The Four Pillar Approach to Fitness
By: Coach J
Trying to build your fitness? If so, consider thinking of building it like you would a structure being supported by four pillars. This framework, or way of thinking, defines the four pillars as:
- Nutrition & Hydration
- Stress Management
- Training / Movement
The premise of the four pillar approach is that in order to build a solid, stable structure of fitness, one must build not one or two or three but ALL FOUR pillars. Otherwise, the structure will be less stable and more apt to collapse. Lets define each pillar and then discuss how they work together when building your fitness and overall quality of life.
Nutrition & Hydration
The foods you eat on a daily basis should provide you with adequate energy, proper digestion, and support a healthy body composition and blood work. From our experience most people thrive on all levels when eating a diet filled with real foods; meats, veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, some starch, and limited dairy, grains, and sugars. It is important to note that everyone is different in how they tolerate foods. For example, some have an intolerance to eggs and should probably stay away from eating them, while others thrive off eating eggs on a daily basis. This is just one example, but the idea is to eat foods full of nutrients and pay attention to how they make you feel. One thing for sure is that no one thrives off a diet based solely on highly processed foods full of chemicals, GMO’s, and sugars. Hydration is also a key component here that aids in digestion, energy, and mental clarity. Most do well consuming half their body weight in ounces of water, but again, everyone is different. The key to nutrition and hydration is to be aware of what you’re consuming and pay attention to how it effects your energy, digestion, body comp and blood work. If you notice you’re consistently sluggish, groggy, have infrequent/messy bathroom trips, bloated, high body fat and/or poor blood work (cholesterol, blood pressure, high/low cortisol, etc) your diet is off point and needs to change.
We all encounter stress from a long list of areas; work, family, self-image, exercise, relationships, culture, etc. Stress is a normal part of life and it is inevitable, not to mention necessary- the key is how we manage our stress. Management of stress means to not only limit the stressors you face (i.e. avoid things that cause high levels of stress) but also what you do with the stressors you must face (i.e. how you view them and let them effect you). Ask yourself these questions: Do you focus on the things you can control or things you can’t control? Do you focus on what you have or what you don’t have? Do you focus on the past, present or future? We find that those who manage stress well, focus on what they can control, are grateful for what they have, and have a good balance of the present and future. Other ways to lower/manage stress include; exercise, yoga, meditation, prayer, breathing exercises, gratitude sessions, massage, etc. The best approach I’ve found to living a low-stress life is to be GRATEFUL AS FU*K for all that I have and to spend as little time as possible thinking about the stuff I cannot control.
Training / Movement
When embarking on a training program we should participate in the things that get us closer to our goal. If you’re looking to simply look and feel better so you can enjoy your life you shouldn’t train like a professional athlete, and vise versa. After a workout at the gym we’ll often hear people say, ‘that was a good workout.’ The problem is, most people relate a ‘good’ workout with one that is challenging and leaves them exhausted, not necessarily one that moves them closer to their goals – what I mean here is that just because a workout was tough, doesn’t mean it was productive. We also have to realize that everyone’s body is different and we all have unique abilities and limitations. Your training program should reflect these things. We can’t forget that exercise is a form of stress, and if you’re body is over stressed from the other areas of life, you have to be smart with what activities you participate in. If you’re body physically cannot recover from your activity your progress will eventually plateau or even worse you’ll have negative consequences (i.e. sickness, suppressed immune system, fat gain, etc). Lastly, we need to recognize that performance does not equal health. Those shredded, professional athletes you see on TV who perform at the highest levels are not the epitome of health – in fact they are far from it.
Most people think they make their ‘gainz’ while they’re at the gym, but really the ‘gainz’ happen when we sleep. The training process is in essence a time of breakdown and destruction – you are actually breaking down your muscles when you train and the only way to rebuild them and see benefit is by getting proper nutrition and sleep. Sleep has two components; quality and quantity, and both are important. Quality refers to how easily you fall asleep, how limited your sleep interruptions are, and how you feel when you wake. Quantity is simply the number of hours spent sleeping. It is not ‘normal’ to lay in bed for 30+mins tossing and turning to fall asleep, nor is it ‘normal’ to wake up multiple times per night. We should be able to turn off the lights, close our eyes, fall asleep and wake up 6-8 hours later feeling refreshed and ready to attack the day. I say 6-8 hours because that is what my experience tells me is adequate for most people – but like the other three pillars, everyone’s sleep needs are unique.
The interesting thing about the four pillars is that not only are they ALL needed to build a solid structure of fitness, but they all effect one another. Just like a building supported by four pillars, if one is taken away, the other three must support the extra load. In our fitness example, if your nutrition is way off, your training, sleep, and stress will all suffer. With that said, lets breakdown how each pillar can effect the others.
Nutrition is off, now what? When your nutrition is sub-optimal here are the ways it effects the other pillars:
Training / Movement
- Low energy for training
- Joint inflammation which can limit range of motion and/or cause pain
- Slow recovery and/or prolonged soreness
- Sluggishness or unsettling gut feeling / bloating
- Inability to recover from mental and/or physical stressors
- Low energy which can create short temperedness
- Poor body image which creates more stress
- Inability to ‘shut it off’ and fall asleep
- Bathroom trips which interrupt sleep patterns
Training / Movement is off, now what? When your training is not aligned with your goals or ability to recover here are the ways it effects the other pillars:
- If you’re not moving at all you burn less calories which makes it easier to over consume and gain weight
- Over-training can suppress your appetite
- Not training/moving limits your ability to look/feel the way you desire which adds mental stress
- Exercise is linked to higher mental clarity – so little or not exercise can inhibit your mental clarity and increase stress
- Training past your recovery point can over-load your stress – this can come from simply too much volume or too high intensity
- Lack of motivation
- Prolonged soreness
- No or little moving can create restless sleep
- Too much training or too high intensity might create the need for more sleep than is possible for one to get
- Over training/training at too high intensity can create hormonal imbalances that limit quality sleep
Stress Management is off, now what? When you’re over-stressed here is how it affects the other pillars:
- Can cause overeating (emotional eating)
- Can cause the need for unhealthy vices (alcohol, drugs, sugary foods, etc)
- Causes insomnia due to over stimulating the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight)
Training / Movement
- Being overstressed can cause muscle tension (especially in the upper back, shoulder and neck) which can limit range of motion, cause headaches, and increase risk of injury during training
- Training hard while overstressed is a vicious cycle that can cause a long list of health issues if continued for a prolonged period of time (high blood pressure, nervous system breakdown, sickness, prolonged soreness, heart disease, etc)
Sleep is off, now what? When you’re not sleeping enough here is how it can affect the other pillars:
- Causes increase in hunger which leads to overeating
- Causes desire for high fat / sugar foods
Training / Movement
- Reduces motivation to train
- Limits the body’s ability to recover from training (especially when the training is of too much volume or intensity)
- Increases grogginess / reduces mental clarity which can lead to frustration, lack of creativity and increased stress
- Increases anxiety and depression like symptoms
- Decreased sex drive (this alone should make you want to sleep more 🙂
The goal of this blog post is to paint a clearer picture of what goes into achieving your goals and living an optimal life. So what is a ‘good’ workout or a ‘good’ training program? It’s one that is aligned with the other three pillars so your structure of fitness can stand tall and be indestructible!
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