Seven S’s for Fitness Success

It’s best to keep things simple, and alliteration is always apt in assisting with that approach. So here are seven S’s to cover all facets of your fitness approach. Sure there are plenty of other effective methods and movements you could add to this list, but if you can master the seven below you can’t help but be successful.

 

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SQUATS

Since squats are the “King of all Exercises,” they get to be a category all their own.  You should probably add in a few more movements to your repertoire, but if you had to choose only one lift to do for the rest of your life, this would be it.  Squats, and the countless related variations, provide unmatched functionality for a lift.  You’ll work mobility through the ankles, hips, and shoulders; stability in your knees and spine; and strength from shoulders to toes.  Proper mobility is key for moving through life unimpeded and pain-free, and your first goal should be to perfect a bodyweight squat below parallel (like a toddler squat). Whether you support the weight on your back, the front of your shoulders, or over your head, loaded squats will build core stability like nothing else. What’s my favorite ab exercise? Squats. If you’re looking to build mass, you must include squats. The amount of muscle tissue required to perform this lift results in a huge anabolic hormone response. Squats can also be used as a very metabolically demanding (aka fat-burning) movement that will ramp up total calorie burn and put your heart and lungs through the ringer.

 

SPRINTS

If you’re looking to really focus on overload of the heart and lungs, nothing beats sprints.  Sprints can be done on bikes, treadmills, and a few other pieces of equipment, but all-out sprints on the ground are the apotheosis of conditioning.  Find a track, basketball court, sand pit, or a nice open field to get these done.  As long as you can put in max effort for about 10 seconds, you’re all set. To be clear, sprints are not the same thing as “cardio.” The word “cardio” provokes images of long hours spent trudging away on a treadmill or elliptical, at no particular speed or intensity, only to repeat the same chore again the next day with no discernible benefits. Sprints are short, intense, and effective on all the levels we desire – they build muscle (or at least spare it from wasting away), burn fat, improve joint health, and enhance cardiorespiratory health (in only 1/5 of the time as traditional cardio!). 6. Sprints are not easy.  In fact they kind of suck for a bit (if you’re doing it right), but they will save you time and improve your results.

 

IMG_2223STEAK

I still maintain that there is no other food that could single-handedly support human life better than red meat. It has high-quality protein, fat, and a ton of vitamins and minerals. Beef will always be there for you, but adding wild game to your diet is a great idea too (deer, elk, etc.). There are so many good cuts of steak that range in price, taste, and nutritional content.  Some steaks are typically reserved for special occasions (filet, strip), some are middle of the road with price and flavor/marbling (ribeye, sirloin), and some are on the cheaper end (chuck, flat iron) and can sometimes be tough to get just right. Of all the available options, skirt steak is my honest-to-goodness favorite.  It’s a relatively cheap cut (usually), it can be a pretty versatile piece of meat, and it tastes awesome.  Skirt steak is what you’d use to make fajitas, but I like it just as much cooked like a normal, medium-rare steak.  By the way, if you’re going to cook your steak past medium-rare, don’t bother getting steak. So treat yourself to a steak a few times a week, and make sure to eat your veggies.

 

SHAKES

If you can’t stand eating vegetables, my first recommendation would be to just get over it. But a more reasonable or gentle approach might be to start adding some greens to your shakes. Shakes (or smoothies) are a simple way to pack all the micronutrients you might be missing into one shaker cup.  Having a decent blender is a must, and you should probably use it at least once a day.  The base of my shakes is usually protein powder, spinach, berries, and milk. You can add or substitute all kinds of different foods and supplements, but those basic four ingredients will take you a long way. Add in turmeric, cinnamon, coconut oil, local honey, and creatine, and you’ll probably never get sick for the rest of your life. Let your creativity run wild, just make sure the shake remains nutritionally beneficial (don’t add a bunch of sugar) and make sure it tastes pretty good (just don’t add a bunch of sugar).

