It is that time of year when people start contemplating the changes or resolutions that they want to make in their lives. Inevitably, some iteration of “getting in shape” falls at the top of the list for most people. I am going to side step this cliché for a moment. I’m convinced that the most compelling New Year’s Resolution, a resolution that is relevant to nearly everyone, goes something like this: Work on Yourself. You can call this Improve Yourself or my personal favorite, Sharpen the Saw. Whatever the vernacular, the message is the same. Before we can become more effective and contribute more meaningfully in our relationships, in the organizations we work in, in our families, in our communities, and in the other roles we play, we must first take care of and in fact, improve ourselves. Speaking of the habit of “Sharpening the Saw,” Dr. Stephen Covey states, “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life – Investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and contribute. We are the instruments of our own performance, and to be effective, we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.”
This resolution manifests itself in a myriad of ways. For me, it means I need to commit to taking the time to read more books and journal articles. In order to improve as an exercise professional and ultimately serve the clients I work with more effectively, I need to immerse myself in more of the scientific literature. And in order to improve in my role as a leader of an organization, I must commit to deep and meaningful study on the topics of management, leadership, customer service, strategy, and organizational health. I plan to Sharpen the Saw in 2016 through a commitment to intensive reading and learning.
Okay, back to exercise. Covey goes to great lengths to articulate the importance of taking the time to “Sharpen the Saw” as it pertains to our physical being. That is, we must take the time to improve ourselves through exercise. From this vantage point, exercise is anything but a selfish act. Instead, we must make an appointment with ourselves to exercise so that we may improve our health and fitness. In effect, when we Sharpen the Saw via exercise, we are better prepared to be effective in all of the roles that we play. We must Sharpen the Saw through exercise so that we can care for and love our families, contribute to our organizations, and serve our communities. I am convinced that the one activity that we can engage in that has the most robust, saw sharpening benefits is intelligent resistance exercise as resistance exercise, done properly, wards of disease, improves health, enhances performance, and bolsters our mental capacities. It’s hard to imagine one activity that provides such pervasive benefits.
As you contemplate Sharpening the Saw through exercise, I encourage you to commit to the following mini-resolutions in 2016:
- Link the results/outcomes you desire to the type of exercise that stimulates those results. Stated otherwise, don’t expect Yoga to help you lose weight or running to help you increase muscle. Surprisingly, the vast majority of exercisers are performing exercise that does not stimulate the physiological changes they desire.
- Work with a higher level of intensity… For a shorter period of time.
- Focus on the process, the form, and the technique rather than the outcome. Stated otherwise, don’t focus on how many you did. Focus on how you do them.
- Strength train slowly. Avoid any form of strength exercise that involves fast or sudden movement. This fast movement unloads your muscles resulting in reduced muscle fiber recruitment. If you are already moving slowly while strength training, focus on moving even slower with particular attention paid to the transition from positive to negative.
- Consume a post-exercise snack containing 20 grams of protein after every strength workout.