“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training”
The Magic Pill
While there may not be a magic pill to cure all your ailments and ease your aches and pains, fitness certainly comes close. There are however side effects that you must be aware of…
-Mental and Physical Strength
-Reduced Risk of Chronic Disease
-Balancing of Blood Sugar Levels
-Maintaining an Ideal Bodyweight
-Reduced Brain Fog and Clarity of Focus
-Improved Sex Drive
-Increased Performance in Sport
Ok, I get it, those side effects are really benefits! But that’s because when done properly, there are no side effects to fitness. The only side effects from fitness come from exercising unsafely. But if you know me, I won’t let that happen! After all, my whole career is built around helping people move better so they can play better.
The Golden Rule of Fitness (don’t disobey this law – you’ve been warned)
The golden rule when it comes to fitness is to work within the limits of your mobility. Put simply, if your range of motion is limited, don’t ask your body to do things it can’t do. For example, if you can’t squat your bodyweight below parallel, why would you try doing it with a loaded barbell on your back? Doing so is a recipe for injury and prevention of injury is the #1 most important goal when it comes to fitness.
While you might think it’s about lifting more weight or achieving a new personal best, it’s not. The goal is to show up every day which ultimately leads to lifting more weight or moving faster but injury will stop your progress dead in its tracks. Consistency compounds.
So, do yourself a favor and take your time mastering every exercise you learn before ramping up the intensity. Fitness is a metaphorical marathon, not a sprint, although it quite literally includes aspects of both marathons and sprinting!
Efficiency over Intensity (AKA Form First)
There are minimum movement standards that you should be able to meet before trying to add intensity to your workouts. Form first, ALWAYS! No Exceptions. As we’ll talk about in the coming pages, any exercise can always be made harder or more complex but if you haven’t mastered the basics, you haven’t earned the right to do the sexy variations of those exercises.
We will cover intensity and what it means in a little bit, but for now, understand that unless you can move well without loading your body with resistance, you have no business moving with resistance.
To understand the minimum standards for movement that you should be able to perform, watch this quick video.
To Load or Not to Load…
Before we go too far, I think it’s important to take a quick moment to define a what a load is because this terminology is going to appear frequently throughout the coming pages.
A load is simply an external force applied to the body. When performing a bodyweight exercise, the load is simply the force of gravity, and since gravity is always there, it’s considered a baseline.
In certain situations, whether going through rehab, or simply starting the process of building strength, bodyweight might be too much load depending on the exercise. In that case, a load must be reduced with assisted variations of an exercise. A perfect example being the pull-up using bands to assist the movement, or performing ring rows to develop back and shoulder strength.
Developing the strength needed to perform a bodyweight pull-up typically takes time to develop and while the bodyweight pullup is the “standard” variation, there’s nothing wrong with doing assisted variations until proper strength and form are developed. Only when proper strength and form are developed, and the bodyweight variation is mastered can resisted variations be considered.
Resisted exercises are when a force greater that gravity is applied to the body during the exercise. To keep with the pull-up example, this could mean wearing a weight vest, or strapping chains around your waist. These “loaded” or “resisted” variations can cause major damage if done wrong which is why developing the proper strength and form needed to perform them well without an extra load is so important.
What is Fitness anyway? (And why most people have it wrong)
Now that you’ve been warned, we can dive into the fun stuff! But before you can begin learning how to hack your fitness, I think it’s important that you understand what fitness is in the first place. After all, even inside the fitness community, most people don’t understand what fitness really is.
I think the best definition of fitness is the one used by Greg Glassman, the creator of CrossFit. Now before you go crazy on me, I get it, and you might have some preconceived notions about CrossFit and CrossFitters but that’s not what this is all about. CrossFit is simply a philosophy and I think Glassman hit the nail on the head.
Glassman defined fitness as the ability to do work across broad time and modal domains.
The Ability to Do Work
The beauty behind Glassman’s definition is the ability to quantify and measure your ability to do work over time. This allows you to track your fitness throughout your lifetime. But what exactly is work?
