Clear the Mechanism

This week we're going to talk about the principle needed to get the best return for time spent on fitness. "Working out", whatever that means to you, is by its very nature a difficult thing to do. If you're doing it right you are taxing your body at its threshold, which can be grueling for both the body and mind. Unless you're a full-on masochist this in turn necessitates that you spend your time wisely.


You do not want to elongate time spent under stress unnecessarily. You want the most efficient dose, the mixture of time and intensity that produces the most effective result. You’ve also got plenty of other things you’d like to do with your time, yes? I consider health and fitness a foundational objective of all humans. Only those whose professional livelihood comes from the health and fitness industry should spend an inordinate amount of time working out, BUT it’s essential that every single person spends what’s required to maintain their own health, and to achieve the fitness level they desire.

Let’s be clear and define health and fitness. They are not the same. I quite like Doug McGuff’s definitions:

Health is a physiological state in which there is an absence of disease or pathology and that maintains the necessary biologic balance between the catabolic and anabolic states. 

Fitness is the bodily state of being physiologically capable of handling challenges that exist above a resting threshold of activity. 

So, heath is a goal shared by all individuals, but the degree and vector of fitness proficiency desired is specific to each individual. Define your goals accordingly.


For the sake of brevity we’re not going to unpack everything to do with these topics. For now, suffice it to say that once you define your goals for each you need to educate yourself on the best strategy and tactics for getting there. This will entail wading through a lot of conflicting views, cultural norms, edge-of-our-understanding science etc, but one key principle is to learn from those that have already achieved what you hope to achieve. Their prescribed path to success is often more trustworthy and sound, IF it’s someone like you, not a genetic exception to the rule.

When you’re self-educated, self-aware of your present state, and clear on your personal goals, you can explicitly define strategy and tactics for getting there. Remember, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. If you’re doing it right you’ll put any near-term ideas in the context of longevity and realize that you’ll be re-writing exercise and nutrition prescriptions for yourself routinely from here on out. Be honest about where you are and give yourself some achievable actions to follow. Bias to mastering the fundamentals. Avoid the siren song of the novel and the complex.

Once you’ve got a plan, it’s time to execute. Cultivate discipline. When you go to execute the plan on a given day take your mind out of it. You’ve done the thinking in a clearer state, in a more thorough way already, no need to belabor the point. Just do it. Clear the mechanism of your mind and get after it. Ultimate focus. Develop a routine that cues your mind to quiet and your body to engage. It’s go time.

In addition to cultivating and growing your discipline “muscle” you should use music as emotional fuel to change your state and keep your energy level up (and your mind occupied). Make a playlist that speaks to you. That fuels you. It’s OK to sample one from off the shelf of Apple Music, Spotify etc, but work towards a curated playlist that really engages you and fills you up emotionally with energy to conquer your routine.


Do you need someone looking over your shoulder? There is a lot of value in (the few good) personal trainers, especially if you’re still in the beginning parts of the mastery curve. However, the tradeoffs need to be considered and most will choose not to partake. Although I still believe you should be checking in with someone who can hold you accountable, stretch your goals, check your form etc… using music to power through workouts, recording your progress each and every time, AND using timed rests as a drill sergeant will get you 80% of the way there. 

Since we’re seeking to quiet the mind and engage our physiology its important to keep the mental clutter to a minimum. I hold (1) key principle per exercise in mind to keep my form on point, and otherwise just execute. 

If you’re doing it right you are struggling in every exercise. You are pushing for more when your mind starts chiming in with notions of quitting. The exercise BEGINS when you want to stop. THAT is when you stretch your current capability to new levels; that is the growth. Everything building up to that point is preparation. Always push harder and further - otherwise you are wasting your time. Time is precious. Don’t waste your time.

Be self-educated about health and fitness.
Define personal goals for each.
Set strategy and tactics ahead of time.
Take your mind out of it - clear the mechanism.
Use music as emotional fuel.
Use timed rests as a drill sergeant.
Hold (1) key principle for form.
Keep pushing for progress.
Anything less and it’s just another distraction.

Do you notice all the people at the gym quite literally “phoning in” their workouts? Sitting in between sets for minutes on end, distracted by some nonsense on their phone. Quitting before the work really starts. What do you want to improve about your health and fitness? What’s helped you make improvements in the past? Let me know by shooting me a quick email or tweeting at me. I look forward to continuing the conversation.

Talk soon. Until then: Act. Think. Repeat.


Quote of the Week

Training gives us an outlet for suppressed energies created by stress and thus tones the spirit just as exercise conditions the body.
— Arnold Schwarzenegger

Pay it Forward

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