We all know the feeling that comes from looking back upon our past and thinking, “If only I knew then what I know now…”
Here is a collection of exercise tidbits that I really wish I knew back in the day, because my life would have been so much easier and I would have been in much better shape.
#1 – Cardio isn’t essential for fat loss or weight maintenance.
I used to spend so much time on ellipticals and exercise bikes that I had my mail forwarded to the local gym. I always thought that if I gave up on the cardio I would gain fat like crazy.
I certainly was eating enough with a 4,000 to 5,000 daily calorie intake! I thought I had to do all the cardio because I was eating so much, but I was actually eating so much because of all the cardio. I was in a cardio trap!
I eventually learned that my grueling daily cardio routine was just fueling my need to workout and burn off calories.
I still do cardio (mountain climbing, free sparring, bike racing), but I don’t use it as a method for weight control anymore. If I need to shed some holiday fat, I just cut back on the food intake and use any extra calories burned as a bonus.
#2 – Ground based exercises builds real world strength.
Yep, I was one of those guys who spent all their time on the bench press and looked like it too. I filled out a tank top nicely, but when it came time to move heavy furniture or wrestle with a buddy, my time in the gym seemed to be all for nothing.
Then I learned about ground based exercises where you lift weights without any benches or supports. It’s just the weight, the floor and good old gravity.
It might not look like much but the simple act of picking weight up from the floor, carrying it or pressing it overhead while standing, requires a coordination of strength and control from your fingertips all the way to your toes.
It’s the kind of strength that can’t be produced on most machines or with other bench and rack style free-weight exercises.
It’s not the single greatest form of exercise on earth or anything, but if using your strength for anything other than working out in a gym is important to you, then I highly recommend some basic ground based exercises in your daily routine.
#3 – Mastery of the basics is better than practicing 101 different moves.
We all get caught up in the hype of weight machines with 9,000 exercises and monthly magazines with the latest must-do exercise variations. It’s very easy to feel like we must do every exercise under the sun because if we miss a few we’ll be at a serious disadvantage.
After checking out some of the best athletes around the world, I’ve noticed a common thread. They all make the basics their bread and butter and seek to master the heck out of them.
They use the most basic holds, throws, lifts, strides or kicks but it’s always the foundation to their high level of proficiency. I have yet to find anyone who reaches a high level of fitness without mastering the basics.
I used to do five different curls, four different bench presses and nine different leg exercises. Now it’s down to push-ups, pull-ups, lunges and squats. That’s essentially 80% of everything I do and I’ve never been stronger or faster.
When it comes to exercise selection, less really is more.
#4 – Playgrounds are great places to workout.
I love playground workouts. Playgrounds are often open 24/7, have lots of free equipment, no lines, no time limits, you get the sun on your face, they offer a great family atmosphere and they cost nothing to use.
Plus, you can get super creative with your workouts. It’s really easy to fall into a rut with the same old free weights and machines at the gym, but a playground has all sorts of elements that are begging to be experimented with. Add a few simple free weights like a sandbag or an adjustable dumbbell and you can create amazing workouts.
With the fresh air and variety instead of the same-old-same-old, I always find that a weekly visit to the playground with a couple of friends leaves my motivation feeling refreshed and refueled. It’s the ultimate fitness field trip!
#5 – There’s nothing special about any kind of foods, nutrients or fitness equipment.
Fitness marketing is kind of funny. It’s all fireworks and excitement about what’s essentially mundane, common and old hat.
I’ve often said that there is nothing out there in our fitness culture that has any special properties or abilities to get you in shape.
Nothing is special in itself. No equipment, no foods, no supplements, no programs, no gizmos or gadgets. Chances are pretty good that the latest and greatest is just something that’s been around for decades with a new paint job and a fancy tag line.
One of the biggest turning points in my fitness was when I stopped asking more from my fitness products and more from myself. There really isn’t anything special I can expect from any kind of diet or exercise product, but once I had the courage to ask more from myself, things really turned around and turned around fast.
It’s not easy to expect more from oneself. It takes a willingness to put aside the ego and accept that even though we are working hard and following the rules, more can still be done. It’s much easier to ask more from a supplement company or a gym owner than to dig deeper for a bit more within us. I should know as I played the ask-from-everything-else-but-myself game for years.
Once we start asking less from the products out there and more from ourselves, the flood gates open and the possibilities are endless!