An Architectural Blueprint to Designing World-Class Workouts

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”- Steve Jobs

An architectural blueprint to designing world-class workouts
Photo Credit: SEMARGL, s.r.o. via Compfight cc

Before we we’re able to record history, humans were busy constructing pre-historic monuments such as the Stonehenge in England and Cliff Dwellings in the American southwest region.

From those pre-historic monuments, to the Great pyramid of Giza and Great sphinx of Giza from the Ancient Egyptian period; to the Gothic architecture which gave rise to those massive cathedrals such as Chartres and Notre Dame; to the beautifully proportioned architecture of the Renaissance Age; to the brief, but zigzag jazz age of the Art Deco period; to the modernists; and postmodernism of today’s architecture—architecture plays an instrumental role within our lives.

Beyond being aesthetically pleasing, those monuments serve as a way for us to communicate with past civilizations.

Do you ever stop and think, “How did they build those marvelous monuments without modern technology (I have my theories)?”

Before we fall deeper into a architectural and ancient civilization rabbit hole, what does architecture and fitness have to do with each other?

Plenty.

Creating monuments of wonder requires diligence, working bodies, and time. Most importantly, they require functionality and practicality (that’s the secret sauce of all monuments).

The majority of the historical structures that we marvel at, not only were aesthetically pleasing, but served a vital role in their respective communities. They couldn’t afford to have a nice looking building that didn’t ultimately serve it’s community (appearance can only go so far).

sphnix- world-class workouts
I wish I could time travel back to Ancient Egypt (maybe one day)- Photo Credit: MK_girl via Compfight cc

This logic needs to remain at the forefront when it comes to training programs. Most programs look good on paper and the idea of the training program sounds amazing. However, there’s one big flaw in the operation—most training programs floating around aren’t transferable into the real world.

Whether building world-class training programs or monuments, it’s crucial that you address in detail these five essential steps to creating world-class workouts.

1. Prepare a blueprint

Before any hole is dug, the first brick laid, or the first brush stroke—you have to figure out what you’re trying to build.

What’s your goal?

What’s the purpose of this specific fitness mission?

Attempting to step foot into the gym without a blueprint is as logical as an engineer attempting to design The Golden Gate bridge, but forgetting to measure and consider the various loads to support the bridge.

The most important objective of your blueprint is to determine a primary training goal that connects with your overall purpose of why you’re training.

Are you here for fat loss? To build Juggernaut worthy strength? Or, to add quality size to your frame (i.e. muscle gain)?

After determining your primary goal, think about another goal that could serve as a tag along. A tag along goal is your sidekick (Robin), which complements your primary goal (Batman).

If you’re losing fat, then maintaining strength or increasing various performance metrics (athleticism, speed, or work capacity) could serve as a worthy tag along goal.

If you’re building world-class size, then increasing strength fits perfectly with this goal.

Determining your primary (i.e. Batman) and secondary (i.e. Robin) objectives when drawing up your blueprint is essential because this determines what tools (reps, schemes, etc) you’ll be using to construct your masterpiece.

batman v robin) world-class workouts

2. How will you approach the project at hand

A movie isn’t made in one week. A skyscraper doesn’t sprout up in two weeks. Your training goals won’t come to fruition in three weeks.

Building ten lbs of muscle is tough. Losing 15 pounds of fat takes a hell of a lot of work. Power lifting requires dedication and consistency.

These types of ambitious feats sometimes fail to launch because of the goal itself. Wanting these goals and visualizing them is one thing; taking action is a different story.

The difference between successful projects, movies, and fitness programs that become a reality compared to the unsuccessful ones is the attention to detail from a micro standpoint.

Everyone wants the big goal (end result), but it’s the daily execution that morphs the big (macro) goal into a reality.

How to execute from a micro standpoint?

For simplicity sake, let’s assume that each training session breaks down into one hour sessions.

The optimal number of training days ranges from 2-5 days weekly. Experience, daily stress levels, and various hormonal factors need to be considered when configuring how many days of training you’re going to commit to.

At the beginning of each session, always start with some mobility work consisting of foam rolling, the lacrosse ball, & various mobility drills.

Afterwards, it’s time to execute on your specific lifting regimen for the day, which will consist mostly of compound exercises due to their efficiency and effectiveness.

The last portion of this 60 minute window will consist of fillers. Think of these as polishing a car; examples are working on lagging body-parts, sport specific movements, giving extra attention rehabbing specific body-parts, or conditioning work (i.e. metabolic work).