 

IMG_0799SLEEP

We have to get over this misdirected sense of pride that comes from a lack of sleep.  It’s not a good thing.  Consistent rituals and abundant sleep should not be underestimated or viewed as lazy. Sleep is when recovery happens – when muscle tissue undergoes growth and repair. Sleep “optimizes the consolidation of newly acquired information in memory,”3. A lack of sleep compromises the proper function of the immune system 1. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you need to plan better or reevaluate your priorities. Falling asleep and getting plenty of quality, restorative sleep can take some work, but it’s worth the effort.  There are probably several things you do throughout the day or right before bed that sabotage your sleep.  Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and your pre-sleep activities can negatively effect how easily you fall asleep and how heavy you sleep. Make sure you give yourself at least a half-hour to wind down before bed with a book (no TV, phone, or computer screens), keep your room dark, and plan for 7-8 hours of deep sleep before your alarm goes off (and when it does, get up).

 

SOUNDS

You must have music in your life, and listening to “pretty much everything” or “whatever’s on the radio” isn’t going to cut it.  You need to put some time into finding the band or genre that fits your personality and your activity.  Music just makes life better. At the very least, make yourself two playlists: one that helps you relax and one that you can work out to. 10 songs minimum on each. I know you can find pre-made playlists pretty easy, but it’s worth your time to do some searching and discover a few bands or genres that speak to you. Of course I recommend getting into metal (which is an extremely diverse category), but I know it’s not for everyone.  Whatever it is that gets you bobbing your head or tapping your feet should work for exercise music. Research shows that music can enhance your warm up4, increase capacity for muscular endurance2, and improve sprint performance5 – but you probably already knew that. However, one of the keys seems to be that the music be self-chosen, so start doing your homework.

 

SUN

It’s getting easier and easier to keep yourself entertained indoors these days.  Since things today have become so convenient that you don’t even have to talk to a real person to have food brought to your house, most people don’t spend enough time outside to soak up some rays. Getting 15-20 minutes a day of raw, natural, unadulterated sun provides a lot of benefits besides just getting a tan – it synthesizes vitamin D which aids bone health, boosts your immune system, and helps prevent certain forms of cancer; sun exposure kills bacteria (a method that has been used to treat wounds) which probably also helps prevent acne7; sunlight can lower cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, and prevent atherosclerosis; and it can prevent SAD (seasonal affective disorder), a form of depression. The health benefits are hard to argue with (and there are more links than what I listed here)8, but there’s also a great deal of mental and emotional clarity that comes from getting outside. Work out outside every once in a while, go fishing, take a hike, or just sit outside and read for a bit – I promise you’ll feel better.

 

Add these significant seven to your stockpile and you’re sure to see your fitness skyrocket!

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1Bryant, Penelope A., John Trinder, and Nigel Curtis. “Sick and Tired: Does Sleep Have a Vital Role in the Immune System?” Nat Rev Immunol Nature Reviews Immunology 4.6 (2004): 457-67. 
2Crust, Lee. “Carry-Over Effects Of Music In An Isometric Muscular Endurance Task 1.” Perceptual and Motor Skills 98.3 (2004): 985-91. 
3Diekelmann, Susanne, and Jan Born. “The Memory Function of Sleep.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience Nat Rev Neurosci (2010): n. pag. 
4Eliakim, M., Y. Meckel, D. Nemet, and A. Eliakim. “The Effect of Music during Warm-Up on Consecutive Anaerobic Performance in Elite Adolescent Volleyball Players.” International Journal of Sports Medicine Int J Sports Med 28.4 (2007): 321-25. 
5Eliakim, Michal, Yoav Meckel, Roni Gotlieb, Dan Nemet, and Alon Eliakim. “Motivational Music and Repeated Sprint Ability in Junior Basketball Players.” AKUT Acta Kinesiologiae Universitatis Tartuensis 18 (2012): 29. 
6Gillen, Jenna B., Brian J. Martin, Martin J. Macinnis, Lauren E. Skelly, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, and Martin J. Gibala. “Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment.” PLOS ONE PLoS ONE 11.4 (2016): n. pag. Web.
7Hobday, Richard. The Healing Sun . Forres, Scotland: Findhorn, 1999. 
8Mead, M. Nathaniel. “Benefits of Sunlight: A Bright Spot for Human Health.” Environ Health Perspect Environmental Health Perspectives 116.4 (2008): n. pag. 

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