All-In: Poker Lessons Applied to Fitness

Week in Review: May 17, 2019
May 17, 2019
Week in Review: May 24, 2019
May 24, 2019
Week in Review: May 17, 2019
May 17, 2019
Week in Review: May 24, 2019
May 24, 2019

Like many my age, I first gained an appreciation for the game of poker through the movie Rounders. Along will several memorable one-liners from John Malkovich, the movie offered an entertaining, yet sometimes sad glimpse into the life a professional poker player. As a long-time fitness professional and long-time poker enthusiast, I’ve noticed that the two share some common traits.

On the surface it might seem that the game of poker and fitness would have nothing in common. For one, poker players are often required to sit at a table for hours on end. There’s virtually no physical activity involved. For another, alcohol, cigarettes and unhealthy food often accompany players as they play their hands.

While it’s certainly true that “fitness” is not the first thing you think of when you think of poker, three qualities applicable to the game of poker are also essential to cultivating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

1. Poker Players Value Process Over Results

As I began to learn the game, I discovered that I could sometimes make the wrong choice and win. Conversely, I could also make the right choice and lose. Sadly this leads to a misinformed belief that how you play doesn’t really matter as long as you win the hand. In fact, many people wind up losing players because they never graduate from results-oriented thinking.

What I would eventually come to understand is that poker is all about probability. Making more “right” choices would lead to better results in the long run. To be a winning player, I needed to focus on making them more often. Yes, I could occasionally lose if my money went in as an 80% favorite, but I would win far more in the long-run. I could also get lucky by getting my money in as a 20% underdog, but in the end I’d be broke if I pursued that strategy consistently. When we think about our health, we too want to consider the long run.

Body weight fluctuates.

We have good days and bad days.

Our energy levels aren’t always there.

Rather than get bogged down because we’re stuck at a plateau or seeing week-to-week fluctuations in our progress, we need to stick with it. Assuming our process is sound, we’re going to win in the long run, even if the short-term result tells us a different story.

For example, over the course of a given week you’ll have days where you work out hard and others where you don’t work out at all. You’ll also have days where you eat more carbs and calories, and others where you eat less. Each day compliments the other, but you make the best choice for the demands of each day. Those decisions, in turn, generate a result over the coming weeks and months. If you have a bad day or even a week, it’s ok. Reset and move forward – it will absorbed and forgotten in the long-run.

2. Poker Players Study and Plug Their Leaks

All good poker players constantly evaluate their game, looking for leaks or strategic holes that might be costing them money. Perhaps they play too many hands or lack the emotional discipline to avoid getting frustrated when they lose a hand they were a large favorite to win. These leaks are the bane of poker players who struggle to move from losing player to winning player. Only by sitting down and making an honest, unbiased review of their play, do they become profitable.

As you pursue your health and fitness goals, the same approach applies. It’s helpful to audit your behaviors from time to time to see where you might be going wrong. Some examples include:

  • Are you consistently executing the fundamentals with 80% success?

  • Is your process simple or overcomplicated?

  • Calorie control is the most important part of weight loss. Do you occasionally “celebrate” a hard workout by overeating?

  • If you break a “food rule” does that then give you license to stray even further away from healthy eating strategies?

  • Do your workouts fit your goals?

  • Are you tracking your workouts? Are you improving?

  • Do your workouts and food intake align?

  • Do you react harshly when you fail at a part of your diet or exercise program?

Each of these questions are legitimate concerns for anyone looking to improve their health and wellness. Consider them, and any others you can think of, as a necessary part of your overall program. Don’t hide from the truth – answer them honestly and work out a plan to improve any leaks you might have.

3. Poker Players Adapt

No two poker sessions are the same. Players change, dynamics change. While all players have a style that best suits them, the top players adjust in order to exploit weaker players and to avoid being exploited by tough players. The fish who fail to adapt get eaten by the sharks.

Sadly, none of us live in a perfect world. Things come up. Plans get derailed. How will you handle that? Just like the poker players above, are you able to adapt so that you win or are you too rigid and uncompromising?

Your child is home sick. Are you going to forgo the entire workout or complete something to maintain progress?

Perhaps you have a heavy travel week. Can you figure a different workout plan that uses the hotel’s equipment or will you just punt the week?

Staying on the travel note, can you find the healthy option on the menu or is the burger and fries on the room service menu too tempting to ignore?

If friends invite you out for happy hour, are you satisfied to have 1 or 2 drinks and call it a night, even if the party is just beginning?

All of these examples are rooted in discipline, specifically the discipline to keep your habits intact in the face of barriers and distractions. You often cannot control the fact that barriers were put up, but you can control how you respond to them. Your long-term success is dictated by your ability to adapt and overcome, even if the solution isn’t a perfect one.

Be a shark!

While we don’t always associate poker players with fitness, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from them. The path they take toward becoming a winner is often mirrored by many others in different walks of life. In this case, if you value the process over short-term results, plug your leaks and adapt to different challenges you’ll have a much better chance of “winning” at the game fitness.

Getting stronger, eating better and improving your health can seem like a long, arduous road. It’s easy to give in to corner-cutting emotional appeals. At Vitalifit, that’s not our message. We believe in creating solid habits that lead to a lifetime of health and happiness. If you’re looking for a trusted partner to help guide you through the process, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.