A summary of an average 60 minute approach to training:
• 5-10 minutes of Mobility work/warm up (lacrosse ball, foam roller, dynamic movement, etc)
• 40-45 minutes of strength training (mostly compound movements)
• 10-15 minutes of fine tuning (beach muscles, lagging parts, rehab work, conditioning, extra mobility work, etc)

3. The essential tools needed to build your masterpiece

Whether you’re building an awe-inspiring skyscraper, creating a bridge to unite towns, painting an emotionally charged picture, or constructing an awe-inspiring body—the arsenal of tools implemented will make or break you.

Fitness offers up a plethora of tools (i.e. exercises) at your disposal. Some tools aren’t as effective in constructing the body you want as others.

To simplify the process of constructing your body, divide your body into 4 key areas.

1. Upper body pulling movements– These movements are bringing your body closer to an object (ex: chin-ups lifting yourself closer to the bar) or bringing the object closer to yourself (ex: think cable rows, lat pull downs, barbell rows, and t-bar rows).

2. Upper body pushing movements– Think of these exercises as movements that push you away from the object (ex: push-ups from the ground), or pushing the object away from you (example: bench and shoulder pressing).

3. Lower body (quad focus) movements– These movements are focused on the front (anterior) portion of your lower body region. These exercises primarily focus on the quadriceps with a secondary focus on the hamstrings and glutes depending on the exercises. Examples of these types of exercises include: any squatting movement, Bulgarian split squats, any lunge variation, leg press, step-ups, and squat jumps to name a few)

4. Hip-dominant (glute & hamstring focus) movements– My favorite region and one that serves immense value beyond aesthetic purposes. Your glutes provide more than a picture worthy treat to share on social media. Weak glutes are one the primary causes of back pain; along with causing chaos on your hips and knees due to other muscles having to over-compensate.

When you’re thinking of exercises for this region, think posterior chain (everything behind you). Examples of these types of movements include: any variation of deadlifts, hyperextensions (the glute version), glute-ham raises, any variation of hip thrusts, any variation of glute bridges, and sprinting.

Don’t forget about the supporting cast members

The secret behind all Academy Award winning movies isn’t just the main actors and directors—it’s the supporting cast. There’s a reason awards are given out to supporting cast members; it’s their ability to add the icing on the cake to the movie.

In fitness, this story isn’t any different.

While there are four main actors to your blueprint, the supporting cast is equally as important when constructing a world-class body to full completion.

Implement these supporting cast members as needed depending on your goal:
Core (planks, leg raises, pot-stirrer planks, suitcase crunches, and v-ups to name a few)
Rotator cuff (Mainly for prevention and to compensate for our daily lifestyles along with optimal shoulder health. I would implement these in every session). My favorites are band pull-aparts, face pulls, and shoulder dislocators.
Grip work– No one wants to walk into a meeting and give weak handshakes (unless you like to hide your superhero strength at times…guilty of this). In addition to working on grip work, movements such as: farmer walks, overhead walks, and trap-bar walks increase strength, provide excellent conditioning, and gives off the appearance of a total badass.

4. Determine the appropriate techniques for approaching your specific masterpiece

As you get ready to start working toward your masterpiece, it’s essential that you apply the correct techniques to your specific masterpiece.

In the fitness world, these techniques are your rep ranges. For simplicity sake, we’re only going to cover the fundamental rep ranges that are used predominately and disregard the advanced techniques.

1. High rep work (10-15 reps)– You could push this rep range upwards of up to 20 (in some cases). This category focuses primarily on building size (i.e. hypertrophy) with endurance and small strength gains. The majority of bodybuilders will typically train in this rep range.

2. Middle ground (6-9 reps)– For the majority of lifters, this is going to be the sweet spot in terms of what reps you should be implementing into your sessions. Besides this range of repetitions providing a good mixture of size and strength, this range is the sweet spot for beginners due to the accumulation of repetitions needed to build their skill up.

3. Low rep work (2-5 reps)– This is probably my favorite range to lift in, but I also have a strong love affair with strength work. This rep range isn’t recommended at the beginning to people new to strength training as the required skill-level and muscle hasn’t been developed.

View low rep work as being for the more technical, skilled, and veterans of the fitness world. For beginners wanting to work on their strength, starting with five reps (perhaps 5×5) is perfect.

