8-7-4-3-2

Health before fitness. Fitness before performance.
Health before fitness. Fitness before performance.

Success leaves clues. No matter the subject if you want to be successful you only need to look to someone who has travelled that path before you and copy what they have done to achieve success too.

Somehow when it comes to fitness we all want to believe that there must be another way. A short cut. A trick. A way to game the system. We search endlessly for hacks and supplements when what we should be doing is nailing down basics.

At this point in my career, after more than three decades working out and twenty-five years training others, I must seem like a dinosaur to younger trainers. I see them all the time at the workshops I’ve taught all around the world.

Everyone does one of two things. Either, they over estimate their ability, which is very common, or they under estimate the power of the basics. As an example, Usain Bolt runs. Lance Armstrong rode his bike. And Michael Phelps swims. I don’t imagine Phelps turns up at the pool and complains to his coach about having to swim freestyle again. Funnily enough, if you watch the truly advanced what they have are extremely polished basics. It’s when people have a little success they go nuts and want more advanced things to work on.

As an example, the deadlift is probably the most simple of the lifts. Yet I’ve heard Andy Bolton speak about various technical elements of that one lift for three hours without repeating himself. Just because something is basic doesn’t mean there isn’t great depth to it.

Over the last year I’ve been running workshops that are unlike anything else in the fitness industry. See, unlike many who run workshops I couldn’t care less about certifying people and cashing in off them. The certification process has gone too far when I see, and this sadly isn’t a joke, a two-day certification in Australia for walking. I’m not kidding. Spend two days and a few hundred dollars and you too can learn to walk. So I haven’t bothered going down that path. I am a trainer and I work with people. So I developed a workshop that was for regular people training at home on their own.

These people don’t need bells and whistles. And because space is limited and equipment cost needs to be kept at a minimum I had to be very smart about what exercises we teach and how we piece it together. We needed not just basics but caveman basics.

And that was when I realized that for many people the entire way we speak about training is wrong. Most training plans are wrongly focused on trainers. The answer, when you think about it, is pretty simple to understand. Trainers are firstly very passionate about exercise. But more importantly, they are the ones purchasing the training workshops. If you cater to them you’ll always sell your program. So as much as I made fun of the walking certification, given the massive health benefits of walking perhaps it is the best certification you could do for your clients.

Because so many people are:

Overweight – in Australia the obesity rate will be 35% by 2025, costing our economy $60 billion dollars. Our current obesity rate is 28%, which forms part of already 2/3 of our population being overweight or obese – 62.8%, in fact, and it’s going to get worse. The number one cause for death in an over 44 year old is heart disease.

Move poorly – FMS research shows that only 16% of the people who walk through the door have any kind of pain or movement restriction. 41% of those who turn up wanting to train will have some kind of range of motion/ mobility problem.

Stressed – Nearly 10% of the population is on anti-depressants. With the number one cause of death in under 44-year old males being listed as suicide this number hints at a growing problem linked to poor health and increased work and relationship stresses that previously weren’t there.

And all of this gets us to the actual training. I’ve come up with a simple formula to reduce stress, increase health first, restore movement and then add performance on top. Many think they need more but if you look at how this all adds up, and are realistic about what will happen if you do this, you’ll see few will ever need to go beyond this.

 8-7-4-3-2.

8 – get 8 hours sleep every night.

7 – walk daily for 30-60 minutes to get 7 walks in a week.

4 – eat 4 good quality meals daily according to Precision Nutrition’s 10 habits.

3 – 3 cardiac output training sessions lasting 30-90 minutes each.

2 – for every strength session you do you need to stretch twice as much.

 Sleep

Why wouldn’t you want to get 8 hours of sleep every night? Every night I jump in bed I am smiling like a little kid about to go to Disneyland. It’s like a little holiday I get to have every night.

The benefits of sleep are pretty clear. If you sleep less than 8 hours you have an increased hunger response meaning you are more likely to gain weight. That’s compounded by another study showing that if you get 6 hours of sleep per night you are 27% more likely to be overweight. Cut that to 5 hours and that number shoots up to 73%. And, sleeping less than 5 hours a night or less causes a 1.7 times increased risk of mortality.

If being overweight and dying faster weren’t enough reasons to get more sleep consider that this study here showed that after 17-19 hours without sleep (i.e. what happens on 5-7 hours of sleep) performance on some tests “was equivalent or worse than that at a BAC of 0.05%. Response speeds were up to 50% slower for some tests and accuracy measures were significantly poorer than at this level of alcohol.” In other words, driving your car on less than 8 hours sleep gives you the same level of impairment as if you were legally drunk.

So it’s kind of important for the safety of everyone around you in your car that you are adequately rested. In fact, some of the biggest disasters in history have all had significant contribution from fatigue as a factor. Three-Mile Island, the Exxon Valdez, and Chernobyl all had operators working under extreme fatigue.

 Walking

Katy Bowman notes in Move Your DNA that, “Walking is a superfood. It’s the defining movement of a human”. Perhaps the greatest benefit of walking is that while walking you can’t be sitting. Along with lack of sleep, sitting is one of the biggest problems faced by our world. Sitting for more than 8 hours a day is associated with a 90% increase risk of type 2 diabetes, along with increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

I tell my clients I want them to walk for a few reasons beyond getting them out of a chair.

Vitamin D is right at the top of my list for the simple reason that no one goes outside enough anymore. We are designed to be outside and move around. The human body evolved to cover 15-18km a day walking while foraging for food and Vitamin D helps us in so many ways. Its number one benefit is its effect on the immune system. Not only that but it can help to buffer the system against cardiovascular disease, autoimmune diseases, and common infections such as the flu.

