Changes: Adding Another Layer to Your Fitness Protocol

17 mins read

It’s the official procedure. The standard. It’s the measure by which you gauge your operational readiness. Your fitness protocol is the baseline that ensures your safety, the safety of your team and successful response to the public.

But here’s the thing; your fitness protocol, like all things, can stagnate.

I myself have washed through countless programs, stints and staples of fitness plans. From 5×5 to Starting Strength, from Couch-to-5k to Tactical Barbell’s Conditioning manual, the truth is this – it doesn’t matter how many kilometers you’re pumping out or how many plates you’re peeling off the gym floor. The single most important factor in any fitness protocol is moving forward.

Sometimes, that doesn’t necessarily mean adding weight or distance. Whole-body fitness means looking at the other side of the spectrum, too. For me, this summer proved one thing in clear, neon letters. I had a minor back injury about half way through June that prevented me from lifting anything more than a milk crate. Worse than that, I couldn’t run, either. Running for me has been more of a mental clarity tool than a process for testing my cardio abilities. There’s something about the rhythm of it. I can settle into a good run and decompile my brain a little – to really figure out some of the stuff that’s been bugging me.

So, after being involuntarily slowed for the summer, I came to terms with another painful idea.

I don’t spend enough time resting.

I’m really good at the intense stuff. Or, I posses the self discipline to keep pressing on a long ruck, get me?

On the flip side, I’ll tend to put in a 9k run on days the white board labelled ‘REST’. I’ll still roll Jiu Jitsu on days I’m supposed to be rebuilding what I’ve broken. Gift and a curse, I suppose.

I’ve floated in and out of Yoga as a practice for mindful movement, meditation and anchoring to the ‘restful’ days I’m supposed to take for a few years now. I’ve got a couple buddies who are more primary subscribers to the practice, too, which help remind me that I can still ‘work’ through Yogic poses on off days.

Tap the picture to read about my yoga journey.

Earlier this summer, I began a 200-hour Yoga Instructor course. I had a friend who invested in a personal trainer not too long ago. He’s a fit guy, too, but figured he could pay into his future self by bringing an expert into his circle. Even if temporary, the idea of paying actual money into a program is an idea to help push along some follow through. So, I paid into a program to certify myself as a Yoga teacher. I want to bring that practice to our Jiu Jitsu club, too. I think it would make a cool balance of aggression and peace to cover strangling somebody and stretching your quads in the same session.

Easier said than done.

Bringing a new feature to your fitness protocol is difficult. Like most worthwhile pursuits, it’s supposed to be. As the old saying goes; if it were easy, everyone would do it.

For me, starting a new chapter in my fitness journal is a two-fold benefit. First, it lets me try something new and move differently. That keeps my time spent in the gym fresh and easier to look forward to. If you were sequestered to eating the same boiled chicken and rice every single day, you’d be prone to straying from the plan. It’s much harder to stay on course without some opportunity to try something different. That said, there’s a personality type that can LOCK into that single routine – and if that’s you, get some.

When it comes to my personal fitness protocol, I need variance. I added Yoga to benefit the softer side that I need to actively practice. Later into this fall, I’ve been spending a full month with a really good shake-up, as far as my program is concerned. I’m still running, rolling Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and getting a good stretch with my downward dogs. However, for the month of October, I’m blasting out bodyweight workouts with the help of McCann Fitness and Nutrition.

A plan designed by @mccannfitnessnutrition

Adding a difference.

For a couple years now, after being called out by the advisors I trust in to call me out on this kind of thing, I’ve been under a barbell. I took to lifting because the guys I train Jiu Jitsu did. Almost all at the same time, everybody got suddenly stronger. The natural lane for me to take in response was to learn how to lift.

I say ‘learn how to lift’ because that’s exactly what I had to do. I was consciously nervous about hurting myself with improper technique.

The hardest part about learning something is recognizing you’re not good at what you’re learning. That’s the process, though.

Deep into the winter a couple years ago, I asked my friend Doug to take me to the gym, a place I’d never been as an avid road runner, and teach me the big three lifts. That, in and of itself, is a challenge. Asking for help or mentorship is a hurdle that can prevent us from attaining what we’re after. You can practice asking for help by looking for minor opportunities. Asking somebody to help hold something or open a door, for example, can build confidence in your ability to seek assistance.

And, you will need assistance, so get used to asking.

After a handful of sessions, I bought a squat rack. James Clear of Atomic Habits suggests that we can build better habits by encouraging the behaviour we’re looking for through environmental design. Roughly a quarter of my house is dedicated to my gym. That makes skipping pull-ups a difficult, if impossible feat. I have to walk passed my gym to do most things; laundry, shower, relax. It’s always there, reminding me.