Lifting in this rep range is for those mostly concerned with strength and increasing those numbers (muscle gain can occur here, just not at the same rate as the high rep category).

However, at the end of the day, building size and losing fat is predominately determined by your nutrition.

Bonus work to transform your body into a world-class superhero

While the above is the Nuts’ N’ Bolts of strength training, these two methods below are the icing on the cake.

Cake Girl by Hyeyoung Kim - foundation first then then you can get fancy world-class workouts
Foundation before anything else- Cake Girl by Hyeyoung Kim

1. Explosive/dynamic work– Adding this type of work into your workouts helps increase athleticism and build strength along with burning fat due to the intensity of the movements.

However, before jumping gung-ho into these movements, assess where you currently stand in terms of conditioning and skill level—then choose from there. Examples of these type of movements include: Olympic lifts, sprinting, medicine ball drills, and chain exercises to name a few.

Start small and stay conservative, then gradually build up from there.

2. Conditioning work- This is another type of metabolic work, which is great for fat loss along with increasing your training endurance (i.e. work capacity). These type of workouts are great at the end of sessions or can serve as a excellent standalone session—depending on the volume and intensity of the workout.

Examples of these type of workouts: density training, complexes, strength circuits, sleds, battling ropes, sprints, and kettlebell swings.

Summary of this section:

After determining your goal, intelligently pick your rep ranges that align with your goal.

If you want to melt fat while maintaining strength, here are a couple options:
• Implement low reps with explosive or conditioning movements
• A beginner could use medium rep ranges with conditioning or explosive movements
• Use medium repetitions with high repetition work at the end

If you want Incredible Hulk strength, here are a couple options:
Use low reps with high reps (hypertrophy)
• Use low reps with explosive work (this is a great fat loss and performance strategy)

If you want academy award-worthy size (hypertrophy), here are a couple options:
• High rep work with medium rep work
• Low reps with high reps consisting of most of the session

There isn’t a one size fits all strategy when it comes to selecting the appropriate techniques for your goals. As long as you consider the key metrics (current skill level, conditioning, goals, daily stress levels, and etc)—experiment until you find something that is enjoyable and jams with your particular lifestyle.

5. Make sure you’re mixing the right tools for your masterpiece

You could be onto painting your very own Mona Lisa until you mix the wrong color into your bucket (there goes the masterpiece). You could be constructing the next great wonder of the world, but then you implement the wrong bricks or forget an essential measurement to constructing your monument (that would be unfortunate).

What’s the point of all this?

You can possess all the knowledge in the world. You can possess all the tools that one could ever wish for. You can have the best network and know all the ‘insiders secrets’.

But if you don’t implement the right tools with each other, your assets mean nothing.

A brief rundown of some laws of lifting

While there are a couple ways to mix these tools, there are still a few rules which you should be mindful of.

Avoid committing these crimes…
● Performing highly technical lifts and extreme heavy loads if you’re a beginner
● Avoid pairing together two heavy movements that work in the same region (i.e. joint)
● Super setting muscle groups of the same area when both are heavy loads or highly technical lifts

Instead work around these crimes by…
● Combining similar muscle groups when it comes to hypertrophy
● Combine a highly technical lift or heavy movement with a low technique or lighter movement
● Combine antagonistic movements

Examples of crimes (bad) vs. A work around (good)

Bad crime (bad)
A1) Barbell squats
A2) Barbell row

Why? Both of these exercises involve the lower back and by the third set, your back won’t be too happy with you.

A work around (good)
A1) Barbell squats
A2) pull ups

Why? Barbell squats involve the lower back, while pull-ups are still working your back just as the barbell rows were, but the big difference is that pull-ups don’t involve stress on your lower back.

6. Examples of constructing a world class workout

Below will be an example for each of the three goals we’ve discussed. The methods below are far from the only options available, my goal is to share a method of each that is easily applicable to any person to head to the gym and immediately get started.

Adding world-class size to a world-class body

Here’s a couple reminders and rationale for why this workout is set up this way

***It’s important to remember that pure hypertrophy training isn’t recommended for those who still need to lose an appreciable amount of fat. Due to various hormonal factors, I strongly recommend you to lose fat before attempting a purely muscle building program (plus even with some extra muscle, no one will see your hard work with the extra layers still hanging around).

1. Rep ranges are going to be in the middle to high ranges with ample amounts of volume due to the goal and being in a caloric surplus (i.e. taking in more calories than being burned).

