by guest blogger Greg Hoak, MS, CSCCS
While some (especially athletes) thrive on fast-paced, high-intensity workouts, others find the key to weight loss and overall fitness is actually a more sustainable approach: slowing down.
I’ve been a fitness trainer for 12 years, but it wasn’t until my wife and I started farming using organic methods several years ago that I noticed an interesting connection between farming practices and exercise techniques.
For some exercisers, the endgame is close: They want to lose 10 pounds for an upcoming party or beach trip. So they cut calories to unhealthy levels or jump into an overly advanced exercise routine. What’s the connection between these weight-loss techniques and chemical agriculture? Both rely on quick, unsustainable fixes.
Like fad dieting and short-term overtraining, the chemical-farming industry is harmful to us. Chemical farming relies on a system using toxic chemicals like Roundup (which, by the way, is a weight-promoting chemical) and genetically engineered seeds.
Many diet methods and workout routines hype easy fixes. Similarly, corporations touted GMO technology as an “easy fix” to reducing chemical use and dealing with weeds back when GMOs were being introduced. But guess what? Fast-forward 20 years, and we’re in worse shape than ever. Soil health is so bad that nutrient levels in food are dropping; Roundup is being linked to horrible diseases like lymphoma, and weeds have only grown stronger, thanks to powerful herbicides.
On the flip side, I’ve seen the techniques of sustainable exercise parallel the principles of organic agriculture. In sustainable farming, we take a detailed look at the soil and develop a long-term, customized plan. Our goal is to build up the health of the soil slowly to produce the healthiest food over the long haul. In training, I do the same thing. One of my goals is to find the right level of exercise that’s sustainable for clients. How far can you push people to go without pushing them too far? If you ask them to do one too many reps, they never come back. The same is true with the soil: Push too hard for more food per acre, and the system comes crashing down.
Honing in on that connection between farming, food, and fitness, I developed FarmerFit, a professional training program set outside on our farm, Potter’s Farm, in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. FarmerFit is set up in a way that’s similar to a boot camp with different (fun!) stations—but it’s much more than that. Instead of screaming to do more push-ups, I teach people how to push themselves at the right level—to get in touch with their bodies and limits.
In an age of instant gratification and quick fixes, FarmerFit teaches moderation and common sense—a much harder sell compared to popular fitness programs that promise a dream body in a few weeks.
Instead, we tap into the power of fresh air, proven exercise science, and group camaraderie to create a high-energy, fun, low-stress environment so FarmerFitters see results—and keep coming back. (Thinfluence coauthor and Harvard cardiologist Malissa Wood, MD, says group training with a qualified fitness trainer is one of the best ways to start your journey for permanent weight loss and better health.) Plus, there’s just something about exercising at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains beside a colorful field of kale, cabbage, peppers, and tomatoes—it’s about creating a culture of sustainability in food AND fitness. It’s all connected.
While I certainly like to measure the success of my program in smiles, defined back muscles, and cut biceps, the real gratification comes when I hear feedback like, “I noticed I have much more energy during the day” and “I just had my blood work done at the doctor’s office…he wanted to know what I was doing differently because the results were so great!” Or “I signed up for my first 5K” and “I lost 17 pounds and 5 percent body fat over the past four months.” (That’s sustainable weight loss.)
Here’s how to get started on your own sustainability plan:
• Set rules. I’m talking about a major shift in personal culture. Put your fitness routine on the same level of necessity as brushing your teeth and showering. Remember, not every workout has to be your best workout. You just have to show up and do it. Be the constant, not the variable.
• Build a team. Find a group of positive people who also want to work out, and seek out a certified trainer. I recommend certified strength and conditioning specialists (CSCS) certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association. To earn CSCS status, the trainer must have also earned an exercise-related college degree. Other reputable certifications include ones from The National Academy of Sports Medicine and the American College of Sports Medicine.
• Set up Sunday fun days. At FarmerFit, we do a special workout every Sunday. We make this workout particularly inspirational because it’s a great way to kick-start a week of healthy eating and exercise. Every Sunday (every one!) our group runs, jogs, or walks up a mountain near our farm. The reward? No matter how long it takes to get there, everyone enjoys the amazing view.
• Run S-L-O-W-L-Y. If you’re physically ready to run, but you’re dreading the idea of it, start with a walking routine then try running at a walking pace. Focus on making small improvements from week to week. And prepare your mind for inevitable setbacks. (Not every run can be your best.)
• Try your own snowball approach. Whether it’s exercise or healthy eating, start very small and add a little bit each week. For starters, try making a pledge to cut out added sugars as much as possible. If you’ve begun to jog at a walking pace, add a few minutes each time as long as your joints and breathing can handle it.;
• Get GardenFit! Plant your own garden, and set up your workout station beside it! There’s something magical about breaking out of the gym or your living room and exercising outside! Use your organic harvest to fuel your next workout.
• Add a voice in your head. Always have your trainer’s voice in the back of your mind as a backup conscience. My clients tell me they always think twice before reaching for a soda because they can “hear” me telling them no.
Greg Hoak, MS, CSCS, is the developer of FarmerFit and has been a professional fitness trainer for 12 years. He earned an exercise science degree from Arizona State University and a master’s degree in exercise science from California University of Pennsylvania. He’s trained professional athletes and mixed martial arts fighters, amateur athletes, and everyday people. He’s also a sustainable farmer at Potter’s Farm in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, where he and his wife run a community-supported agriculture program, growing vegetables and tending to egg-laying hens raised on pasture.