Work can be summarized by a mathematical formula that you probably forgot from high school physics class
Force = The amount of energy needed to move a certain amount of mass
(Mass x Gravity = Weight)
*Since you’re likely not leaving earth anytime soon, just think of mass as weight. While technically not true, it fits the purpose of our conversation here.
Distance = How far that mass/weight was moved
Time = How quickly the mass/weight was moved over a certain distance
By understanding this formula, you can measure and track the intensity of your workouts with the goal of increasing intensity over time. The more intensity you can bring to your workouts, the more fit you will become.
One Size Does NOT Fit All
Not all levels of intensity are created equal. What may be perceived as intense for one person may not be perceived as intense for someone else. So, before we go any further, I think it’s important that you understand the principle of scaling exercise.
Scaling is to exercise what the handicap system is to the game of golf. It levels the playing field. In golf, if the handicap is accurate, a tour player and a weekend warrior can go out and play head to head on the same course and in theory, will tie at the end of the round.
Scaling the physical demands of an exercise or intensity of a workout, taking into consideration ones Age, Level of Conditioning, and Range of Motion, are all critically important factors to make sure you move safely and are able to increase your fitness over time. When done correctly, a seasoned fitness veteran and someone just getting started can do the “same” workout with the “same” perceived level of intensity and get the “same” result intended from that workout while reducing the chance of injury.
Remember what we talked about with Assisted, Resisted, or Bodyweight Exercises? This is where those come into play as well as factoring in one’s Mobility and range of motion. Exercises can always be made more difficult or complex, but they can also be made easier. The key is in matching the difficulty and complexity of the exercise to the capabilities of the person performing it. This is where the art of great coaching comes into play and one of the reasons seeing out a knowledgeable coach or personal trainer is so important. They’ll know exactly how to scale various exercises for everyone.
FITNESS HACK #1
The first fitness hack is playing around with the variables that determine the level of intensity you’ll experience during your workout. The more intensity you can safely endure, the more fit you’ll become and the quicker you’ll see results.
Force / Mass / Weight: Force is the amount of energy needed to move a certain amount of mass. The baseline for mass is your bodyweight.
In fitness hack #3 we will cover why increasing resistance or load isn’t always the best way to make an exercise more difficult, but for now, the important takeaway is that you can change the resistance or load of an exercise to increase or decrease the intensity of that exercise.
Assisted = Band Assisted Pullup
Bodyweight = Pullup
Resisted = Pullup with a weight vest
Assisted = Walking with a cane
Bodyweight = Walking
Resisted = Hiking wearing a camping pack
Distance: Distance is how far a certain amount of mass is moved. When running, you could go 5 kilometers, 5 miles, or up a flight of stairs. If you jump onto a box, the distance might be something like 12 inches or 30 inches. When you broad jump, maybe you jump 3 feet, maybe you jump 6 feet. These examples are easy to understand but what about lifting weights?
When you perform a deadlift, you pick a weight up off the ground until you’re standing tall. The distance between where your hands start while the weight is on the ground and where they finish when you’re standing tall is the distance you use when you calculate the intensity of that exercise.
Some exercises like running are easy to play around with distances to change up the intensity level, but some exercises like weightlifting have fixed distances and force you to rely on changing how much weight you move or how fast you move it.
Time: How fast are you able to move a certain amount of mass over a certain distance? Moving faster and reducing the amount of time it takes to finish an exercise or a workout is one of the best ways to increase intensity.
For example, running a 5k in 18 minutes is far more intense than running a 5k in 25 minutes. Swinging a golf club 120mph is far more intense than swinging it 75mph. Performing 10 burpees in a minute is twice as intense than if it took two minutes. You get the idea!
Always Track Your Results
There are several ways to use the power formula to your advantage. For example, you could create a workout where the goal is to finish as fast as possible. Track your time and see how long it took you. Try it again in a few weeks and compare your time. If everything was the same except you were faster, you’ve proved that your fitness improved.
