Man doing a planche
Train, Eat, and Sleep. Recover, and you come back stronger and more balanced as a person.

The Commandments of Fitness

In the world of fitness, everything is founded upon 3 pillars. Perhaps the second-most important of any lesson I can teach you, knowing about the 3 pillars will help you know why your progress might be slowed. If you embrace them, you instantly understand more than 90% of fitness gurus out there.

Commandment 1: You Need Sleep

Busy professionals, especially startup grinders, are apt to neglect this and wear it like a badge of honor. However, sleep is the primary engine of both fat loss and muscle building. Decrease it at your own caution. There are no cute tricks around requiring sleep when it comes to body composition.

Here’s a list of what doesn’t work, and is bad for progress:

  • Skipping sleep

Aside from making you literally dumber, decreasing your ability to learn, and making your memory worse, it also reduces your body’s ability to recover from your workouts. This is on a physical, neurological, and emotional level.

  • “Paying off Sleep Debt”

Sleep debt, like a loan, incurs interest. That sleep has an interest of 50% per day. Seriously. The worst part – the more sleep indebted, the less you realize it. So your effective “life hack” to sleep it off later has consequences. Worse, this throws your body into a loop. Your body craves consistency for health and fitness.

  • Polyphasic sleeping

Your polyphasic sleep schedule (sleeping multiple times a day instead of one big time + a nap a day) isn’t body hacking. It reduces your deep sleep (aka, your ability to store memories), and your growth hormone (what helps you lose fat and build muscle). You want that stage 3 and stage 4 sleep, so sleep in one spurt!

  • Sleeping at different times

Your body craves consistency. Having a routine of sleeping at a certain time will set your circadian rhythm (our 24-hour biological clock), meaning sleep will be easierbetter, and more refreshing. Your recovery follows suit. Just visualize yourself springing out of bed, full of power and ready to lift.

 

That said, here is a list of what does work, and is good for progress:

  • Sleeping consistently
  • Turning off the lights before sleeping
  • Avoiding white light from phones, emails, and TV an hour before sleep
  • Avoiding working out 2 hours before sleep
  • Sleeping at least 8 hours a day – unless you’re 18 or younger.

To summarize: sleep 8 hours, and make sure it’s good quality. You can read more about the mechanism of sleep here and more about the relationship between sleep and fat here.

That said, even if you’re getting scant hours of sleep, you will still make progress. I leave it up to you to decide how much sleep you feel like you need. If you’re making progress doing 5-hour nights because you were busy working on a new company or playing video games into the wee hours, I won’t mind. If it works, stick with it.

Commandment 2: You Need to Eat

There are a great deal of diets out now, and they all share a common factor: they all work.

You heard me right, they all work. That’s why every single one has testimonials and fervent fans. The next step is figuring out which is suitable for one’s goals, and sticking with it, which I will write separate posts on. There are some themes that are common amongst them all, however, and thus are good for progress:

  • They are SUSTAINABLE

I’m not talking about crop rotation. I’m talking about habit. A good diet should be something a person is willing, able, and automatically sticks to. A lifestyle diet should not be stressful after a few weeks.

  • They contain PROTEIN

Protein is almost like magic, and not just needed for the meat headed. It’s the primary building block of muscle, but it has tangential benefits. It makes your body work harder to burn it as energy, it repairs damaged tissue, it makes your skin beautiful, it makes you stronger, it keeps you fuller longer, it makes fat loss a breeze… the list goes on and on.  Every good diet focuses around protein.

  • They have a COMMUNITY

It’s true – a community can keep you on your goals with support. Having someone to ask about your plan means you’ll be motivated to stick to it. The more people with the diet, the better access to information to cultivate it into a lifestyle.

Depending on your goals and your personal preferences, there are a myriad of diets. Some can be somewhat inflexible (Ketogenic diets), while others can allow ANY food (IIFYM – If It Fits Your Macros). Whatever allows you to best stick to a plan will be your choice.

Most popular diet in 2015 is the Paleo Diet. Aka, what would a stereotypical caveman eat? Avoiding all the sociological pitfalls, this is a solid diet and what many fitness newcomers start (and continue) on. Popular with Crossfit athletes and body recomposition (the combo of losing fat and “toning“). I think Paleo is a great starting diet that introduces fine dieting principles, so I will generally assume and recommend that you are eating Paleo.

(but feel free to have a small sandwich or some rice every other day)

Commandment 3: You Should Train

The keystone of the pyramid. The principle of training – not “exercising” is that you force your body to adapt. While many programs exist, my recommendations that support progress always:

  • Are EFFECTIVE

It may be fun, it may be easy, but if it doesn’t help you achieve your goal (fat loss, getting stronger, getting flexible, or all three), then it isn’t worthwhile.

  • Are SUSTAINABLE

Despite what I said above, it must be motivational and entertaining enough to make a habit out of. Though the first month could be “boring”, you will quickly find yourself enjoying the automatic “groove” you work your way into. Consistency is key.

  • Are EFFICIENT

I don’t do 2 hour workouts. Ever. I want the most bang for the buck – for each exercise, for each minute used. To that end, I support training that emphasize under an hour of activity a day when you’re starting out.  I’ll have a few free workouts on my Workouts page soon. All will be without any equipment.

 

These 3 pillars – SLEEPING, EATING, and TRAINING – form the pillars that create successful bodies. Internalize them, repeat them, make them a mantra. Whenever you notice yourself slipping, remember what your goals stand for to you, then sleep, eat, and train!

Next up, I’ll be talking about the number one pitfall of fitness.

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About the author

Aaron Dear

Aaron Dear is a fitness advocate, bodyweight athlete, and product manager from Berkeley, California.

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