What entrepreneurs and Top Performers don’t get about fitness

I want to tell you about something I’ve seen dozens of times in my career as a trainer: A super-successful entrepreneur or dominant corporate leader walks into my gym.

Confident to the max, they say things like “How hard can this really be?” “I’ll be in shape in a few weeks, just got to get back into it,” or “Once I dial this in, it will be easy.”

I’ve been working with collegiate athletes, business executives, and CEOs for nearly two decades. I was part of the strength and conditioning team for Stanford football and the former number one nationally ranked trainer for Equinox. I was coached by head strength coaches from the U.S. Olympic powerlifting team, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Kobe Bryant’s trainer. I mentored under the top international strength and conditioning coach in the world who trained athletes from every single Olympics, World Cup, and Commonwealth Games for 20 years consecutively.

In other words, I’ve seen how the pros do it. I’ve seen how hard it is to achieve real results that will also last for life.

Each entrepreneur thinks the things that made them successful in other parts of life apply to their body — that the hard work they’ve done in their career will somehow transfer to a head start in the gym.

But they’re wrong.

Getting out of a “health fog”

One example is my client Richard. Prior to working with me, he was training in a Crossfit gym three times per week, getting his food prepared by a paleo chef, and had weekly massage and chiropractic work. He was doing everything “right.”

In business, he was awarded top franchisor consisting of 81 locations for a well-known national brand. He had past franchises with successful exits and was starting a new franchise in the restaurant space. He was performing at a high level professionally and with his fitness… or so he thought.

But Richard couldn’t touch his toes when he bent over, he slept less than six uninterrupted hours per night, and didn’t know how much water to drink each day. Richard was in what I call a “health fog.”

A health fog is the disconnect between where the mind thinks the body’s fitness level is and where the body’s fitness level truly is. His lack of flexibility, poor sleep, and poor hydration were just few of many signs that told me his body was on the defense. His body was in a catabolic state, or “breakdown mode.” This is how our body tries to get our attention when things are disconnected. Like a spouse who says, “Honey, we need to talk.”

It then took him three years of the right training (regeneration, nutrition, movement, lower speed of operating, flexibility, alignment) to simply stop the bleeding of bad habits, only to then get his body to be stable or what’s called “unloading the body.” Once his body was stable, then he began to level up.

He recently said, “If I kept going with my old routine, I would have never removed all the health issues I had that I didn’t know about. Those issues would have caused serious problems, especially later on in life. I never knew the work it actually takes to train right.”

If Richard’s story sounds familiar, it’s likely you’re in a “health ditch” of your own. Things like sleep, water, and basic flexibility are fundamentals. If you’re not practicing the fundamentals, then your body will show it. You can’t be “healthy” and dehydrated. Or “healthy” and inflexible.

You also can’t say you’re healthy if you’re overweight, skip cardio, are not able to cook some of your own food, work out without a warm up first, work all the time and never rest, push without pulling back to let the work settle in, or drink uppers like coffee and energy drinks all the time.

For entrepreneurs, I’ve seen this problem compound. There are efficiencies one can capture when starting a business. You can 80/20 a product launch. You can’t “hack” your body though. I’ve often seen successful entrepreneurs turn their attention to their health, only to fall short.

Taking care of your body requires a completely different mindset than growing your career or business.

4 mindsets needed to tackle fitness

If you’ve started your own company and are now ready to turn your attention to your body, it’s easy to make the same mistakes Richard did.

With the body, there are specific, fundamental rules for getting healthy, then optimizing later. This requires changing your mindset to understand these rules. Remember: The more you do in business, the more you grow. With your body, the more you do, the less you grow.

1. Winning at one thing does not mean you’ll win with everything

The rules that will help you get the first 20 pounds off won’t work to help you lose the next 20 pounds. You will need new rules to progress to subsequent stages of health. Those rules will be fundamental at first and then become more complex as one progresses. (This should sound familiar to you entrepreneurs: What gets you here won’t get you there.)

2. Your body is not a business

The body doesn’t operate on the same rules as a business. It is not a light switch you can turn on and off. It is a unique variable, and Top Performers completely misunderstand that they can’t take the success they’ve had, apply it to the body, and win at health.

