I was thinking that maybe with this quarantine situation going on these days, that some of you have let yourself go physically. Maybe when the quarantine first came about and you had to stay home because of the virus, you had big plans for yourself. Maybe you thought that you were going to use this time to get in great shape and make your fitness goals a reality. You were going to stick to a diet and do push ups and go for a walk every day. This was going to be it for you, transformation time.
But maybe this quarantine fitness plan didn't work out for you so well. Maybe you didn't reach your fitness goal after all. Hell, life got in the way with homeschooling the kids and ordering groceries for delivery, and working from home, and your own workout, your own healthy habits that you have worked so long to attain just got away from you. Now you have gained weight and you have gotten weaker, and you don't know how to get back on track. You wake up every morning not liking yourself a whole bunch. You need some help.
Some people that I have come across in my time as a strength coach can have huge long term fitness goals like gaining 100 pounds on their barbell squat in a year or losing 100 pounds of fat in a year and they just put their nose to the grindstone and come hell or high water, they reach those fitness goals. They are the exception, not the rule, in my experience. Those folks are outliers and many times, once they reach those goals, they fall back into bad habits again.
The problem that I have seen with most folks who try to get back into shape is that usually, they start too fast. They set grandiose fitness goals like I will lose 10 pounds in the first week, or I will put 20 pounds on my bench press this month, and when they don't get to where they want to be, they get frustrated and give up, and then the whole process starts over again; start and stop and start and stop and they usually end up worse off than before. What's the answer? What's a simple way to just get started on this whole process?
Just do a little each day. It’s doing something small every day, no matter how small, and making a habit of it and then making continuous improvement without putting pressure on yourself.
“When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you see a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek small improvements one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.” — John Wooden.
When people tell me that they don't know where to begin with exercise, or tell me that they “Don't have time”, I ask them, “Do you have time to do one pushup?” Invariably the answer is yes, so I tell them that’s all that they have to do, just one pushup. No pressure, it only takes a few seconds. And I tell them that if they get down there and they feel like doing more than one pushup, go for it, but that they do not have to. One pushup repetition is all that is required. usually, the person will do 2 or 3 or more pushups while they are down there on the ground, but that's extra and not required. In a few weeks, it becomes a habit and the one pushup usually becomes 10 push-ups or more. But the key here is to have no pressure put on yourself. Always say to yourself, “One? Oh sure, I can do one!” It takes the pressure off the person when they don’t have to do some hour long workout, a daunting task for many. And let’s just assume that you only perform one pushup a day for a week. That's 7 pushups a week and 28 a month. Is that better than what you have been doing? Yes, it is and if you add a few more here and there, the numbers will go up without even thinking about it.
This method, what the Japanese call the Kaizen method, or what some call the “1% method” (get 1% better every day), is a method of continuous improvement that requires breaking down those big fitness goals into small, achievable goals.
If it is a diet that you are working on, instead of deciding to radically change everything about what you eat, just focus on changing one thing for the first week of dieting, like eating a perfect breakfast each day for a week. Or if a week seems too long, just do today. Hell, anybody can do one a day. And each day, take the pressure off and say to yourself, “All I have to do is eat a good breakfast.” Each week just add a little more, just a little change, like not eating carbs after 7 pm, or eating 20 grams of protein at every meal, or even for just one meal.
Another beautiful aspect of this method is that it emphasizes continual improvement instead of reaching our fitness goals and being done. We want to ingrain the habit, an everyday habit like brushing your teeth. And you can use this method for anything that you are trying to achieve. For instance, if writing a book seems like an insurmountable task for you, can you write 100 words a day? Still too much? Can you write one sentence a day? Yes, you can. No editing allowed. Write it and be done with it. Again, no pressure to do more. You will most likely write 2 or 3 or even 10 sentences once you get going, but for right now, one sentence will do.
This method takes time and the improvements take patience, but if you start it, it's tough to fail. If you happen to miss a day, you are not allowed to be hard on yourself. Just get back on it tomorrow. No pressure.
With this method, it is never too soon to begin. Anybody can do just one, right?
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.