Not heavy, many times.

Through the Fit2Thrive program I took in 2021, the most interesting concept I came upon was the idea that strength, power and endurance fell into a spectrum. Before that, I had categorized them as separate goals. It makes sense, though. If I run more, it doesn’t automatically makes me less strong. It just shifts my position on the spectrum of strength and endurance.

I wanted to shake things up in my fitness protocol this season. I reached out to Cara McCann of McCann Fitness and Nutrition to put a little program together. We sent the program back and forth a few times before landing on an appropriate number of movements, reps and sets. For this change, I was working toward muscular endurance; keeping my reps high and my weight low. I wanted to keep burning, and see how long I could keep burning as opposed to pressing plates.

Find your why

I’ve said this over and over – your aim is the single most critical part of any action. To know why you’re introducing a new element to your fitness protocol is to spell out your baseline influence.

Why are you working out to begin with?

To build a stronger, faster and more resilient foundation for operations in the field. To ensure your mindset is established toward pursuit and endurance. Finally, you’re training because it’s the right thing to do.

Now – introducing a new layer to your fitness protocol is a thoughtful decision. Maybe you’re trying to encourage a new adaptation. Further, you might be trying to add something you know to be missing.

If you spend some time honestly analyzing your routine, you will know what is missing.

I wanted to introduce a high-volume bodyweight workout to help bolster a main idea; I need to keep working.

This summer, I attended a field fire that turned into a 8-hour slugfest. It was really, honestly, a good test of endurance. I keep that call in mind when I’m working through burpees.

A screen cap from a video showing the Georgia Smoke Diver program.

Second, I’ve come to start following the Smoke Diver programs in the states. I think Smoke Diver training is among the upper echelon of aims as far as the fire service is concerned. They’re focused on output. So, I’m gonna be focused on output, too. I think the Georgia Smoke Diver program would be a significant challenge. Not far removed from how I viewed the GoRuck Challenge at a previous stage of my life.

How to add a new training block

When I’m thinking about adding a new function to my fitness protocol, I usually start with research. Perhaps that’s a call to my nerdy roots, but I like to throw videos, podcasts and interviews on my second monitor and start to modulate my input with information about what it is I’m looking to add. I look on Reddit and Facebook for groups about the subject, too. I want to know what has worked for other people.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel on this; people just like you have probably already figured out how to start. From there, once the cart is moving forward, you just need to keep pushing it.

Eventually, you’ll come upon the moment where it’s time to move. All the research. The knowledge. All the thinking about putting this new training block into your program doesn’t get the work done. If we’re talking about putting a new fitness practice to work, it’s the work that makes it happen. Not talking, not thinking – you need to do the work.

There are a multitude of tools to use to shape the way you approach the work. As mentioned above, you can seek out theory in the works of James Clear or Jocko Willink. You can enhance your motivation by listening to the likes of David Goggins or Gary Vee. A step further than that – you can study the people who have successfully introduced the changes you’re trying to make.

But nobody’s coming. Nobody will put in the reps and sets but you.

Measure your metrics

When I first started losing weight, my measure of success was a number on the scale. I wanted to be attached to a smaller number, or, believed the output of my digital scale was the indicator of whether or not I was winning. Eventually, I started to obsess over that. Not in an overly dramatic way, but certainly in a manner that affected my day to day life.

I was soon introduced to the idea of a ‘Non-Scale Victory’ by way of the /r/1200isplenty subreddit for people chasing aggressive weight cuts. The basic idea is that the number on your scale is one of several metrics you can use to measure your progress.

The way you feel when you’re working out (and just living life!) can be just as helpful.

Do you have energy? Your sleep schedule, water intake, diet and lifestyle heavily impact how much you have in the tank.

Do you feel strong, fast, or powerful? Using subjective markers like ‘feeling’ toward your goals is a great way to track how you’re performing.

How do you feel about your performance? If you used a single sentence, how would you describe the way you’re hitting the gym? Has that changed over time?

Change = progress

Your commitment to service requires you to actively pursue progress. Period.

Your commitment to your family requires you to actively pursue progress. Period.

Your commitment to yourself requires you to actively pursue progress. Period.

Adding something to your fitness protocol – however small – encourages the frame of mind that is open to new ideas. Putting your body through the motions of that changes goes to further reinforce that idea.

To voluntarily accept the burden of progress is to place yourself in front of a storm. When you accept what’s coming – the whitecaps and all – you’ll have to brace yourself correctly so as not to be washed away. Learning something new is that very process. It’s accepting waves of failure, feeling disempowered and wading through the wreckage of what you thought you were capable of.

If you keep going through it, though, you’ll be ready for the next squall.

And, whether you like it or not, there’s always another on the way.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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