Health and Fitness Basics – Tier 1

When it comes to training and nutrition, everyone seems to get all hung up on details that really don’t matter that much. Let’s take a look at what really matters. If you’re not doing all of these things, then don’t waste your time with the details until you are.

  • Sleep at least 8 hours per night.
  • Drink half your body weight in ounces of water per day – or even simpler, drink a gallon of water per day.
  • Train hard 2x per week, minimum… consistently for a long period of time (more than a few months).
  • Use some sort of system of progression in your training.
  • Get enough protein to support said hard training (1g/lb of body weight is good for most hard training people. You can get away with less but protein is delicious so eat it.)
  • Weigh yourself 1-2 times per week to know if your calories are where they need to be.
  • Do enough stretching and low level activity (walking, etc.) to stay healthy, mobile, and injury free.
  • Have a goal that matters to you.

This is a bare minimum kind of list, but pretty much everyone is lacking in AT LEAST one area.

This stuff is not negotiable if you want to make progress. If you’re doing it all “pretty well” and not making progress then strive to do it better.

If you’re doing all of it and not making progress, then we can talk about how you’re lying to yourself.

Common areas of lying that might not be as obvious as under sleeping and dehydration are how hard you’re actually training, how much you’re actually eating (both protein and calories), and how much your goal really matters to you.

All of the things on this list are ridiculously simple, but unfortunately in this time of fitness click bait and brand marketing, this stuff is up for debate. So, I’ll go into a bit more detail on each of the points to hopefully clarify any questions. Many of these deserve their own post, so this will be a high level overview of each.

Sleep –

Sleep is incredibly important. If you aren’t getting 8+ hours and don’t believe me, then do some googling or better yet try it for yourself and see what happens to your results when you sleep enough to recover, build muscle, and burn fat optimally. Your mood will improve, your body composition will improve, your energy will improve, and you will feel awesome. If I just wrote that last sentence about a supplement and said it is completely guaranteed to work, I’d ask you for 49.99 a bottle and you’d happily shell it out. You’d probably question if it’s legal. Not only does this work 100% of the time and deliver everything promised… it’s also free. The only catch is you actually have to do it. For some reason our culture vilifies sleep as something unproductive, and having a bad night’s sleep is like a badge of honor, an excuse for poor performance, and a talking point all wrapped in one. If you’re serious about getting results start taking your sleep seriously.


Drink half your body weight in ounces per day (200 lb person drinks 100 oz of water). If you drink a gallon you’re pretty much covered. Hydration deserves it’s own post.

Training Frequency –

Train twice a week, minimum, and do it consistently. Consistency is key. Make fitness a priority and make a habit of destroying excuses. The more often you make yourself go train when you don’t want to, the easier it gets. This is why clients who are serious but love excuses get put on a 7 day a week program. After a few days of this you really REALLY don’t want to exercise, but after a few weeks of making yourself it becomes no big deal, habit replaces willpower, and consistency becomes a non-issue.

Progression and Effort-

I want to leave most of this for another post, but this is the key that most people are missing. Do more reps, more weight, or decrease the time to do the same reps and weight. Do this as often as you can.

If you think you’re training hard but you never feel sore at all, you’re not sweating, and not making yourself uncomfortable… then you’re probably not training all that hard. Don’t sell yourself short. You can do more than you think is possible if you allow yourself to and believe in your ability to do better each day. This doesn’t mean you have to crush yourself every workout and hobble up stairs for the rest of your life, but put in an honest effort.

Nutrition –

If you have no idea how many calories you’re eating or how much protein you’re getting then this stuff can make a massive difference. You don’t have to weigh your food, but check out this simple guide from precision nutrition about portion sizes and make sure you’re getting enough protein. This doesn’t have to come from meat if you don’t like eating meat, but do your research and make sure you’re getting what you need. Counting calories is annoying, but it can be very helpful for some people. If you’re not into it, then use the scale to determine your calories. If the scale is moving up, you’re in a surplus. If it’s moving down, you’re in a deficit. If it fluctuates a bit but pretty much hovers in the same range, then you’re at maintenance. For accuracy and ease of comparison, weigh yourself at the same time of day on the same day 2x per week. Improving nutrition is the first area I’d look at if everything else is taken care of.

Health –

Stretch and walk enough to maintain or improve mobility and health. Walking is ridiculously healthy for you so make it a habit. Stretching can be done whenever you will do it. I like to have people do it after a workout, but any time it will get done is the best time. Pretty much everyone can benefit from some foam rolling, mobility work, stretching, walking, stress management and health maintenance.

Goals –

Be honest with yourself about what you want. Goals give you context for choosing exercises, progression models, nutrition plans, workout frequency, and everything else. One of the main reasons people get so caught up in details is they have no grasp of context because they have no goals to provide it. Make your goals for yourself. I’ve rarely ever seen anybody get into great shape because someone else wanted them to. Pick a goal that resonates with you and motivates you to do all the boring stuff I outline in this article.

If you do everything on this list, then you can be quite confident that you’ll reach your goals and the minutiae naturally falls away. There’s absolutely other stuff that’s worth worrying about and that can be very helpful, but unless these basics are addressed it’s not even worth mentioning. So many people hear this basic advice and don’t take it seriously because they’ve heard it all a million times. All I can say is make the effort to actually do it and you’ll be amazed at what happens.

