Should You Follow a Strict Plan or Train Intuitively?

When the sand gets soft, follow the tracks. 

Have you ever spent a day at the beach and have to cross a scorching desert to make it to back to the land of air conditioning? The sun has drained all the energy from your body, the sand feels like it's 150 degrees, and you need to drag the cooler with one arm, carry a kid with another, and haul the chairs on your sunburned shoulders. 

What you need is a well-traveled way back—the path of least resistance. 

Last week I talked about the benefits of specific training goals, and the previous week I laid out the reasons why no one program should box you in. So which one is it—follow a strict plan or go with your gut? 

Strict Plan: Tire Tracks

Following a strict plan is like following tire tracks on the beach. Someone has already packed the sand down with their car to make a more level road for your feet. However, the tracks might not lead you where you need to go. Those tracks were made by someone else’s car going to a specific destination.

Following someone else’s strict diet and exercise plan might be easy in terms of being distraction and decision-free, but the creator might have used that plan for a certain competition, catered to their own body’s needs. For example, even though the Crossfit and paleo combo is popular, it may not be right for you. Sure, many people have traveled this road and laid out a wide path for others to follow, but if competition makes you cringe and the thought of eating animals is cruel, this may not be the best way for you.

Intuitive Training: forging a new path

Intuitive training is doing what feels right for you in the moment. It is making your own tracks in the sand. You may start with a structured program, then alter it according to your mood and energy. If your limbs are heavy and your brain feels foggy, you might need to focus on refreshing your body with a gentler form of the workout and refeeding your body with nourishing food.

If you’re just starting this new form of sense-oriented training, biofeedback tests are helpful points to gain a more accurate picture of how your body might respond to exercise. This article also discusses how the act of listening to your body results in what Adam T. Glass, co-owner of Movement Minneapolis gym and multiple-world-record holder in grip sport, calls "a mind-body workout that develops not just strength and endurance, but also a sharper kinesthetic sense, or awareness of your body in space, which helps avoid needless injuries and accelerates desired outcome.”

As far as eating goes, listen to the wisdom of the body in what it craves (except if it’s junk food) and pay attention to hunger cues—not eating until you’re feeling hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied instead of overstuffed. Paving your own path is freeing, but it can feel hard at first if you don’t know how to listen to your body yet. Reconsider the use of habits that might impair the mind-body connection as discussed in this post

Do both: Follow the Footsteps

The third option is to follow Jesus’s footsteps on the beach. Hang with me! This more than a “footsteps in the sand” poem; it's another way of living. It’s learning how to get quiet and inspect your surroundings for His presence. That may mean resting from stimulants like caffeine and sugar for a while, or pushing back a big competition to slow down enough to get your bearings and find out how to follow Him. These forms of fasting remove distractions and the desires of the flesh to make room for His guidance. What does this look like practically? I think everyone’s journey is different, but I’ll lay out a few steps from personal experience as one suggestion. When I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, this is generally what I did:

  1. Fast and pray. I took out all the known inflammatory foods out of my diet for 30 days and added in more sleep. What is hindering your life, or getting in the way of your relationship with the Lord? Remove it for a set period of time and fill that new void with prayer: "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." Psalm 73:26
  2. Pay attention to the results. I journaled my experiences in a reintroduction period over a few weeks. As you add what you fasted from back into your life, note how your body and mood responds. See what God reveals. This is the intuitive aspect.
  3. Find an appropriate program. I no longer follow a strict daily protocol, but have set “rules” that help keep me on track, such as avoiding gluten, peanuts, corn, and limiting my amount of dairy and soy, the substances that I adversely respond to. For me, I utilize resources like paleo cookbooks and modes of natural movement. Based on how you responded, research and try out a program that others have trailblazed to make it easier to implement into your daily life. This is the goal-oriented aspect.
  4. Grace upon grace. There are too many variables in life to continue to follow one linear path indefinitely. Know that grace both covers up failures and empowers you to follow Jesus. That means if I know a friend has invited me to a small birthday gathering to eat cake and ice cream, I will plan on celebrating with them, knowing that one small detour will not completely derail a long road of obedience. Jesus is a God of freedom, joy, and healing. It may be easier to keep your head down on a strict program, because following Jesus is tough. Being a disciple is a daily practice of keeping your head lifted, eyes looking out for Him, and heart open. It requires constant attention. Following Him on your health journey may look different day-to-day, and that’s okay. You're on the right path!

Ultimately, it matters less what style you choose and more which way leads you home.  

Reflect and Respond

  1. Do you do better following a strict plan or going with your gut?
  2. How do you find out what works for you?
  3. What has God been teaching you on your health journey?