If you’re reading this you probably know me well enough by now. You’re a family member, friend or client. You know I like routines and structure. I like to talk about “discipline” with clients. You may even think I’m “boring” for the simple meals I eat over and over.

I think innately I have always liked, wanted and needed structure. Growing up I was more afraid of change than anything else. But, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how my need for structure and consistent habits has actually been crucial in my career, health and fitness journey. I need to be disciplined, structured and organized to run a business. I need to be disciplined and have daily habits to eat healthy consistently, sleep enough and exercise daily. And I need to be “OK” doing the same repetitive, progressive overload workouts day in and day out to see the results I want to see in my strength and endurance. This is all structure that I talk about with my clients daily. I need to set an example for my clients first and foremost. And my personality lends itself to naturally helping in my career.

But, do you always need structure? I mean like tracking calories/macros, logging every workout, monitoring heart rate on runs etc.

The amount of structure you need is solely dependent on your goals. If you set SPECIFIC goals you NEED structure. 

For example:

  1. I want to lose ‘X’ pounds by spring of next year.” As a coach, my mind immediately goes to tracking calories/macros and being SPECIFIC with how we track progress (scale and measurements). Why? Well you have a specific goal and we need to be specific with how me measure progress. You need structure for this AKA consistent weigh ins, daily calorie tracking etc.
  2. “I want to deadlift 200lbs by Christmas.” As a coach, my mind immediately goes to setting up a plan to progressively overload your deadlift workouts each week. This means you have to be lifting heavier every week and this progress needs to be measured. Often times what works best in this situation is working off percentages of your current 1 rep max. Again, specific goal NEEDS specific measurements. You need structure for this AKA not missing deadlift workouts, lifting on the same day every week etc. 
  3. “I want to finish a half Ironman in under 6 hours.” Since you have a specific TIME goal, you now need to be measuring your pace on most of your workouts. I would also recommend measuring your heart rate on most workouts as a measure of intensity. Specific goal = specific measurements. You need structure for this AKA same weekly plan of workouts every week, progressively going more miles or going faster etc

But, what if you don’t have specific goals that can measured by numbers though? What if you want to exercise for the “feel” of it? You want to be stronger but don’t have specific strength goals? You want to run to enjoy the outside, but don’t want to run a PR half marathon? Then you DON’T need as much structure.

For example:

  1. “I’d like to lose some weight, but the number on the scale doesn’t matter to me. I know that when I lose weight I will feel and look better.” When I hear this, I actually don’t recommend that you track calories/macros. I recommend taking progress pics and simply being very in tune with how you feel. This is how you should be measuring progress. There is no need to add extra work by tracking calories because it’s too specific for your current goals. We are still measuring progress but there are no specific numbers or data points attached. 
  2. “I like to deadlift and know it makes me feel strong, but I don’t have any specific goals wrapped up in it.” As a coach, this means we don’t need to do a 1 rep max test and I don’t need to set up specific weekly progressions over a 8-16 week period. I can simply have this client lift off “feel” every session. I will want to make the weight/reps/sets challenging, but also doable for the client. I can still progressively overload the weight over time, but there is no need to go crazy increasing weight every single week if that is not a goal of the client. This client can measure progress by how form improves each week and confidence with the movement. Again, no specific numbers or data points attached.
  3. “I want to run for stress relief.” There is definitely no need to measure pace or heart rate in this scenario. Running off pace and heart rate can become almost addicting, so there is no need to do this extra work if you don’t need  🙂 Go run! Have fun! Yes, no specific numbers or data points attached. 

And lastly, here is a real life example of one my clients. Her name is Mona and is a pretty amazing woman. Mona found me over two years ago. Her initial goals were to lose weight and get off her diabetes meds. Well, she did that in 6 months, losing over 50lbs during that time. A year later she quit smoking, all while buying a rowing machine and ski erg. She has turned her life around and now is a competitive indoor rower and skier. She holds numerous American and world records in her age group and is getting read to compete in a world wide indoor ski competition this week. 

Mona has been TRAINING hard. Her workouts are structured. We measure everything. Pace, heart rate, damper settings, stroke rate, watts etc. Every detail is measured because she has SPECIFIC time goals in mind for this upcoming competition. This not just exercise for “fun” this is training with a purpose. Trust me, there is a big difference. 

But, a couple weeks ago Mona asked me if she could get away from the structure for the entire month of December. She said the constant measuring of every little detail was wearing on her. I said “of course!” She wants a month of “fun” skiing with no guidelines or structure. And there is nothing wrong with this because she doesn’t have a specific goal in mind.

See where I’m coming from with all this?

The reason I wanted to write this blog is that I see too often people starting their lifestyle change or fitness journey with improper expectations or not knowing how to properly measure progress. If you don’t care about the number on the scale then don’t measure it! If you don’t care about running a faster 10k then don’t worry about pace! But, once you set a specific scale weight goal, you NEED to be tracking calories. If you set a specific pace goal for that 10k, you NEED to measuring pace in your workouts. Set a specific goal, you can’t not be specific in how you get there. There is no way around this and if you try to get around this, you won’t reach your goals. 

Don’t be afraid of structure. If you’re afraid of it, the goal you set is not a good goal for you at this time. Revisit that goal down the road. 

But, at the same time, don’t force structure down your throat if you don’t need to. 

Knowing when to have structure and when to lay off a bit is a key skill to have. It’s why people hire trainers and coaches. It’s one of the reasons I married Margo…she gives me the balance I need to relax and not be so structured all the time.

In the end, I find it best to cycle through different phases of structure vs “non structure” in your life. I have been VERY specific with calorie intake at times, then gone 18 months without tracking one calorie. I used to do all my runs off “feel” and now I’m working almost entirely off heart rate (much more specific and structured.” I often do 6-9 months of super structured training per year with a BIG goal in mind (like a half marathon) and then do 1-2 months of “less structured” work before I start to crave that structure again. What does this sound like? To me this sounds like the routine of a professional athlete with a “season” and “off season.” If we all thought like an athlete I think we would all enjoy exercise AND training much more. Why? Well there is balance in their routines and we all know how much we need balance in our lives. You can’t always be strict and disciplined and you can’t always be flying free in the wind. Find that balance. 

Structure, structure, structure. BREAK. Structure, structure, structure. REPEAT for a life time. This is sustainable. 

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