The Health and Fitness Hierarchy for ‘normal’ people who want to look, feel, and perform their best

Is the “modern life” making it hard for you to get (or stay) in shape? Does it feel impossible to balance the demands of work and family life with healthy habits? Has the stress in your life left you feeling beat up, burned out, and ready to give up hope on living life to the fullest? This is for you…

There was a time not long ago when I embodied the “no pain, no gain” lifestyle.

You could find me in the weightroom 5+ days per week, hammering out 2 hours sessions where I pushed my body to its limits—and then went two reps further.

And to be honest? I loved every minute of it.

Pushing my body like that—challenging myself—and seeing how all that work turned into a stronger, fitter, more “manly” looking body gave me a confidence I had never touched before.

I knew this was my thing. My passion. And I was convinced this borderline obsessive commitment to fitness would be a staple in my life forever.

I looked around at other folks struggling to get (or stay) in shape and shrug. I couldn’t relate. Cause I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I spent in the gym.

And I just figured they were weak if they couldn’t put in the same kind of effort and commitment.

But this was before.

Before my kids’ health struggles that led to a 5+ years span of emotionally exhausting, financially disastrous Twilight-zone-feeling nightmare.

Before I watched the healthy, strong, fit body I had put in so much work to built breakdown and become a type of fragile I never thought possible.

Before everything changed.

You ever get your ass kicked by life?

That’s what had happened to me. What exactly changed?

All the stress and lack of sleep and worry about my family and our financials and all that shit eventually destroyed me.

Because even as all these things were happening, I refused to back off in the gym.

In fact, I pushed harder.

Because this was the one area of my life I felt like I could control. So even as my body started to send signals that I should ease the throttle, I didn’t pull back. I took it as a sign of “weakness” and cranked everything to the maximum.

More hours in the gym. Harder workouts. Stricter dieting.

And eventually my body broke.

I still remember the day. I walked into the gym and grabbed a pair of 40-pound dumbbells to warm up with. At the time, I was throwing around 80-90 pound dumbbells when I’d bench press, so this should be easy.

I hoisted those bad boys up and immediately knew something was off—I could barely do a few reps. I double-checked the weights to make sure I hadn’t accidentally grabbed a pair much heavier than I had thought.

Nope, just 40 pounds.

Weird, I thought.

I struggled through a mediocre workout before calling it a day. I figured maybe I was sick or something and this would pass.

But over the next few months, this downward trend continued. I saw my strength cut in half like that. I went to play a game of pickup basketball and found myself out of breath after just one or two times down the court.

What the hell is going on here? I wondered.

And it wasn’t just in the gym that I noticed changes, either.

Whereas I use to pop out of bed at 5:15 to workout, I was struggling to pull myself out of bed at 7:15.

I was teaching at the time, and found myself late to work every day. During my “plan period” (a time each day when teachers have a break from students to plan lessons), I’d sneak out to my car to take a nap just so I could get through the day.

I tried taking a week off from working out… then two… then a month.

When I went back to the gym, the issues persisted. As did the challenges with fatigue throughout every day.

So I repeated this cycle for a few months… take time off from working out, then give it a try again. Nothing was helping.

I finally broke down and went to my doctor, pleading for him to run some tests and find out what was wrong.

“Your hormones are wrecked—and with levels as low as yours, it’s no wonder you feel awful.”

Turns out, my body simply wasn’t able to keep up with all the stress I had put it through the past few years.

And during a time when I was experiencing a lot of stress that was out of my control, the intensive, “all or nothing” fitness regimen I had been following had only made things worse.

And let me be clear: This happened to me despite being a fitness fanatic and “looking” like I was really healthy. In fact, from the outside, it probably looked like nothing was wrong.

But how we look is not always an accurate representation of our health overall.

I quickly realized I wasn’t alone.

As I looked around and began talking to more people, it became very clear that most guys tend to get weaker, fatter, and less healthy when they get into their 30s and 40s.

This seems especially true for men with kids.

Facing increased stress, responsibilities, and financial pressure—and decreased time and energy.

And whether this ends in a formal diagnoses of insufficient hormones or not isn’t the point. The point is we are facing an epidemic of people who are stressed, tired, and struggling to stay in shape because the modern life is destroying them.

For me, I knew something had to change.

I knew the way I had been approaching “health and fitness” would no longer work.

I knew it was time to take everything I had thought about working out and dieting and burn it to the ground. And start over from scratch.

Dear “No pain, no gain” health and fitness approach: It’s been a good ride, but it’s time we break up…”

My “wake up call” diagnoses was three years ago. Since then I’ve been on a mission to reinvent the way I approach health and fitness that not only allowed me to recover—but to thrive even in the context if life’s craziness.

Here’s the deal: While my life has gotten easier in some ways—my kids now sleep much better, which means I do, too; financial stress is far less of a concern—I still don’t have the time or care-free lifestyle of a single 20-something dude.

Which means, how I approach working out and nutrition has to align with my life.

I’m not gonna be the guy who’s in the gym 6 days a week for two hours at time anymore. My goals—and my priorities—have shifted.

But this doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy the benefits of a strong, healthy, fit body.

It just means the approach needs to change.

Maybe you’re in a similar situation? Maybe you want everything a health lifestyle has to offer… you’re just not sure how to make it happen in the context of your busy, often chaotic lifestyle?

