care about my met-con just yet – what I need right now is STRENGTH. Dallas is starting me back on Day One of the 603 PTP program, deadlifting and pressing four days a week for the next eight weeks. Follow along if you like – there are hybrid met-cons, skill days and the occasional track day to break up the programming, but if you’re just starting out again and want to get stronger faster, this is the way to do it.
Don’t try to do everything all at once, either. The temptation may be to pile strength day upon skill day upon met-con upon “extra” cardio to get back in shape even faster. Uh, that won’t work. You’re probably still over-stressed, your body isn’t in peak physical condition as it is and if you push it too hard, too fast, you’ll end up over-trained, or worse, injured. Don’t be greedy – remember that it will take time to get back to previously enjoyed levels of health and fitness. Be patient, choose a program (whether it’s the 603 PTP, Catalyst Athletics workouts or the CrossFit Main Page) and just stick with it. Make each workout count, but make each rest and recovery period count just as much.
Finally, take your ego out of the picture. Yesterday, part of my complaining included the low deadlift numbers on my whiteboard. Dallas responded, “I don’t care what the number is, I just want them to be HARD. Are they hard?” Uh, yeah. They were hard. And we moved on. The lesson is, don’t spend any time thinking about where you SHOULD be, because that doesn’t make a lick of difference. This is where you ARE, so suck it up, stay in the moment, make your training sessions hard and stick with it. Rewards will come fast, and provide their own motivation to continue.
I’ll keep you posted here as to how my own training is progressing. I’m not a total lost cause – I’ve still got a bunch of dead hangs, my back squats are coming back fast and I pulled a 100# hang clean last weekend that practically flew up. But I’m checking my ego at this very public door in an effort to remind you that you are more than the sum of your one rep maxes… and that no matter how long Life Stuff gets in the way, it’s never too late to start fresh.
Are you stuck in Life Stuff right now, just coming back from a training hiatus or “fully recovered” from your last health and fitness break? Post thoughts and your best tips to comments.