You can’t just inject more capital, more resources, more work and expect your body will get better. The body doesn’t want more. It wants just the right amount. It wants to be balanced. Finding the “right amount” takes years of training. If you try to do more, you will always end up at zero. Just like my client Richard, you will be in a “health ditch” and not even know it.

Another client of mine, Michael, is the CEO of a small firm. He planned on competing in one Tough Mudder, one Spartan Race, a half marathon for the first time, and a 12-hour long endurance event, all within the span of eight months… while still running his business. He had lost some weight prior to meeting with me and was looking to take his training to the next level.

Under my training, it took him nearly six months simply to peel his body all the way back to the right starting point in order to actually even begin training for just one of these events. Not to win, just to participate. Why? Michael was laying the foundation for total burnout.

He completely overshot his goals, because his barometer for success centered around a high risk, high reward mindset, just like he used in business. He did not listen to the rules of his body. He had to learn the rules and also had to slow way down to start the right way. Otherwise it would soon be his doctor calling the shots regarding his health.


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3. Your body moves at its own pace, and no amount of “hustle” can make up for that

The body doesn’t operate at light speed like your productivity. It operates way, way, way slower. When you push hard on the body, it pushes back AT LEAST twice as hard.

That’s what makes this focus on health for Top Performers so hard. You actually have to work very, very hard at slowing everything way, way down to be able to start up with health.

Think about that: try telling an overachiever to slow down.

Sometimes you can push and sometimes you’ll have to pull back. If you keeping pushing your body and your health, you’ll push yourself off a proverbial cliff.

When I was coached by U.S. Olympic weightlifting head coach Jim Schmitz, he knew it wasn’t easy because he coached and trained some of the best in the world.

He wouldn’t even let me buy the right type of lifting shoes until he saw me performing at a certain standard. When I asked him when that would be, he said I had months of work to do way before I needed to worry about equipment. Again, this was just about the right shoes to train in, let alone actually training, which I had been doing for 10 years prior to working with him.

He knew that I was in an overachieving mindset, like I knew my clients Richard and Mike were. That is why he wouldn’t let me get the shoes. That would have unfolded the wrong habits and enabled me to inevitably push too much. He knew that I had to slow down in order to build up.

4. Your body has a “reserve” that goes beyond looks

The focus when working on health and fitness is to know that only the rules of the body apply. Once you know these rules, the goal is to build up enough health reserve in order to minimize future health setbacks and problems. The goal is not solely based on how you look and feel, just like my clients Richard and Mike. Looks are just the halfway mark to good fitness and health. If you focus on “mirror muscles,” you will always miss the mark.

Choosing to “hit the gym hard” means you’re leaving nothing in the health reserves to build on. Continue training like this and your body will end up screaming at you in the form of burnout, pain, or injury.

The more you aim to make your health perfect, like my client Richard with his paleo meals and chiropractic work, the more you lose sight of the overall health picture. Remember, he didn’t even know how much water to drink each day, and wondered why he needed coffee to push past the subpar sleep he was getting.

So, if now is the time for you to start getting fit, don’t worry about the type of training shoes to get, like my coaches would say, because you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.

The step-by-step approach to improving your fitness and health the right way

When beginning your journey to improved fitness and health, you must keep the three following health fundamentals in action, with the most focus on the first: regeneration, nutrition, and then movement.

Factor #1: Regeneration

You can’t get results by performing great, eating great, all while getting poor sleep. (Remember, sleep is the foundation for most things, including productivity.)

When we work out, we are breaking the body down, which is why it hurts or “burns” as people call it. The body then takes a few hours to a few days (approximately 24 to 48 hours) to accommodate to the breakdown (aka muscle soreness period), then it compensates. Finally, it adjusts to the stress and is ready to be broken down again, but from a new baseline of fitness. This is the point at which you train again.

See the graph below.supercompensation

This is called “supercompensation,” and it is how the body deals with and accommodates to stress.