Maybe you’ve even convinced yourself it’s not “possible” unless you’re able to suffer through hours and hours in the gym each week like the Fitness Magazines tell you is necessary?

So instead you just do… nothing.

Good news: You can overcome the challenges of the modern lifestyle and build a fit body. The kind of body that helps you confidently take on each day with strength, health, and energy.

These four rules will show you how…

The Health and Fitness Hierarchy for ‘normal’ people who want to look, feel, and perform their best.

Most of the mainstream health and fitness advice you’ll hear is created to sell supplements, drive clicks, and keep people guessing.

There, I said it.

If you’re struggling to get (or stay) in shape, you need to take a different approach. And that starts with ignoring 90% of what we’re told about building muscle, losing fat, and getting stronger.

They say push harder, do more at a higher intensity.

But that’s a guaranteed path to burnout. So what’s the alternative?

Finding a way to approach fitness, health, and nutrition in a way that fits your goals and your lifestyle.

That’s what the “health and fitness hierarchy” above is meant to do. Using this as a starting point, let’s break this down into Three Pillars that can help guide how you approach health and fitness.

Pillar #1: Recovery.

The modern lifestyle has left most of in an all-out war. Every day, we’re assaulted by a combination of stress, endless to-do lists, and and responsibility. If you’re not taking intentional steps toward recovery, you can guarantee that every aspect of your overall health and fitness are being negatively affected.

Fatigue and high stress levels lower your immune system and mess up your hormones, leaving you feeling like crap most of the time.

That means you’ll struggle to gain strength or build muscle, it’s more difficult to lose body fat, and you’ll get sick more often. And that’s if you can even find the energy and motivation to get to the gym consistently.

So while this may seem strange, step #1 in building a stronger, healthier body is and having the energy to dominate each day starts with what you do outside the gym—with how dedicated you are to helping your body recover and mitigate the effects of the high stress modern lifestyle.

There are three main ways you need to address recovery:

  1. Improve sleep quality (and quantity)
  2. Eliminate unnecessary stressors
  3. Manage stressors you can’t eliminate

Talking about how to do this is an article in and of itself, but for today, just focus on prioritizing these three things before even thinking about anything else.

Pillar #2: Nutrition

The foods you choose to put in your body will have the biggest impact on the way you look and feel.

If you want to have a great-looking body, achieve great all- around health, and have the energy to attack each day with passion, you have to fuel your body with the nutrients it needs.

We put nutrition this far up on the hierarchy because, like recovery, without proper nutrition everything that comes after is less effective.

And to be clear: When I say “nutrition”, I’m not talking about “dieting.”

I’m talking about consistently providing your body with enough of the nutrients it needs to thrive—while minimizing foods that do the opposite.

This doesn’t have to be crazy restrictive. It just means you need a simple framework for eating that allows you to “check off” the big-ticket items for losing fat, building muscle, and boosting energy without all the restrictive dieting nonsense.

For me, that means making decisions guided by these four “food rules”:

  1. Eat unprocessed foods most of the time (lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and minimally process starchy carbohydrates make up 80% of what I eat).
  2. Don’t drink your calories: Minimize sodas, foo-foo coffee drinks, and alcohol that pack a lot of calories with very few nutrients.
  3. Eat until you’re 80% full.
  4. Break rules 1-3 10% of the time. Yes, you can still indulge and enjoy now and then—guilt free.

Pillar #3: Be efficient with your fitness routine.

If you look at the “hierarchy” image above, you’ll notice the next four items are fitness related: Build muscle, flexibility/mobility, strength, and finally, high-level skills.

Despite what the fitness gurus will tell you about all the secret “tips” and “tricks” for building muscle and getting fit, building a great body isn’t about the latest, greatest techniques. It’s about knowing the time-tested basics and executing them with relentless consistency.

I’m going to show you the 3 guiding principles I use to design fitness programs to get busy folks like yourself get in great shape—without living in the gym.

  1. Whatever you do should make your life better, not worse: Fitness should be something that enhances your life, not something everything in your life revolves around, and this idea should be applied to your workouts as well. This means we need to take a balanced approach that not only leads to a better looking body, but also a body that is healthier overall. (Some people like to call this “functional training.”)
  2. Do less, but do it better: Clearly identify your goal and focus your effort only on the non-negotiables to reach that goal. For most people who just want to look, feel, and perform their best for everyday life, this only requires 3-4 hours per week working out.
  3. Follow a structured program and progress in some way over time: Random workouts produce random results. To be efficient, you need to follow a structured program that’s designed for your goals, and one that strategically helps you progress over time.

What should you do with all of ^^this?

First, know this: If you’re struggling to get or stay in shape right now due to stress and fatigue and other responsibilities—don’t give up just yet.

It is possible to turn things around. It is possible to experience all the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, even if your life feels chaotic and busy right now.

I’m proof of this.

But, you will need to change your perception of what “good” health and fitness looks like, and you will likely have to take a different approach than what’s often advised in the mainstream.

Second: If you’re interested in learning more about the approach to health and fitness that I outlined here today, join my email list, if you haven’t already. I sent out weekly emails with free tips on health, fitness and everything “Triple Threat Strength.” (I even give away free resources from time to time, like workout plans and other cool stuff.)