Forget the wholesale life-shifts: small and manageable is the way forward.
Think of these as your advent calendar in reverse: pick a new fix a day, get it done, and move on tomorrow. You’ll be a way better, healthier person by February…
1. Build a better workout playlist
It makes a gargantuan difference. According to a 2010 study, music that hits the 120-140BPM sweet spot helped cyclists put in more effort, and research from Brunel University suggests that certain songs help us channel the memories of when we first heard them, boosting their motivational effects. The Rocky IV soundtrack ticks both boxes.
2. Change your sleep ecosystem
“Make sure there are no lights in your bedroom,” says performance coach, Dan John. “Get rid of anything with a standby light on, and invest in an alarm clock so you don’t have a blinking phone by you.” Light messes the regulation of sleep hormone melatonin. By cutting it out you’ll get better quality shut-eye that’ll improve exercise recovery and more.
3. Flip the food prep switch
“Think of your meal planning as one of the most important ‘workouts’ of your week,” explains nutrition coach Josh Hillis. “It’s a skill: the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it.” Plan out (and shop for) your meals on Sunday. Prepping them all ahead of time is optional, but you should at least know what you’re planning to eat for 80% of the week.
4. Brave the chair of death
Stand up straight with your toes under a chair. Sit into a squat; if your knees touch the seat, they’re straying too far forwards and your glutes aren’t firing properly. You can fix them with the ‘fire hydrant’ – get on all fours, and bring your knee up to one side until you feel your glutes fire. Repeat on the other side, and make it part of every leg warm up.
5. Find your cardio baseline
Set a timer and do a burpee. At 60 seconds, do two. Carry on adding a burpee a minute until you can’t continue. Take 70% of that number as your new rep count. So if you hit 20, your number is 14. Do 14 burpees on the minute, every minute, for 20 minutes and, next week, up the number by 1. This ‘reppredictor’, created by strength coach Michael Blevins, works!
6. Plan a ‘non zero’ workout
This workout is a back-up to hit some of your goals, that you can do anywhere, with zero kit. Midnight in a hotel room? You can still do it. “As a fallback option, just hit five sets of five press-ups, seven lunges on each leg, and nine squats,” says trainer James Adamson. “It works most areas, and you’ll feel better afterwards.” That’ll be the endorphins, then.
7. Keep track of your macros
Just for three days. “Keeping a food journal for just a few days will open your eyes,” says Precision Nutrition coach Jessica Wolny. “You’ll see where you’re getting a hidden sugar hit, and whether you’re getting enough protein – you probably aren’t.” Use an app like MyFitnessPal to track everything you eat – be honest – for a minimum of 72 hours.
8. Set an alarm to stand up
Sitting for extended periods switches off your muscles, tightens your connective tissues and wrecks circulation. If your office won’t allow a standing desk, set your phone to vibrate once an hour as a reminder to stand up, get a glass of water and sit back down. Increased calorie burn, improved posture and a welcome mental break are just some of the benefits.
9. Do a 10-min squat
Yes, just one a day. Sit as low as you can, while you’re watching TV or waiting for your dinner to cook, and aim to accumulate 10 minutes in total. Physical therapy expert Kelly Starrett suggests that, eventually, you should be able to manage the full stretch in one go, leading to stronger muscles in your glutes that’ll make you more powerful in everything you do.
10. Take the stairs
It’s one of those ’90s era ‘tips’ that you’ve heard so often, but the science is compelling. A study in the journal Neurobiology of Aging showed that people who take at least one flight of stairs each day have “younger” brains compared to other people their age. Up it to eight flights a day and it lowers average early mortality risk by 33%. Escalators really will be the death of you.
11. Learn the 90/90
Made popular by mobility expert Dewey Nielsen, this will counteract any desk job niggles. Sit on the floor with both knees bent at 90 degrees – one leg tucked behind you, inner thigh to the ground, while the outer thigh of the other leg’s flush to the floor in front of you. Reach forwards and hold for 10 seconds, then reach to the side and hold again. Switch legs, and repeat to feel the benefit.
12. Mind-muscle connection
It exists, and studies show it’ll help you activate the right areas when you train. For an easy option, do a move – anything from curls to dumbbell benching works – one-armed, while using your free hand to ‘feel’ the muscle as it activates. Do it a few times, and you’ll be able to switch on the right muscles at will.
Find fitness tips, trends and more in every issue of TRAIN magazine.