A few weeks ago, I was at the gym doing dips and realized I was stuck. I typically do 50 dips at the end of my chest and triceps workout just to round off the session. A year ago, I could accomplish that in two sets: 32 and 18, or 30 and 20, or if I was especially tired, 26 and 24, but two sets was no problem. Then, until recently, I stopped doing dips.
And I needed 3 sets to do 50 dips. I couldn't seem to get past that barrier.
Finally it hit me: I had forgotten the basic principle of getting stronger: progressive overload. (More on that in a moment.)
Unfortunately, that happens to all of us. We get caught up in a new fitness program or approach, or we get bored and lose focus, and lose sight of the basic keys of health and fitness.
We make things too complicated -- and in the process, we stop seeing results.
And that's a huge problem. Health and fitness aren't a luxury for successful entrepreneurs; health and fitness can play a major role in success. Research shows that cardiovascular exercise improves memory and cognitive skills. Exercise improves your mood. Exercise is an effective tool for managing stress and anxiety. Higher energy levels, the mental benefits -- perseverance, resilience, determination, and mental toughness -- are just as important.
So if you're looking for a way to take your business -- and yourself -- to the next level, keep these two simple truths about health and fitness in mind.
And don't say they don't apply to you because you're special or unique. Yes, we're all individuals, but in most cases, we're pretty much the same.
That's a good thing, because it means embracing these two approaches will help you get the results you want -- and deserve.
1. Want to lose weight? You have to consume fewer calories than you burn.
Oh, I know. "All calories are not created equal." Or "My metabolic rate is different." Or "I have a thyroid problem that makes it impossible for me to lose weight."
True: Some calories are better for you than others. We all have different metabolic rates. And some people do have medical conditions that make losing weight really, really hard.
But for the vast majority of us, the way to lose weight is to take in less calories than you burn. (Shoot, you can go on a diet consisting solely of cookies and as long as you consume fewer calories than you burn, you will lose weight.)
Still, that weight loss may not occur as quickly as you want. If you go on an extremely strict calorie reduction plan, you may not lose much weight for days -- or even a week or two.
That's because severely reducing calories triggers the release of more cortisol, which typically increases the amount of fluid you retain. So you are losing fat; you're just retaining more water. But it all shakes itself out after a period of time (which is why some people will suddenly lose several pounds over the course of a couple days).
So with all that said: If you want to lose four pounds in a month, you'll need to burn 500 more calories per day than you consume. (Generally speaking, you need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound.)
You can do that by eating 500 calories less than you normally do, or burning 500 calories more than you normally do, or a combination of the two.
Either way, do that for a month and you will lose four pounds. If you don't lose four pounds, that means you either undercounted the amount of calories you took in, or over-counted the amount of extra calories you burned.
If you find that -- no matter what diet you're following -- you aren't losing weight, then you need to eat a little less and move a little more.
It really is that simple. You won't find a single scientific study that argues otherwise.
Which, if you think about it, is awesome -- because that means as long as you do the math right, you will lose weight.
And isn't that what you want?
2. Want to build muscle and gain strength? You must progressively overload your muscles.
Progressive overload is a simple concept. To keep seeing improvement, you must consistently increase the workload, which means increasing either the weight you lift or the amount of reps you do (or some combination of the two).
Why? Your body is superb at adapting. Do 100 pushups a day for three weeks straight, and at first you will definitely get stronger, but eventually your body will decide that 100 pushups a day is the new normal, and you'll stop getting stronger.
Do the same thing -- with anything -- long enough and your body adapts. That's why following the same routine, no matter what the routine, eventually results in a plateau.
To avoid a plateau, instead of changing exercises, the key is to change the load you put on your muscles.
Of course, you might think that the cure to plateaus is to constantly vary your workouts. While there's certainly nothing wrong with mixing up exercises on a regular basis (and constantly changing your workout may seem less boring), constantly doing new exercises doesn't force your body to adapt nearly as quickly.
Again: The best way to keep building muscle and getting stronger is to follow a system that forces your body to adapt.
Let's use pushups as an example again. Say you've been doing 10 sets of 10 pushups with a 45-second rest between each set. Next workout, increase one aspect: Do one more pushup per set, or rest for only 40 seconds between sets, or place a 10- or 25-pound plate across your back to add weight to the movement. Then, the next time you work out, do more pushups per set, or maybe do one additional set of 10, or maybe rest even less. You get the point.
Follow the principle of progression -- by always adding a little more -- and you can avoid plateaus and slowly but surely get stronger and fitter.
Just make sure you strategically change up. For example, you may start out doing seven pull-ups per set, then eight, then nine, then 10, but then, no matter how hard you try, you can't do 11 pull-ups in a row.
No problem. Increase the load by doing fewer pull-ups per set while wearing a weight belt with a 10- or 20-pound plate attached to add resistance. Work on pulling up more weight for a week or two -- and doing more reps each workout -- and then go back to doing bodyweight-only pull-ups. You'll be able to do more than 10 reps per set because you will have forced your muscles to adapt and get stronger.
(That's how I quickly improved my number of dips per set in my quest for doing 50 in two sets: I used a weight belt to add 35 pounds to my body weight and after a few weeks was a little stronger, which made doing more reps easier.)
Also keep in mind the same principle applies to endurance sports. Think professional cyclists just go out and do the same workout every day? Nope. During the off-season, they progressively increase distance and workload and intensity, forcing their bodies to adapt and therefore improve.
And so can can you. To make sure you stay focused on progressive overload, log each workout you complete, but more important, plan each workout ahead of time. Decide what you will do, and then do it.
If you fail, fine. Try again next time. But don't let "I'll just do as much as I can today" be your plan. Decide what you plan to do each workout. Then do it.
Think of it this way: Your long-term goal is to get stronger, but your immediate goal -- your real commitment -- is to complete every workout as planned, on schedule. Just like life finds a way, your body will also find a way. As long as you force your body to find a way.
That's the best way to improve. That's how you go further than you thought possible. That's how you get stronger and fitter.
And that's how you can feel a little better, especially about yourself -- because improving, at anything, is a sure-fire way to feel more confident.And isn't that what you want?