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365 Days of Keeping In Shape – Part II

I hope that everyone is managing to take their good health habits with them as Autumn arrives. I’m missing the sunny weather but am trying hard to continue my outdoor activities and not sit in with films and popcorn.

It does take more motivation for most of us to get out there (or even over to the gym) when the warm sun isn’t there to entice us. I don’t want to dwell on the negatives too much, so here are some more tools that could add to your fitness lifestyle to keep you healthy and in shape through to next year.

Eat When You Are Hungry

When I used to focus on bodybuilding, I got really hooked up on pre and post workout nutrition. Some in the bodybuilding world suggest that this is the be all and end all to growing muscle. I’ve seen past this now. Admittedly, I do less muscle-focussed workouts (and more endurance work) but I don’t skip a workout because I cannot get my feed in before or afterwards. No doubt nutrition around a workout impacts the effectiveness and results of that workout but I think there is so much sports nutrition advertising thrown our way that we are forced to believe that it is as important as our workout itself. Do you really need that sports drink before, during or after exercise!? Why not put it to the test and try going without it. You might even think about training on an empty stomach.

I’m really going off on a tangent here – broadly, the point I want to make is that our bodies are extremely sophisticated and will let us know when we need to refuel. Hand in hand with this goes the old saying of ‘Don’t mistake hunger for thirst’. As I said in PART I – drink up your water!

I have learnt that my body is a little slow in telling me when I have eaten enough, so I take my food on more slowly these days, which helps not to overeat. Overeating causes inflammation, so avoid (except for the occasional buffet!).

Practise Specialisation Now and Again

What is Specialisation? Well, in exercise terms it is carrying out the same exercise on a very regular basis (i.e. daily – morning and night) for a set period of time. An example would be doing 40 press-ups when you wake up and before you go to bed every day for say, 2 weeks. Some people would criticise this as overtraining your chest but it has been shown to be highly effective at breaking through plateaus in your training. The key point is that you are constantly ‘signalling’ to your body that it needs to grow or develop in a certain way (that means you must repeat the same exercise every day, preferably twice per day). I feel that broadly it can be applied to any form of exercise or activity whether it is abs, any other muscle, or cardiovascular work. So you may do it with sprints, and I have found it particularly useful for bodyweight exercises. Personally, I feel that this approach is not to be sustained for longer than a short period (ie 2 weeks – 1 month), or it could be more detrimental to your progress. Bodybuilding.com has a neat summary of this type of training.

Maintained Motivation

This one sounds easier that it is I think. Sure losing fat or building muscle is bound to be motivating because it directly impacts our personal appearance (which for most people is important!) but in my experience there are other key factors, which broadly apply to most types of training, that it would be foolish to ignore.

The ones that I watch out for are:

• Continuous goal setting. It is vital to keep short, medium and long term goals in mind. I have found that entering events is a useful way for me to set goals. For example, I will run the 2011 London Marathon but that is a while off yet. I would struggle to focus all of my training on this one goal next year. So, I plan to enter a couple of events between now and then to keep my running goals fresh and up to date.

• Variety. I’m in a bit of a training ‘lull’ myself right now, where my home to work weekday runs are becoming tedious along the same old route. I know that I need to mix things up as I am not making clear progress and not feeling that inspired. When this happens to me (which isn’t too often fortunately), I tend to get the pen and paper out and put some new plans in place. Whether it is bodybuilding, swimming or running, ‘mixing it up’is a must! Bodybuilders know better than anyone that you wont see any muscle growth if you don’t stick to the concepts of progressive overload (i.e. gradually placing your muscles under great strain but upping the weights).

• Take a Break. It only has to be a few days or maybe a full weekend but it is healthy to break off the training schedule occasionally. This allows time to reflect and assess your goals and levels of enjoyment in your training. As well as physically resting, you can take on a different activity. Try something that you never normally do, and if it is sociable (e.g. a team sport), then even better!

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