How to Stay Fit Anywhere

Do you struggle to make lasting change because you constantly fall short on your food and fitness goals? Try the Structured Flexibility plan.

By Ryan Halvorson

Have you ever heard that phrase, “You are what you repeatedly do?” It’s a tenet that I regularly share with people who are interested in getting into better shape. Most of the time I see those people skip from plan to plan and never seem to see results. Or if results are achieved they are short-lived. Worse, some people–I’ve done this myself–give up completely when it seems like something doesn’t work.

But the bottom line is that consistency is necessary to make any sort of change.

You might remember from a previous post I mentioned that I was quick to give up learning the guitar ages ago because I wasn’t immediately good at it. And I promised that I would learn to play as a part of my new “I don’t care if I suck because it’s all about learning” mindset. Well, I didn’t get a guitar. Instead, I bought a soprano ukulele that’s shaped like a pineapple and decorated with tattoo-style ink. If you know me, you know how much I like tattoos. I digress. Since buying my new uke, I’ve made a consistent effort to practice on an almost daily basis. So far, I’m decent at “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Let It Go.” I’ve also begun to learn “Imagine, La Bamba” and “Brown Eyed Girl.” It’s been a fun process because it’s challenging my brain in different ways. I’ve also noticed that this has enhanced my ability to concentrate on work, and I’ve found myself picking up the uke instead of checking Facebook over and over again. Lots of wins there!

I’m sharing this with you not because I want to brag–ok, maybe I do just a little; it feels good to work on something that’s been on my to-do list since high school. I’m sharing this because the only way I’ve gotten better at playing is because I’ve practiced it. I’ve consistently devoted time to it which has allowed me to improve.

This same philosophy works well when it comes to fitness and nutrition. If you train smart and eat well then naturally body change should follow. So simple, right? Then why do so many people struggle to achieve continued progress?

So as not to post something that will earn a “duh” heard round the world, I’m not going tell you that the best results are derived from consistency. Because, obvious. The problem is that life is rarely consistent. If work was strictly 9-to-5, there was no such thing as a smart phone, and you had no other obligations, then eating well and exercising consistently wouldn’t pose a challenge.

But that ain’t the real world.

The real world is messy. It’s filled with last-minute work meetings that keep you at the office late, flat tires on the way to the gym, kids’ sports events–at different fields, of course–cocktail parties. The list goes on.

So, we know that consistency is a foundational element of progress, but how do you remain consistent when life isn’t?

I’d like to share with you a little philosophy called “Structured Flexibility.” It’s a way that you can amend your daily workout and nutrition plans to fit in with your daily hectic life schedule instead of trying to fit your life into a rigid fitness and nutrition plan.

Like building a house, you start with a basic and solid foundation which is made up Non-Negotiables (NNs). NNS are broad, sweeping guidelines that you stick to. You then choose your Flexibles (Fs). In keeping with the house metaphor, Fs are the details like curtains, paint colors and building materials. They are interchangeable, but still fall within the realm of your NNs.

Here’s how it works: First, pick a NN and then fill in your F. This is my list:

  • NN: Move six days per week. F: sprints; full-body strength; upper-body heavy weights; lower-body heavy weights; leisure walk; quick body weight HIIT session; tap class (seriously, I do this now twice per week–it’s steadily turning into a NN).
  • NN: at least 5 large servings of vegetable or high-fiber fruit per day. I used to aim for fruit and veggies at each meal, but I was unsuccessful and started to get down on myself for falling short of my goal. So now I load up my morning protein shake with as much fruit and veg as my blender can handle so I know that I’ll at least get in most of my servings each day. F: apple; blueberries; Brussels sprouts; leafy greens; broccoli.
  • NN: protein with every meal. F: salmon, bison, chicken, turkey, veggie protein powder
  • NN: consistent water intake. F: total intake

I keep my daily and weekly goals simple because my life is complicated. Too many balls to juggle plus extra stressors to worry about and I’m likely to raise up my middle finger to it all. My personal philosophy is that food and fitness should add joy to your life, not stress, but that’s a whole other post.

Note that if you’re training for something specific like a Spartan Race or weightlifting competition, your plan will be much different than mine. I’m working toward general fitness, improved strength and general health.

So, when it comes to exercise, some days I plan to get in a heavy weight workout in the gym, but then a last-minute meeting or appointment comes up and I’ve got to adjust that plan. So, instead I’ll head outside and run a quick series of sprints lasting 10 minutes. On days where my schedule is less complex I might spend a bit more time pumping some iron. On days when I’m just not feeling it, I’ll take a walk or do some low-intensity bodyweight movements. Even a quickie, 5-minute round of push-ups can help me achieve my weekly activity goals. In the end I figure it all balances out anyway. I’m not getting on stage in a bikini anytime soon so I don’t need to worry about a tight timeline. 😉

When it comes to fruit and vegetable intake my NN is specific and broad at the same time: At least one serving that is low-sugar, high-fiber each time I eat. My Fs might be an apple, Brussels sprouts, leafy greens, etc. Protein for each meal is a NN. My Fs are varied like salmon, bison or other lean option. When I’m looking for animal-free options–I try to get in one vegan/vegetarian meal each day–I refer to a post I wrote here. Again I’m structured in that I will fuel my body a certain way, but flexible so that I’m not fixed on one specific type of food. This is helpful for when I’m out to dinner or at a conference in an environment where I have little control. If I have to go to a cocktail party where nutrition choices might not be in line with my goals, I’ll try to eat up beforehand and then stick to protein or veggie-only options at the party–especially when booze is involved. Remember that starchy carbs like tortilla chips or crackers and wine are not fat-loss-friendly combinations. It’s better to skip the bread and pair your pinot with carrots or gouda.

The NNs provide the foundation for everything I do. They are immovable and keep me grounded and focused. As long as I adhere to them most of the time I will continue to see progress. The Fs are helpful because they give me room to breathe which prevents boredom, and they allow for change if I find something is no longer working. When my workout results level off, I’ll switch things up by changing the ratio of my macronutients (increase or decrease protein, for example). I’ll also update my food plan if I develop strange cravings or notice unwanted body change or energy dips. Plus, it makes it so that I don’t have to stress if my day doesn’t go according to plan. That’s good news, because my days rarely do.

The main point is that life doesn’t go in a straight line. Fixed, rigid paths without room for growth or modification rarely work for the long-term.

Employing a Structured Flexibility mindset that includes broad NNs and detailed Fs allows you to fit lasting self-improvement into your life instead of fitting your ever-evolving, shifting life into an inflexible self-improvement program.

What are your NN’s? Try this method for a week and see how you feel–both physically and mentally.