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Maintenance - My Take

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Not sure if surrounded by people maintaining or if maintenance is getting a lot more attention these days, but I'd like to weigh in on the trending topic. I know I've been rather quiet lately and there are a lot of reasons for it, but none have to do with the fact that I haven't been thinking about maintenance and of course, doing a lot of experimenting. I've just spared you the boring details. Back to business ...

There are two basic premises to put forth. Maintenance is about doing less. Maintenance is about keeping your head in the game.

The first one may strike you as counterintuitive, but hear me out. Maintenance is about doing less. Probably a lot less than you're doing right now. My mission for the last 6-8 months has been figuring out what it takes to get by. I'm mostly referring to exercise, but this can also refer to diet to a smaller extent. Think of rate of return as a bell curve or an inverted U. You do 0, you get 0. But if you exercise 8 days a week, your rate of return declines sharply and risk of injury increases sharply. If exercising 5-7 days a week is your maintenance plan, you're destined to fail because mean ol' Mr. Injury will come get you … that is if mean ol' Mr. Motivation doesn't pack his bags and leave you first.

So lets find the sweet spot, the top part of the inverted U. What is the least amount I can do and still "maintain" my current level of fitness. In many cases, one heavy weight lifting session and one day of HIIT (sprints, hill runs, etc) is about enough to maintain. Two lift sessions and one HIIT session gets improvement (yes, one HIIT session per week has actually IMPROVED my aerobic capacity). I can complete a lift session in about 45 minutes, a HIIT session in about 20. So we're talking about strength and aerobic capacity maintenance in just over an hour a week. Nope, I'm not trying to sell you an infomercial product, just an hour, but it has to be effective exercise. I'm not talking about jogging, Jillian Michael videos or Zumba.

If you're in maintenance and you're not doing at least this much, you should be or I'd argue you're not in maintenance, you're in failure. If you're doing 5-7 days a week, I suggest you try working toward less because it's probably time for you to periodize anyway. You simply cannot do 5-7 days a week infinitum and you need to learn/understand a true maintenance routine that works for you. Of course, if you're training for something or you want a bit more than simple maintenance, turn it up. But to think maintenance means 5-7 days a week of intense exercise is a recipe for failure.

I saved the most important for last. Keeping your head in the game. Recently there have been all kinds of statistics related to maintenance. Maintenance folks watch less than 10 hours of TV, they have forbidden food, they track intake, they're invisible under ultraviolet light, etc. Well, that's all neat and everything but these really don't mean a thing. These wonderful stats are all byproducts of someone who has their head in the game. If your goals are byproducts, you will likely fail as most do. This is no different than folks who set a number on the scale as a goal. Weight is a byproduct of mental state, if your head is not in the game, you will fail.

So if you're still focused on the scale, setting random goals that are easy to jettison (because they don't have meaning), having constant "oopsies", your maintenance is likely in jeopardy.

Unfortunately, getting your head in the game is difficult. It is an individual and constantly evolving endeavor. You need to seriously discover what fuels your fire. I like excelling at team sports. I'm not good at them, but getting better at them fires me up. I play with a lot of 20 somethings and whipping their asses or even keeping up with them gives me pleasure. I also enjoy competing at various races and thoroughly enjoy spending time in the woods. Being weak and fat does not jibe with any of those goals. The thought of losing large amounts of strength and/or gaining large amounts of fat is scary. There is just no way I'm going back. The thought of it makes me ill. This level of disgust is my barometer for "head in the game". If I ever become ambivalent about being fat and weak, I need a head check. If your head check fails, get it back. That comes before anything else, ever. Without head in the game, you can watch less TV and still get hefty.

I will admit, this transition is very difficult. There are a lot of rewards and heartbreak on the scale. Getting away from the scale as a goal is very tough, but it is critical. It might be easier for the guys because we're not as emotionally attached to the scale and our seemingly natural wiring to be competitive with other cavemen helps us stay physically active. But it can be done. 4A-HEALTHY-BMI lurves her some kayaking. Being too fat to fit in the boat, not an option. Being too weak to where she cannot safely navigate the big boy class rapids, not acceptable. I may be wrong, but I don't think she particularly cares for lifting, but she does care to whoop some whitewater ass. 30-45 minutes 2 or 3 times a week is a small price to pay for excelling at her passion.

Maintenance has to last forever. I've received messages from people here that are truly inspiring. Folks in their 60's and 70's who still have fire and even started lifting again (and making gainz!). I aspire to this. Maintenance can be about improvement and can last a lifetime. You just have to be sensible and pay attention.

To summarize, maintenance is simple, but not easy. Head in the game, reasonable diet and exercise regimen that can be performed for life. The rest are byproducts.

