| | | Move the Dirt: The Power of Daily Effort

Author / Matt Spaid

5-7 minute read

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

“The hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the values he has chosen” – Andrew Bernstein

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of training like an athlete for Firefighters. But the underlying message from that article wasn’t limited to one population; everyone can benefit from training like an athlete, not just firefighters. If you are in the military, or work as a first responder, then it is important to be in top physical shape not just for your own health and safety, but for the citizens you serve and your brothers and sisters working with you. Finding a training program (shameless plug: Power Athlete’s Training Programs)  is a good start, however it won’t do you much good if you are not consistent with your training.

Discipline > Motivation

The tactical population tends to have a more challenging schedule when it comes to making time for your strength training. Some jobs require long hours, days, weeks, or even months, where you won’t have access to a gym. However, as the popular saying goes here at Power Athlete, you should still be able to Move the Dirt. Whether you’re using a spoon or a shovel, getting something done and staying consistent will always be infinitely better than doing nothing.

Believe me, I understand the difficulty when it comes to finding time for your fitness, both when you’re in the military and as a first responder. I was a grunt in the Marines (YUT), fighting in two wars between 2006-2010, and have been a Firefighter since 2013. I’ve done missions where I’ve gotten no sleep for 3 days, and I’ve had shifts where there were calls every hour on the hour at night as a Firefighter. It sucks.

During these times, it may be difficult, but you can still move the dirt (even if it’s with just a teaspoon). When you’re beat up and tired, less is certainly more. Recover, recover, recover. Take a nap, refuel with some real foods (if accessible), and get SOMETHING done. Even if you just go for a 10-minute walk, that’s better than nothing (bonus points if you drag a sled or find something to carry while you do it).

Consistently Demanding Consistency

What are you training for? The key to consistency is remembering your WHY. Yes, staying consistent with your training is important for everyone, but it is especially important for the tactical population. Remember your reasons for joining this group. More than likely, it was to be of service to others. If you are broken down and out of shape, then you can’t help anyone…and could quite possibly be a liability to your team, instead of an asset. When you are not feeling like training, revisit your reasonings for signing up for the job and remember the importance of staying fit and in good health.

Staying consistent will lead to better performance (obviously); it will also help with injury prevention, and keep you from being as sore as you would be from taking huge breaks in your training. One of the most common refrains from folks getting back into the gym is going too hard too soon, resulting in debilitating soreness…which delays them getting back into the gym again. Once they do get back in (if they do), they go hard, get sore, and repeat. Keeping a consistent training regiment avoids the entire mess.

What about overtraining and rest days? Yes, overtraining can lead to fatigue and injury – however, most folks aren’t anywhere near that threshold. A good majority are on the other side of that spectrum and undertraining, which can be just as bad. Staying consistent will be the best way to prevent chronic pain and soreness. Most well thought out training programs will have built in rest days and back-off weeks designed to help you recover. But, I can’t think of any worth their weight in grass-fed beef that would have long periods of inactivity. By finding the balance in your training, you’ll decrease your risk for health issues, deal with less pain, improve your immune system, and simply be in a better mood!

Training for Brain Gains

This population is plagued with mental health problems. Your training is not just to benefit others by having slabs of muscle to crush your enemies or pull citizens out of burning buildings. It’s also to help keep your mental health in check. Ensure you set some time aside for some form of exercise, whether it’s strength training or aerobic work, as this has been demonstrated to improve brain health. 

Operators in the tactical population deal with a wide range of mental health, such as Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), sleep disorders, hormonal dysfunction, chronic pain and headaches, anxiety, depression, anger, hypervigilance, PTSD, substance abuse, marital and family problems, suicide…the list goes on. You can help prevent and repair these issues by training consistently. A sedentary lifestyle will lead to systemic inflammation in multiple parts of the body. Exercising regularly has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect, which will help you look and feel better. And when you look and feel better, you perform better.