Another technique is to set the clock for a pre-determined amount of time and see how many reps you can bust out in that time. The more reps you can accomplish in a given time, the higher your intensity and the greater your fitness.
Or, maybe one of the exercises was a barbell clean and the first time you did it you used 95 lbs. and the second time you used 115 lbs. Maybe you tied your score and did the same amount of reps. Even though the reps stayed the same and the time it took to complete the workout stayed the same, your intensity was higher because you moved more mass!
By understanding the formula for power, you can better understand how to hack your fitness by upping your levels of intensity.
There are exceptions to the rule of course, which we are going to cover next.
…Over Broad Time and Modal Domains
Earlier we defined fitness as the ability to do work across broad time and modal domains. You now know what it means to do work and you understand the formula for calculating how much work you’ve done, but the questions still remain, what is broad time and what the heck are modal domains?
Broad time is simply a prolonged period of time such as months or years. If you wanted to get really into the weeds on the numbers, you can track the intensity of each workout you do over your lifetime and plot the results on a graph. Over time you can see a three-dimensional representation of your fitness. We’re not going to go quite that deep here. It’s cool to understand, but I think the more important thing to focus on are modal domains.
Simply put, a domain is an expression of fitness. Running is a domain. Weightlifting is a domain. Biking is a domain. Gymnastics is a domain. Long Jump is a domain.
The goal for overall well-rounded fitness is to be proficient in a broad range of different domains rather than specializing in just one domain. For example, running a sub 6-minute mile is impressive, and so is deadlifting over 400 pounds, but being able to run a sub 6-minute mile AND lift over 400 pounds is far more impressive and expresses a wider range of fitness.
So, unless your career is in specialization, your goal should be to become well rounded. Even then, those who specialize, add variety to their workouts to create an edge on the competition, but more on that later.
The most important reason why you want to be well rounded is because life demands you to be well rounded! Life demands that you’re ready for anything it throws your way. Playing with your kids, helping a friend move a couch, running away from danger, these are all examples of what life might throw at you and it’s important that you’re ready when it does.
By cross-training in a variety of domains, the more well-rounded your fitness becomes. The more well-rounded your fitness, the more athletic you are. And the more athletic you are, the more successful you’ll be in any endeavor in life because to be a human inherently means you’re an athlete.
FITNESS HACK #2
To become a well-rounded athlete, you need to expose yourself to a variety of activities and disciplines and express your fitness in as many ways as possible. The goal here is to challenge your body mentally and physically and tap into the 3 metabolic pathways.
These 3 energy pathways fall into two categories:
Phosphagen / ATP
Maximal Power for 0-60 seconds
Moderately Maximal Power for 1-15 minutes
Low Levels of Power indefinitely
Put on your legwarmers, it’s time to jazzercise!
During the 1980s in the United States it became popular to go to aerobics classes. They were just as much about the social aspect as they were about the fitness aspect. You would put on your fashionable neon lycra outfit, go to a class, sweat a little bit, and call it a day.
While there are certainly benefits to long, low intensity aerobic exercise, there are three main problems.
By tapping into the formula we discussed in Hack #1, you can raise the intensity on your workout and get all the benefits of aerobic exercise PLUS benefits you can only get from anaerobic exercise while shortening the time it takes to do so.
The Anaerobic Threshold: Breathing Fire
Since the popular belief in the 80s was that aerobics were the key to health, people also believed anaerobic exercise was something that should be avoided. After all, if aerobics (with oxygen) was the right thing to do, why would you want to do anaerobic exercise (without oxygen).
The thing to understand however is that anaerobic exercise is a byproduct from increasing the intensity of your workouts and therefore your fitness. Especially when applied across multiple domains.
