Escaping the Hamster Wheel

By Celestino (Tino) Paul — Providence

Every once in a while I think back to the first obstacle course race I completed and I think of all that I had to endure during the 5.5 miles of the course: mud trails, walls, rope climbs, pools of mud, additional pools of mud filled with hay, muddy hills, a soapy water slide (that actually was my favorite one—after all that running in the heat that cool water felt nice!), swiveling ladders, and cargo nets. After getting through all of that, I was able to look back and smile, happily saying I endured a tough race and can’t WAIT to do it again next year (that, and I paid for it in advance so I have to do it!). The obstacle course can also be related to the fitness journey we take every day, minus all the mud.

In the years that I’ve worked as a fitness trainer/coach, I’ve said many times that the journey towards fitness is not an easy one. There are always going to be obstacles in our path, whether they are physical, emotional or mental. They can come at you one at a time, or they can swamp you all at once, pretty much like the chest-deep pool of mud filled with hay: each step you take being harder than the last one, making it harder to walk, move, and think. The key here is to be able to find ways around them and keep driving towards our goals, all the while keeping an eye on the prize.

Case in point: During the winter it was cooler out and darker out, so you were probably often tempted to stay in your nice, comfy bed, curled up in your blankets and sleeping the day away. Or worse, since it got dark out earlier, you would probably say that infamous phrase to yourself, “Wow it’s dark out, I should go home and skip working out.” (This one happens to me all the time now so I can totally relate!) There’s also the ever popular, “I have some work I should do. I’ll just go home to catch up,” only to get home, see a show on TV, and totally kick work to the side…no work done, no workout done, just an epic fail. The time you could’ve used productively has now been lost. Then guilt starts knocking on the door, followed by doubt, then regret. What usually happens is that you start to slack off once in a while, then a couple times a week, then a week here and there. Next thing you know you’ve put off your working out altogether and now you find yourself planning your summer vacation, realizing that you’ve lost all the progress you were making and have to start all over from scratch. You may even see yourself trying all sorts of diets, buying pieces of equipment or joining (or in some cases re-joining) group exercise classes to get your beach body back.

Any of this sound familiar? Have I hit the nail on the head for some of you?

Trust me when I tell you that I’ve been there with you. I wasn’t always a fitness nut like I am today. There were times that my fitness regiment was a rollercoaster, except with a lot more downs than ups. I can tell you this: I needed a way to get off the hamster wheel. It was frustrating. It was mentally draining. It can make you do pretty much anything to get in shape. And if you get injured trying to accomplish your fitness goals…well, we know what that can do to you mentally. There is good news, however. It doesn’t have to be this way. There is a way to beat the cycle.

Above all else, remember that you started this journey for a specific reason: wanting to feel better, wanting to be healthier, preparing for that 5K race or obstacle race some of your friends are partaking in, or trying to fit into that outfit for your upcoming high school reunion. Whatever the reason, you sat down and made the commitment to yourself to become a better, healthier you. For that, I give you a big high five! Now let’s make a few simple adjustments.

First off, you need to understand that this will be a LIFESTYLE commitment, not a temporary fix. If you want to be ahead of the game and succeed in this journey, you’re going to have to put 100 percent of yourself into it. There is NO half-stepping it here. This means overhauling everything, from how you eat to how you sleep to how you workout. It doesn’t have to be a cold turkey tactic; I’m sure many of you have families and a drastic change like this may not go over very well.

Start off by putting healthier food in your pantry and fridge. Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily nutritional intake instead of the processed foods you find in the middle aisles of the store. Keep your intake as clean as possible (if the expiration date can survive 2 ice ages, you may want to put it back and look for an alternative) and spread it throughout the day (approximately 5-6 well portioned meals comprised of one part good fats, two parts protein, 3 parts carbohydrates). The cleaner the intake, the easier it will be for your body to break it down and absorb it to build that nice lean muscle you’re working hard towards. Also, incorporate more water and natural juices. Get rid of all the sodas and processed fruit drinks—even the low/zero calorie ones. They may say zero calories, but the chemicals that are in them will do nothing but slow down the liver’s function of breaking down fat, which in turn affects the absorption of needed nutrients to build the body you’re working towards. For optimal results, make sure your caloric intake is adjusted for what you’re doing: make sure your calories for workout days are a bit higher than non-workout days.

Make sure you’re making the most of your workouts. Get in AT LEAST 3-4 workouts a week, no more than six. You need to give your body time to recover from the demands you’re placing on it. Workouts can consist of weight training, resistance bands, or just bodyweight training. Keep your workout intense, focus on it being anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour. All of my clients/boot campers are on this method of training and have seen amazing results. Don’t get stuck in usual routine workouts: go to the gym, do cardio, lift weights, stretch, leave, and repeat the next day. Don’t get me wrong; this is a good routine to follow, but for the best results you need to vary your routine. The human body is an intricate machine capable of adapting to whatever you dish out to it. Around the 3-4 week mark, your body will adapt to whatever routine you’re doing and you’ll need to tweak it a bit so that it can keep getting to the next level. Change it up and shock the body. For example, if you’re doing just weight training, go for full-body workouts for a week or two and mix in cardio/sprint routines. This is also a good way to break out of plateaus you’ve hit and get your progress on the right track again. Yes, you may lose a little bit of strength due to the change, but that’s temporary. Before you know it you’ll be moving on to the next level…and preparing to surpass it.

I hope the tips above will help better prepare you for the journey before you. And I know what’s going through your mind: it looks impossible. You think making the adjustments will be difficult. I won’t lie to you, it will be a challenge. But you can do it! Remember this: you’re the CEO of the “You Corporation.” Don’t deny yourself the greatness that you can achieve. Don’t let daily obstacles that are thrown at you dictate your daily life. Step up to them, look them dead in the eye and BLAST your way through them! Keep your pace going and you’ll get through them in no time Later you can look back, smile at your accomplishments and prepare for the next one.

Work it…Live it…OWN it!

Celestino (Tino) Paul is an ISSA Certified Fitness Trainer/Coach out of Providence, RI and has been a fitness specialist for 8 years, specializing in challenging men and women to achieve their full potential even if they are full-time parents, have busy schedules, and don’t think they have the time to begin a fitness journey. He shows a deep passion in seeing clients/boot campers succeed and motivates them to push farther than they thought was possible. He is the owner/operator of Precision Body Fitness and is currently running boot camps in the Warren and Warwick, Rhode Island areas.


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