By PJ Nestler
There’s a lot to be said for detailed programming from an experienced coach that directs your training in a purposeful way. But all too often, we get caught up in complexity and bogged down in details and in doing so, lose both momentum and enthusiasm. If there’s a seemingly endless list of little things to do and they’re constantly changing, it’s easy to feel intimidated and overawed, and end up doing none of them. In the age of “bio-hacking,” we are fascinated by the esoteric, reading and consuming the latest information on the new supplement, technology, or lifehack that will circumvent consistent hard work. Everybody is looking for the shortcut and the magic pill, but the truth is that these shortcuts never get you to where you want to be.
While I relish the challenge of creating in-depth plans for my athletes when the situation calls for it, I’m also cognizant of the need to get back to basics. This has come to the fore in the presentations I’ve been giving while traveling the world for XPT seminars and experiences this past year, and in attending conferences and other educational events. Creating and refining my session notes and seeing some of the best in the business firsthand has challenged me to distill my coaching philosophy into its most basic essence. The more I learn and explore, the more I see that it’s really a few key pillars that create 90% of the growth people are seeking. We aim to bring that information back from the esoteric nonsense that clouds blog headlines and clogs Instagram feeds, and returning to the simple elements that create real, lasting change. As Apple’s first marketing brochure declared, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
In this two-part series, I’m going to walk you through five elemental areas, and then conclude with a check-in exercise that I use regularly to assess where I’m at physically, cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually and then re-calibrate as necessary. If you can check these few boxes, you’ll not only perform and recover better, but also live a healthier, fuller, more rewarding life.
Pillar #1: Breathing
If you get stuck majoring in the minors, you can start to lose your basic, in-built self-awareness. One of the ways that we can be more aware of ourselves is through our breath. Though the average person takes between 15,000 and 30,000 breaths each day, it’s easy to do so unconsciously because it’s an automatic process that occurs whether or not we’re paying attention to it. Yet by failing to be mindful of how we’re breathing, we’re missing out on the potential to change our physical, cognitive, and emotional state to match our desired outcome. And losing out on the ability to alter such a state if we get stuck in one that’s counterproductive to our health, performance, or recovery.
One of the easiest ways to monitor how you’re doing physically and mentally throughout the day is to periodically appraise how you’re breathing. Doing so couldn’t be any easier. Simply set a timer on your phone or recurring reminder on your computer’s calendar and when it goes off, pause what you’re doing and see how you’re breathing. Chances are you’re most likely breathing through your mouth and primarily into your upper chest. Instead, make a point to transition to slow, controlled nasal breaths focusing on expanding the belly and ribs during the inhale. Going one step further, set aside three to five minutes to breathe with this focus periodically, like during your morning commute, or while transitioning between different activities as a reset, such as in the driveway after work.
Pillar #2: Movement
Simply put, movement is medicine. There are so many different physical practices out there, and it’s easy to pick one and become dogmatic or tribal about it. But the real key is that you’re moving regularly throughout the day, every day. There is no single cure-all for everything that ails us as human beings, but from improving physical capability to reducing pain to elevating cognitive function, the research suggests that frequent movement is about as close as we can get. If we look at just about any health and wellness-related marker, physical exercise will help move the needle in a positive way.
At XPT, we follow the lead of our co-founders Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton in trying to be as versatile as possible. This is why we move in a wide variety of ways in different environments and on changing surfaces – whether it’s pool training, working out in the gym, or doing some exercises on the beach before going out for a SUP session. At least once a week, we engage the major movement patterns – squat, hinge, upper body push and pull, and twist, carry, run, jump, crawl, skip, and shuffle, too. Good enough for kids at recess, good enough for us as adults.
Resistance training has been proven repeatedly to be absolutely crucial to your health, longevity, and quality of life. To emphasize the importance of resistance training for every training goal and background, I regularly share in group talks that, “If you are not resistance training a minimum of two times per week, you are not prioritizing your health, period.” If you want to be the most versatile human being that you can, don’t just focus on one activity that you enjoy or are naturally good at, but challenge yourself to switch between a broad range of things and learn new skills.
Pillar #3: Nutrition
This is another area that is often over-complicated. It’s common for people to become confused with all the contradictory information out there (fat is good, no wait, fat is bad, etc.), or to use such contradictions as an excuse to let their eating choices devolve into simply gratifying their impulses in the moment. The real secret isn’t found in this or that fad diet or in a super-restrictive approach, but rather in consistency. As nutrition expert and XPT Ambassador Dan Garner likes to say, “Long term consistency always beats short term intensity.”
You intuitively know which foods are good and bad for you. And yet, we often silence such impulses in favor of the easiest choice. This was reinforced when I recently flew through Denver International Airport. While the line for all the usual fast food suspects were extremely long, the one natural food place was completely empty. The majority had decided that flying was an excuse to gorge themselves on junk food, even though if you surveyed everyone, most would say they wanted to be 20 pounds lighter or healthier in general. If you just add a level of conscious thought to your consumption you can mitigate most of the mindless eating that’s taking you away from your optimal health and performance.
Laird often summarizes his approach to food as “eat plants and some animals” and I couldn’t agree more. If you can eat right 90 percent of the time, try to vary the color palette of what you’re choosing from the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket (more on this in a moment), and favor simple foods without any added chemicals, then you’ll be doing yourself a nutritional favor.
Check back soon for Part 2.