6 ways to Intelligent Fitness

S and I (S here is the husband, not Sundaram-that’s my dad) have had an active lifestyle for many years now. We went to the gym, swam or played a game of badminton to keep ourselves active and fit. But sometime towards November 2014 we started feeling that we wanted to move a notch higher. We weren’t keen on signing up for a marathon like most do, because we wanted to look at fitness more holistically. Around the same time we got to know about Puru the Guru from a friend of ours. His approach of looking at fitness for the next 40 years of our lives and working out intelligently appealed to us. So the coaching began in Jan this year.

The 6 months have changed us forever. We thought we were active, but now we know we are fitter. So what did we learn in these 6 months about fitness?

  1. Count every calorie

No, it is not counting what you eat, but counting what you spend. This was the first big shift. I hate measuring things, I always believed you need to “feel good” about the workout you are doing, numbers are just a way to brag. I never wanted a weighing scale in my house, as my idea of fitness was not weight-loss. But all this changed. On the recommendation of our coach, we were measuring every step taken, every bit of weight lifted, every lap in the pool and our weight- every single day. After about 2 weeks of doing this, we had a good data set to look at in terms of our activity. We realised it was not much. We were under the belief that we were active, but the data showed it was poor, inconsistent and lacked any method.

Soon we were asked to think about gradually increasing the active calorie spend from our current X to 4X. I was overwhelmed when this suggestion was made. I did not think it would be possible. I had very limited time to exercise and I wasn’t going to spend 4 hours a day trying to achieve this goal. However it subtly worked on our minds. S and I discussed how we could achieve those numbers. Since we were measuring, we started doing a little more on each front, soon the count started creeping up, and in a few months we were consistently doing 3X and some weeks it was 4X too. Counting active calorie burn started becoming a habit. Correlating between weight and workout helped each of us understand how the exercise impacted our bodies. It helped us strategise our workouts more efficiently.

  1. Fuel through food:

Watch everything you eat. This is not about dieting, but becoming more aware of what you eat. We always believed that we had a healthy diet at home. We ate sufficient vegetables, good amount of fruits, balanced all the other food groups within a vegetarian meal. But when we started recording everything we ate in the day, some things started to emerge. I was eating at least 2-3 sweets in a day, an extra serving of rice here and there, snacking on some unhealthy stuff in the evenings etc. Our fruits intake was not consistent throughout the week. S realised he was only eating one or two types of fruits, and having 2-3 cups of coffee at work without realising.

Once we had this awareness, we had to work on eliminating some of the habits and introducing new ones. Slowly replacing a morning biscuit with nuts as an accompaniment for tea, reducing a rice serving and having buttermilk instead, satisfying my evening urge to snack with eggs etc. The bigger change was in S. He started eating more fruits and also more varieties and he stopped complaining about certain vegetables. The person who loved this change the most was my mother, she is in charge of the kitchen most of the days. Seeing her son-in-law eat papaya, steamed beetroot, pumpkin, gourd, broccoli and musk melon was something she had given up on! In a few months this became a pattern, not just for the two of us, but for everyone at home.

The correlation between food and working out was remarkable. One could immediately feel the difference in the energy levels. When we ate intelligently we felt lighter and active. Days when we fell back to our old ways either with too much sweet or too little fresh fruits or veggies, we felt dull and sluggish. So there was no incentive to eat unhealthy.

  1. Balance the variety:

Doing a variety of exercises is better than just doing one form all the time, this we knew. And we tried to maintain this by swimming, walking, playing badminton, weight training etc. However recording every activity helped us realise that there was not a healthy balance of these. S was doing weights and cardio in the gym mostly, and I was doing walking and swimming more often. So balancing the variety through the week to ensure we were paying attention to strength, flexibility and endurance, became the focus.

As we had to achieve the 4X goal, we had to do a combination of at least 2 activities on most days. We introduced cycling into the mix, and now we were able to do a far better balance of exercises. We were not doing too much or too little of any one of them in a week. And not surprisingly each one helped build the capacity in the other. So we were performing better in each of the areas than before. Today I can swim 3X the time, and walk 2X the distance than I did 6 months ago and I have started running which I wasn’t before. S can run 3X the distance and swim 3X the distance than before.

  1. Think for the week:

Have daily goals in the context of the weekly goal. In the past we had daily goals for exercises. Depending on which side of the bed one woke up, the decision would be to swim, walk, run (for S) gym or play badminton. And as long as we did some activity in a day, we were happy.

We were encouraged to think of having a goal for the week. Well, we had already been pushed to set it at 4X for the week. Once we started thinking about the whole week, we each figured out what were the activities that we need to do through the week, that would maintain the balance in the variety and also help us achieve the target. So there was a plan in our heads on what we were going to do and how we mixed something that we enjoy with something that is challenging.

I travel often on work, so having a view of the week helps me plan better. Since I know that I can do much less on travel days, I shift to slightly high intensity workouts on other days. Thinking for the week also induces a sense of long term view.

  1. Care for the aesthetics:

I don’t mean fancy outfits and space age looking shoes! This is about paying attention to how your body is aligned while doing everything. I teach Primal Posture, and I am very aware of how every bone in my body is stacked up while doing an exercise. Most people I see in the gym are focused on the muscle that they are exerting. For eg, while doing hammer curls, their attention is only on the bicep. there is no attention to the neck, the back or the way their legs are positioned. This can lead to injury, in fact it does in most people.

Paying attention to how the legs are positioned while doing seated row, maintaining equal distance between the left and right arms while doing push ups, keeping the spine elongated while doing reverse curls, hinging from the hip while seated on the cycle, running with balance on both sides etc, all these matter in how the body develops. It impacts the aesthetics for sure, but more importantly prevents injury. S and I took time to settle down in the right posture before starting an exercise, and this definitely has helped us stay injury free despite a significant increase in the quantum of workouts.

  1. Enlist your family and colleagues

Getting everyone around you excited about healthy habits, helps you and everyone else too. My mom initially got unsettled when we told her that we had to change our diet a bit at home, cutting down on rice and rotis. But when we discussed how we would compensate that with variety of fruits, other legumes and veggies, she got excited. She unleashed inventive dishes on us- multi grain dosas, interesting sundals (steamed legume preparations), upma with some traditional grains which we had stopped for many years, etc. Everyone was eating healthy. My parents actually looked forward to my salads on Sundays, our heavy duty Tambram Sunday lunch changed to Moroccan tagine and couscous with a salad on the side some times. Our son got interested in counting the active calories, so it was easier to get him to walk long distance with me, or do short runs as he was happy bragging about the distance he did.

Our colleagues became our partners too. Now S’s coffee corner (I should say buttermilk corner as that’s what he has replaced coffee with) conversations are around body fat, work out schedules and healthy eating, which is any day better than office politics. My colleague bought a cycle and we discuss our cycling achievements when we meet. There is a healthy competitiveness among all to care for self and do better than yesterday.

But above all, get a coach to guide you.   All the things above are common sense and some of them we knew. But like “ghar ki murgi, dal barabar”, when S told me to measure, I paid no attention and when I told him to eat variety of fruits he ignored. But having a coach who puts a system in place, keeps tab and nudges you from time to time, makes a difference. While it is only a few months since we started, we see many changes in us. We have a greater awareness to workout intelligently. I do not fight measuring and keeping track of all I do, as I have seen the benefit of having data to choose the right course of action.

The various practices have a become habit now. We are deeply motivated from within, and have a much better understanding of our self. We have moved from merely doing things every morning to stay fit, to living a lifestyle that is healthy and intelligent.

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