Tips for Staying Consistent

Maybe you find it hard to stay the course. You always start with the best intentions, but life gets in the way and the best laid plans of mice and men go awry. We’re human, and not professional athletes, so I completely understand. The best we can do is mitigate the wrenches life throws at us to keep on track. Here are 5 quick tips I’ve put to use, to help me stay consistent in my training:

1. Set a Goal

Many people wander into the gym without a solid plan. Knowing what you are training for allows you to organize your training with a better plan. An added bonus? It gives you something to track and measure. I like to tell people to set more specific, attainable goals, rather than just “lose some weight” or “get stronger”. How about, lose 10 pounds in 2 months or squat 315 for reps. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get stronger overall, but set some specific goals to help guide your training and also give you something to celebrate when you achieve it!

2. Create a Routine

One of the best ways to stay consistent with your training is to make it part of your routine. For my wife and I, we pretty much always have a routine of waking up, having coffee with a small breakfast, and then train. Your routine may need to be different depending on your occupation or lifestyle. Maybe you need to train during lunch, or after punching the clock. The key is, it’s important to set some time aside and dedicate at least 30 minutes to some form of self care, whether it’s smashing weights or going for a walk.

3. Get an Accountabilibuddy (or a Coach)

Having someone hold you accountable is a great way to stay consistent! It could be a friend, a workout partner, or a coach, but either way, having someone that keeps you in check if you start slipping is incredibly beneficial.

4. Unplug and Limit Distractions

Turn the phone to Do Not Disturb or put it away in a lock box. If you struggle with interruptions due to your phone (or other factors), do what you can to eliminate that distraction. If you have kids, this can sometimes be tricky, because those little creatures sure can be a big distraction. You could try including them in your training if they’re old enough, or give them some form of an activity or puzzle for them to do. If needed, sometimes a tablet or other electronic device can suffice – just make sure you limit their time on it. I get it…I’m a Dad too, and when there are all these influencers that don’t have kids try telling you what to do it usually goes in one ear and out the other. Kids can be a big distraction, but they are also of great importance, so show them a good example of how to live a healthy life and they will usually follow!

5. Move The Dirt

Ahh, the old “Move The Dirt” saying…an oldie, but a goodie. “Training is like moving a big ass pile of dirt. Some days you get a shovel, some days you get a spoon, but as long as you move some dirt everyday you’re headed in the right direction” – John Welbourn

This is a very simple phrase to help you stay consistent. Not every training day will be a glorious one, full of blood, sweat, and PR’s. You will have off days. You will have days where you are extremely limited on time, or have that old high school injury flare up. Whatever obstacles may arise, just remember…”MOVE THE DIRT”. Maybe you can only get your main lift in that day…that’s fine! At least, you got some training in. Unless you are a professional athlete competing at a top level, missing a smidge of your training will be okay (or even missing a lot of your training will be okay, just realize it might take a bit longer to achieve your goals).

Training x Recovery = Performance

Your recovery is equally as important as your training. Please understand that you need to simply find the balance in your training. Sometimes, you may be better off sleeping instead of training. Make sure you are well rested so that when you do have time for the gym, you can attack the weights with full intensity. 

Your lifestyle and habits can be the difference maker in your recovery. Get proper sleep, try to keep your circadian rhythm in check, eat whole foods, hydrate (not with alcohol), perform some stress management and mindfulness training, and incorporate some hot/cold therapy if it is accessible to you.

Everyone needs a coach. If you’re looking to get some help in your training journey, reach out to Power Athlete at training@powerathletehq.com or check out our Program Selector aid to find your perfect Power Athlete Training Program.

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Matt Spaid

Matt Spaid is a Firefighter, Strength Coach, and a Marine Corps Veteran. He began working in the fitness industry in 2012 as a CrossFit Coach. This experience led to training a wide variety of athletes while learning different aspects of health and wellness. He is a firm believer that in order to be healthy and strong, you must have a balanced approach through the body, mind, and spirit. This outlook led to embracing the Power Athlete Methodology and eventually becoming a Power Athlete Certified Coach.

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