A common thread of conversation that a PT has with their client often goes something like this:

Client: “I’m not sleeping well/losing weight/recovering from training/having enough energy at work/able to fall pregnant/sex drive/have sore joints/can’t go to the toilet/get motivated for training etc., etc., etc.”

Whilst the client would more often than not, prefer a really complicated and ‘left of field’ solution to their problems, the truth of the matter is, that it’s all about the basics. Achieving optimal health is about giving your body what it needs to maintain or return to a state of homeostasis (a neutral state of equilibrium that it prefers to be in).

The PT/Coach can give the client (hopefully) the movement they need to build strength, work capacity and the physiological stimulus for changing their body. But without covering the what’s needed to build a solid foundation for health, a lot of that quality training will not only go to waste, but potentially become an additional stressor in an already stressed out system.

The body will try hard to find homeostasis and with a little bit of help from you, it’s pretty good at getting there. A method that Alana and I were introduced to many years ago was the ‘Foundational Principals of Health’. Simply put, this is a checklist of sorts that will help you to systematically cover and address all the most important facets of your lifestyle, leading to better health and supporting hard training.

To better grasp this, we first need to understand how the body modulates stress. Stress comes in many different forms (Physical, Chemical, Electromagnetic, Psychic/Mental, Nutritional and Thermal), which are all processed via the same pathway. Take a look at the pictograph below for a better idea of how this manifests (from the fantastic book ‘How to eat, move and be healthy’ by Paul Chek).

Learning, understanding and employing the foundation principals will help to facilitate better health for you on a number of levels. Continue reading for an in depth explanation of how this works.

The Six Foundation Principals of Health

Thoughts – Every great achievement has a common ancestor…it started with a thought. Just as positive thoughts can lead to great achievement, negative thoughts can lead to a life less lived. Fear of failure, pessimism, limiting beliefs and other maladaptive schemas will precede failure and lack of achievement/fulfillment.

This type of thinking will kill you slowly.

Humans are creatures of habit and it’s important to carefully cultivate the right habits/thoughts. Meditation and Yoga are fantastic ways to do this. Cultivate mindfulness. Let negative thoughts come and go. Hope for the best and expect the best. One of the primary things that separate humans from the animal kingdom is that we are goal pursuing organisms. Think about whatever it is that you want to achieve. Write it down. Commit to action each and every day to achieve that goal. Doing this will have a dramatic effect on reducing stress and giving you a sense of empowerment. Just know though, that you also need down time. Time for fun, time for family, time when your goals are put to bed for the night. The purpose of life is a life of purpose.

A great book that I’d recommend for anybody that wants to be productive and focused (on the right things) is ‘The One Thing’ by Jay Papasan and Gary Keller.

Breathing – The act of breathing is involuntary. Optimal breathing however, requires conscious decision. On average we breathe 26,400 timers per day, the quality of this breath will affect a number of other physiological outcomes. For example, short shallow breathes (synonymous with seated, slouched posture of desk work or an anxious mindset) will lead to less oxygen intake. This will mean that the musculoskeletal system and the brain are not getting the oxygenation that they require, and you’ll most likely suffer the effects of fatigue. It can also affect things like detox pathways and movement mechanics.

If you can’t breathe, you die.

The body will prioritize breathing over movement or any other function, so the adaptations we make will often affect other functions. Short shallow breathing and breathing through our mouths activates our sympathetic nervous system, sending a message of fight or flee to our bodies. Being mindful of taking deep breaths into the belly is a vitally important awareness to adopt. Slowing the breath down, focusing on filling your nostrils with long, slow conscious breathes, expanding your belly fully and deeply, will let your nervous system know the threat is over and shift you into a state of calm, or parasympathetic mode. Once again, Yoga and Meditation are great ways to work on this. So too is high intensity exercise that requires rapid and complete oxygen intake (although it does not affect breathing mechanics away from exercise).

Hydration – Water plays an important role in hydration and cleansing. It is also required for over 10 million other biochemical actions PER SECOND. Failure to hydrate effectively will compromise each and every one of those actions. Buying a quality water filter that removes fluoride, heavy metals, microorganisms and other contaniments is the first step to take towards good hydration.

Adding a pinch of sea salt to your water is the next. The electrolytes in the salt will help you to retain hydration and make the most of the water you consume. Drinking straight tap water will dilute electrolyte balance and lead to more and more thirst. Coconut water is also a great option with the electrolytes that it offers. Sports drinks should be avoided unless you are involved in endurance sports of significant duration.

Nutrition – Whilst this is a whole other blog post in it’s self, the basics are always worth going over. Plenty of high quality protein and good fats. A bounty of dark leafy green vegetables. A mix of starchy and fiber based carbs with the right caloric intake for your level of activity and body composition goals. Minimally processed foods, free of additives you need a science degree to pronounce.

Foods that are dense in micronutrients and antioxidants have also been shown to positively influence life expectancy. Too many or too little calories can be a form of stress. Whilst there are many different ways to structure your eating, it’s worth remembering that nothing works for everyone and nothing works for ever. Find out what’s right for you by consulting with somebody that has a good grasp on holistic nutrition. We use the InutritionPro software system to better individualize nutrition to your specific requirements.

Movement – The type of training you do will be determined by your goals. The body is made for daily movement though. 100 years ago, we averaged 17,000 – 22,000 steps per day. Today that number is roughly 4,000. Our Team Training program gives the perfect mix of strength, aerobic and high intensity training. It has a balanced mix of movement patterns, ensuring that all muscle groups are worked over the course of the week.

We also see flexibility and mobility as an important part of this, allocating one day per week exclusively to developing this quality.

Rhythm – Rhythm refers to our biological rhythms and our sleep/wake cycles, otherwise known as circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm is affected by the Sun and the Moon cycles. Our hormonal cycles are also a part of this rhythm. Sleeping for 7-9 hours each night is critical in supporting and eliciting change in body composition. If you’re training hard but not seeing the results that you’re after, I’d be looking at nutrition and rhythm as the most likely culprits to fix. Many things can have a negative effect on quality and duration of sleep. Blue light (from tablets/phones/TVs), stimulants, stress, blood sugar fluctuations and deficiencies in certain micronutrients just to name a few.

Prioritising sleep over all else can have the most powerful influence on changing your body, through improving energy levels and extending life expectancy. Be sure to have a good evening routine, dim the lights, reduce stimulatory triggers (screens, loud noises etc.), be in bed reading well before your eight-hour window begins. Make sure your room is as dark as dark can be.

Summary

Health and fitness is far more than just working out hard. Somedays we need to work hard, other days we need to go a little easier or perhaps just stretch. Quality of movement is critical to good training and longevity of training. The practice doesn’t end when you leave the gym though. We need to have a life that supports the work that’s going to get us where we want to be. I hope that this has been helpful, feel free to post questions.

Prioritising sleep over all else can have the most powerful influence on changing your body, through improving energy levels and extending life expectancy. Be sure to have a good evening routine, dim the lights, reduce stimulatory triggers (screens, loud noises etc.), be in bed reading well before your eight-hour window begins. Make sure your room is as dark as dark can be.

Dan Lowry

About the Author

Daniel Lowry

Daniel is a Strength & Conditioning expert and the Co-Founder of the gym concept GTT. He has been in the industry for 13 years, training a broad range of people from Army Special Forces to general populations. He has also worked with professional athletes, specifically in mixed Martial Arts. Daniel has worked with and learnt from the best of the best in the industry, names like Mark Buckley, Charles Poliquin, Dan Baker Phd, Gavin Heward and many more. Daniel considers himself a product of the great mentors he has learnt from.

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