Thanks for the feedback so far. I do appreciate it. I do want to clarify one point. I'm not saying that exercising 5-7 days a week is a strike against success, hell, I do it, but real life does not always permit it. Busy schedule, injuries, other commitments, emergencies, etc. can throw that routine off quickly. Learning to be efficient at exercise and maintain fitness levels when curveballs are thrown is a skill worth possessing. I know it took time for me to figure out what the minimum requirement was and it shocked me at how little I had to do.

Hope that makes sense.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    Sure "liked" this! Finding that sweet spot for weight loss maintenance and fitness maintenance which is sustainable for life: yeah! Keeping my head in the game from the perspective of big M MAINtenance (reducing chance of cancer recurrence) and small m maintenance (vanity/appearance/clothing still wearable): check check check.
    1996 days ago
    I think you had some really valid points. You have to be mentally engaged to maintain your weight or it will start creeping back. You have to do something that works for you physically, whether that is kayaking or running. It is different for everyone but it is essential in creating a life that is healthy. Good Blog.
    1996 days ago
    Thank you for the thoughts, and the well-composed expression. I could pick nits with some details - I weigh every day, and it's part of keeping my head in the game - but the underlying themes ring true.

    Do Less: I'd already figured this out, though I'm still struggling with how much is the sweet spot. Love the metaphor of the inverted U curve. It might not be precise, but it's a good model to think about and work from.

    Keeping your head in the game: New idea with respect to maintenance, but it rings true. For me, it's going to mean measuring and recording what I eat, forever. What it means on the exercise front, I don't know . . . other than I have to pay attention. Part of that is a pedometer, and moving more when the step count looks low. Some of that movement won't be what I think of as exercise. And part of it is adapting my exercise to changing seasons, my changing tastes, and how my life changes in ways not directly related to weight or fitness.

    To adapt successfully, I need my head in the game. That's an elegant summary of something I would have used a lot more words to describe less well.

    1996 days ago
    Murray Smith is 93 years old and had a vertigo problem so severe that he couldn't walk. He started working out two times a week four years ago, doing several exercises, and was able to triple his weights, from 15 to 45 pounds in the leg press, doing 30 reps for two sets. That is pretty good for him. He gets up at 4:00 AM two days a week, is at the door at 5:00 when they open, and does his exercises. He does that for 101/2 months a year, then takes a six week vacation from the middle of November until early in January. Then he comes back and starts all over again, to make up for the strength he lost. That's pretty good for him. Now he gets around with a cane and even drives himself. Maintence is about survival when you're old enough, and getting better may be only getting back (or part way back) to where you used to be.
    1997 days ago
    I think I follow. I wasn't trying to say this is how folks maintain, I was attempting to help potential failures become successes by adopting the right mindset. What that action plan involves is completely up to the individual and a huge self discovery process. That is hard to quantify, so I can only be abstract.
    1997 days ago
    Very good points.

    My reaction to many of those maintenance points is a shake of my head. Why? Because while they may be true of a large percentage of successful maintainers, that is still a percentage and not global. Out of that same group, the opposing small percentage did NOT do that thing and were still successful maintainers.


    Now ... how do I get to be invisible under ultraviolet light? Hmmmmmm, my maintenance "relies" on me figuring that one out.
    1997 days ago
    Of course, moving away from the scale and towards, say, training for a competition means you're moving away from maintenance again. It's not really "maintenance" if you're trying to push your body to new levels for your sport (or just to see what you can do) - it's just not weight loss any more. I guess I never really followed the idea of maintenance, since I transitioned early on from "weight loss" to "in training". The closest athletes probably get is "off season".

    I'm at the gym 5-7 days a week, but much of it is for sport-specific work: techniques and drills, conditioning, etc. while the rest of my exercise fits into about 4 hours a week. Not that sport-specific training is not a hard workout, it's just part of what's necessary.

    1997 days ago
    it's great to see yet another take on what works - and what doesn't - for each one of us, something to take home from every one of these blog posts!
    1997 days ago
    Well as the saying goes, moderation is the key. But it depends on the person/situation, too. I've worked out all the time since I was like 13 so exercising 5-6 times a week is just something I normally do. Then again, when I've been ill or busy or whatever, and not exercised that much I've stayed the same weight (actually lost weight) too.

    But for anyone exercising a lot or on a specific exercise routine "just" to lose weight, yeah it's probably a fail. I also think people should find something they love doing and exercise due to that, rather than for a specific weight goal, because then they will continue doing it. I would rather kick myself than do a boring stairmaster for 45 minutes (or even for 20 minutes HIIT, sorry but it's true - for me), yet if I go running outside I can do it for hours - because I love it.

    And for the scale - it depends. There have been studies that show that people who weigh themselves more frequently tend to keep weight off over those who don't.
    hannel_id=159&relation_id=30113. Some people have a different way to measure things - same pair of size whatever jeans they wear regularly, measuring tape, bodyfat calipers or time to run a mile. Whatever the metric that works for a person I say go for it.

    1997 days ago
  • 62NVON
    Well written, and so true!
    1997 days ago
    Yep. For sure.
    1997 days ago
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