How to be leaner, fitter, faster and stronger…at any age

How to be leaner, fitter, faster and stronger…at any age

In January each year there’s an interesting phenomenon that takes place in my neck of the woods…as it does in many places around the world.  I call it the New Year’s fitness resolution phenomenon.  Let me explain.

What I observe in January each year is the increased number of runners and joggers on the streets and parks.  For instance, one of the parks I like to run in, Sir Barry Curtis park in East Auckland, is often packed to the hilt in January with people who have caught the fitness bug.

Same thing with gyms too.  Huge increase in people joining gyms in the month of January – particularly in the first few weeks. Newbies come in to the gym…looking all purposeful and committed to living a healthier lifestyle, losing the extra kilos and feeling better about themselves.  However……

By the end of January leading into February, many of the newly-minted runners and joggers disappear…never to be seen again.  And the enthusiastic gym goers who signed up in January? Many of them disappear as well.

What’s happened?  Lost interest?  No more motivation? Too busy for health and fitness?

In my view there is a simple reason for the high drop out rate.  Bad strategy.  Specifically, there is poor planning and not enough focus on creating an environment of success, which in turn hinders the specific behaviors and habits needed to succeed.

Setting a New Years resolution to lose weight or become fitter is good, but it’s not enough.  It is only a starting point.

What is needed to turn the resolution into a long-term successful outcome is a good strategy.

A good strategy…More important than ever before

Why do we need a strategy? We are failing.  Shown below are several statistics from Understanding Excess Body Weight, a report published by the New Zealand Ministry of Health.


So we have a trebling of the obesity rate…and now 2/3rds of New Zealand adults are either overweight or obese.


These figures are alarming for several reasons:

Firstly, obesity has a correlation to medical issues such as diabetes and heart disease.  Indeed, as the rate of obesity has gone up, we’ve seen a corresponding rise of diseases such as those mentioned.

Secondly, obesity is predominantly a lifestyle-related condition.  Here is how Dr Walter Willett, a leading US nutrition expert puts it:

“Genetic and environmental factors, including diet and life-style, both contribute to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other major causes of mortality, but various lines of evidence indicate that environmental factors are most important.”

(Balancing Life-Style and Genomics Research For Disease Prevention, Willett W. Science. Volume 296. 26 April 2002)

Ultimately then, we need a change in lifestyle.

Changing to a healthy lifestyle.  Easy in principle.  Difficult in practice.

It is sad but true.  Changing to a healthy lifestyle is easy in principle, but more difficult to apply in practice.  And here’s why.

Lifestyle is influenced by a range of factors that are linked and interact with each other, as shown here:



As illustrated, the central cog in the system is our personal self-discipline and level of intrinsic motivation. This represents our personal ability to stay motivated and on task to achieve important goals.

However, intrinsic motivation is highly impacted by environmental factors such as work/school patterns, social group influences, ready access to food, media advertising, cultural norms and access to good role models and mentors

Let me share with you my health and fitness strategy.  It is one that has served me well for more than twenty years, with some significant improvements and developments made along the way.

As a bit of a health and fitness nut I’ve conducted 1000’s of hours of research into health and fitness.  I’m familiar with many of the diets that are promoted to the public such as Atkins, Paleo, Fruitarian, Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers. And I’ve studied the work of well-known nutrition researchers including Robert Lustig, Nathan Pritikin, Gary Taubes and Joel Fuhrman…as well as reviewing a great number of medical studies and journals.

On the fitness front I’ve researched and tried a raft of training modalities including Bulgarian Burst training, high intensity intervals, Crossfit, long steady distance (LSD) training, high-low training, powerlifting, lactate threshold training, tabatas, super slow training, high rep weight training and much more.  I guess you could call me the proverbial guinea pig.

Finally, I’ve combined what I know about health and fitness with my knowledge and training in strategy and human behaviour.  This knowledge is crucial because of the need to combine health and fitness knowledge into a coherent and workable strategy.  The result is my Athlenics system.