2. Pairing exercises to keep the intensity up while staying under the allocated 60 minutes; thus improving work capacity

Example muscle building workout (full body)

A1)quad dominant: barbell back squats- 4×6-8
A2)upper body pull: chin ups- 4×6-8

B1) hip dominant: Barbell hip thrust- 3×12-15
B2) upper body push: overhead press- 3×10-12

C1)hip dominant: barbell Romanian deadlift- 3×10-12
C2)upper body push: (db or bb)incline bench press- 3×10-12

D1)upper body: pull cable rows- 2×15
D2)rotator cuff: band pull aparts- 2×15

E1)grip/conditioning: farmers walk- 3×40 yards or 60 seconds
F1)core planks: 3×30-45 seconds

Adding world-class strength to a world-class body

Here’s a couple reminders about adding world class strength and the rationale behind the workouts.

*** Super low reps aren’t for beginners, build some muscle and learn the patterns of the movements before anything else.

1. Stick with heavy and middle rep ranges

2. Use rehab movements to prevent injury and protect the body

3. Feel free to add some extra ‘bro work” (arms, etc) at the end or high rep (hypertrophy) work at the end

4. Depending on skill level and goal, explosive movements can help you move the weights faster; thus increasing strength

Example workout for strength

A1)Hip dominant: deadlifts- 5×5
A2)explosive/hip dominant: band hip thrust- 5×20 (explode up)

B1)upper body push: barbell incline press- 4×5
B2)quad dominant: barbell front squat- 4×6-8

C1)upper body pull: lat pulldowns- 3×12-15
C2)pre-hab/rotator cuff: band pull aparts- 3×12-15

D1)grip/fat loss: farmers walks- 3x60secs or 50 yards

Incinerating fat to uncover a world-class body

Fat loss is the most versatile out of the three areas discussed in terms of what kind of workouts to implement. From rest periods to intensity, fat loss training is a choose your own adventure (nutrition is the ultimate de-facto king in determining your fat loss).

*** The goal on the example workout is to increase work capacity and maintain strength.

Keep these reminders in the back of your head when it comes to fat loss.

1. Goals is to lose fat, but build a small amount, or at least maintain the current amount of muscle there.

2. Get creative with pairings, formats, and exercises

3. Keep that heart rate up (but don’t drive yourself into the ground—tempo is your best friend)

4. Intensity over duration

Example of a fat loss workout

A1)quad dominant: barbell squats- 3×6-8
A2)conditioning: Bw squat jumps 3x30seconds

B1)hip dominant: hip thrust- 3×12-15 (pause 2secs at top)
B2)upper body pull: chin ups- 3×10-12
B3)upper body push: push-ups -3×10-15

C1)quad dominant: step ups- 2×12
C2)core: pot stirrer planks- 2×15-20 (each side)

D1)grip/conditioning: farmers walks- 4×60 yards or 4×60 seconds

Final takeaways on designing your world-class workouts

There’s a plethora of methods that could have been discussed. But, the methods discussed were the high yielding ones and until you’re a master of the fundamentals of strength training—there isn’t a need to flirt with advanced techniques.

As you embark along your strength training journey, I want you to keep these five high yielding principles in mind (even if you forget everything else).

1. The quality of jabs is better than the quantity of jabs– In boxing you can have someone throw hundreds of punches per round, while his counterpart is selectively jabbing, but connecting. At the end of the day, you win the boxing match by connecting on your opponents face more, not by wildly throwing punches.

Your workouts are the same.

It’s not about the duration of your workouts nor the quantity of exercises you do—the importance lies in the quality of the session. 40 minutes of efficient lifting trumps 90 minutes of talking and performing 15 different lifts.

2. Variety isn’t the spice of life- When it comes to performing workouts, each session doesn’t need to be completely different compared to the last one. Companies, trainers, and other fitness “gurus” preaching no two sessions are the same is a key indicator for you to walk in the opposite direction.

You want some familiarity week in and week out with your sessions.

How else can you judge progress in the gym?

Pick a couple lifts and focus on improving those.

3. Don’t fall into a fitness pissing contest- It’s one thing to geek out in the gym or at the health store with your fitness friends, but in the normal everyday world—the majority of people could care less.

No one gives a shit about how much you squat or bench. Also, feel free to tell your annoying crossfit co-worker that you “give zero shits” about their WOD (workout of the day).

