Less is Best: Why Putting Yourself First is Critical

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Last year, I had a very successful friend quit her job in the financial world and move to an island to help her mother’s travel agency. She took a gigantic pay cut and her health benefits went with it. Some people didn’t understand. How on earth, at 30 years old, was she already burnt out? Maybe she was lazy or selfish.

She’s neither. She’s healthier, happier, able to travel more and see friends. Could she have pushed through another few decades chained to a desk non-stop? Sure. But for what?

We hail people who work 60-hour weeks and juggle training two-a-days. Or athletes who continue when they’re injured. “They’re such hard workers! No pain, no gain!” 

We are encouraged to push and push and push. And then we break.

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Less is Best: Why Putting Yourself First is Critical

Why is it that putting ourselves — our health, our wellness, our mindset, our nutrition —first is looked down upon? Haven’t you ever been on a plane? The first thing the stewardesses tell you when going through the safety instructions is to make sure your oxygen mask is secured before helping others.

You can get strong/leaner/faster/healthier. You can get exactly what you want out of this life. But you have to learn how to prioritize. You have to let go of things that are unnecessarily draining you. You have to make time for you. You have to learn how to say no.

It’s common sense, really. I don’t want a doctor who hasn’t gotten a good night’s sleep in a week operating on me and I don’t want an athlete who can barely keep their eyes open lifting heavy weight overhead.

I’m not advocating you skip training every time you get a bad night’s sleep. I get it. People come to the gym to get away, to unplug, to leave the stress of their lives for an hour or two. But you have to understand long-term progress is going to have very little to do with what goes on between gym doors.

Less is Best: Why Putting Yourself First is Critical

“People don’t realize the workout is the easy part,” said Dr. Sean Pastuch, of Active Life RX. “The hard part is slowing down and making decisions that are responsible.”

Pastuch had a client who passed all of the movement tests for mobility and strength. He was diligently following their Bulletproof programming. He was going to be the example used in an upcoming seminar, until the client confessed he had daily shoulder pain.

How was this possible? This guy was working 15-hour days and every other Saturday while spending three or four hours a day in the gym. He wasn’t eating well because he didn’t have time to and was incredibly stressed at work.

For him, and for most of us, this value isn’t in the hours of training. It’s in the recovery. The self-care. Your body doesn’t care where stress comes from —whether it’s work, a fight with your significant other, or a one-rep max back squat attempt- it processes all of it the same. And you should, too.

Taking care of yourself isn’t selfish. The danger is in continuing like you’re invincible.

Less is Best: Why Putting Yourself First is Critical

Here are some easy ways for athletes to practice self care.

Draw a line

Toughness isn’t always about “sucking it up” or juggling 100 different things. It takes more fortitude to decide to shut your email off at 10 p.m. or take a five-minute walk outside your office to decompress. I don’t care if you’re a parent, juggling multiple jobs or stuck on overnight shift work. Set boundaries.

Create a small window to read a few pages of a book, do a 5-minute flow or take a bath once a week. Develop one habit that’s just for you and your well being.

Less is Best: Why Putting Yourself First is Critical

 Confront your pain

It’s pretty simple: your workouts shouldn’t be causing you pain. Get yourself assessed to see if it’s a mobility or stability issue and if you’ve got faulty movement patterns at play. Modify workouts around pain/injuries and listen to your body!

Please, please don’t take any ibuprofen-type products. There’s tons of research that they actually slow healing. If you want to take something, these are all-natural and are currently being tested out among pro athletes.

Fix your eating

If there’s one single thing responsible for making us sick and tired, it’s our food. If you’re too busy to go shopping and to cook healthy food you can either complain about it or do something about it. There’s a million healthy alternatives that can be delivered right to your door. (I like Trifecta because it’s pre-portioned, bulk food and can be worked into recipes.)

It’s expensive to eat healthy, I know. But constantly eating cheap processed food means you’ll just pay down the line. Again, ask yourself: What are you worth? What is your body worth?