By working harder and faster for shorter amounts of time, you tap into all the benefits of aerobic exercise plus some benefits that aerobics simply won’t provide. One of the biggest reasons for this is that right now, while you’re reading this, you’re already in an aerobic state. It’s your bodies default energy pathway. Sitting, walking, doing leisurely activity, it’s all aerobic. It’s all very low level intensity, long duration. This means it’s hard to improve your aerobic capacity without committing to long workouts and staying painfully consistent with your training schedule. You can hack this however by breaking through the anerobic threshold. When you do, your intensity spikes higher than you could ever achieve from aerobic exercise and the benefits trickle down.
The catch to all of this however is that anaerobic exercise isn’t comfortable. In fact, it downright sucks to push through your anerobic threshold. It’s often feels like you’re breathing fire because your bodies internal furnace is burning the energy stored inside your cells.
It takes time to condition your mind and body to live in that world and it takes a special mindset to push yourself into discomfort and pain but the benefits are beyond worth it. One of the reasons your body and mind don’t like it is because it’s reminiscent of your “fight or flight” response where, when needed in times of do or die, you had to act fast because your life depended on it.
Your body and mind don’t want to live there, they want to be comfortable, it’s in human nature, but it’s important that you tap into these energy pathways. Although you don’t get chased by wild animals and have to fight for your life the way you used to, you certainly do still experience stress, and tapping into your anaerobic threshold not only provides physical benefits but it also provides a mental release for that built up stress and triggers your body and mind to feel like it just won the fight.
Different ways to fuel the fire
The three metabolic pathways are Oxidative, Glycotytic, and Phosphagenic. Oxidative is the huffing and puffing that occurs during long workouts such as distance running and uses oxygen to fuel the furnace, tapping into available energy resources inside the body. Oxidative is the aerobic pathway and the one you’re using nearly all the time.
The anaerobic pathways on the other hand are phosphagenic and glycolytic. The phosphagenic pathway triggers the use of ATP, an energy source included directly in the cells of your body. This allows a maximal burst of energy for an incredibly short period of time, usually less than a minute. By regularly depleting your ATP and allowing it to recover (which takes around 4 minutes) you condition your body to push harder for longer as well as recover more quickly. All out sprinting for short distances and maximum effort weightlifting are great examples of tapping into this pathway.
Once your ATP is used up however, your body taps into the glycotytic pathway which relies on readily available energy sources such as sugars and simple carbohydrates. In this pathway, you can still push yourself at a moderately high intensity level but only for roughly 10-15 minutes. The most beautiful thing about pushing hard for short periods like this is that unlike aerobic exercise, when you’re done with anaerobic exercise, your body continues to burn calories and fat and triggers muscle growth during recovery. This is what’s known as metabolic conditioning.
Remember, perceived intensity is all relative so you don’t need to do the same workouts as a CrossFit Games Athlete to receive the same benefits. You simply have to tap into the anaerobic pathway
The Fitness Cocktail
The key here is not to dedicate yourself to any one metabolic pathway but instead, expose yourself to all of them. After all, variety is the spice of life. Focusing on just one pathway causes your body to adapt to that one pathway. You might become really good at running a 5k but you’ll suck when it comes to lifting weights. If you only focus on lifting weights, you’ll suck at running distance.
By exposing yourself to a variety of all the pathways, the benefits you gain overlap and bleed into all areas of your life. When you’re a well-rounded fit athlete, you may not run often, but you could do a 5k if you wanted to. Or maybe you could sign up for an amateur power lifting competition. You might not place, but you’ll have a fair showing.
When it comes to playing sports, you can pick up nearly any sport and apply yourself at a pretty decent level and hold your own. If you want to get better at that sport, you obviously train a little more, but a game of pickup basketball, joining a golf league with work, or playing in the company softball game are no big deal because you’re well rounded and capable of handling what life throws at you.
When it comes time for the really unfair advantage however, you must understand the third fitness hack that most fitness pros don’t even know about.
