We talk a lot about what to do in the gym. How many sets? Reps? What weight should I use? What are the best exercises for building a huge deadlift? But training is, like, one hour of the day, so what are you doing during the other 23?
While those hours may not seem all that important, you better have them dialed in because I can guarantee it's affecting your training.
Thus, let me quickly layout for you The 23 Hour Plan: your guide to making the most of your time outside the gym.
Sleep is the ultimate form of rest. Shut your body off → tweak your brain activity → dream about Anna Kendrick → hopefully wake up refreshed.
There are a lot of things that go into waking up feeling refreshed, so here are some tips.
Sleep quantity: sleep 7-9 hours a night
Experiment to find what works for you. If you listen to the other points I’m about to make, you probably won’t need quite as many hours.
Circadian rhythm is the ~24-hour wake cycle that our bodies have internalized over years of evolution on earth (though it’s not quite 24-hour cycles). Your hormones fluctuate over different hours of the day, and this helps optimize your performance on whatever you’re doing. For example, your stress hormone levels start peaking about an hour before you wake up and are usually highest around this time. This helps you wake up, but can only be used if your body knows when your wake time is.
If you have trouble finding the energy to get out of bed in the morning, I would heavily consider implementing this tip.
Electronics interfere with those sensors in your body that tell you when the day is over. This is one of the reasons that it’s so easy to stay up all night playing a good video game.
It’s best to turn off the electronics all together and keep them out of your bedroom so you’re not tempted. Other solutions include buying glasses that block blue light and installing f.lux so that your computer screen color adapts to the time of day. There are also various programs you can install on your phone to do the same thing to your mobile screen.
If you don’t feel tired at night, maybe you just need to wear yourself out during the day. Some polls that are potentially related to this come from the National Sleep Foundation that say 67% of vigorous exercisers can usually fall asleep within 15 minutes on workdays, compared to only 42% of non-exercisers. Sure, this doesn’t mean that exercise leads to better sleep, but they tend to go hand-in-hand.
Anecdotally, I’ve also found that mental tasks do this for me. If I spend 10 hours reading and writing, I’m exhausted by the end of the day. My writing turns to mush and my eyes can no longer follow words on a page. In these cases, it’s so easy to get into bed.
For more on sleep, check out sleep.org.
You can’t always have that GO GO GO mentality and expect your performance to stay high. Taking mental breaks throughout the day to block out the noise and clear your thoughts helps you stay focused on your most important tasks. How do you give your brain a rest?
The idea of being “in the moment” is useful here, and there are plenty of ways to do it. The most deliberate method is mindfulness meditation (if you want a quick guided tour of this activity, go here or download Calm on your phone).
Eat in Silence
It’s important to note that you don’t have to simply be sitting cross-legged with your knees above your hips and listening to sounds of the ocean to be mindful. If you’re working alone, you can eat in silence. Taste your food. Feel its texture. This short break might be all you need.
If you’re working with others, you can eat with them and have a conversation. This can be especially helpful if you need a jolt of creativity and also offers up another benefit of having social human interactions (more on this later).
Go For a Walk
One of my favorite methods is to go for a short walk because I get a mental break from whatever I’m working on, I get up and move around, and I can give my eyes a rest from computer screens and close up book pages. Even ten minutes outside is surprisingly refreshing.
Just like your brain can’t be turned on all day, neither can your body.
For one, constant high-intensity exercise can be bad for you just like inactivity. More isn’t always better. Complement your high-intensity work with low-intensity work to help jump start your recovery.
The perfect posture
I have a lot of people ask me what is the perfect standing or sitting posture. The problem is that there is no perfect posture. Posture should be thought of as more of a dial than a switch. As Dr. Stuart McGill, a leading spine researcher at the University of Waterloo, has said, “The best posture is the one that is constantly changing.”
Long-duration sitting is poison. Sitting all day uses the same muscles to hold you up ALL DAY. When you walk, however, they get a break every other step you take. Plus you start to move things around in the body, pumping fluids out of places they might get stuck. The point I’m trying to make here is that movement is medicine.
If you need a better posture when sitting, try this:
- Get a chair that allows your heels to be on the floor with your butt all the way back in the arm rest. If necessary, get blocks or books to put under your feet. This will take tension out of your low back.
- For a better sitting posture, sit up tall, then slouch a little. You should feel your sit bones under each butt cheek and your mid-to-low back in the back rest.