If you catch yourself getting into this type of conversation with the bros, remember—are you trying to impress the bros at the gym or attract the opposite sex?

I’ve never heard someone get laid off their bench press max nor their WOD time.

Rant through. Next point.

4. Patience is your ally- Rome wasn’t built in 48 hours. Michael Jordan wasn’t the greatest of all time after 2 weeks. You’re not going to be a lean-machine in four weeks. I’m not going to be waling on the guitar like Lenny Kravitz in 5 weeks (but dammit I’ll try).

lenny kravitz- world-class workouts
One day, I’ll get on this level- Photo Credit: zapata74330 via Compfight cc

I apologize if you thought otherwise or were promised this fairy tale. Unfortunately, contrary to the bullshit that marketers and shady fitness “gurus” in my space unfortunately preach, your transformation is going to take time.

The process and logic is simple, but the effort required isn’t easy.

Remove the unreasonable expectations and enjoy the ride.

5. Symmetry and balance is sexy- The mirror muscles or beach muscles (chest, biceps, abs) get all the glory (not for long if I have a say). However, the posterior of your body needs some love.

Building a world-class body equates to giving proper attention to every aspect of your body.

Living in the age of texting, video games, office jobs, driving everywhere, and general laziness as a society—we’ve become the land of sleepy and sometimes saggy glutes with bad posture to serve as the icing on the cake. It’s even more imperative that we train our backsides to compensate for the over-usage of the front.

To compensate for this, think of training your body with a 2:1 ratio. For every one push/front movement, perform two pull/posterior movements to compensate.

Besides…working your back and glutes a little extra is never a bad thing. Is there even such a thing as over-working the glutes?

Absolutely not…Glutes make the world go round.

Take Back Control: Free Yourself From Vanity Metrics And be Proud of Your Work

Take Back Control, Free Yourself From Vanity Metrics And be Proud of Your Work - vanity metrics

From creatives to artist to writers to business people to everyday fitness people—we have this undeniably fatal flaw in ourselves to seek validation for our efforts and work.

From painting something from the heart to pouring our emotions over the keyboards, to giving it our all in the gym—the opinions of others has the potential to sink our self worth faster than a rock plummets to the depths of the ocean.

Some of us might quit working out because others aren’t noticing the hours and buckets of sweat we put in weekly. We might start to give a half-ass effort at our jobs because the appreciation isn’t being showed.

Our momentum for sharing our words, our music, our drawings, and our compassion might wither due to no one seemingly caring for our efforts.

If anyone knows how letting metrics, status updates, and compliments run someones life—I’m your expert.

Letting the outside world determine your self-worth

For a period of time, if I quit receiving validation for my fitness efforts, I felt my fitness game has slipped. Maybe I needed to work harder and get stronger. Maybe I needed to get leaner.

Not too long ago, I would let the number of likes, shares, re-tweets, comments, and open rates dictate my mood for that given day. If I published an article and heard crickets (aka not much social activity), I would let myself think that the article sucked—leading me to question my ability.

I forgot who said this, but when the topic of showing up each day and putting the work in without a reception, he described as playing a game of Marco Polo and you’re constantly chanting “Marco, Marco, Marco”…but no one shouts “Polo”.

At the beginning of a journey (especially fitness), it’s tempting to compare our current selves against our external environments and peers.

It’s easy to lose track of reality and get down on ourselves since it seems that everyone is seemingly perfect and has everything put together—besides ourselves.

Expectations & behind the scenes

Unrealistic expectations can ruin your fitness due to you chasing the ghost of perfection. The ghost of perfection has a perfectly symmetrical body and is one that everyone ogles over.

Good luck chasing this down.

Despite what we see in magazines and over the internet, these perfectly proportion, chiseled chest, shredded six-pack abs, and cellulite sans free bodies are 9 out of 10 times an illusion.

Thanks to photoshop and air brushing, we can easily create a pretty illusion and pretend that these perfect bodies exist in abundance.

Thanks to social media serving as our very own Sportscenter, we can share the highlights of our lives.

We don’t have to display the entire game for the world to see, we only have to show off the slam dunks and impressive touchdowns of our lives. You’ll never see the interceptions, the missed dunks, the turnovers, or rough moments of our games.

You’ll never see the struggles it takes to get to the gym. You won’t see the struggles of staring at a blank canvas or blank document. You’ll never see the struggles it takes to get out of bed some mornings to face the day ahead.