The training doesn’t actually cause improved fitness, the regeneration phase does. That’s when the body makes the changes to hormones, the muscles, the love handles, and rest of the body in order to accommodate the stress of the workout. This is where the magic happens.

You want to treat the regeneration phase like your mother-in-law visiting for a few days: slowly and attentively.

The subject of regeneration deals with sleep (length and quality), hydration, tissue work (i.e. massage), foam rolling or trigger point work, flexibility training, and certain forms of cardio.

You have to always maintain a minimum 1:1 movement to regeneration balance.

This means if you plan to work out three times per week, with those workouts being about one hour each, then you need three times per week, or approximately three hours per week, of recovery training to balance with your total training hours.

This is mind-blowing for Top Performers. They say, “You mean I need to actually stretch for three hours a week?!” You have to slow down to start up.

Regeneration starts with the fundamental of sleep being more than six hours per night (seven to nine is the sweet spot), and having it be uninterrupted. Then, you account hours of recovery work to balance your hours of training on top of good sleep.

My friend Jeff Kahn at Rise Science showed how athletes at Northwestern University decreased their injury rate by 70% and decreased mental errors on the field by 50% simply by getting 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Imagine what being 50% sharper during your workday could mean.

Below is a sample of a regeneration program for one of my clients:

Click to enlarge


Click to enlarge

Action steps to implement for regeneration:

  1. Make sure you have total hours of working out planned per week, and at least an equal amount of regeneration time. Again, regen is dedicated time to putting health back into the body, not sitting on your ass chilling out.
  2. Choose your regen method or methods from this list below that you will put into your health practice for the week.
  3. Most importantly, choose those over working out in times of noticeable fatigue. I see people push themselves to the gym when admittedly fatigued only to pay the price of pain or injury. If you’re fatigued, make it a regen day and move on to the next day of training.

Sample regeneration methods

Sample regeneration methods

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Factor #2: Nutrition

Building your nutrition base starts off not with how much protein or carbs to eat or choosing organic or grass-fed. But rather nutrition starts with your digestive system. Fix the inside gut to get rid of the outside gut.

You start to fix the gut by doing two significant things: 1) Drinking hot water first thing in the morning before you eat or drink anything else. 2) Making cruciferous vegetables the staple of each meal and building protein, fat, and carb around the veggies. This won’t be the case forever, but at this stage get the fundamentals habitualized first. Below is a list of cruciferous veggies.

Hot water helps to move things through the digestive system, while vegetables help to feed the good bacteria already in the digestive system.

The digestive system is the body’s processing plant. It takes raw foodstuff, processes it into usable product for the body, sends it down the assembly line for more tuning up, and then ships out what it needs for the body, and the rest is, well, you know, shipped out the back door.

If this processing isn’t efficient, then it doesn’t matter how good your grass-fed–paleo–organic–farm-to-table–fermented–probiotic food is. It won’t get processed, and you’ll just send it out the back door without using it.

The gut also makes 70% of the body’s serotonin, which controls mood. So if you have something your gut doesn’t like, then no wonder people think you’re moody.

Once you’ve spent time improving your gut health, you can then start to consider how much protein, carbs, and fat to eat.

The other fundamental of nutrition is hydration. Drink way more water than you think you need.

When I worked under Coach Shannon Turley as part of the football strength and conditioning team at Stanford, the freshmen parents would ask him, “Which supplement should my boy Johnny be taking, Coach?” His answer was always water. Nothing is more fundamental to the ABCs of the body than water.

The body is 75% water, so if you’re dehydrated and it drops to 74%, you are now putting more stress on the system. The last thing you need is more stress.

To know how much to drink, start with taking half your bodyweight and that is the total amount of ounces per day you should drink. So if you’re 100 lbs, you should be near 50 oz per day, which is 3-4 average water bottles per day. If you’re way off from your number, then work your way up over the weeks so you’re not hitting the bathroom all day. The body needs to accommodate.

See below for the initial nutrition steps to focus on, and you can find a more detailed hydration calculator to tell you how much water to drink each day based on your needs here.

