Up until now, we’ve largely focused on using paleo, primal and ancestral teachings to clean up our diet and lifestyle. Admittedly, these are two of the 3 key pillars of true health and happiness…but what about the third? That third pillar, in case you’re wondering, is exercise, and it’s arguably the biggest element of health that people are most confused over.
Throw your conventional view of exercise out the window
Think of exercise, and your mind turns into an infomercial. State-of-the-art treadmills, high-tech ellipticals, snazzy rowers, bouncy things, multi-purpose things, ab-tightening devices and, if you’re getting a bit racy, perhaps a rack of ultra-polished dumbbells. It’s ok – my mind conjures up much the same images as well, despite the fact that I’ve completely retrained how I approach exercise. That being said, what you need to do before we progress is metaphorically (and perhaps literally, if there’s no-one directly below) throw that cheesy infomercial-style gym equipment out the window.
This equipment is designed to provide a “quick fix” in your quest for a better body. But really all it’s doing is introducing convenience into the mix: with the exception of dumbells, you don’t have to think about the exercise you’re doing. Just jump on the treadmill, tap a few buttons, and you’re free to think about all of life’s other troubles. I still do a double take when I see someone hop onto the stationary bike, pick up a magazine, and just cruise for half an hour. Those same people invariably wonder why they’re not losing weight, when they’re hardly even getting their heart rate up!
Next, stop pounding the pavement and wondering why you’ve got injuries coming out your ears and the weight refuses to budge. Repetitive movements like this put the body under extreme stress, due to repeated impact with hard surfaces and physically jarring the bones and ligaments of your legs and feet. And when the body is under stress, it holds on to all the fat it can – thinking that there are hard times ahead. Do you really want to look like a long-distance runner, anyway? They’re all stringy and unhealthy looking…typically because they are unhealthy!
Finally, stop finding excuses to NOT exercise! You literally don’t need anything to get a good workout – just a few square feet of empty floor space. Abandoning this reliance on fancy gym equipment or even a nice spot to go running will ensure you don’t ever miss a workout opportunity.
High intensity training for weight loss
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, is all the rage in the alternative fitness circles these days. And it’s with good reason – HIIT offers vast quantities of calorie destruction with just a fraction of the time (and money) investment compared to the average gym or cardio workout. It’s now a well-accepted fact that our bodies respond better to short, focused periods of exercise. A 10 to 15 minute HIIT workout does that – elevating your heart rate, jump-starting your aerobic system, and fatiguing your muscles in a concentrated time slot, which minimizes the amount of stress you’re putting your body under. Remember, less stress means more weight loss, and achieving higher intensity means more calories burned faster. It’s a win-win, really.
In my opinion, if you’re looking to kick that jiggly belly or Beyonce butt fat quickly, ditching the elliptical or long runs and adopting HIIT 2 to 3 times a week is the far better option. If you’re searching for inspiration, a good starting point is to get your hands on a proven workout program. Dr Josh Axe’s “Burstfit” program provides super-intense workouts that’ll get you sweating and probably swearing a bit as well. But it’s not for the faint of heart. Otherwise, if you’re not looking to make quite as much of an investment, this DVD series comes well reviewed and for a fraction of the price.
Heavy lifting and bodyweight for muscle gain
If you’re looking to simply stay toned and slim, a few high intensity workouts per week is probably sufficient. But if you’re looking to bulk up, develop those biceps, broaden those shoulders or chisel those abs, you’re going to have to introduce something else into your life: heavy lifting.
Lifting heavy weights, otherwise known as resistance training, is an excellent way to shock your muscles, which signals to your brain that you need an increase in muscle mass in that region in order to prevent muscle damage. The heavier the weight, the greater the mass added – in theory, anyway. But this doesn’t mean that you should jump in the deep end and start doing 80-pound dumbbell bench presses when all you’ve been doing before is 10 lb bicep curls. Start by performing a 8-10 rep set of the exercise with a given weight. If you perform that set too easily with the weight, increase the weight until it becomes difficult. If you only manage to do 7 reps with that weight, use the next lightest weight. And so on.
Next, focus on key areas for your resistance training. Don’t be fooled by those buffoons who stand in the gym doing bicep curls for what seems like hours – if they’re looking like the Hulk, it’s probably because of all the nasty protein shakes and freaky supplements they’ve been taking. You don’t want to be that guy or gal – they might look good, but they’re not healthy!
Key areas are those that work out a full range of muscles at one time – these include squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, kettlebell swings, and maybe the odd bench press. Compound exercises with heavy weights are better than specific movements with lighter weights.
Finally, keep it short and simple. As explained above, spending too long on a workout can stress the body and curtail your results. 20 minutes max of resistance training, only 2 to 3 times per week, and ideally only 3-5 exercises per workout. It’s quality that we’re looking for, not quantity.