Why it’s imperative you gain control & 3 key reminders

Without taking back control of how you let external influences sway your emotions, you’ll never experience happiness and satisfaction in your work or physique. Without controlling this issue; “I need to do more”, “I need to write better”, “I need to play better”, “I need to workout more”, “I need to be leaner”—will be your life 24/7.

Striving to improve yourself by 1% daily is great, however, never giving yourself credit and appreciating your current accomplishments isn’t encouraged.

If you have this problem of letting the outside forces determine if you’re lean enough, strong enough, pretty enough, smart enough, or talented enough—try out some of the strategies below to counter this problem.

1. Remember why you are ultimately doing this in the first place- At the beginning, enthusiasm filled with tanks of adrenaline propelled you.

As the weeks and months pass by, adrenaline wans and this work becomes routine and mundane.

At beginning, the idea and fantasy of the transformation excited you.

Unfortunately, Dr. Reality busted through the door and showed you this journey wasn’t going to be as smooth as initially thought. Maybe you thought, in 8 weeks, you would have your new body and everyone would shower you with compliments.

Instead, you haven’t reached your target weight and everyone isn’t bombarding you with compliments.

When you’re feeling lost, think about what first made you interested in pursuing whatever you’re pursuing.

When I was in a low moment and was beginning to think what all this meant, I remembered my initial feelings and thoughts the night I decided to quit my higher educational pursuits.

I wanted to be able to positively influence others, share my failures and mistakes, help others level up their fitness, and unleash their inner superhero.

It’s not going to be easy, but if you come into the story with a strong ‘why’ that’s internally driven—then any superficial or external metric isn’t going to be strong enough to stop you.

You’re on a mission and nothing or no one can stop that unless you give them permission to do so.

2. Look at the small things- Maybe your goal was to lose 20 pounds, but instead have only lost 10. Perhaps you wanted to self-publish a book in 3 months, but instead it will take 6 months.

Maybe you wanted to pursue a passion project and turn it into your job, but instead, you’re stuck at a job you hate.

No matter the goal at hand, something is better than zero (as Gary V would say). I have a tendency to fixate on the end goal and not relish the moment nor celebrate past accomplishments.

Maintaining a fresh and positive perspective is worth the weight of gold. Most goals take time. We all have a tendency to overestimate what we can do on a given day or week, but underestimate what we can do over months and a year.

Maybe the book isn’t ready in 3 months, but at least you have a quality book coming out in 6 months. At least you have 10 pounds to show for your efforts. At least you’re working towards your passion project and not settling.

3. Don’t hand over your power so easily- The only way people can affect your emotions is if you grant them the power to do so. If someone calls you an idiot, critiques your fitness, tells you that your work is no good, or does anything else to you—so what.

That’s their opinion. Everyone is entitled to one, but just because they’re entitled to an opinion doesn’t mean you have to agree or listen to what they say.

Opinions are just what they sound like. They’re just a grouping of words that someone has put together. One important thing is that they’re not a fact.

It’s not a fact that you’re not good at fitness just because no one compliments your progress or you’re not the strongest nor leanest.

It’s not a fact that your work isn’t good because your social media account isn’t blowing up. It’s not a fact that you aren’t smart or good looking if your Instagram isn’t bombarded with compliments and weird comments from strangers.

Take Back Control, Free Yourself From Vanity Metrics And be Proud of Your Work -your value is more than a smartphone
You’re value is worth more than any number a smart phone shows you.

Remember at the end of the day, the metrics that we allow ourselves to obsess over are opinions—not facts.

Van Gogh wasn’t immensely popular nor the person we know him as throughout his life. His work became popular after his death. But, that didn’t deter him, he kept working and showing up each day because of his love for the craft.

How much do you love your craft? How bad do you want to conquer that seemingly ‘forbidden fitness goal’? How passionate are you about making a dent in the universe?

If it’s a resoundingly strong love that boils over—then the opinions of others or any vanity metrics won’t stop you.

Mindless Eating: The Behind the Scenes Food Behaviors Ruining Your Fitness

Food Behaviors Ruining Your Fitness
Photo Credit: rolffimages1 via Compfight cc

69% of adults are either overweight or obese. With the wealth of information circulating on the Internet it’s interesting that we have such a high rate of people with poor health.

This just goes to show that while we live in a society that is obsessed with looks and health—the method of delivery  is wrong.

