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Your workouts should be a mixture of bus stops and park benches – what?

I’ve just finished a book by Dan John (one of the leading strength coaches in the world) which I couldn’t put down. He is an absolute master at getting people fit and strong. I loved the concept he discusses and just had to share it with you today. I really believe it could change the way you view yourself and your exercise program.

Dan speaks about park benches and bus stop benches and how our attitude on both these benches can be very different. On the bus stop bench you are more likely to be on a timetable and any bus delays are likely to be noticed by you and can cause you some stress. Whereas on the park bench you are likely to be under no pressure and happy to watch the world go by. This is how he recommends that you approach your health and fitness plan. Too often people aim to spend all their time on the bus stop bench when it comes to their workouts:  they want to train hard every workout and push themselves all year-round.  This might be in the form of “insanity workouts”, metafit classes, boot camp sessions where people go nonstop and aim to go for a personal best in every workout. This is an unrealistic and unachievable approach; even professional athletes take down time in their intensity and go through cycles of being on the park bench.

Ok so let’s look at this logically: at best you might be able to stay on the bus stop bench for 6-10 weeks at a time. Doing this twice per year is, in my opinion, the maximum amount you can manage safely. For the rest of the year, it’s enough to turn up consistently and get your workout done. When you view it this way you remove a lot of the unrealistic expectations that we all place on ourselves.   An accountant looking to get fit in January, a teacher at exam times or a mum during December are all likely to be the wrong times to be on a bus stop bench routine; these are the times when you should be on the park bench, just get workouts done when time allows you, don’t overstretch yourself in the workouts and aim to leave a little gas in the tank at the end of each workout.  Put another way, just maintain the fitness you have. By just consistently working out and making minor changes in workouts you are will in fact likely make safe and sensible progress.

So what are the bus stop workouts, and when should you use them? At these times, you get your game head on and push it hard during workouts and maybe increase the frequency of workouts where possible. A quick note of caution here though; for this to work you need your sleep to be good and your overall stress levels to be low. Using a bus stop mentality can be great as preparation for an event. For example, summer holidays that you want to look good on or in the build up to a race you want to compete in. This is when you aim to take big leaps in your fitness and push the boundaries a little.

Dan John also suggests that it may also be worthwhile taking this approach to you diet; spend most of year on the park bench where you eat healthy food for most your meals but don’t stress too much about the finer details. Then when you are on the bus stop bench you get very specific about what you eat, track it and keep the treats to an absolute minimum. This can be a real focused (sometimes a bit extreme) diet that you know is just for a short period of time. Doing the Atkins / Cambridge or whatever diet, is perhaps not as bad if you know it’s for the bus stop period only.

Lastly, a mistake a lot of people make is they to adopt the bus stop bench attitude for workouts and diet at the same time. Starting a low calorie restrictive diet AND pushing yourself hard in the gym creates very obvious problems; you will not have sufficient energy in the tank to push hard and you will not have the fuel to build and repair the muscles that you are breaking down in your workouts.

Society tells us we must always be pushing, striving, no pain no gain, but realistically how sustainable is that? Measured periods of hard work with some lighter work in between makes much more sense and will more than likely have you fit and healthy for a long time to come. So give it some thought, which bench are you spending most of your time on?