My strategy works, and has helped me to maintain a high-level of health and fitness in a number of areas.  Aged in my mid-50s, I am leaner, fitter, faster and stronger than most men half my age. And a few of my health KPIS include:

  • A resting heart rate in the mid 40 beats per minute.
  • A body mass index of 21, which is well within the healthy range.
  • 1 rep squat of more than 2x my bodyweight.
  • A VO2 max of 51, and aerobic conditioning which puts me in the top 1% in the world for my age.

No doubt due to ageing, performance will decline over time. But, as long as I maintain the strategy, I firmly believe I can achieve health and fitness metrics comparable to someone 20 years younger than myself.

Not only do I want to defy my age…I also want to break paradigms and stereotypes around health as it relates to my family and my Maori ethnicity.

Statistically Maori live 7.3 years less than non-Maori, the obesity rate for Maori vs non-Maori is much higher, and the quality of health for older Maori is not as good when compared to non-Maori.

My father died when he was 51, due in part to the unhealthy lifestyle choices he made.  My Mum died age 72, and spent the last 15 years of her life suffering from both cancer and stroke survivor.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the choices we make.  And to ensure we make the right choices we need to have the right strategy.

For me, improving health and fitness levels is about focusing on the following:

Here is a brief overview of the system.

High Performance mindset.  This is the centrepiece of all health and well-being.  It includes your emotional well-being and your emotional intelligence skills.

Emotional intelligence is a concept you may not be familiar with, but it is a term that is well-established in the fields of psychology and organizational development. Here’s a brief definition:

Popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence is defined as “the ability of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.” (Coleman, Andrew (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press)

Dr Jeanne Segal further explains Emotional intelligence as the “the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

If you have high emotional intelligence you are able to recognize your own emotional state and the emotional states of others, and engage with people in a way that draws them to you. You can use this understanding of emotions to relate better to other people, form healthier relationships, achieve greater success at work, and lead a more fulfilling life.” (

Emotional Intelligence encompasses a number of factors that impact on our mental and emotional well-being including stress levels and coping mechanisms, relationships and social connectedness. Bottom line? We need to work just as much on improving our emotional intelligence and fitness as our physical fitness.  The two go hand-in-hand, so if our emotional intelligence and fitness is good, then we are better able to perform to our potential physically.

The strategy and execution components of the model are based on Pareto’s 80/20 principle.  In fitness it is also known as polarized training, which essentially means that we focus our efforts on the 20% of the training which produces 80% of the benefit.

  • The strength training component involves the use of weight training and bodyweight exercises to build strength and/or increase muscle mass.
  • The speed training component is designed to improve or maintain top end speed.  The speed component itself focuses on bio-mechanics and performing sprint intervals lasting 6-8 seconds with long recoveries.
  • The endurance component is focused on improving overall heart health by increasing aerobic and anaerobic fitness.  80% of workouts are performed at a moderate pace and 20% at a high intensity.
  • High intensity workouts can also be used to build anaerobic fitness.  Such workouts include repeat running distances from 100 metres to 400 metres with long recoveries.
  • Nutrition is based upon my view that 80% of health and fitness outcomes are due to diet. Some people are lulled into the idea that as long as you exercise it’s ok to eat whatever you like.  This idea is false…and you just need to see the number of overweight gym-goers or runners to realize how dumb it is.  I subscribe to the Calorie in-calorie out (CICO) theory of nutrition, which essentially states that to lose weight we need to create a calorie deficit.  In other words, we need to eat less in caloric terms than what we burn from our basal metabolic rate plus exercise.  However, the quality of those calories is crucial.  There is a huge difference in caloric quality between 400 calories from an apple versus 400 calories from a soft drink.
  • In terms of nutrition specifics, your diet should come mainly from whole or low-processed plant foods.  Avoid the highly refined fatty, sugary, oily, floury junk and processed foods. 

A key component of the strategy is the most important.  This involves making changes to your environment and is based on the theory that environment shapes and drives behaviour.  Further, as we create and live in an environment that is more conducive and supportive of healthy living, then we are more likely to make healthier choices. Environmental factors include our social group, physical environment, cultural factors and geography.

Again, this is an overview and so the mechanics and specifics have been left out.  Suffice to say through, once you understand the principles and overall strategy, the actual mechanics and detail are easy to develop and apply.