Guidance: Getting back to Fit

Above, you’ll see your humble author in one of the last races of my collegiate career. I’m fairly confident that this was the 400 meter hurdles, but it was nearly a decade ago and certain details have started to soften around the edges. Several months later, I tore my ACL which closed the book on my Senior year of track and field and any hope of future competition.

Life progressed, and before long, I was working 40+ hours a week in a cubicle and slowly starting to soften around the middle. And the top. The bottom got soft too.

You ever see a really tubby guy and find out he used to run marathons or was a pretty successful collegiate athlete? You always wonder how that happens right? Well, when you’re working out a couple hours a day, five to seven days a week, you get accustomed to eating whatever you want, whenever you want. If you don’t have the dozens of hours per week of working out to offset the caloric load, weight gain is merciless and fast.

It took several years of starts, stops, failures, and experimentation but I finally got some semblance of fitness back. My blood work is good. My blood pressure is normal, and my cholesterol is within normal limits, but higher than my doctor and (nurse) wife would prefer. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way.

Set a goal – Nothing is achievable without a goal. Seriously, think about it. How can you know if you’re making progress if you’re not progressing towards something? Find something achievable like “I want to drop a few percentage points from my body fat” or “I have a hiking trip planned and don’t want to be gassed.” I jokingly told a coworker that my current fitness goals were, “Look good naked and don’t get winded during sex.” Your fitness goal can be anything you want. Just set something you can that you can easily achieve within the next 60 days and get after it. Small wins lead to bigger wins.

Don’t Run  – Unless you’re racking up the miles currently, don’t set your “achievable goal” to be a 5K. Running is stupid. It always has been. My good friend Jon repeatedly states that “running breeds cowardice” any time I discuss running. I ran in formalized competitions for the better part of a decade, and I still thought running was stupid the whole time. If you’re looking to get fit, running is a stupid place to start. Someone is going to try to convince you to do a “couch to <some distance>” plan to get fit – tell them no.

In my experience, here’s how this pattern plays out.

Step 1 – get wild hair to go running. Run further than your body is physically capable of. End the  run sore, but “feeling great” – immediately consume 500 calorie smoothie.

Step 2 – wake up the next morning feeling like hammered dogshit. Everything hurts.

Step 3 – continue feeling that way for several days. Finally, walking feels fine 3-5 days post run.

Step 4 – get another wild hair. Start running. Pain in knees, hips, calves, and back immediately flares up. Convince yourself that you need to “push through” the pain. End run hurting more than you did 3-5 days prior. Immediately consume 500 calorie smoothie and 250 calorie recovery bar.

Step 5 – repeat Steps 2 and 3. Repeat Step 4 until you get injured or give up completely.

Running is stupid.

Eat Better – No surprise here, but gains are made in the kitchen. Don’t get analysis paralysis about nutrition. Simply put, don’t eat like a dickhead. Eat some leafy greens, consume some good protein, and eat less bread if possible. In fact, you can look good naked by eating better and exercising moderately.

Go on a Walk – You’re not going to get hurt walking around, but it will help your overall cardiovascular health. Go on a brisk walk. You’ll be able to do it regularly without getting hurt, and you’ll feel better. Three 1.5 mile walks (30 minutes each) three times a week are better for you than one 2 mile run that leaves you broken and unable to run again for 5 days. Again, running is stupid. Walking is cool.

Embrace a Moderate Amount of Vanity – One of the most transformative coaches I had was my friend Ben Palmer. Ben spent a good portion of his life as a vegan marathoner, but in the last 7 years embraced meat and lifting heavy. Ben taught me that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the way your body looks. Find out what your significant other thinks is attractive and work towards that. You’ll feel good. They’ll like the way you look. Maybe you get to test out whether you get winded during sex because of that work.

An Actual Plan

Every “get your ass in gear” article ever gives a bunch of broad advice that applies to everyone while simultaneously working for no one. Here’s my starter plan for getting your ass in gear. Feel free to modify to suit.

Superset 10-25 lb hammer curls to failure and 10-20 air squats. Do 3 rounds of that. It should look like this.

10-25 lbs hammer curls to failure

10-20 air squats

10-25 lbs hammer curls to failure

10-20 air squats

10-25 lbs hammer curls to failure

10-20 air squats

Keep the weight light on the hammer curls. You should be able to knock out 20+ reps for all three sets. If you’re not getting to 20 reps on all three, drop the weight. This whole process should take less than 15 minutes, and more likely 10. Get the heart pumping, maybe glisten a bit, and make your biceps burn. You don’t have to go buy dumbbells or join a gym. An 8x8x8 cinder block costs less than $2 and weighs about 20 lbs. If it’s too heavy, break it with a hammer until it feels right. Or join a gym. Do whatever makes you happy as long as you establish a pattern of working out three times a week.

Do this process three times a week taking a rest day in between each one for a month adding weight/reps to satisfy the 20+ rep scheme. Here’s why I advocate for this type plan.

1.) It takes very little time and you can do it nearly anywhere. In the time it takes to scroll Instagram and like some photos, you can knock out a little workout.

2.) The bicep curl is the most glamorous of workouts precisely because the biceps respond so quickly to exercise. If you’re knocking out 60+ reps of bicep curls three times a week, you will see improvement in a short amount of time. That improvement will be noticed by you and others. Embrace it. Relish it. Bathe in it.

Seriously, roll up your sleeves (or cut ’em off!) and check out your pumped up pythons in the mirror. Don’t get in anybody’s way in the gym, but take a moment to appreciate your hard work. Then rack your weights and wipe down your equipment when you’re done.

Additive Processes 

The foundation for improvement is to start small and build each day, week, month. You’ll find this super overused quote from Tryon Edwards in every GloboGym in America, but it does make sense.

Thoughts lead on to purpose, purpose leads on to actions, actions form habits, habits decide character, and character fixes our destiny.

If you can take action and spend 15 minutes, three times a week, crushing some bicep curls and air squats, you can set up a habit that can be slowly expanded. Don’t worry about your character or your destiny. Just set aside some time to  improve yourself.

Once you get to a point where the biceps are looking good, start on some tricep extensions to build out the rest of those guns. You’re already air squatting your body weight a bunch of times – maybe get under the bar and start squatting. Buy a copy of “Starting Strength

Before long, you’ll be watching Kali Muscle videos, chalking up your hands, and discussing the finer points of intermittent fasting while referring to the gym as your “Iron Paradise.” Whatever you do, set a small achievable goal that you can see through in 60 days or (preferably) less. Once you torch that goal, set a different goal that’s still achievable.

Whatever you do, keep in mind that for pretty much every American out there, the days of making a job out of being fit are long over. The majority of people can only count the following two things as true reasons for working out – be healthy and look good. Don’t be afraid to embrace the latter so that the former can follow. The moment you stop having fun, go back to the last place where it was fun and start over.

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