Action steps to implement for nutrition:

  1. Figure out how much water to drink each day. Make it hot in the morning and drink that before you eat or drink anything else. Tea, soda, or other things with water DO NOT count. If you thought those count as water, you should be sad. Again, work your way up to your daily need over time so it’s not a race to the restroom all day.
  2. Pick one meal during your day and build the meal around the veggies I listed above. If you eat those for one meal already, good. Now, pick another meal to do the same. If you have zero meals you do this with, then start small and pick one meal and do that one to three times per week to build the habit. When changing nutrition habits, people miss the fact that it takes time, so budget in 10 to 20% more time needed to adjust. Otherwise, you’ll be so busy with diet you’ll end up missing sleep or workouts.
  3. Plan for 80% accuracy on this subject. You don’t want to go black and white with these rules ever, especially due to the social elements around nutrition (i.e., business lunches, dates, holidays, etc). Last thing you want is people heckling you for being on that diet thing and you can’t eat. Make it reasonable.

Factor #3: Movement

When it comes to the category of movement, flexibility is what you will prioritize first, along with unloading the body. You will not be “hitting the gym hard.”

Flexibility is the end point you’re working towards, so you first start by developing what I call “muscle slack.” Concentrated and expansive forms of stretching will give you muscle slack, and that helps to unload the body from tightness and stress.

In fact, it’s so powerful that the Stanford football program saw an 87% decrease in injury based off their flexibility practice compared to when they didn’t have it in place.

Start with bodyweight (unloaded) training: Choosing what exercises in the beginning will center around a heavy focus on core strength and unloaded or “bodyweight” training. When you have good movement patterns by unloading and using mostly bodyweight first, you then use weight to reinforce that movement and to recruit more muscle for later training intensity.

Muscle slack will also help you work with existing muscle and joint pain, along with helping to reduce the scope of potential injury. Don’t develop flexibility ignorance, because that ignorance compounds over time until it takes next to nothing for something to snap. If you can’t touch the floor when you bend over with straight legs, that’s one of the signs you’ve been ignoring your flexibility.

Action steps for movement to implement:

  1. Stretch BEFORE each workout. Stretching after is needed too, but if you have to choose, do it first. This is your injury reduction insurance and a time to check in with the state of your body. For example, would you ever willingly take an airline flight that didn’t do a preflight checklist and warmup of the plane before it took off?
  2. Choose unloaded exercises (bodyweight) first before you pick up weights. The key point in choosing the right exercises is movement balance. This means for every direction you move, also move the opposing direction to make sure your body is balanced. Below is a list of movements that every workout should have and examples of exercises for each movement.
  3. Build progress gradually and always leave some gas in the tank at the end of each workout. Below is a great cycle to follow for strength and conditioning. You can use this as a model to improve progress and then to also know exactly when to change up your workout routine to keep the progress going without burnout.

Sample movement examples

Sample movement examples

Sample periodization model (aka training block for one month)

Sample periodization model (aka training block for one month)

What athlete, who moves incredibly well, also has a gut? None. That’s because they focus on movement, nutrition and regeneration, and not mirror muscles. Better movement fueled by the right nutrition with enough regeneration time means better looking body, better energy, and better fitness. Just what a Top Performer wants.

Don’t make the rookie mistake and push and push until you crash. Only the rookies keep pushing, but the veterans have learned that you push and then pull back. My client Richard had to learn this the hard way, but once he realized that he couldn’t push his way to health success, the results started to come. His results are great enough now that he became a walking advertisement for my business and for others also to prioritize balanced health. He stretches daily for at least 30 minutes, eats with a mindset of not perfect, but rather healthy with some slack, and trains just three times per week. All of this while he still runs his 80+ franchises. He felt so good that recently he started a separate venture of a new chain of franchises in an entirely new industry. Consistent health, consistent success.

Now you’re armed with the main categories of health — regeneration, nutrition, movement — you know how to test where you really stand with your fitness, and also know how to build progress from there.

You must then execute and repeat these health fundamentals to give you the results you want over all the tips, toys, or tactics you find searching online or on Instagram.

You’ll then be able to refine these health essentials to see the results over time. When 20 to 30 years go by, people will say “Wow, you’re in amazing shape! How did you get so successful?”

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