Are you a CEO, executive or professional?
Has your health and fitness hit a plateau or losing ground?
Do you exercise frequently and intensely, but experience any of the following:
- Cravings for caffeine, cigarettes and/or sugar
- Fatigue and exhaustion during the workday
- Frequent colds and sick days
- Reduced strength and stamina
- Depressed mood and motivation
- Joint or muscle pain
- Insomnia or inability to fall back asleep
- Loss of sex drive
- Water retention
- Weight gain
If so, I know how frustrating this can be. The harder and longer you workout, the worse you think, feel, and look! What gives?
The stress of exercise is what gives… the challenges above, but they can be reversed by correcting a simple flaw in your fitness routine.
I’d like to present an example of where so many fitness flaws come from by sharing a July 2016 Bloomberg article that recently struck out with me.
Although the article and author’s goal may have had a positive intention, I was less than impressed with the outdated, uneducated and inappropriate message it sent on fitness to the readers – fellow CEOs and professionals.
Here was the play-by-play:
Strike 1 – the article was titled, ‘The Intense Fitness Routines of High-Powered CEOs’.
Strike 2 – I did not even read the first sentence when the article already lost my support with it’s headline, ‘No Pain, No Gain’.
Strike 3 – After scrolling past pictures of this shirtless CEO doing a 7am High-Intensity Interval Training workout with his much younger staff it read, ‘and then there’s his next workout a 3pm boxing class’.
To me, a former 12 year personal training veteran and Master Instructor for the American Council on Exercise, exercise is a critical life skill. Exercise is both a science and an art that needs to not only be learned, but practiced and tailored for each individual.
The major problem with the article highlighted above is that fitness has to be intense, painful, and you need to do a lot for it and you to be successful.
The vast majority of professionals and CEOs worldwide are dehydrated, malnourished, over-caffeinated, over-worked, stressed, sleep-deprived, and have distorted postures, dysfunctional core muscles, and either a preexisting injury or health condition. Intense workouts leave them drained, sore, and often injured…not a great recipe for building a long-lasting habit.
The not-so-common knowledge here is that exercise is a stress. We are officially in a fight-or-flight state when exercise causes the rates of our heart beat, breath, and sweat to increase and our tongue dries out. Exercise alone or when combined with all work-life stressors can be destructive to the body and mind when applied inappropriately (i.e. doing a 7am AND 3pm intense workout). This destruction may happen fast through an acute injury in a boot camp class or it can be more slow to develop as in the case of an exercise addiction, degenerative joints, progressive weight gain, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, and the other 10 challenges I listed above.
Here are six of the most common flaws I see in fitness routines after years of education and experience working with CEOs, business owners, entrepreneurs and high-performing professionals:
1. No Days Off
Type A+ personalities have a very hard time resting. Many CEOs workout (and work) 7 days a week and use #nodaysoff as a badge of honor. But muscles grow at rest. This leaves the executive in a chronic catabolic (breaking-down) state. Not only may this be both a sign of an inability to manage stress and addiction, but it will ultimately lead to exhaustion, a dependence on stimulants, sleep disruptions, depression, and a breaking-down of their body along with their mind.
2. Too Much Cardio
There is way too much long-endurance cardio training being done by today’s Chief Executives. As I mentioned in my article 5 Ways to Master Managing Workday Energy, marathon running releases stress hormones called glucocorticoids that break-down the body – even the muscles! This additional increase of chronic stress can push an already unbalanced CEO way beyond their physical, mental, and emotional limits.
3. Late Night Workouts
As stated above, when we exercise it releases stress hormones and working out at night will elevate your cortisol levels. Cortisol keeps you up and alert by suppressing the sleep hormone melatonin as well as increases blood sugar. Exercising at too high of an intensity in the evening, when your cortisol levels should be lowest, may disrupt your ability to gain the quality and quantity of rest and recovery you need during sleep.
4. No Pain, No Gain
This philosophy is just plain wrong. It’s very common for high-performing professionals to push themselves to the very brink during every single workout. Often they feel unsuccessful and disappointed if they can walk the next day and not debilitated with soreness. They will also grind themselves through intense fitness routines while experiencing fatigue and pain.
In exercise physiology, there is a Principle of Overload. This principle states that to gain muscle, strength, and higher fitness a gradual increase of stress needs to be placed upon the body through exercise. Key word: ‘gradual’. Not ‘painful’. Yes, discomfort can exist in the process of overloading the body to respond, but pain is never necessary or a good option.
5. Working Out > Working In
The CEO fitness routines most glamorized and glorified by the media primarily focus on greater Working Out than Working In. Working OUT equals energy OUT. This is the term for traditional exercise and fitness activities (running, spin, weight lifting, hot yoga, boot camp classes, etc.) that have a catabolic effect on our body. Catabolism is the process of breaking-down through: burning stored and available food energy (carbohydrates, fat, protein) and damaging muscle cells. Working Out costs energy to do and perform. Too much Working Out is identical to spending more money than you are saving – ultimately you will drain your body’s bank account of vital energy and resources!
Working IN equals Energy IN. Working In involves a combination of exercise and fitness activities that bring energy into the body, causing an anabolic effect. Anabolism is the process of building-up through: replenishing energy reserves in the body and rebuilding the body through protein synthesis and releasing growth and repair hormones. Working In would be similar to saving money. Working In activities do not activate the stress response and prevent elevating rates of heart beat, breath, or sweat and the tongue stays wet.
Examples of Working-In exercises are:
- Tai Chi/Chi Gong
- Gentle, Restorative and Yin yoga
- Yoga Nidra
- Slow and easy walking, biking, elliptical
- Seated or Standing meditation
The higher a CEO’s stress level the less Working Out they truly need compared to Working In due to the increased stress that exercise puts on the body.
6. 1% Rule
A great rule of thumb to make sure you train not drain is to take the day off or Work In if you can not improve your workout performance by at least 1% from your previous workout. If you honestly can not progress 1% that means you’re too tired and don’t have enough energy to spend. Take the day to rest, hydrate, eat, sleep and perform any activities that bring energy into your body. You’ll be even stronger the next day!
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares executives and organizations for the most productive and healthy work-life. Lance has led online/on-site training programs for thousands of professionals through his company’s four pillars of wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.