Back to Fitness: Keep It Simple, Stupid

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The KISS principle (keep it simple, stupid) states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided – Wikipedia

Now more than ever, people are making getting into shape a far-too-complex undertaking. Between the explosion of social media information sharing, new “studies” that are constantly trying to show us the best way to add a few more days to our lives, and a million and one products to make you better, stronger, faster, and thinner, it can be difficult to find your way through all the muck!

Someone who is motivated to get in shape and starts doing a little research on the topic may soon be convinced that they need special shoes, socks of a particular fabric, a special and painfully restrictive diet, just the right GPS watch/fitbit with all the latest features, a coach, the perfect smoothie recipe, and a crazy-detailed training program that has you scheduled for the next six months. With all of this special stuff, you hardly even have to exercise!

Ask most long-time veterans of endurance sports or exercise their opinion on how to get in shape however, and they will likely answer more simply—“Just run.” “Get outside every day.” Or, “keep it simple, stupid!”

I love the KISS principle and find it so very important to reflect on here in 2018. Not because you’re stupid, but more because we 21st century humans are overthinking things to the point of unnecessary and unproductive complexity. I have been guilty many times of being “stupid” and overly complicating a training plan, diet routine, or injury. I am now convinced that keeping it simple works!

When you are faced with information overload about getting back to fitness, I recommend opening up the “Journal of Common Sense” and asking yourself if what you are planning 1) is reasonable, 2) is practical, and 3) is sustainable. Here are some humble suggestions I offer you if you are motivated to get into shape in 2018, each with its own “overly complicated” plan, and then a “keep it simple, stupid” plan.

Lose extra weight

I don’t mean to offend anyone, and I realize that this is a sensitive topic. But let’s be real: extra weight can not only become its own health issue, but it also makes exercising much more difficult. It’s also important to note that being thin does not necessarily mean being healthy or fit. We should all strive to be a “healthy weight”—not too thin, and not too heavy—and living an active, fit lifestyle.

Another misconception is that simply adding exercise to one’s current lifestyle will cause weight loss. Exercise certainly doesn’t hurt, but it takes a change in the way you are eating to cause significant and lasting weight loss.

Let’s overly complicate this: There are a ton of “special” diets out there: celebrity diets, diets that include only smoothies, diets that eliminate all meats, diets that eliminate almost all carbs, raw food diets. There are also weight loss supplements, jiggle machines, colon cleanses. Do as many of these as you can and continuously switch between them!

Keep it simple, stupid: Make an honest accounting of everything you eat over a typical week—most people never take the time to do this. Study it, and find out where you can make healthy changes. Stop drinking soda and juice. Avoid sugar and foods with added sugar (this is hard!). Eat more whole, real foods. Eat reasonable portions. Avoid fast food and eating out. Avoid desserts. If you don’t make changes, nothing will change. If you are at a loss, seek professional help from a dietitian or long-standing programs like WeightWatchers®.

 

Fix and address problems

A swollen knee. Chronic lower back pain. Recent foot pain. If you have some significant, long-standing orthopedic or health issues, it’s best to address these things at the beginning of a new fitness program, versus trying to force exercise on top of these problems, which predictably can make them worse and derail your entire year.

Let’s overly complicate this: Jump on the latest fad or cure-all supplement or diet, take advice from your friends with no medical background, cross-train like crazy and create new imbalances that weren’t even there before as you try to avoid using the problem area!

Keep it simple, stupid: Get professional help. Ask around your active friends who they recommend as a sports-specific doctor. The U.Va. Runner’s Clinic is a great start (even for non-running injuries). Also, most physical therapists are a fantastic resource to get your body back to balanced, strong function, and they probably have their own recommendations for good doctors. If you’ve gone the route of doctors and physical therapists and are still having problems, continue to seek other alternative ideas and therapies, but always ask yourself, “Does this make sense?”

Set a schedule

In our ever-busier schedules, it is crucial to have some prearranged time that you give yourself for exercise. If momma can’t take care of herself and keep herself healthy, how well will she be able to take care of the kids?

Let’s overly complicate this: Assume your personal schedule is the least important one in your home and try to schedule your “selfish exercise time” around everyone else. Have no set schedule or time, and be sure to never give yourself enough time to eat, shower, and change after you’ve exercised. Give yourself small blocks of time, like 20 minutes, where you really can’t get anything significant done!

Keep it simple, stupid: Your health is very important! And if you are a parent, your personal health is very important to the successful running of your family! Without guilt, set aside consistent blocks of time, try for five 1-hour blocks of time every week. You need at least an hour and don’t be afraid to give yourself more. Wake up early if you need to. Try to keep your wake-up times consistent if possible.

Take it easy and keep it fun/interesting

Much of your exercise should be enjoyable and at lower intensity, i.e. walking, easy running, easy cycling, etc. Getting your heart rate up in a class or workout is great, but that should be balanced with some proper “aerobic” exercise on other days, where we are using more of our aerobic energy pathway (which is happening mostly when we are exercising at lower intensities). Mostly, your fitness routine should be mentally sustainable!

Let’s overly complicate this: Plan out every minute of exercise for your entire month—no flexibility for illness or life stress! Overcommit to group activities, never giving yourself solo time. Constantly check your pace, heart rate, and other vital stats both during and after exercise so you can best compare yourself to others!

Keep it simple, stupid: Keep it light and approach exercise with humility and optimism. Plan your exercise as suits you, but be flexible for when life throws you some curveballs. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Give yourself at least one day a week where you exercise alone. Turn off the headphones. Finish most of your 1-hour blocks with enough energy that you could turn around and do it again. Don’t worry about your pace, speed, or time. Listen to your body and learn what easy and hard feel like.

Commit! 

This is the last one, but the most important one. Commit. Starting or getting back into a fitness routine is HARD! I remember when running two miles was a BIG deal. Now my shorter runs are many times longer than that. But that change did not happen overnight, it happened over years. Commit to change. Commit to a different future without being sure of what it will look like. Commit to getting a little better and a little stronger each day. It’s okay to feel discouraged, defeated, and sometimes like a failure. Being committed means that you continue on, despite these normal and expected feelings.

And remember: keep it simple, stupid. 🙂

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