Beyond the health aspects it gives us a stress free, repeatable way to burn some extra calories. It boosts aerobic system function, which is severely lacking in most people. In addition, while everyone thinks of walking as perfect for older clients, it may be in younger (under 44 year-olds) that it has the best effect. That is because low-level aerobic activity can stimulate the hippocampus. That’s the part of the brain that is responsible for spatial awareness, so it is very helpful in the elderly, but it is also responsible for moods. Remember above where I said that the number one cause of death for males under 44 is suicide? Now do you see how maybe walking each day might be helpful if it can help prevent suicide even by just a little?

 Eating

Diet is so easy. Everyone over complicates it. When I first read the Precision Nutrition Ten Habits I instantly recognised the power in its seemingly simple guidelines. I’m not going to replicate them here but do yourself a favour and read this. A well-constructed diet plan forms part of the bedrock of both healthy living and athletic performance. That bedrock is formed by your lifestyle, not your training. No matter how hard you train or how fancy your plan is you cannot out train a poor lifestyle.

 Cardiovascular training

I suggest, if you haven’t already read The Big Man Cardio Primer  that you do so. Everyone seems to think that anything that raises your heart rate is “cardio” and that simply isn’t so. As my friend Kenneth Jay says, “if that were the case I could scare you into being fitter”.

Having a healthy heart is a good thing if you want to live past 40. You don’t need HIIT. You don’t need to worry about speed. You need to worry about having a pump that is big enough and strong enough to last you a lifetime.

Stretching

Stretching gets a bad rap. Mostly it gets blasted by people under the age of 30 who have yet to experience what happens to muscles as they age. Usually these same people will often suggest that what is needed to improve exercise performance is a regression. That’s like saying that if your car is about to catch fire what you need is to go back to driving school.

FMS research shows that 41% of people have mobility restrictions. That means that there is about a 1 in 2 chance that you are one of them. Basic guides such as being able to get both arms overhead without having to do something goofy to your posture, being able to squat without any kind of form breakdown unloaded, and being able to touch your toes are all considered movement minimums. If you can’t do those you have a mobility restriction and should work on it.

Where most people go wrong with their range of motion work is in looking for quick fixes. Yes, it is possible to get a quick band-aid solution right now with a foam roller and an activation drill in some cases. However, that is unlikely to stick and you’ll have to perform the same drill every time you train from now until you die. Or you could stretch.

Flexibility, like strength, fitness, or power needs to be worked on diligently. As you age you will lose range as muscles lose their elasticity. When you strength train you will compound this by shortening the muscles. If you plan to retain even whatever limited range you have right now you will need to re-lengthen those muscles.

The added bonus though is that flexion based postures, such as downward dog in yoga, have a powerful effect on mitigating stress. When you add in focused breathing work while stretching we again get a powerful combination not just to improve ROM but decrease overall stress and improve health.

And for everyone who is about to say, “Yeah but that one study showed that static stretching had a negative effect on force production”. Well, don’t work on your splits and immediately go try to lift your 1RM. Fixed.

 Conclusion

I’m aware that this plan looks basic but consider the following:

You’ll be walking daily for 30-60mins.

You’ll have 3 x 30-90min cardio sessions at a heart rate of 120-150bpm.

Given you’ll be doing cardio three days per week that leaves three days for strength training.

Given you will be doing three days of strength training that means you need six days of stretching to get a 2:1 ratio. For every hour of strength work you need 2 hours of stretching.

On top of that you’ll be eating four good quality meals per day.

You’ll sleep 8 hours per night.

Let’s be honest and say that if you had a client or a friend who walked daily, went to an hour yoga class daily, hit the gym three times week, and ran three times per week they’d be a stud. That right there is a gold-star client. Add in the proper sleep and nutrition and they’d have good body composition and be in top health.

So forget the advanced ideas. Give 8-7-4-3-2 a try and see just how “advanced” such a simple plan really is. The best bit is that it’s not limited by age by many training plans as this one will last you well into retirement.

To learn how to put all of this information into your own training, and which exercises you should or shouldn’t be doing, attend the Foundations of Strength workshop.

Read more

11 thoughts on “8-7-4-3-2

  1. I totally agree with the simplicity of your message AND it’s power. However I may be biased as I’m a Precision Nutrition coach – pending Level 2. Thanks John for your wonderfully “simple” article! Smiles, Sue Wammes – Wonderful Women’s Core Fitness.

  2. Absolutely love this article, Andrew! When its broken down to the bare essentials, health really isn’t as daunting as it is made out to be by everyone searching for excuses. I will be incorporating 8-7-4-3-2 in to my patient education for sure!

  3. Good points. But have you added the numbers together? If I’m right, walking+cardio+strength+stretching comes to 14-20.5 hours per week, i.e. 2-3 hours per day spent just on exercise. Who has time for that?

    1. It does come out to a lot. I never said it didn’t. But it shows the power of what seems like very basic advice. If you followed it to the letter, and I do, you end up with world class type performance even in your forties. However, the most important bits are the 8-7-4. Most people sleep too little, don’t walk enough, and eat poorly. If they’d just address those they’d also see how powerful they really are and how much better their health and performance would be if they’d have more discipline.

  4. Hi Andrew, this is great pattern. The link for the precision nutrition guide doesn’t seem to be working though, and I was wondering if you had another link as I haven’t been able to find the ten habits online

  5. Hey Andrew, do you have to do the walking in one piece like the running or can it be broken up into 10-15 minute walks?

  6. Andrew,
    With regard to the 3 at 120-150BPM, are these numbers intended to be aerobic threshold training (i.e., 180 – age)?
    Thanks
    Mark

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>