Ask Yourself “Why?” to Find Your Motivation

Once you get specific about where you are, where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there then it’s time to find the motivation to carry you through the initial stages of the process that require a lot of willpower. A great way to do this is ask yourself “Why?” over and over until you get very specific. This can be a very tough process, so I suggest you write it out. It’s easy to make excuses for yourself and rationalize when you do this in your head, but when you write it out you can take your time and be very honest.

I say this can be a tough process because you’re digging into parts of your mind you’d rather not look at to figure out what drives you. When it comes to body image and health, there can be some very painful, strong emotions that come up. This is absolutely essential to the process of making real, lasting change. Many people “know” what they need to do to eat healthy and exercise, but knowing doesn’t get them in the gym or the vegetable aisle of the grocery store. Strong emotions, not vague desires, are what cause people to make real change.

Here’s an example of what the process looks like:

Goal – I want to lose fat.

Why? I want to look good.

Why? I want people to double take when they see me and wonder how I got in such good shape. Why? When I go out in public right now I’m extremely self conscious about the extra pounds I’ve put on lately.

Why? Every day I wake up and look in the mirror and cringe. This is an awful way to start my day.

Why? I used to be in great shape and feel awesome, now I can’t stand to look at myself.

Why? I’ve been depressed about my career and I have been eating junk as a way to cope with the long days.

Why? I’ve been feeling bad for myself and think I deserve a treat now and then, but eating junk food has turned into a destructive habit.

Why? I feel trapped and can’t do anything about my career right now, so I take control of my eating and eat pleasurable food even though I know it’s bad for me.

Why? Because it’s easier than eating healthy food.

Why? Because I’ve let myself fall into terrible habits.

Now you start going in circles and you can see how you’ve let yourself get pulled into a destructive, negative feedback loop. You feel bad so you give yourself a treat, but instead of it helping you feel worse, because now you feel bad about the way you look – and the problem with your job is still there. You want to get in shape but you crave junk food and feel bad about these cravings.

It’s easy to see how these negative feedback loops start, and every downward spiral compounds the problem. The best way to break the loop is to start somewhere, with something you can control. Seeing the problem clearly and feeling the strong emotions is the rocket fuel you need to blast you out free fall. Use your emotion to motivate yourself to execute the plan and destroy excuses. When you feel like giving up or cheating, look at your Why sheet and remember that this health and fitness stuff is worth all of the effort when you reach your goals.

Goal Setting and Context in Health and Fitness

The first thing I do with any client is figure out what their goals are and what they really want. This seems obvious but it’s much more common for clients to have no idea what they want than to come to me with a specific goal. Most people have really vague goals like “I want to get in shape” but when I ask them what that means to them, they don’t know how to answer. When pressed, the answers vary wildly. Being in shape means something different for everyone. For some people it means the ability to work a demanding job all day without getting tired, for others it means being a low enough body fat percentage to see their abs, and for others it means being able to run for an hour without stopping. While any variety of physical activities could be helpful in reaching these goals, each of these people will need a different training and nutritional approach.

It’s critical that when you start out on a training program you have personalized goals.  If you’re going to hire a coach you have to make sure they know what your goals are and set your program up for your individual needs.  It’s human nature to project our goals and preferences onto other people, so you must be clear about what you want. If you don’t tell your coach what you want you may find yourself working toward their goals instead of your own. I can look at a skinny high school guy and immediately be planning out how we’re going to pack muscle on them, but if they want to run endurance events or compete in a weight class sport, then we’re already at a disconnect. The client and the coach must be on the same page!

When figuring out what a client wants, or when you’re figuring out what you want, it’s important to get specific. I have found people do much better with specific goals than general goals and can get more motivated when there’s a destination in mind. Even people who do well on general goals will do better if they break down their goal into smaller goals and specific steps. If you want to lose fat, how much do you want to lose? Do you have a deadline? Do you know how to eat for fat loss? Do you know what your maintenance calories are, how to track your calorie intake, or what a calorie even is?

What we’re talking about here is establishing an overview of the road map you’re going to take. We have to know both where you’re going and where you’re starting from to establish the best, most efficient route. If you want to see your abs but don’t really understand how to eat and have never been to a gym, then we have our point A and point B. Now we can formulate a plan. The plan will look something like general education, creating a fat loss nutrition and training program, implementing the plan, creating accountability, following through, and adjusting as obstacles or new needs arise. Now the process of “getting in shape to see my abs” starts looking less like a day dream and more like a clear cut plan that can be executed and modified as needed.

So many people fail in their fitness goals because they’re just not sure what they actually want, why they want it, and what they need to do to get it. This is incredibly common and a big reason why people who start out on a journey to fitness wander in circles, get caught up in fads promising instant or unrealistic results, or get frustrated and quit. If you don’t know where you’re at and where you’re going, you’re missing context. This leaves you with no filter for good or bad information and no way to judge if something like a new diet or piece of exercise equipment will be effective for you. With a goal, a reason, and a road map you can look at a new fad or a shiny new piece of equipment and judge it based on how effective it will be at helping you reach your goals instead of falling for everything that comes your way.

Get real about what you want, and then get going!