You know, one of the strangest aspects of the whole health and fitness game is how eager people are to spend money on solutions, and complete ignore the stuff they can fix for free.
This is especially ironic (and infuriating) when you consider that the things you can fix for free is exponentially more important than anything you can solve with a new diet or super shake or anything else. Seriously. These are some of the most important things that you need to address if you hope to ever hit your goals.
Now, without question, I think training and nutrition programs are a great investment, if they’re a good fit for you. And, I think that if you’re ready for them, supplements can be a good investment, too.
But, these are things that you should do after you have some other things in line—the important things that you can do at home, for free.
Now, I’m going to tell you what they are, but don’t expect any “secrets” to be revealed. Sadly, these things are very well known, just not terribly well practiced.
However, if you improve them just a little bit, you’ll begin to see decreases in body fat, increases in energy, and even a longer life span.
So, if these things are so awesome—and free—why doesn’t everyone do them?
Because people are lazy; and that includes you and me. And you’ll agree as soon as you read them.
Here we go—get ready to learn a buncha shit you already know.
Completely Obvious Fitness Tip #1
Drink More Water
Seriously. Drink more water. You’re not drinking enough, and you know it. I know it. You know how I know? Because I’ve worked with several thousands of clients in my career, and most of them weren’t. If there’s anything to statistics, that’s a reasonable enough sample size from which to extrapolate information.
One of the things that I do when I start a new client is have them keep a very food log. For the first 2-3 weeks I’m working with them, they have to write down everything they eat and drink, no matter what; everything from protein shakes to gum to condiments, if it goes in their mouth, they record it. (Insert obligatory sex joke. Har, har, you’re so clever.)
Anyway, without question, over 90% of them are just not drinking enough water. In fact, some of them don’t drink any water; their liquid consumption consists of coffee, soda, juice, etc.
I’m not sure I have to explain all of the reasons that water is so important, but I’ll give you a few. Obviously, water is the most vital fluid in your body; if you want to use the analogy of a car, it’s not just the gasoline—water is also the oil, brake fluid, and anti-freeze.
Having a properly hydrated system helps with digestion and makes you more capable of breaking down and absorbing nutrients. It also aids with bowel movements by preventing constipation. There is the increased rate of excretion, which helps flush toxins out of the body—the best cure for pollution is dilution, as the saying goes.
In terms of fat loss and muscle gain, staying hydrated helps in ways it’s impossible to quantify. Firstly, metabolism be healthier: when you’re dehydrated, things slow down (partially for conservation). Secondly, hydrated muscles contract more efficiently. Workouts will be more productive, and more intense.
For the sake of brevity, those are are very basic reasons with very basic explanations, but the take home is that it’s really, really, really important to stay hydrated.
Here’s something else really interesting: I read the weirdest statistic, and I’m trying to remember where I read this. But it was some crazy thing like in 60% of Americans the thirst response is so weak that it’s often mistaken for hunger.
Now, there was no substantiation for that, and it might be a gross exaggeration, but it’s certainly an interesting point, and makes you view things in a different way. Think about that—even if it’s overestimating by a factor of two, even if it’s “only” 30%, that is a tremendous amount of people who are so thirsty that they think they’re hungry.
This happens, in part, because people don’t train themselves to drink, and their body and mind react by telling them to get hydration the way it’s become accustomed: food.
It’s one of the single biggest things you could do, and it is literally, the easiest thing to fix. It’s there. It’s Free. Just drink it. I don’t want to try to quantify how much more fat you can burn, and I shouldn’t have to.
Going back to the car analogy, consider that the important fluids a mechanic charges you $60-100 to change and replace, you could be taking care yourself (for FREE, dammit) by drinking more water. That’s what you need to do.
As for how much to drink, as a rule of thumb, for people who train regularly, I recommend drinking one liter per 50 pounds of body weight. So, if you’re a 100-pound woman drink two liters of water a day, which really is not that much. It seems like a lot, but it isn’t. If you’re a 200-pound man, drink four. Additionally, for every cup of coffee you have, you should drink a cup of water.
Again, these are pretty basic recommendations, but they are extremely easy to follow, and extremely effective for maintaining hydration. And, they are barebones recommendations–minimums, as it were. Your goal should be to drink more.
Just get it out of the way earlier: one of the first things I do every single morning is drink 16 ounces of water; it’s part of my morning routine (along with doing my neural wake up call and drinking athletic greens). It’s just that important.
Please. DRINK. MORE. WATER.
Completely Obvious Fitness Tip #2
Stop Sitting So Much
If you’ve been paying attention at all over the past two years, you’ve heard that sitting is death. While it may sound a bit dramatic to phrase it so severely, the fact is, it’s true.
