The Google Maps Guide To A Healthy Life

I’ve always enjoyed the exchange from Alice in Wonderland where the Cheshire cat talks to Alice about where she’s going.  In the clip below, Alice has just been attempting to decide which direction to travel in, when the Cheshire cat appears, introduces himself, and offers incredibly good advice:

Dan John accurately reflects this sentiment in his great book Intervention. Many people not only don’t know where they are going, they don’t know where they are.  When we train, it’s critically important that we not only have a good idea of our desired outcome, but also an accurate impression of where we are now.

Once we have these critical points, the next job is to create a plan.  The aim of this article is to impress the importance upon you of the plan that you create.  Unfortunately, not all plans are created equal, and not every person who is tasked with helping you to execute a plan is well equipped to do so.

Why We Plan

I’m a big fan of Google Maps.  It helps me to get places quickly and efficiently, and allows me to avoid issues that I wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of. Many times, I’ll go in a completely different direction or avoid a toll because Google has seen a traffic issue and the giant red line on my route means that my typical way of travelling is not appropriate.  I assume (without having any proprietary knowledge) that Google does this by aggregating the travel speed of everyone who is using the app or who has given permission for their phone to be tracked.  In other words, it gets this knowledge by looking at the people who have, quite literally, travelled the road before me.

When we hire a coach our goal is to similarly avoid pitfalls that might force us to pay a physical or emotional toll, or to suffer significant undue delays.  Forgive me for labouring the point, but coaches, like Google Maps, have seen people with similar bodies, issues, etc who have travelled a similar road to us before, and like Google Maps they have also spent time to gain prior knowledge that we don’t easily have access to, either through experience or via study.

Unfortunately I see many people who fail to either:
  • garner the knowledge they need personally (there’s a proverb about someone who represents themself in court… but I digress) or
  • to hire someone who can ask the questions to help them to clarify their direction and keep them on track (even if they make some wrong turns along the way!).

Why The Process Is Important

Once we know where we are going and the best route to get there, the next thing that we need to do well, continuing our Google Maps analogy, is drive our car.  This part is largely up to us. Google can’t or won’t (yet) drive our car for us, and so, we are tasked with the job of taking ourselves to our destination.

When we drive, we moderate our speed and take into account how we feel and what is around us.  We don’t drive drunk or fatigued, and your gut response to that sort of behaviour is probably a pretty good indication of what you think of someone who does.  We also don’t try and go at top pace the entire time either…  We acknowledge stop signs, red lights, and give ways and just generally, we pay attention to the rhythms of the road.

Unfortunately people fail to recognise the importance of doing similar things in training.  How we train is just as important, or more important, than what we are doing.  Being mindful of not driving into proverbial pot holes makes a gigantic difference.  Here are a few things that are true about executing programs that you’ll easily equate to driving (use your repulsion for people behaving like idiots on the road as motivation to not mimic them in the gym!):
  1. Don’t go at top speed all the time

    Bodies are made to have periods of rest as well as periods of work.  Our best results happen when our training load is around 80%. In a similar vein to what we were just talking about, we actually get places faster when our speed allows us to adjust for things and maintain a smooth drive rather than having to jam on the brakes or shift out of a ditch.
  2. Respect Road Rules

    Our bodies move in a specific fashion, and if we don’t move in that way then we are going to break ourselves pretty shortly.  If your trainer isn’t spending a significant amount of time helping you to become good at what you’re doing (you should be able to tell what the movement should look like and have a clear idea of what you are doing and why your trainer wants you to do it that way) then they are just hanging out and holding your hand…
  3. Maintain Your Body

    If you ding something, take it to a professional to fix (in general, like your local mechanic is not trained and equipped to be a panel beater, your PT is not equipped to diagnose and fix your pain - if they pull out panel beating tools but they don’t have the body of experience and professional association or degrees to be doing it, run away very, very fast…


    Let me state this again and make it clear:
Personal trainers are here to help you to move well and to progress towards your training goals - they are about 4 years of training and hundreds of practical hours short of being physios, chiros, or doctors. As a PT, the best I can do is to develop a network of professionals who are committed to becoming fantastic at their job, as well as learn to recognise poor practitioners or the signs of poor practitioners, and if someone comes in with advice that doesn’t pass the sniff test, recommend a second opinion…  That’s it… I don’t get to play junior MD.
  4. Listen to the Engine

    Sometimes things stop working for no apparent reason (or for more apparent reasons like excessive stress, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, etc).  Our body will give us signs that things aren’t right, and sometimes, we just need to slow down and take a moment to let whatever is going on pass, or to assess what our options are and make an intelligent decision.  Some people are tough enough to push through the pain.  I’d suggest in most situations that the adjective there should be stupid...

If that seems harsh, I want you to imagine driving down a highway when you see a light come on in your dashboard. A little further on, a sound starts dinging and the light begins to flash. As you continue to speed down the highway, your car starts to blow smoke. Eventually it putters to a stop, and as you continue attempting to restart it and pushing on the accelerator, the engine bay bursts into flames…  How would you describe it?

On a trainers note: How would you describe the RACQ guy who is sitting beside you encouraging you to push the engine harder?
  5. Take Breaks or Change Tacks Sometimes

    Just like when we are going on a long journey, we can’t keep driving all the time. We need to have rest periods in there. Every day, every week, and every month.  The longer the journey, the more deliberate we need to be about planning and executing these.  

We only get stronger when our body can recover.  Recovery helps it to do all the things that are important for the replenishment of resources and the removal of waste.  Taking a day off, or a really light day, or giving yourself permission to actually be on holiday with your family, providing it is combined with actually doing the work, will sometimes be all you need to return to your journey with clarity and vigour.
  6. Maintain Your Engine

    It’s no secret that I’m a big Original Strength fan.

    Original Strength is the simplest, most effective movement restoration system I’ve seen.  I sometimes refer to it as restorative movement for dummies.  Original Strength allows us to do the work while making sure that our body’s underlying movement patterns are still strong, and that the basic components of our body are still on the right track.  These movements are the oil and fluid that help the engine to take us where we want to go.

Stop doing things to maintain these underlying patterns and something is going to snap.

Alongside the OS in importance for engine maintenance I would put adequate sleep and nutrition.  I’ve touched on these before but they really are a big deal.  If you’re in doubt, find a way to get Pavel to write a program and then perform it on a junk food diet without any sleep and watch the predictable results roll in.  Pavel’s pretty good, but no one’s going anywhere in a car without gas…


This is a novel way of looking at things, but this isn’t anything that you couldn’t have figured out on your own.  For most of us, the key thing often isn’t having a good idea of what to do, but in applying it and going in the right direction. Without a guide, a training Google Maps of sorts (or even better, a convoy with someone who knows the way!), it’s easy to get lost and find ourselves somewhere we didn’t intend to go. It’s worth finding a group who share your values, who care about their longevity and who you like being around (with someone who can teach you what you need to know).When you do that, you start to find yourself making consistent strides towards the destination that you ultimately want to find yourself.

Our bodies are the finest machines on the planet. Treat them well and they are incredible things that can help us to do whatever we want long into our dotage but treat them poorly and using them every day can become a bit of a drag and they can start to look a little shabby.   Regardless of your goal, find someone who can help you to create a roadmap and then be diligent in both working the plan the right way and taking care of yourself as you do it.

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