FITNESS HACK #3
While it’s important to raise the level of intensity of your workouts and expose yourself to a variety of different time domains to tap into the various metabolic pathways, what’s often overlooked is a layer that goes beyond anything we’ve talked about. Understanding this hidden gem will put you far beyond everyone else because your baseline will be so much broader and stronger than anyone else and raises the ceiling on your fitness potential indefinitely. The sky becomes the limit.
Earlier we mentioned how it’s not always about adding more mass to the equation. That’s because nearly any exercise can be enhanced not through adding resistance, but by adding complexity! (*mind blown*)
Complexity is key
Complexity is simply putting new stresses on your body with the goal of challenging your nervous system. The harder you make your nervous system work, the stronger it becomes. And the stronger your nervous system becomes, the stronger and more efficient your muscles will become, the more variety of movements you’ll be able to perform, and the better you’ll be able to perform them.
I was first lead onto this idea by Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell. He trains some of the strongest people on the planet and he trains their ability to perform heavy lifts by training variations of those lifts. For example, rather than training their standard deadlift, he has them deadlift from a deficit, or with chains, or using a sumo stance. By training the variations of a particular lift, the lifters improve the amount of weight they can move.
This idea always stuck with me but didn’t make complete sense until I was introduced to High Triplexity Training by my mentor, Jason Glass. Jason first stumbled on this idea when he was put in charge of training collegiate athletes but was only given access to an empty basketball court. No weight room, no frills, just open space.
At the time, there were only so many things you could do with your own bodyweight so to get creative, Jason had his athletes start doing things on one leg, or would have them bend and twist in multiple planes of motion during a single movement. These exercises ended up creating some of the most well-rounded athletes the college had ever seen, increasing both their strength and their speed without having touched weights.
That’s because he challenged their nervous system to solve more complex and demanding problems. For example, having athletes stand on one leg and bend down to touch their toes would increase in their deadlift because their bodies were forced to figure out a way to improve pelvic control, ground force stability, and everything else that goes into the equation (but I don’t want to get lost in the weeds here).
Broaden the foundation
What neurological training does is exponentially raise the ceiling on potential power creation by broadening the base of what the body is capable of doing. Imagine being an artist who could see a broader spectrum of colors. Imagine what that would do for your art. Or a musician who could hear more notes or who knew new scales.
When there’s more tools in the toolbox, there’s more things you can build. Now don’t get me wrong, having a toolbox full of cool tools does nothing if you don’t know how to use them, but like anything, with practice and consistency, you can learn to use those tools to create wonderful projects that you wouldn’t have been able to create without access to those tools.
Go wide to go tall
At the end of the day, to improve your fitness, you want to raise the ceiling on the intensity of your workouts. You want to increase your ability to produce power as well as increase the duration of your endurance and everything else in between, and you want to apply yourself to as many domains as possible. You want to be well-rounded and ready for anything life throws at you.
By broadening your base, by adding and mastering more complex variations of exercises, you raise the ceiling on what you can do. When you raise that ceiling, you can perform harder, faster, and longer, and do so in a variety of movements that mimic the way you were meant to move as a human. Not just in the ways dictated in the gym but in ways that were dictated by the laws of nature.
When you master those movements, perform them intensely, and expose yourself to multiple facets of fitness and create variety in your workouts, you will no doubt hack your fitness and become and unstoppable machine of performance.
Hacking your Fitness
Now that you know the three most important factors in hacking your fitness, you’re probably ready to go out there and do 100 single leg deadlifts with a 400 lbs. barbell in 23 seconds!
With great power comes great responsibility! Now that you know these fitness hacks, you must use them wisely. Be smart about your training. Take your time and apply little pieces here and there over time. Remember, consistency compounds and the most important rule when it comes to your fitness is moving safely and avoiding injury.
Take these hacks with a grain of salt, apply them within your current limitations. Never push beyond the limits of your mobility. Always continue to focus on improving your mobility, your wellness, and keeping your mind sharp and healthy as those factors are just as important to overall fitness and performance as anything we covered here.
MOVE BETTER – PLAY BETTER