As in life, experiencing adversity can strongly influence your goals when it comes to training and nutrition. In your mind, you can easily create a nice, shiny bridge spanning from where you currently stand to your long-term end goal. In reality, you encounter new speed bumps on that bridge on a daily basis, and sometimes you come to find that a big chunk of your bridge has completely fallen apart.
Budget, injuries, time restrictions… any number of things can stand in your way. You can either allow these restraints to become excuses to give up, or you can adapt to them and create hierarchies that allow you to keep progressing.
A hierarchy is essentially a short list of priorities, ordered from most important to least important. Keeping three overarching principles in mind is a pretty simple thing to do if you ask me, and it helps contextualize your efforts when it comes to fitness.
Hierarchies are adaptable based on what restrictions you’re currently living with. But while keeping these priorities in the forefront of your mind is a great start, you can’t just expect to chase all three things at the same speed, at all times.
The real magic of a hierarchy comes in the realization that anything lower on the list can’t jeopardize the top priority.
Some of you might be sitting there like, “duh, priorities…” But often times those are harder to come to terms with than we’d like to admit.
I can easily use my current situation as an example. I’ve dealt with spinal issues for about a third of my life now. Degenerative spine/disc disease runs in my family, which did me no favors when I found out how much I loved resistance training.
Any young meathead can relate: lifting heavy things is fun. It’s also great for your ego. But when your body can’t support that effort, you have to either give up an activity that has become a passion, or you can find a way to continue doing it intelligently.
I recently elected to have surgery to help with my disc issues, but I have no plans on stopping weight training. In high school and college, my top priority was lifting heavy with maximum effort. Now, my hierarchy has shifted, and my top priority is to stay healthy enough to lift for the rest of my life. And I won’t allow any other priority related to exercise interfere with that goal.
At the moment, my training hierarchy looks like this:
2)Gain back muscle mass I lost during recovery
3)Increase my metabolism
Goal #1 will keep goals #2 and #3 in context. A common theory in training right now is that getting stronger first will lead to greater gains in muscle mass due to your muscles having a higher working capacity down the road. But if a heavy deadlifting routine will send me back to the hospital, it’s not going to matter how much muscle I put on in the meantime, is it?
Doing interval training six times a week might torch fat off my body and send my metabolism through the roof, but I think I’ll pass on the treadmill sprints and burpees. It doesn’t mean I can’t do interval training, I just have to use methods that agree with my body at a frequency that will leave me with gains and not pains (ßdefinitely need to trademark that phrase).
Creating a hierarchy has a trickledown affect on your lower priorities and forces you to approach them creatively. Since your hierarchy is highly individualized, it allows you to continually work towards a routine that optimized for your body, on your schedule, based around your restrictions.
This theory goes hand in hand with my beliefs about self-quantification, which will likely be my next blog topic. The more you know about your own limits, the better you can tailor your lifestyle.
Hierarchies can apply to most anything, including nutrition. For anyone who cares or needs a template, here’s what my nutrition hierarchy looks like at the moment:
1)Target your carb intake to work for you, not against you
2)Maximize the quality of your food (a VERY close 2nd)
3)Calories in vs. calories out (a.k.a Quantity. Still a consideration, no matter what anyone tells you)
Again, never let a lower priority undermine a higher one. It doesn’t really matter to me that your chicken nuggets have less calories than my grass-fed beef, I won’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Context is everything.
As with any type of routine, take a step back and take stock in your hierarchy every few weeks. What have the returns been so far? What’s working? What’s not? Remember to adapt your priorities based on your current parameters, and don’t ever feel guilty if your template doesn’t reflect your ideal scenario. You can only do what you can, with what you can.
None of this would matter if you didn’t have a passion for something you construct a hierarchy for. Why put in the focus and effort if you could care less about something? But if you care enough about something to make distinct long-term goals; if you resonate with something on another level the way I do with training and nutrition, then it’s more than worth your while to keep those pursuits in your life to the best extent you can.
I encourage everyone who thinks of their training and nutrition in this manner to enjoy the process. Enjoy taking “the road less taken.” Love the fact that your lifestyle has become a customized pursuit of an optimal you instead of trying to force yourself into some sort of mass-produced, misguided blueprint.
You can achieve anything you want to, just realize your journey will look different than everyone else’s.