Quite true, actually, in the literal sense. People who sit a lot die much, much younger than people who don’t. The numbers vary a bit, but according to one study, those who sit 6+ hours per day are likely to die 15 years before those who sit 3 or fewer hours per day. Another found that people who sit for most of the day are 54% more likely to die of a heart attack than those who do not.
Don’t believe me? Here, ask this chair:
I mean, if a goddamn talking chair says it, it must be true. So there.
Anyway, there are all sorts of reasons for this, but researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint the specific cause. Obviously, a big part of it is decreased caloric expenditure—standing for an hour burns 60 more calories than sitting for that length of time. But that’s just one aspect. Sitting too much causes gluteal amnesia (basically, makes the glutes less likely to fire during both exercise and day-to-day activity), which decreases the amount of calories you burn.
Now, you might think that this only applies to people who are sedentary overall; that you’re exempt from all of the consequences of sitters because you exercise and eat well. These things help, but they don’t make you immune. One study found that even among people who were otherwise active, sitting for more than 4 hours per day had deleterious effects.
In terms of your actual fitness, sitting too much is going to mess up your workouts in one very simple way: it’s going to screw up your posture. When you sit, you hip flexors are in a shortened position; sitting too often creates perpetual shortness (or “tightness”), to the extent that it can pull your pelvis into posterior tilt. This will make you primed for injuries.
Similarly, sitting too much generally means you’re looking down at a computer, and typing at one—the result of this behavior is chronically shortened/tight pecs, creating a round, forward-rolled shoulder effect. In addition to just looking terrible, this has implications for shoulder and back health.
All of which is to say, sitting too much is going to make you more likely to get injured from your workouts, and cause you to get less out of them even if you’re not injured in any acute way.
So, what to do? The easiest answer is to sit less and stand more. But, that may be easier said than done. It’s not that standing is hard to do; it’s just easy to forget to do it.
With that in mind, a few tips:
- Set An Alarm – If you have to sit at work or school or whatever, just set an alarm on your phone for 30 minutes. Every half hour, just get up and stand for 1-2 minutes. If you’re ambitious and in private, or simply don’t care what other people think, you can hit a psoas stretch for each leg.This isn’t a cure-all for sitting, but I have some deep suspicions that while the cumulative number of minutes you sit is probably the biggest factor, the consecutive number of minutes is a secondary variable. Standing often isn’t going to do anything but helps, so do it.
- Stand During Commercials – I like TV. I make no bones about it or apologies for it. I watch a solid hour of TV every day, sometimes two hours. Sue me.
Anyway, if you’re like me and watch quite a bit of television, I’m not going to feed you some unrealistic BS like watch the entire thing standing up. That’s dumb. But, do yourself a favor and standing up for the entire duration of a commercial break. Stand up and walk around a bit.
If you tend to watch stuff on premium channels that doesn’t have commercial breaks, stand up ever ten minutes or so. Nothing crazy, just get off your ass and move around.
- Stand While You’re Working – if you work at a desk, you might think sitting is a foregone conclusion. Not so, my friend. Not at all. These days, there are many options available to you, most notably standing desks.
If you work at home, it’s a good investment. However, you don’t have to shell out the cash; just be creative. Depending on the height of your current desk, you can create a makeshift standing desk of your own with a little ingenuity.At my apartment back in NYC, found that placing one of my dining room chairs on top of my dining room table, and then resting my laptop on the seat of the chair worked out to be the perfect height for me to type.
I’ve seen a number of people use stacks of books and stepladders and anything else you can think of. Total investment: zero dollars.
- Recently, I’ve taken it a step further and often work on a treadmill desk. While I probably wouldn’t have gone out and bought one for myself, this was an extremely thoughtful gift from a good friend, and I’m getting a lot of use out of it.
While treadmill desk do have the obvious advantage of helping you burn a few extra calories from walking, there are a lot of reports of increased mental acuity. Not surprising, given the general relationship between exercise and brain function; however, it’s not something I would have expected to see in an acute setting. Personally, I find it just helps me stay a bit more focused, but that is worth a lot as a writer.
- BONUS TIP: I’ve heard that a number of people have had success getting a stand up desk at their office, completely paid for by the company. Wanna know how? They asked for it. Seriously. Two of my clients, and several hundred peeps on the internetz have said that sometimes, it’s as simple as asking HR. You may have to tell them you have back pain or some shit, but they might buy you one. Can’t hurt to ask.
Anyway, sitting is death, and standing is free. Sooo…why would you not put in a modicum of effort to fix this?
Completely Obvious Fitness Tip #3
Get More Sleep
We don’t want to bore you, but you need more sleep. Why? It’s simple: lack of sleep is associated with:
- More fat
- More hunger
- Lower LBM
- Higher stress
- Earlier death
Not sure about you, but none of that sounds good to me.
