You haven’t seen the inside of a gym in a long time and you can’t remember the last time you did any physical activity beside choosing to use the stairs rather than the elevator. You try to eat right, but you’re surrounded by nothing but candy, cookies, and fast food. You want to change things, but you’re just not sure how you’re gonna do it.
Researching doesn’t help. Most of the fitness articles you find are written by guys with perfect six-pack abs who work out two hours a day because they can. That’s how they make their living.
So you start to feel trapped with no real strategy for reclaiming your health and your body. But I’m here to tell you that the trap is a lie based on other lies you’ve been told:
That you need 90 minute to 2 hour workouts in a gym to get in shape.
That you have to live off of chicken breast and broccoli to have a good diet.
That it’s not possible to get in shape with a full time job and a family and that getting out of shape is part of growing up.
None of these are true, and the first step to not feeling trapped anymore lies in understanding this.
The next step lies in outlining a strategy for yourself by breaking the problem down to its simplest components. To get in shape you need to:
Find a way to eat better while avoiding the junk food surrounding you at work.
Find a way to work out without messing with your work schedule or your family time.
Figure out a way to do it all consistently.
Let’s get into building this strategy:
Here’s a little secret about nutrition: it’s not the big desserts that you have once or twice a week that are probably killing you. Rather, it’s the little things that you do every single day that add up. That’s because these little things turn into habits that you do all the time.
How many times a week do you walk by the candy dish at work and pop something sugary into your mouth? How many times a day are you reaching for a soda or hitting the vending machine? How often are you throwing sugar into your coffee?
Let’s break this down for you in terms of numbers.
Let’s say you limit your sugar intake to three big slices of chocolate cake with frosting per week. Your standard large slice of chocolate cake has around 32 grams of sugar (when you subtract the 1.8 grams of fiber from the carb total), 10.5 grams of fat, and 2.6 grams of protein. This adds up to around 235 calories total. So if you have three pieces of chocolate cake per week you’re getting 96 grams of extra sugar and 705 extra calories.
Now, let’s say you have one soda a day per week day, or five sodas total per week. Your standard soda has around 44 grams of sugar in it and 186 total calories with not much else in it. 5 sodas add up to 220 grams of sugar and 930 extra calories! You’d be way better off with the three pieces of chocolate cake!
Let me also note that 1 soda a day is actually conservative. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll around 48% of Americans drink around 2.6 servings of soda a day! If you did that every week day that adds up to 572 grams of sugar and 2,405 extra calories per week!
Let’s say you’re not a soda person. You like juices and fruit smoothies. They’ve got vitamins right? A glass of juice typically contains around 25 grams of sugar. Drink one every day and you’ve got 175 grams of sugar per week! Smoothies? Your typical Jamba Juice Aloha Pineapple smoothie has between 67 grams of sugar in a small!
My point is not to demonize soda, juice, or smoothies. My point is to say that it’s these seemingly little things that count because you’re liable to do them far more often. In today’s society, the real battles are won by saying no to the sugary drinks, skipping the sugar in your coffee, avoiding the donuts, and walking past the candy and pretzel dish without taking a handful back to your desk.
It comes down to avoiding the small temptations that surround you every day. If you win these small battles, then half the war is won. You win the rest of the war by knowing what to put into your body. This isn’t as complicated as most people make it out to be.
Start by drinking water rather than soft drinks. Aside from helping you to avoid sugar and artificial sweeteners, this will give you more capacity for health. Water is the medium in which all of the reactions your in your body happen, and without enough water, it’s impossible for your body to operate efficiently. This is especially true of burning fat.
If you’re chronically dehydrated, it seriously reduces your kidneys' ability to filter your blood. When this happens, they pass a lot of this job over to your liver, which is responsible for metabolizing fat into energy. But if your kidneys aren’t functioning properly, your liver ends up only having about half of its capacity to metabolize fat. So staying hydrated is essential if you want your body to burn fat.
Once you’ve got your hydration covered, it’s about making better choices with your eating. This is one reason why I like the Paleo philosophy of eating so much: it makes these choices much easier. Yes, we can debate about what the cave men actually ate, but the rules of Paleo are clear and the recommendations are beneficial: eat green leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts, fruit in moderation, and grass fed and hormone free meats.
Snacking comes down to reaching for some nuts or beef jerky rather than the candy. If you absolutely need something sweet, then grab a handful of berries.