We have a tendency to focus on macros, diet plans, meal timing, stoking the metabolism, and other nutritional metrics. Those are insignificant compared to the large elephant standing in the room laughing as we parade around trying any and everything to level our fitness up.

The large elephant isn’t the sexiest in the room. It’s not trendy, but it’s damn essential.

What’s this elephant I’m speaking of.

It’s our food behaviors. Food behaviors operate mostly on a subconscious level.

We know which foods we’re supposed to eat. We know total calories play a pivotal role in building the bodies we want. We know what to do, but aren’t doing it because our minds are playing on another playing field that we haven’t arrived at yet.

While actors (your outside appearance) get all the attention, it’s the filming crew and producers (your mental being) who ultimately pulls the strings and develops a great product (i.e. a body you can be proud of).

This eating without awareness, without focusing, without intent is what we call mindless eating.

What is mindless eating

Mindless eating is when you eat without thinking about what you’re doing. You’re essentially playing the role of a nutritional zombie.

Mindless eating often occurs through overeating, not because of greed or any other self-centeredness, but because of our environments.

Brian Wansink, author of the interesting book ‘Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think’, explains that “we overeat not because of hunger but because of family and friends, packages and plates, names and numbers, labels and lights, colors and candles, shapes and smells, distractions and distances, cupboards and containers”.

Temptations to fall into mindless eating habits surround us at every corner and turn we make. Let’s look into 6 common scenarios where the potential for food behaviors ruining your fitness is high.

6 common areas where mindless eating can zap your fitness progress

Our minds are programmed from the time were a toddler to behave in specific ways with our foods.

All 6 scenarios below are detrimental to our goals unless we become mindful of them.

1. The size of your plates, bowls, packages, & buckets– As crazy as this might sound, the presentation of the way your food is delivered plays an important role in determining your eating behavior.

Researchers at Cornell University’s Food Brand lab, discovered that people who used larger plates overserved themselves compared to those who elected to use smaller plates, hence undeserving themselves.

People will eat food just because it’s there. We’re instinctively engineered to desire food when it’s placed in front of us. We might have a beating pulse, but inside each of us, lies a little robotness, which allows us to fall prey to programming and losing our minds.

Movie goers in a study conducted by Wansink and his students were given 5 day old popcorn. Many of them, haven’t eaten lunch, were given a soft drink and a medium or large bucket of popcorn to indulge in. Not surprisingly, the large bucket group ate more.

Asked if they ate more due to bucket size, they replied “no”. People didn’t eat because they were hungry, they ate because of the movie distracting us, the sounds of people munching on popcorn, and the general societal expectations of going to the movies and being expected to snack.

2. Your perception of the situation– The stories we create in our heads become manifestations of our realities after a time period of feeding ourselves the same story.

 food behaviors ruining your fitness-
Be careful of what you’re pouring into your brain- Photo Credit: Toodeloo! via Compfight cc

If we’re in a situation where it’s expected we stuff our faces (talking to the ‘all you can eat buffets’)—then we’ll pig out, regardless of whether we’re full after plate 1.

If we’re in a fancy schmancy restaurant on a date, we’re likely to eat with restraint and not pig out because of the expectations.

There was a study conducted on North Dakota & California wine, where the same wine was given out with different labels.

The North Dakota wine consistently rated lower due to the expectations that wine grapes aren’t grown in North Dakota as opposed to them growing in California.(I always wanted to try this on the so called wine connoisseurs.)

3. Your eyes (out of sight, out of mind)- Often times in relationships, we operate with an out of sight, out of mind mentality. We treat food the same way.

If we walk into grandmas house and see a delicious white cake sitting, odds are, we’ll suddenly have the desire to eat white cake.

If you’re at the bar and your waiter hasn’t come to collect your 4 empty bottles, odds are you’ll have more reservations about ordering another drink.

This logic was supported in the famous chicken wing study where a group of individuals were left with the bones in front of them and another group had their bones taken each time.

No surprise here, but the group who had the bones left in front of them ate fewer compared to the group who had their previous plates removed.

4. The middle grounds (aka the land of nowhere)– We’ve all been in a place where things aren’t going bad, yet things aren’t moving forward. You’re moving so slow that it doesn’t feel like you’re moving at all.

In the nutrition world, this can be a dangerous recipe because it allows us to run on autopilot and lose our focus.