- Your arms should be supported by armrests without having to reach down to feel them. This is especially important if you feel a lot of tension in your neck when you sit.
- Whatever you’re working on should be near eye level. If typing, the keyboard and mouse should be around the level of the armrests or slightly above.
- Do not allow your head to move to focus your eyes. Instead, move the screen or your chair.
Give your eyes a break
The eyes are good at accommodating to whatever requires your attention. If that thing is close, like a computer screen, they converge onto the screen so you can focus and block out your peripheral vision. If you need to read the area around you, like when you’re on the field, your eyes diverge and take in the whole scene. Just like how walking gives one side of your body a rest while it’s in the air, you want to alternate your visual patterns from time to time. Have I convinced you to go for a walk outside yet?
We, as humans, are right-sided. We appear symmetrical from the outside with two arms, two legs, two chests, etc., but if you look closer, we’re actually very asymmetrical. Due to this asymmetry, some people might find it harder to “find and feel” their left side, whether that be their left foot, left leg, left arm, left visual field, whatever.
The fix here could be very complex, which is why I recommend everyone get a knowledgeable coach, but you can incorporate some postural tweaks for a few minutes throughout the day to remind yourself that you have a left side.
- Stand with your left leg back a little behind your right and right hip in front of your left
- Let your left shoulder fall down toward your left hip
- Look forward and notice something in your left peripheral vision
These aren’t magic tricks, but they can help you feel a little better throughout the day.
Additionally, you can do some exercises once a day. There are endless variations that I might choose from and I cannot determine which is the right one for you without working with you, but here’s a relatively simple one that most people benefit from:
What you eat fuels your body, so eat well. I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of that at this point in your health adventures.
Avoid things that cause stomach issues
Farts aren’t just things that are funny, they are indicative of what’s going on in your gut. I don’t know about you, but when I have terrible gas, I do NOT feel well. Pay attention to how your body responds to the things you eat and avoid things that make you feel crappy (that pun was unintended, but man that’s funny).
In the 20th century, there was a now famous researcher named Harry Harlow who studied social isolation in monkeys. These monkeys lived in complete social isolation for extended periods of time and ended up being messed up. Consider this quote from one of his published studies:
“No monkey has died during isolation. When initially removed from total social isolation, however, they usually go into a state of emotional shock, characterized by the autistic self-clutching and rocking illustrated in Figure 4. One of six monkeys isolated for 3 months refused to eat after release and died 5 days later. The autopsy report attributed death to emotional anorexia. A second animal in the same group also refused to eat and would probably have died had we not been prepared to resort to forced feeding.” (Harlow et al, 1965)
His research prompted great advances in both science and animal rights activity.
I tell you this to illustrate the issues with social isolation. I encourage you to be around people. Not just any people, but people who allow you to be yourself.
Go out for a meal (or have a dinner party)
Just as you can use your meals as a mental time out, you can also use them as an avenue for good conversation. Invite some people over and make food, or you can all go out to get some.
Watch a movie
If movies are your thing, maybe you watch something together and discuss it afterwards. You can also discuss after the fact if you’re the type of person who yells at the screen and doesn’t want your friends to see that.
I don’t think I’ll have trouble convincing anyone that this can be effective for making you feel better. Avoid anything that’s emotionally abusing for you or your partner. Same goes for physical abuse (unless it’s consensual, but then I believe it’s considered a fetish and not an abuse).
Ultimately, do whatever you want! You know what makes you happy better than I do.
Invest in Yourself
If your stuff gets stolen from your car, it’s gone forever. It’s relatively easy for this to happen. It is much harder for someone to steal a part of you.
Read books. This is the easiest way to find a new mentor to influence your life.
Watch things that aren’t mindless
YouTube has cool stuff all over it. And if you don’t know what a TED talk is, you should start here. Endless topics have been discussed, so search for something that interests you.
The overarching theme here is learning. Assimilate experiences and knowledge like it’s your job to keep your body and mind healthy.
The 23-Hour Plan
Alright, write this list down somewhere important. Do you remember what we talked about?
- Take physical and mental breaks
- Eat well
- Interact with other humans
- Invest in yourself
What kinds of things do you do to maximize your 23 hours? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!
about the author
Lance Goyke, CSCS, is a Nerd Extraordinaire and secret admirer of lesbians everywhere whose expertise focuses on the human body. His clientele ranges from other trainers to kids to house moms to fighters to baseballers to anyone who needs to be taught how to exercise. Go invade his home base at www.LanceGoyke.com.