Back in 2018, my career was starting to ramp up. I was traveling more. My wife and I had two children and another on the way. I had to do something to ensure that I could meet all these newfound challenges head-on and still perform at a high level.
To exist in this demanding space of parenting and professionalism, I found that fitness became an absolute necessity. I could very clearly see the positive impact of how I felt physically and how I performed at work the day after I got a good workout in. I could also see the negative impact when I didn’t.
As my life got more hectic, I made a commitment to do at least 30 minutes of exercise every single day. I set that movement goal for myself, and whether it was jogging or hopping on my rowing machine or just doing pushups, I made sure it happened.
Routine, when repeated, becomes habit. But it can be hard to maintain habits when your daily life isn’t always consistent. Traveling for work keeps a lot of people from establishing good fitness habits, so to head that off at the pass, I hired a CrossFit Level 3 Trainer to build me a series of training programs. I had a WOD (Workout of the Day) for each day, with variations for full gym, dumbbell-only, and bodyweight-only.
There were some days where I couldn’t even manage the simplest of those. I was once stuck for 12 hours in the airport in Paris en route to Barcelona. I ran laps and climbed stairs around the concourse. Another time, while staying at the hospital for days in a row with my son I would run up and down the 14 flights of stairs for 45 minutes.
I found a way to get that activity in every day because it made me feel better. I knew that if I truly wanted to change how I felt, it wouldn’t come through a fad or a diet, but a shift in my most ingrained habits. Committing to that movement goal on my Apple Watch also helped me focus on performance throughout my day.
While working on your computer and running meetings may not appear to be physically demanding, they do put stress on both your body and mind. The better your fitness, the easier you can tackle your day. If you want to wake up without an alarm, avoid the dreaded afternoon slump, and still have energy to spend time with your family when you get home in the evenings, movement is key.
Practicing CrossFit for 591 days might sound nuts to you. A lot of people picture CrossFit as an intense regimen that involves complicated workouts every day. That’s not the case.
In its simplest form, CrossFit is functional movement. For every one of these 591 days, I did some amount of functional movement. I learned seven main lessons from this nearly two-year fitness streak.
Lesson #1: Nutrition is Foundational
The CrossFit Theoretical Hierarchy Of Development Pyramid (pictured below) places nutrition at the base for a reason. Everything else falls apart if that’s not on point. The better you eat, the better you feel.
Diet and nutrition have the largest impact on health and fitness. If I ate poorly for even one day during this stretch, I felt it the next day. It had a domino effect on everything from my workouts to my work performance to my sleep.
Lesson #2: Everyday Life Requires Stamina
People who work in offices often feel like their jobs don’t require physical conditioning. That’s a lie. Even if you’re sitting at a desk all day, fitness still applies to you. You may be problem-solving, writing code, or creating videos, but you need your brain firing and your body energized to accomplish those tasks effectively. Your body is a machine, and it needs to be operating well to achieve peak performance.
Life requires that same energy. Whether it’s grocery shopping, hanging out with your kids, or completing home projects, you need energy to enjoy life. Making the decision to get up every day and do 15 minutes of stretching and 15 minutes of pushups and situps can have a serious effect on how you feel all day long, how you prepare for the following day, and the quality of rest you get at night.
Lesson #3: Exercise Can Be More Psychological Than Physical
My wife runs a 5k almost every day. It’s quite easy for her physically because she’s been doing it for so long. She doesn’t do it to challenge herself physically, though. It’s her way of unplugging and getting some time to herself. For a lot of people, exercise serves a deeper mental purpose in addition to physical fitness.
Unplugging yourself and simply moving can be as psychologically satisfying as meditation. And it doesn’t have to be an elaborate production: Simply step out of your door and take a walk, then keep doing it every day. You may find yourself eventually throwing in a jog once a week. Before you know it, you could be running two, three, or five kilometers. Taking that first step could be the key to clearing your head.
Lesson #4: Overtraining Is a Real Thing
During this 591-day stretch, there were a lot of seven, 14, or 21-day marathons of training sessions. Thankfully I had a great coach that was able to keep me training smartly. I learned about recovery and proper stretching. (Muscle groups need 24 to 48 hours rest after a workout to properly recover and strengthen.)
Exercising can easily become an addiction for some people, so being careful not to overtrain is important. Probably 70 to 80% of your training days, you should leave the gym thinking you could have pushed yourself a bit more. Then the other 20 to 30% is when you should go hard, and that balance is incredibly important. Training harder, more often is not always the best thing.
Lesson #5: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Sleep
Sleep plays a huge factor in health. When you’re younger, you may be able to get away with logging a little less sleep each night. And some people run better on less sleep than others. But finding what’s right for you and sticking to it is a big part of achieving good fitness.
A few times a year, I sleep with a tracker on for six to eight weeks to log my sleep patterns and evaluate what my needs are. For me, seven hours is my sweet spot these days. Any more than that, and my monkey brain goes crazy. Anything less, and I’m not operating at my peak.
If you really want to make gains in the gym, you must prioritize good sleep. Also, just because you were able to run on seven hours a night five years ago doesn’t mean that’s what’s right for you today. As you age, your sleep environment, patterns, and needs change. Measure your sleep effectiveness often.
Lesson #6: No, Really, Nutrition Impacts Everything
Yes, I know I already said it, but I can’t emphasize it enough: Once you get all these other things in place, revisit your nutrition again, and make sure you’re considering not just what you’re eating but what you might be missing.
I did some work recently with a natural food practitioner who pinpointed an issue with my diet that was causing malabsorption of some key vitamins and minerals. She helped me work out diet changes and some supplements to take to help my body chemically regulate for optimal absorption. Even if you think what you’re eating is fine, take another look. Your body may not be absorbing everything it needs.
Lesson #7: Regular Exercise Has a Positive Impact on Others
I find that good habits become infectious. Whether it’s your kids, your colleagues, or your spouse/partner, the people around you will be inspired by your commitment to fitness. My kids come to CrossFit at least once a week with me. My youngest is two, and when I’m stretching, he lays down on the floor beside me and mimics my movements.
Ultimately, fitness is something you do for yourself, for your health, your happiness, and your peace of mind. But it can help others, too. When it gives you the opportunity to help the people around you get started on the right path, in the end, it benefits you both.