Today, like every day, I hopped out of bed at the insistence of the alarm I strategically place across the room. Like every morning, I let my dogs out, then went to the kitchen and drank 16 ounces of cold water. I filled the dog bowls, let them in, and headed to my garage gym. There I did the same warm up I’ve done for years, finishing just as my wife entered, right on cue. She turned on the same general playlist that has been cycling for the past couple months. If I hear the words “if it’s meant to be, it’ll be, it’ll be, baby just let it be,” one more time, I may take that speaker and let it be shattered into pieces. Other than that, she has wonderful taste.
Where was I? Oh yes. I then proceeded to do the same general workout format I’ve followed since January. My routine gets me in and out in 35 minutes. Then I took a cold shower, did my 20 minutes of meditation and gratitude, and I cooked the same breakfast I’ve eaten for years, while listening to Best of the Herd with Colin Cowherd, as I do every day before work.
When Habit Smothers Fire
I’ve often lauded the essentiality of strong routines. I’m the guy who told you that:
Habits have been the foundation of health and productivity in my life. Nothing feels quite so good as creating a plan and then watching as it becomes clockwork, pulling me closer to my goals. Without mastery of your habits, health and fitness are virtually impossible in the modern world. Routines hardwire patterns that eliminate the mental effort of making arbitrary choices and increase productivity while mitigating the power of impulses. Success demands we learn discipline and master that emotional side telling us to hit snooze, that we deserve pizza tonight, or that one episode of Game of Thrones won’t hurt.
Since habits are about consistency, my number one rule is that rules are non-negotiable. If I decide that a habit is worth having, then I must execute, at least until I take the time to objectively re-group and refine these habits. This has served me well, but rigidity can come at a cost.
I’ve also recently explored how the strength of habits can become their weakness. Actions can go on autopilot, creating progress even in absence of passion. This is essential for weathering the waxes and wanes in motivation that come with any long-term endeavor. But what about fun and creativity? Fluidity and the ability to auto-regulate keep you in the training game forever. Discipline is training every day. It’s setting the habit; creating structured times and themes to guide your efforts. Life demands discipline in so many arenas. Perhaps we also need the discipline to let go, to play, to flow.
Breathe Some Life Back Into That Routine
We want exercise to be interesting and enriching on its own merit. We exercise to improve how we feel, how we look, and how we interact with the world around us. If you are training for quality of life, remember that variety is the spice of life. Infusing passion and creativity back into your training can be the route to sustained health and joy in movement that breaks down the walls between exercise and life. Perhaps this will even make you a more balanced, healthy human, less prone to the imbalances inherent in extremes.
Say you’re in a rut, and freedom is what you’re craving. What the heck do you do? Break up the daily grind by bringing variety and a playful attitude back to your training. There is so much to try if you are willing to explore the possibilities. To get started, consider:
Reading a book:
- If you are not typically a lifter, I recommend Dan John’s Easy Strength, if you like to be told what to do, or Never Let Go, if you are interested in a broader survey of lifting wisdom with tons of different, fun training suggestions.
- If you live in the iron game, I recommend Ultimate Athleticism by Max Shank to jolt you outside the normal sets and reps structure.
Speaking of outside, go outdoors! This alone solves most problems. Take a couple of kettlebells, dumbbells, or sandbags, and have an awesome time rotating between:
- Loaded Carry Variations
- Sprints, Hills, and Sled Pushes if you have them
- Sandbag or Kettlebell Get-Ups
- Cartwheels, rolls, etc.
- Try adding a weekly hike, run, bike, or kayak trip to bring fitness back to life.
Need more variety? Try the new Army fitness test. Its way more fun and applicable than in the past. You have to go to the gym or you won’t do anything? Consider exploring other areas of the facility. Bike, row, join a spin, barbell shred, or a Pilates class. What if fitness was just a game? Find a friend to play tennis or racquetball. This will be fun, varied, and great for keeping your reactions and real-world skills tuned. Allow these games to break up self-imposed mandatory gym times.
Do you need more structure? The idea of just randomly meandering makes you crazy? I understand. For this, I recommend a brain dump of exercises by movement category and protocol. With this basic structure, you can show up and auto-generate a workout every day of the week. Think about what you could do in each of these categories:
- Knee dominant/squat
- Hip dominant/hinge
- Tabata, EMOM, super sets, 30sec on / 30sec off, etc.
In my next piece, I will give more guidance on how to construct a varied, auto-regulated program and more clarity in how to auto-regulate from day to day. I’ll show you what a matrix could look like that allows you to quickly shift options from day to day while keeping fitness fun and fresh for a lifetime. You won’t develop world-class strength or tear up the Tour de France on this route, but you’ll maintain a broad spectrum of fitness while enjoying the process. For most people, nothing is more important.