Keep it simple, stupid
I felt it was a good way to start off the year with something we all really need to hear again.
When I wrote A call for KISS, I outlined some simple points about what is effective.
Breaking down the numbers…
The four key concepts I outlined in a call for KISS are training, nutrition, sleep, and destressing. Prioritizing what we improve first will have the biggest impacts on our training and health. Based on the “time” factor we can reprioritize everything according to its value in our daily lives.
Subsequently, a reorganized list would look like:
- 1. Sleep
- 2. Nutrition
- 3. Training
- 4. Destressing
Sleep is really friggin’ important. We do it for nearly 1/3 of our lives. And lack of sleep, as well as night shifts, directly cause excessive chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and otherwise negative effects we associate with the diseases of civilization (metabolic, neurodegenerative, auto-immune, etc. issues). WHO – the World Health Organization – has named shift work as a carcinogen. Getting on a good circadian rhythm is extremely important.
Keep it simple; get good sleep.
Guidelines and tips to get good sleep are:
- Get at least 7-8 hours if not more in a pitch black room with no noise and cool ambient temperature.
- Destress. Massages are great. Be disciplined in your daily life. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t let little things bother you. Again, get into a daily routine.
- For those of us who use the computer a lot, the blue screen glow interrupts our circadian rhythm a lot leading to insomnia, anxiety, and other sleep related disorders. F.lux is a good problem to help counteract that.
- Elimination of sounds
- Elimination of electronic devices / outlets / plugins near body
- Pitch black room
- Cool, dry room (60-65 or so degrees is good if possible)
- Stay away from artificial light sources (e.g. computer) at least 1 hr before sleep
- Figure out if eating before sleep or not helps you.
- Single leg stand to exhaustion with both legs (it actually works really well)
- Spine lengthening before sleep (see Esther Gokhale’s stuff)
- General exhaustion from physical activity like hiking, pickup games of stuff, lifting, etc.
- Deep breathing exercises
- Deep tissue massage
As far as supplements go,
- Magnesium may help (via ZMA or natural calm)
- Melatonin helps some people
- Phosphatidylserine (anti-cortisol)
- 5-HTP (tryptophan derivative)
- Vitamin D (during the day)
- Valerian root
- Robb Wolf also wrote some more tips here
Nutrition I would rank second. We eat nearly 3 times a day for 7 days a week. Therefore, the affect of nutrition on our bodies for improvements in both health and training cannot be understated. You may have heard that “abs are made in the kitchen” and that it is 75-80% nutrition for fat loss. This is true – for the ratio of times we eat per the times we train per week is about 21:5 or about 80%.
Really though, keep it simple. There’s lots of good sayings that are generally true:
- Eat real food
- Avoid refined carbohydrates
- Avoid things that come in a package
- If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it don’t eat it
- If it doesn’t grow from a tree or in the ground, or swim, or walk don’t eat it.
While “eating clean” and the above categories are actually fairly arbitrary, the “goal” of it all is simple. Don’t obsess about macronutrients. Don’t even obsess about food. Eat a wide variety of plants and animals.
Enjoy your food. Don’t let it take over your life.
While I tend to strongly encourage weights over doing cardio, getting off your butt is getting off your butt for most people. As long as you are doing something, it is better than nothing.
And, after all, everyone has their own goals. I like to try to inform people the whys of why strength training typically is more effective to get people to their goals faster. However, as long as people are getting up and moving it is good. Movement is life.
Since I have been down and out with my training for a while, you really learn to appreciate things more. Even though I’m fairly young (mid-20s still) I have gotten a taste of very hard training and burnout already. I have had some of my fair share of injuries.
Training and exercise, while working to our different goals is fun. But sometimes, just take a few steps back and really enjoy the process. Take days off here and there to do things with your family.
I used to be the one who would skip going out with friends to play basketball (and I still hate basketball), to go train by myself and train my strength. However, strength can wait. Enjoy some time and memories with your friends. If you’ve been thinking about learning new sports or trying new activities do it. Life can get hectic and busy, and we often get stuck in our ruts.
Learning new things can be frustrating at times, but it also engages us and challenges in a way that helps to free up accumulated stress in our bodies and minds.
I kinda covered a bunch of the tips in the sleep section since stress and sleep quality are very intimately related. Actually, all 4 of the qualities I have talked about – sleep, nutrition, training, and stress – are all interconnected to optimal health. Optimizing these are really 99% of the things we can do to benefit both our health and fitness.
- Movement related destress is the best.
- Massage and soft tissue work. As you may well know I am a big proponent of massage for pretty much anything and everything. Use lacrosse balls, tennis balls, foam rollers, etc to poke around your body to help loosen up. Kelly Starrett’s mobility wod is a great resource.
- Women actually do many destressing things right such as taking hot baths, enjoying hot tubs, and going to the spa. Pretty much anything goes much like soft tissue work that helps you significantly relax and enjoy yourself.
- Laugh. Watch or listen to funny things. Laughter actually does beneficial things for immune system function. Funny but true.
- Meditation and prayer also produce similar effects. Acupuncture may produce similar effects as well.
The real thing is just do something you enjoy or something that gets you to relax. Destress yourself. Sleep more… get rid of the chronic stress. Not only will this improve your mood and attitude but it will also improve your health and subsequently performance as well.
Supplements are supplements.
Like I have stated in previous nutrition articles, aim to fix sleep, nutrition, and training before you even think about supplementing.
It’s always a good idea step back and reassess what you’re doing with your life.
It’s pretty easy to get caught up in family, work, school, even training and nutrition. Don’t be dogmatic about things. Spare some time and invest it back into your body.
After all, health is one of the most precious gifts we have as humans.
This article was originally published January 9th, 2012 on Eat Move Improve. Updated Feb 2017.
Questions about articles may be addressed to the Overcoming Gravity reddit.
Author: Steven Low
Steven Low, author of Overcoming Gravity: A Systematic Approach to Gymnastics and Bodyweight Strength (Second Edition), is a former gymnast who has performed with and coached the exhibitional gymnastics troupe, Gymkana. Steven has a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry from the University of Maryland College Park, and his Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Maryland Baltimore. Steven is a Senior trainer for Dragon Door’s Progressive Calisthenics Certification (PCC). He has also spent thousands of hours independently researching the scientific foundations of health, fitness and nutrition and is able to provide many insights into practical care for injuries. His training is varied and intense with a focus on gymnastics, parkour, rock climbing, and sprinting.