I’ve been in the fitness industry long enough by now that I’m never going to get excited because someone tells me they bought themselves a gym membership. Gym memberships are like guitars, ownership of them is a sort of “rite of passage” thing, but without time, dedication, and the application of a surprisingly large number of seemingly unrelated life skills, they’re just going to sit there unused, and nobody’s going to be impressed.
The savvy gym-goer, or even the partially-aware potential gym-goer, is already going to understand that lifting weight is a skill, that they aren’t just imbued at birth with this skill, and they may need to seek some guidance if they’re going to achieve their goals. This post, though, isn’t about the skills you need inside the gym. I’m going to presume you have the smarts and humility to ask for the help you need inside the gym. I’m going to assume that you’re already working hard while you’re there, and that you’re building your skill set and treading the path towards the results you want.
This post is about the skills you need OUTSIDE the gym to make sure you actually get the results you want. If you’re going to hit the gym, bust yourself lifting weight for an hour, then leave a chunk of your soul behind on the floor in the form of sweat, you’re going to be wanting to see a return on it, right? Otherwise why are you doing it? Well I can tell you now, and I can tell you for free, that if you don’t rapidly acquire these life skills and make good use of them you can lift as much as you want, it ain’t gonna get you where you wanted to go.
Rule #1 – Learn To Schedule Your Time
It’s great that you found time yesterday to hit the gym and put in a session, but I’ve got a piece of bad news for you. Those results aren’t here to stay unless you do something about it today or tomorrow. Every great training session needs to be consolidated by your next great training session, so unless you’re able to schedule regular visits to the gym those gains you made yesterday are already in the rear-view mirror.
Let me be clear about what I’m saying here. Scheduling your time is a skill. Complaining that you are busy, or that you don’t have time to visit the gym is an excuse people who don’t want to make the effort to acquire the skill make. Do you know what the two most common consistencies are between businessmen with multinational-level success? They are reading, and training. You’re reading this, you’re already part way there, but if guys with the kind of schedules that see them on three different time zones in one day can get up an hour early and get it done then you sure as hell can.
Deep down you know the whole “I don’t have time” thing is a story you’re telling yourself, so why not just stop believing it? What you mean is you can’t find a space in your schedule as it stands. What if someone told you if you could set aside just four hours each week for six months they’d give you a billion dollars? You’d start shifting your commitments around then, wouldn’t you? When you go to the gym you do it for something a lot rarer and harder to come by than one billion dollars. You do it for your body. There’s not another one on the planet, this is the only one you’ll ever have.
You can train at lunch time, you can get up an hour earlier, you can work late to make up the hour, you can go after work, you can stop watching Game of Thrones and start squatting instead. Work it into your schedule, no matter what commitments you have to shift, and keep it there.
Rule #2 – Learn How To Feed Yourself
No, seriously. If you’re a grown-up, this is a skill you need to have. Short of physical immobility there is no excuse for a fully grown human being not being able to feed themselves. Food is vital, in the most literal sense of the word, meaning it is necessary to sustain life. If you’re hitting the gym and putting in the serious work, then you’re robbing yourself if you’re then not feeding yourself the right fuel.
Would you spend years working lovingly on restoring a classic car, ensuring the paintwork was mint, getting the interior re-upholstered, fine-tuning the engine until it ran like a dream, only to fill the petrol tank with lemonade? No, that would screw up all the rest of the work you put in, wouldn’t it?
Do you need me to break down this analogy for you any further?
Knowing how to feed yourself means knowing what food to buy when you’re at the shops. It means knowing how to select fruit and vegetables for ripeness, planning a menu, choosing appropriate proteins, knowing how and when you intend to prepare and consume them. Mere ownership, though, is not enough, it means taking time to pre-prepare the meals you can, and making time to freshly prepare the other ones. It means knowing how to cook food in such a way that a) you don’t destroy the nutritional value, and b) you’re still keen to eat it when it comes to that meal time the next day or two days later.
This is such an important skill it used to be taught in schools, then it got de-prioritised in the face of other skills, and now take-away profits and obesity are at an all-time high.
Learn to feed yourself. It’s never too late, and there’s no excuse for not being able to, whether you’re a gym rat or not.
Rule #3 – Learn How To Ensure Yourself A Good Night’s Sleep
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking “Sleeping’s not a skill?” Technically you’re right. If it were a skill, teenagers everywhere would be competing at international levels. What is a skill, however, is developing the right environment for your body to sleep in, and teaching it cues and responses. The time you have your last meal of the day, the time you shower or bath, what stimuli you keep in your environment are all going to be factors in your night’s sleep. Learn what works for you and ensure you adhere to it.
In order to learn what night-time cues your body best responds to, you’re going to have to first create an optimal environment for sleep. You can have all the hot-chocolate and teddy-bears you like, no-one’s going to nod off in the middle of an Iron Maiden concert. So here are a few of the non-negotiable essentials:
- Your bedroom is for sleep and sex. Nothing else. No media, no light sources once you lay down to sleep. Don’t even read in there. If you want to read, do it somewhere else then go to bed when you’re ready.
- If you can’t sleep, don’t toss and turn, get up, read something light and not-too-challenging, or listen to soothing music, and go back to bed when you’re ready to sleep. Remember, the object of your pre-bed rituals are to relax you, NOT TO STIMULATE YOU.
- Eat a well-balanced meal an hour or so before bed.
- Have a shower or a bath, but have it at least an hour before you go to bed.
- No media, no screens of any kind for a minimum of an hour before you turn in. That means no gaming, no internet, no phones, no TV, no endless re-watching of your favourite episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Instead, read a book or listen to music.
Once you are in the habit of fostering that environment you can begin to teach your body how to best send itself to sleep. Your body wants to rest and recover. It’s going to give you cues, but you’re not going to hear them if you’re bang in the middle of a game of Grand Theft Auto.
If you’re serious about what you do in the gym, get serious about the things you’re doing outside of the gym too, otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.
Keep up the great work, everyone,
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