Wansink describes this middle ground of drudgery as the “mindless margin—we can slightly overeat or undereat without being aware.”

If you undereat by a sizable margin, you’ll start to feel weak, lethargic, moody, and have crappy training sessions. If you start to overeat by a sizable margin, you’ll start to feel bloated and slow as molasses.

However, in this dangerous middle zone of eating, we aren’t aware of the small differences. A small crack in a dam eventually overflows.

Snacking here and there multiple times a day secretly throws your daily caloric intake off. Months later, you wake up with an extra 10 pounds and outfits aren’t fitting the same.

5. The party don’t stop till the food is gone (aka our all or nothing food mentality)– Party till the sun comes up. Pulling all nighters for school. Celebrating chugging energy drinks to keep working on projects.

Our culture has an extreme personality. More and more isn’t always better. Often times, this attitude comes back to bit us in the rear.

We have to finish everything. Our approach to food isn’t any different (especially here in the southern states).

We’re done eating when our plates are empty. We’re done drinking when our cups are empty.

This mentality is hard to break, especially since it’s been ingrained into our subconscious since we were kids.

Being told that you can’t have dessert till you finish your plate or being called wasteful for not finishing your food has added fuel to the fire for our eating habits.

Instead of eating till we can see our reflections on the plate or eating out of guilt, pull the eating brakes at 80% capacity.

Borrow the Okinawan phrase ‘hara hachi bu’ which is used to indicate to eat until you’re 80% full. Eat until no longer hungry, not full.

6. Societal and lifestyle traps– From parties to movie nights, we allow ourselves to become preoccupied with guests to the point we unknowingly stuff our faces away. Whether it’s snacking obsessively out of nervousness at the corporate office party or snaking due to guilt at grandmas house—be weary of these traps.

How to eat mindfully and enjoy the immense pleasures of food

If you want to build the body you want and transform your health, you must find a way to control your eating behaviors. You can’t out train a diet, no matter how intense your workouts are.

However, using 7 simple lessons from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanhs’ book ‘How to Eat (Mindful Essentials)’, we can begin to control our eating behaviors.

1. Eating without thinking– Thich Nhat Hanh states that “Sometimes we eat and we’re not aware that we’re eating. Our mind isn’t there. When our mind isn’t present, we look but we don’t see, we listen but we don’t hear, we eat but we don’t know the flavor of the food.”

2. Slowing down– “When we can slow down and really enjoy our food, our life takes on a much deeper quality. I love to sit and eat quietly and enjoy each bite, aware of the presence of my community, aware of all the hard and loving work that has gone into my food. When I eat in this way, not only am I physically nourished, I am also spiritually nourished. The way I eat influences everything else that I do during the day.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

Taking time to enjoy our food is a great way to unwind, express gratitude, and take a much needed break from the hustle & bustles of everyday life.

3. Turning off the tv– “To be truly present you need to not just turn off the television or radio in your house, you need to turn off the conversation and images in your head”-Thich Nhat Hanh

Take a break and disconnect from the world, cell phones included (nothing will happen in those 20min—promise).

4. Preparing a meal- Just as fitness can nourish our bodies and mind. Just as a mesmerizing piece of art can move us physically and mentally. Just as an athlete of remarkable abilities can leave us in awe and disbelief. Food has the ability to provide a deep nourishment for our bodies and mind.

5. Chew your food, not your worries– “Sometimes we eat, but we aren’t thinking of our food. We’re thinking of the past or the future or mulling over some worry or anxiety again and again. Don’t chew your worries, your fear, or your anger. If you chew your planning and your anxiety, it’s difficult to feel grateful for each piece of food. Just chew your food.”-Thich Nhat Hanhs

Let go of thinking about work, personal stress, and just take in the moment of enjoying the food.

6. Eating is an art– This isn’t just fancy cooking. Its how you go about your daily nutrition. It’s eating well in the moments where most would crumble. “Your body is not just yours”. It is a gift and a responsibility”

7. A full life– One of my favorite quotes by Nhat Hanh states that “If we feel empty, we don’t need to go to the refrigerator to take things out to eat. When you eat like that, it’s because there is a feeling of emptiness, loneliness, or depression inside.”

Eating to fill emotional voids never solves the underlying issue. Filling your emotional voids by eating places a band-aid over your deep flesh wounds (eventually it’s going to seep through).

Question for you to think about: What are some areas of your life where you fall prey to mindlessly eating? And, what do you plan to do about it?