4 things I've learned about fitness over the last 4 years

The end of June will always hold a special place in my heart.

There are many reasons why. My wife's birthday, my dad's birthday and Father's Day all fall within a week and a half of each other this month.

But to add to those meaningful dates, each year, as the season turns over to summer, I take time to reflect on my fitness journey. It was late June 2012 when I decided to dedicate myself to becoming a healthier, fitter, more active person.

It's been four years since I did a self-evaluation and decided I wanted more for my life so that I could be there for my family for as long as I possibly could control. Not that I was unhealthy then, but I wasn't paying attention to my physical well-being. My world has radically changed since then.

It has been an incredible ride that shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, I like to think I'm just getting started.

As I look back on the last four years, I've come to some realizations about myself and about the progress I've made that I want to share.

Here are the four lessons I've learned so far. I can't wait for what lies in store...

Try something new

Growth doesn't happen out of stagnation or standing still. It's cliché, but the saying "If it doesn't challenge you, it doesn't change you" is absolutely true, in life and certainly in fitness.

Physically, our bodies are incredibly good at adapting to stresses and situations. So if you do the same five workouts each week, your body will adapt to those workouts, get good at performing the moves, and then settle into a state of homeostasis - you're not growing and you're not going backwards either.

Mentally, it's good to get out of a routine and change things up so that you don't get bored. Trying new things forces you to attack your fitness from a new mental approach, helping to keep your mind sharp and focused.

I change up my workout routines on average every four weeks, I incorporate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and more recently, I've gotten into participating in mud runs like Warrior Dash and Spartan Race for a really radical changeup. I love it.

What you eat matters more than what you lift

Early on in this journey, eating right was not a focus for me. I'm blessed with a high metabolism, and honestly, I've kind of always been able to eat whatever I want.

However, it wasn't until I started tracking what I actually ate and pushed myself away from processed, prepackaged food that my strength gains ramped up in a dramatic way.

Of course, this was spurred on in part by my move to a gluten-free diet in November 2014 because of Celiac disease, which forced me to consume more fresh protein, fruits and vegetables by extension. But I was trending this way regardless, and my energy level and endurance are off the charts, I sleep better, and my body has changed for the better in more noticeable ways.

Paying attention to what you're using to fuel your body is so vitally important to reaching your health and fitness goals.

You are capable of more than you give yourself credit for

Perhaps more than any other lesson, this is the one that has been the most transformative for me. Dedicating myself to a life of physical fitness has of course drastically altered my physique, but more than that, it has strengthened my mental fortitude, confidence and self-awareness.

I can face challenges in everyday life with much more determination and willpower because I've fought through hard times in the gym. I believe I am always capable of more because I've pushed through barriers in the gym. I understand where my strengths lie, where my boundaries are, and what my weaknesses are far more because I've watched them play out in the gym.

We all have far more potential stored up inside of us than we often realize, and we too often let the fear of failure paralyze our ability to act. But when we challenge our mental strength, just like pushing for a new PR on the bench press or squat, even if we fail the first time, we've still raised the bar just a little bit higher, we learned from the experience, and we become stronger because of it.

Progress is progress, no matter if it is in short snippets or mega-gains. Which leads me to my fourth lesson learned...

Trust that making progress is a process

I'm four years into this, and while I look at my body now and see the obvious progress that I've made, it was not always so obvious.

Some days, and even some weeks, I felt I was running in slow motion, or even running backwards. But thankfully, because I had set defined goals for myself, I always knew what I was aiming for, and I was OK with the process taking a bit longer than perhaps I initially thought because I understood progress isn't a linear journey from point A to point B.

It has successes and failures, wins and losses, highs and lows. The point of all of it is that the sum of the victories is greater than the setbacks, which means progress is happening.

And progress, not perfection, is what it's all about.

Michael AshfordComment