If you’re good all week, then treat yourself to a dessert like chocolate cake once a week. Do I recommend eating dessert once a week? Yes, if knowing that you’ll eventually get dessert will keep you away from all of that other crap you’re eating all day long. As we determined before indulging in a big piece of chocolate cake is much better than getting those doses of sugar from drinking sodas and eating candy all day long. If the prospect of chocolate cake or any other dessert keeps you from the steady sugar feed at work, then this is absolutely the better choice!
But here’s the thing: you don’t need a whole lot of time to train and you don’t even need a gym. Bodyweight exercises can give you a fantastic resistance workout, and you can do high intensity interval training (HIIT) to get your cardio in over short workouts throughout the day.
What’s awesome about this is that scientists have actually demonstrated that doing multiple shorter workouts of 10 minutes or less spread out over the day can have even more benefits than training for long sessions (1).
Additionally, HIIT training is also known to help raise testosterone levels and burn fat more effectively than long steady state sessions (2).
These short workouts won’t help you become Mr. Olympia and they won’t help you to become an Olympic athlete, but they will help you to look better, feel better, reclaim your body, and prevent an early death.
They also allow you to train anywhere at any time. For example, in a given day, you can do a quick HIIT cardio session in the morning, a 10 minute calisthenics session at the office (or in the supply closet if you don’t want your coworkers to see you doing pushups) and another quick HIIT session at home while you’re watching TV.
Here’s a few calisthenics workouts you can do in under 15 minutes:
A reverse pushup, pull up, or bodyweight squat ladder:
start with 10 pushups. Rest 15 seconds then do 8. Repeat and do 6, 4, and then 2. If you feel like you want some more then go back up the ladder starting at 2 and working your way up to 10.
5 sets of 25 bodyweight squats with 30 seconds between each set
5 sets of 10 bodyweight lunges on each side with 30 seconds between each set
5 sets of jump squats with 10 seconds between each set.
5 rounds of 1 minute bodyweight planks followed by 1 minute of as many crunches as you can do.
Here’s a few HIIT workouts you can do:
As many sets of 10 burpees as you can do in 10 minutes
6 rounds of 30 bodyweight squats followed by 10 burpees.
Tabata bodyweight lunges (Note: you can also do Tabata circuits with any other exercise. A Tabata circuit is 4 minutes total. During each round you do as many reps of an exercise as you can do in 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds rest consecutively through the entire 4 minute period.)
10 minutes of shadow boxing with 5 burpees every minute on the minute.
10 minutes of jumping rope
These are just some suggestions. You can build workouts that work for you using any combination of bodyweight exercises.
As far as programming, try to get these workouts in on at least 3 days a week. On the days that you don’t do these workouts try going for a 15-20 minute walk after lunch or dinner. This will help to level out your blood sugar and reduce fat storage.
The main point here is that you can train anywhere and it doesn’t need to take up hours of your time. Moving and being active is your birth right as a human being. Don’t allow yourself to squander it by telling yourself that you don’t have the time.
The dirtiest secret of the fitness industry is this: most exercise and nutrition programs work. We put our own spin on things to differentiate ourselves from the market, but any intelligently developed program that you follow for a good period of time will at least get you some results.
There is one differentiator that does determine the amount of success that an individual will have with any given program, and that’s consistency. The people who stay consistent get the results.
That means that you need to find a way to stay consistently committed to whatever routine you’re following in order to get to your goal.
How do we maximize consistency?
It begins by eliminating all possible excuses. As I wrote above, make nutrition and training as simple as possible for you to follow. Set a minimum standard that you know you can do regardless of what comes in your way. If you can do more than that, awesome, but make sure you hit that minimum. Like I said, it can be as simple as avoiding the candy jar at work and getting a few ten minute sessions in a few days a week, but its up to you to set that standard.
Once you’ve done this, you need to start racking up allies to help you out. Tell people who are close to you about your goal. If its your friends or family, see if they can exercise with you. Start competitions with your coworkers, play some active games with your family, or get your friends together for a workout. The more people in your circle that you have supporting you or even pushing you during a workout, the larger the stake you have in getting the work done and getting to your goal.
Finally, don’t sabotage yourself. A lot of people think that just because they’ve reached a certain age or have certain commitments that fitness just isn’t in the cards for them. That is a deadly misjudgment that could ruin your health and keep you from truly enjoying your life.
So with that said, get out there, and in the words of the famous US Navy Seal Jocko Willink, get after it.