If you’re still not convinced, here’s what’s more important to understand about your nightly ritual: it’s not necessarily how long you sleep, but the quality of your sleep that is directly correlated to improving your life and health on a daily basis, say researchers at the Institute of Medicine. While there are numerous studies that show a link between poor sleep and diseases such as hypertension and diabetes (as well as shorter lifespan) this study focused on the problems that sleep causes in your day-to-day life.
And after reviewing the behaviors and self-reported tendencies of more than ten thousand people, a connection is very clear: lack of sleep ruins your ability to function. You have trouble concentrating, remembering information, driving, taking care of your finances, and performing your job at a high level.
While none of this may sound shocking, what’s most interesting is how easily you can change how you feel. The survey found that more than 30 percent of adults sleep less than six hours per night. And these people were the ones with the highest percentage of related problems. One the other hand, those who slept more 8+ per night didn’t have issues that were statistically significant. In other words, they weren’t complaining about the same issues.
If that weren’t bad enough, there are some hormonal implications to consider: it’s been found that sleep less than 6 hours per night for as little as two weeks can lower testosterone levels by 10-15%. That’s insane.
Increasing GH can make your sleep more restful even when you’re not spending as much time in your slumber, according to researchers at Oregon. But more importantly, more GH and better sleep quality will lower cortisol, which offsets the damage caused by fewer hours of rest.
So, if you want to compromise sex drive, have trouble focusing, and die earlier, all while sabotaging your fitness efforts…by all means, keep thinking you’re “fine” with just 5 hours per night.
For those of us who recognize the limits of our mortality, I have some suggestions.
Now, first and foremost I’ll let you know that I did take the initiative and made some calls to try to have more hours added to the day—so far that hasn’t worked. Until I have some success there, you’ll need to take a few steps on your own to ensure you get dem zzzz’s.
Before we get into all of that, I’ll concede that I know you might not always be able to achieve seven or eight hours of sleep per night, even under the best of circumstances. You’ll be busy. I get it; I’m busy too. But, let’s be honest: you’re not that busy. Not all the time, anyway. So, “busy” isn’t an excuse every day.
Take a hard look at the end-of-evening activities you can cut out to get to bed an hour earlier. Do you really need to check Facebook again? Is it imperative catch up on ESPN right now? Of course you don’t. So, well…maybe just don’t?
Once you’ve established that you do have a few non-essential items on your schedule, move as many of them as possible to the end of the day. That way, you can snip them out as needed.
On the other hand, if you leave things you absolutely need to get done until the end of the day, of course you’re going to stay up later. So, anything that you view as essential (work, dinner, etc), make sure you get it done at least an hour before bed.
That’s just one way to handle things in terms of scheduling.
Honestly, I don’t want to give you too many strategies for trying to go to bed earlier and bog you down with too much. Instead, I want to give you just one strategy—a fun exercise for you to do over the next two weeks that should help. A little challenge, if you will.
For the next week, record the time you go to bed. Don’t actually try to change it; just record it. Keep a little pad by your bed and just record the time you climbed into bed. Over the next 7 days, your only job is to record when you climbed into bed.
Now, take the average of those times. If your weekday and weekend times are drastically different because you go out partying, exclude the weekends; just average 5 weekdays.
Once you have your average bedtime, the challenge begins: for the next 2-3 weeks, make it your goal to climb into bed 15 minutes earlier than that average. That’s it. Just 15 minutes. All you need to do is start by shaving 15 minutes off your day at the end of the night.
While that won’t add up to much in terms of sleep time, it will begin to build the habit of getting to bed earlier; more importantly, it will show you that you are the one in control of when you go to sleep, not the outside world.
Make that happen.
Again, the crazy part about all of this is that everyone knows these things. Everyone. We all know we should drink more water and stand more often and get more sleep. Every single person reading this knew all of these things before setting eyes on these words. But we don’t do them.
Well, partially because we’re lazy. Partially because they seem inconvenient, in that they consistently impact your leisure time, unlike training, which has it’s own dedicated time block for most of us.
Mostly, because we’re stupid…because we think we’re so smart. We assume we have the basics covered so well that we can put all of the emphasis on the more advanced stuff, like new programs and high-level techniques.
And really, if most of just got some damn sleep, got off our asses, and drank some damn water, we’d lose fat faster, gain muscles more easily, be able to access the strength we’ve built, and avoid injuries more effectively. Oh, and live longer, too.
All without spending a single dime.
But, these just some completely obvious fitness tips, and you already knew all of that. So the question is…what are you gonna do about it?
If you’re looking for a few other simple ways to encourage rapid fat loss, and a plan that puts all of them together in a comprehensive way, I highly recommend you check out Dr. Kareem Samhouri’s 14-Day Fat Loss Plan.
It’s filled with a lot of simple, actionable, highly effective information that can help you lost 10+ pounds in as little as two weeks. Really great stuff.
You can check it out here.