Getting creative with workouts is key
Two of the biggest reasons why many people fail to stick to their exercise goals are:
- They get bored of their workout routine
- They use lack of access to “equipment” or the gym as an excuse not to exercise
Regarding the first point, it’s super important to mix things up on a regular basis. Changing up your workout at least every 2 months, if not more regularly, will ensure your brain doesn’t get bored and, more importantly, your body doesn’t get bored of the same repetitive movements. Performing the same series of exercises week after week can cause your body to plateau, meaning your muscles become accustomed to the movements and stop growing and/or burning fat. Besides, you want to look forward to your workouts, right? Not dread them. And if you find you can let your mind wander during a workout, you need to change it up, fast.
Regarding the second reason people fail to reach their exercise goals – this is where it can get super fun! When I travel or find myself in a new place, I take great pleasure in hunting around for things that I can use to formulate a workout. People seem to think that you need to have designated exercise equipment in order to exercise. Wrong!!! So wrong. If anything, that equipment makes it too easy to perform exercises, and the whole point is to challenge your body, not take shortcuts.
Even at home, I prefer to use unconventional tools and items to pizazz up my workouts and challenge my muscles and coordination in different ways. At the moment, I’m using a 10 liter container of filtered water as a dumbbell/kettlebell replacement (10 liters = 10 kg, which is a good weight for many exercises – just make sure it has a handle!), and a yoga mat. That’s it. And between the two of them, I can do a huge range of exercises.
Here’s a few other things that you can use when you’re away from home or the gym to get a good workout:
- Strong lateral branches on trees, for chin-ups, wide-grip pull-ups, leg raises (abs), or simply hanging
- round, heavy rocks (these are great for things like weighted squats, swings, lunges, and deadlifts – just make sure you have your shoes on!)
- open fields or parks, for sprints and bodyweight exercises
- sledge hammers/log splitters – these two provide some of the best workouts on the planet. Provided you have something solid to hit (like a tyre for the sledgehammer or a log – duh! – for the axe), they work a wide range of muscles throughout your body. Ten minutes with these bad boys and you’ll be hurting! Be very mindful of your form, though, and of your own safety.
The point is, get creative – the world is your oyster when it comes to exercise! If nothing else, investing in a kettlebell is a very wise thing to do, as there’s such a wide array of exercises you can do with them and they’re easy to transport. For men, I’d recommend starting with a 20 lb kettlebell, and for women, 15 lb or less should be effective initially.
Diet can make or break a weight-loss regime
Ok, so you’ve integrated all of the above considerations into your workout routine and you’re still not getting results. What the heck is going on? If you’re not losing weight or putting on muscle as desired, look to your diet.
With regards to weight loss, probably the number one dietary roadblock is carbohydrates. Whether they come in simple sugar form, or complex form, an overload of carbs can provide excess energy that you’ll struggle to burn off, even with those high intensity workouts. Here’s a few weight-loss pointers regarding carbs:
- cut your fruit intake back to one or two servings a day. Sure, they’re nutritious, but they also contain a heap of fructose that elevates your blood sugar and is easily converted into fat in your body. If you must partake in some fruity goodness, stick to low sugar-fruits like raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, lemons and the occasional orange.
- abolish all processed foods – these invariably contain a truckload of sugar. That includes “gluten-free” products as well.
- stick to complex carbs like sweet potato, squash, and green plantains. Don’t go overboard on these either!
Streamlining your diet for maximum muscle gain
Next, if you’re like me and struggle to put on muscle mass, you need more protein!! I can’t stress this enough. There seems to be some notion amongst many people that it’s easy to get too much protein in a given diet – newsflash: it’s not easy at all! You have to eat a LOT of protein to even come close to exceeding your daily maximum, and the truth is that most people aren’t getting enough.
According to Tim Ferriss in The 4 Hour Body (an excellent read, by the way!), you should aim for 1.25 grams of protein per pound of lean bodyweight, which means you subtract your bodyfat first. I’m 167 pounds and, last time I checked, I had a bodyfat of 14 %, so I aim to eat 143 grams of protein per day. It’s not easy, but it makes a real difference to building muscle mass. Chris Kresser largely agrees with Ferriss, and in some respects advocated even more protein. For more information on the subject, check out this article.
Ultimately, everyone can benefit from more protein in their lives. And I find one of the best ways to increase protein intake is to add in a high-quality protein powder. We’ve talked before about how awesome this grass-fed, organic whey protein powder is, but if you can’t stomach dairy then Chris Kresser recommends this hydrolyzed beef protein – arguably the best source of protein on the planet.
Top tips for success
Scrolled through all of the above but still confused? Here’s my recommendations in a nutshell.
- replace low-intensity cardio workouts with high intensity (HIIT) workouts, 2-3 times/week
- mix up your exercise routine at least every 2 months, and get creative!
- tone down on the carbs, especially simple sugars.
- continue to eat a paleo-style diet
- lift heavy stuff! Ensure you factor in 2 to 3 resistance training workouts each week. Limit workouts to 3-5 exercises (e.g. squats, deadlifts, bench press, shoulder press) and less than 20 minutes in duration.
- ensure at least 2 rest days between workouts to allow muscle recovery.
- get lots of protein. Lots. Consider introducing a high quality protein into your diet.
- stick to a paleo-style diet, but considering introducing grass-fed, organic milk for extra protein and fat.
Good luck on your quest to a better body, and let us know how you get on!