Is the gym the most important factor in reaching your health & fitness goals? Nope!
Not something you would expect a Coach to say, huh?
Well more often than not, it’s true. Let’s take your average person that has decided to go to the gym to try and reduce their body fat as an example. They may go to the gym 3 times per week, for an average of one hour each time.
I will break it down in its most simple form first, numbers. There are 168 hours in a week, and our average guy is working out for 3 hours in that week. That means they’re spending 1.8% of their week training. Before we even go into the more technical stuff, that already highlights the importance of what we’re doing outside of the gym (98.2% of our week).
This is why time and time again we notice a similar trend with clients that succeed with looking and feeling how they want to. They buy into living a lifestyle that helps them reach their goals, whether that be fat loss, strength gains, or just having more energy and feeling good. Everybody is in their own unique situation, so it isn’t about living like a saint, it’s about adapting your current lifestyle and making smart choices.
Training is obviously still a huge part of creating the success you desire, so let’s discuss why it is so important:
Fat loss is a target for many people, so this is very important. In its most basic terms, in order to lose fat over a sustained period, we need to be ‘burning’ more calories than we consume. Exercise will increase the number of calories expending, both during and after your workout. Yes, a calorie deficit can be achieved without exercise, but it would mean consuming considerably less than if you were training and being active.
Elicit a hormonal response:
We’ve all experienced that feel-good factor after a good training session, right? Besides being so happy that another tough session has been completed, exercise has a positive effect on many different hormones in the body, such as serotonin, testosterone, cortisol, growth hormone, dopamine, the list goes on. Serotonin is a large contributor to the feel-good factor post-exercise, and has a nickname amongst many as the “happy hormone” as it elicits a positive response to a persons mood.
Increase strength and reduce injury risk:
Despite some misinformed opinions, these two can go hand-in-hand. Strength training becomes increasingly important as we age to limit the inevitable loss of muscle strength. All exercise comes with a risk of injury, but if performed correctly and with progressive overload (which is where a good coach comes in) then that limit is significantly reduced. Plus a strong, stable and flexible body will be much less prone to injury from day to day tasks and activities.
Now let’s take a look at the importance of day to day lifestyles on our progress (or lack of):
Nutrition And Water Intake:
Arguably the biggest factor of success, because what’s the point in pushing yourself to your limits in training then ruining it all by going on an eating binge for the whole weekend. We touched on this in the training section but being in a slight calorie deficit (consuming less calories than we expend) is the single most important part of the process of sustained fat loss. We could talk forever about the effect of nutrition on performance and fat loss, but being in a calorie deficit needs to remain a constant priority if fat loss is your goal.
Water intake is often undervalued when it comes to our health and performance. Taking a look at cognitive performance alone, a loss of 1-2% of our body water has been shown to affect our reaction times, short-term memory, concentration levels, anxiety, and even our mood! The worst thing is, this 1-2% body water loss is entirely achievable whilst just doing our daily work and tasks, without taking exercise into account.
A lack of adequate water intake over a sustained period has also been shown to affect the bodies ability to lose fat, too. Chronic hypohydration can result in raised levels of the hormone angiotensin II, which is associated with many health risks such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The health benefits of adequate water intake are endless, you will look and feel better, have raised energy levels, and has a big part to play in your metabolic function.
Every person is different and there are so many factors that affect hydration, but as a general rule of thumb, if you are not consuming at least 2.5-3 litres of water a day then I would recommend upping your intake, even more so if you are training regularly.
By this I don’t mean your training sessions. I mean what are you doing in your day to stay active? Do you sit at a desk all day then come home and sit on the sofa, but go to the gym a couple of times per week and expect miracles? The recommended steps per day for an adult is 10,000 steps. For that to happen, we need to be chipping away throughout the day. I know it makes it tough if you’re an office worker, but little changes can make a big difference. Get up early and go for a walk, go out at lunch, get up and speak to your colleague face to face rather than calling them. Even start to use the furthest toilet and water fountain away from your desk. They may sound like very small details but if we are doing this regularly you will be surprised at how much more active it makes us throughout the day.
Recovery And Sleep:
So you’ve slogged out a big gym session and you’re screaming at your muscles to grow and your fat to bugger off (or is that just me?!). Well you might feel like the hard work is done but for your body it is only the beginning. Exercise (strength training in particular) causes micro tears in the muscle. Post-exercise your body then goes about repairing these micro tears in order to adapt, grow, and better handle training next time round. We need to fuel the body with the right macronutrients (protein, carbs, fats) and other key nutrients in order for this to occur. That is why if fat loss is the aim, a large calorie deficit cannot be sustainable, it has to be subtle in order to be able to both lose fat AND recover from these bouts of training, whilst still having the energy to go again.
Sleep is possibly the biggest performance enhancer of all. I’m sure we are all aware of the long-term health implications of chronic lack of sleep (shown to increase risk of Alzheimer’s, cancer, etc.), but the effect on our daily energy and recovery in the short-term is also important. Growth hormone is released whilst you are asleep to aid muscle growth and repair, and there is evidence to show that you are 2.5x more likely to sustain a workplace injury if you have had less than 5 hours sleep compared to the recommended amount of 7-9 hours. Some of you may think that you are fortunate enough to be able to work well off 5-6 hours of sleep, but trust me, chances are you are not! Less than 1% of the population are unaffected by regularly having less than 7 hours sleep a night. If you think you’re doing ok on 5 hours, just imagine what you can do with a few more.
As you can see, there is plenty to think about in leading a lifestyle to enable progress in your health and fitness journey, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. These are the basics that we need to get right first, before we even think about anything else. The most important point of leading a healthier, more active lifestyle is that it must suit YOU. If cooking all your meals for the week, or training 6 days a week is unrealistic then don’t convince yourself that it is! Find ways to stay active within your busy life and be honest with yourself and your coach (if you have one).
As always, if you would like more information on what we have briefly discussed then we would love to have a chat with you, we are here to help you lead the life you deserve.