Today’s health and fitness-related post was inspired by a real-world example of why keeping things simple should always be your first approach. Our friend Kristyn had registered for an online workshop we were hosting via video conference. An hour before the event, she realized that her wireless connection at home wasn’t working. She called the support hotline, who proceeded to run her through a whole host of complicated diagnostic tests, queries and fixes—none of which worked.
Finally, the customer service person said, “Well, have you tried unplugging your wireless router, and then plugging it back in?” Kristyn gave that a shot, and—yay!—wireless connectivity was restored.
The Basics (Where It’s At)
Often in our own health and fitness pursuits, we forget that practicing “the basics” are what got us this far. Our perfect air squat practice earned us an overhead squat PR, connecting with others in real life helped us manage our stress, and eating an everyday diet full of foods that make us healthy gave us the energy, body composition, and quality of life we’ve been so happy with.
Yet when things start to slip—we’ve gained some weight, our energy is flagging, our health conditions start to reappear—what do we do?
We start adding in complicated programs, regimens, and protocols, in the hopes of returning to that magical place where everything was clicking.
We start adding fancy exercises, and implement the newest strength program, and start running on Saturdays. We begin to meticulously weigh and measure our food, fanatically schedule intermittent fasting into our days, and add expensive supplements in carefully calculated doses. We read every book we can get our hands on, read every health and fitness blog looking for solutions, post in every Paleo forum asking for advice.
We do these things all in the hopes of getting things back on track. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work. In fact, this usually makes things worse*. By building in so many moving parts, it becomes impossible to know what is and isn’t working. The stress of creating and maintaining such a complicated regimen adds fuel to the fire. And at this point, you’re so frustrated and disheartened that you’re likely changing strategies every week, desperate to find something that will work.
*This is where we pick up most of our consulting and functional medicine clients—hard-working, educated, motivated people frustrated by their lack of progress, despite their efforts to throw everything but the kitchen sink at their health and fitness plan.
Today, we’d like to remind you that most of the time, the answer starts with simply unplugging, and then plugging it back in.
The Simple Life
When things start to slow down, when you’re no longer making progress or things start moving in the wrong direction, we agree it’s time to take a good, hard look at your program. But it’s not usually necessary to complicate things at that point. Instead, your first efforts should be geared towards returning to the basics.
First and foremost, evaluate food quality. Is it still really clean almost all of the time, or have you started to let some less healthy foods creep back in on an all-too-regular basis? This happens to all of us, and is the most common reason for a health and fitness backslide. If this is the case, the answer is easy—it’s time for another Whole30®. Remind yourself how good you feel when you really clean things up, and get a small win by seeing things improve quickly—sleep, energy, skin tone, athletic performance and recovery.
Are you still eating enough to sustain your new body composition, activity levels, and long-term goals? If you’ve put twenty pounds on your squat and cut your 5K time by five minutes, chances are you’ve got more muscle and less fat, and you’d better be eating more to accommodate. Don’t start fumbling with specific macronutrient proportions, though. Try bumping your protein a bit, make sure your carbs are still supporting activity levels (you may need more), and then slowly add more fat until things start moving in the right direction again.
Has your fitness programming grown stagnant, are you stuck on the same exercises week after week, or have you moved in the all-too-common direction of too much volume or too much frequency? Instead of trying to fix it with the latest, greatest programs all thrown together (“I’m doing Wendler 5-3-1 plus CrossFit Endurance plus stand-up paddleboard yogalates!”), first try pulling the plug and getting back to the basics.
First, give yourself some extra rest. Let’s say that again—your first step is to rest. (When was the last time you had a half-intensity week, and a week off? We thoughts so.) Then, return to a basic, tried-and-true template.* Strength sets of 3′s and 5′s, limiting one-rep max work to the occasional test day. Very short (but intense) metabolic conditioning sessions, no more than three times a week. Long, slow distance, outdoor recovery work, like easy walking or biking, a few times a week. Strip it down and keep it simple, before you start throwing all sorts of complications on top of an already shaky routine.
*This is only a generalized template, and won’t be right for everyone. Please work with a qualified, experienced S&C coach to design a smart, safe program for your context and goals.
Finally, there are seven other factors to consider when it comes to your overall health and fitness. Are you sleeping less than you used to, or under more daily stress than usual? Are you spending too much time on Face-Twit-Gram, haven’t seen the sun for days, can’t remember the last time you just relaxed and had fun? These are all factors that play directly into every one of your health and fitness goals—especially weight loss. So again, before you start creating specialized supplement regimens, committing to an hour of meditation plus yoga plus volunteer work a day, or join three different co-ed recreational teams… think about how, in these areas too, you can unplug, and plug it back in.
Get Some Help
Some might say, “But I’m doing everything right, and things still aren’t working!” In some cases, this may, in fact, be true. As we point out in this article, dietary and lifestyle interventions can’t fix everything. Many of you show up to the party with long histories of yo-yo dieting, chronic stress, poor lifestyle choices, and longstanding illness. The effects of your health history are far-reaching, causing changes to your metabolism, your inflammatory status, and how your body responds to stimulus like food, stress, and exercise for years—decades—to come. So maybe, you’re one of those people who needs some extra help in the form of supplements, regimens, and protocols.
In this case, make sure you’re guided by a professional, and not trying to put things like this together on your own. Find a qualified functional medicine practitioner, naturopath, or medical doctor to help you troubleshoot systematically and healthfully. (And we’d still posit that unplugging and getting back to the basics is a mandatory foundation for the work you’ll do with them.)
For the rest of you, who promise you’re doing all the right stuff, we’ll point out the obvious: if you were really doing everything right, things would be working. Before you get mad at us for saying that, please know that this isn’t your fault. Sometimes, we are too close to our own stuff (our biases, our preconceived notions, our past results and future goals) to be able to objectively help ourselves out of ruts or off plateaus. Even experts, consultants, and coaches need an expert, consultant, or coach. (We personally have all three on retainer, in fact.)
In this case, you need a hand honestly evaluating your own plan. That’s when a trusted friend, qualified coach, or a lifestyle consultant might come into play. But again (not to beat a dead horse), getting back to a squeaky-clean diet, resting your body, and focusing on managing sleep, stress, and other factors is a mandatory pre-requisite for the work you’ll be doing with your trusted guide.
Time to Unplug?
So for those of you frustrated, desperate, wondering why all your hard work just isn’t paying off, we encourage you to take a minute to unplug, simplify your routine, and then plug it back in. We’re pretty sure that’s exactly when things will start humming again.
Are you in need of an unplugging? Do you have a story about getting back to the basics, and how it helped you make progress again? Share it with us in comments.