Post written by Leo Babauta.
I don’t train to lose weight or look good. I don’t train to beat anyone or impress anyone. I don’t train for bigger muscles or a six-pack.
I train because I love it. And because it’s my life.
As I said last week: I am in the best shape in my life. That’s not impressive — while I’m fitter than most of the population there are a ton of people who are way fitter than me. They can run faster and longer; lift more and do more intense workouts; ride and swim much much better; play any sport better than me.
But I’m pretty fit. I can run for a couple hours if I want or hike all day. I can do a reasonable amount of pushups and pullups. I can sprint and jump. Best of all: I can play with my kids and keep up with them and challenge them to keep up with me (I usually win).
I say this not to brag but only to show that it’s possible. Because just five years ago I was in terrible shape: I was 65 pounds heavier and couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes. I was a smoker and ate junk food and never exercised. The most activity I got was lifting a beer to my mouth or walking to the fridge.
I’ve turned it around — and if you too are a couch potato with more than a couple pounds to lose then so can you. I’m no superhuman — I’m a regular guy with a megaton of kids (6) and a wife. How did I do it? Read on. This is a brief guide not for those who want to walk exactly in my footsteps but for those looking for useful information.
Last week I wrote about my diet. This week I’ll share my exercise program.
What I Do
I’m generally a minimalist and a maximalist when it comes to exercise. A minimalist in that I don’t believe you need much (or any) equipment to get fit; a maximalist in that I’ll do almost anything and everything.
So a bodybuilder might scoff at runners who run long and slow and have no muscle and a runner might scoff at a bodybuilder who lifts iron every day but has a big gut. A Crossfitter might scoff at others who don’t go as intense as they do while a triathlete might sneer at those who can’t go as long.
I agree with all of them except I don’t scoff at anyone.
I run but I also bike (and used to swim a bit but haven’t recently). I will lift weights but I’ll also do intense bodyweight exercise. I walk a very lot. I’ll throw sandbags around; do pullups from tree branches; do sprints; race my kids up hills; hike on trails; push sleds; do a pushup challenge (100 pushups in 5 minutes is a good one) or a jumping lunge challenge (see how fast you can do 300); swing kettlebells; play basketball or soccer; or just generally play with my kids.
I’ve also run several marathons and have done short triathlons. I’ve run many shorter races: half marathons and 10Ks and 5Ks and some crazy stuff in between.
So if you’re looking for a specific program from me … I don’t have one. I make it up as I go and just have fun doing it.
But some general tips:
- The most important thing for me is to have fun.
- Next is that I stay active on most days.
- Third is that I rest whenever I need it and not feel guilty — rest is good.
- I will often make fitness a social activity: hike with a friend or do Crossfit with another friend or do a Bodyrock.tv workout with my wife Eva (the videos are … wonderful).
- Challenges are also fun. Find a challenge online and give it a try. Do a challenge with your friend or spouse or a group.
- I like to mix it up. If I only do one kind of activity then I only have one kind of fitness. Also only doing one thing gets boring for me.
If you like you can checkout my automatically updated workout log (and by “automatically updated” I mean that I change the html document by hand coding it and then manually upload it to my server).
My Month of Crossfit
In January I joined my friend Scott Dinsmore in doing workouts with San Francisco Crossfit. We took a basics course three days a week for two weeks and that was tough. Then we did two weeks of the regular Crossfit classes and that was killer!
If you’re not familiar with Crossfit: they are crazy. They do intense short workouts of functional movements — burpees and barbell thrusters and pullups and sled pushing and running 400 meters and box jumps and throwing a medicine ball up against a wall and barbell deadlifts and kettlebell swings and any other crazy things the coach can think of.
It’s not for the faint of heart. I loved it. We’ll probably do more classes but I plan to mix other things in as well.
How I Got Here
I am doing workouts now that I couldn’t have done five years ago. If you haven’t been working out regularly I don’t recommend you do them. Start out easy.
I started by running for half a mile. It was hard. But I did it every other day for a couple of weeks and soon I could do a mile then two miles. And soon I began to enjoy it.
That’s the key: get your shoes on and get out the door. Then focus on the parts that are enjoyable.
- If it’s not enjoyable: find a friend to do it with and have a conversation. All you have to do is walk briskly or play a sport you enjoy. You don’t have to run. If you enjoy swimming or soccer then do those. Find a challenge and do that with friends.
- Start small. If you kill yourself in the beginning then you’ll dread doing it and you’ll eventually quit. If you make it easy then you’ll have no excuse.
- Build gradually. After starting small you can slowly increase your time exercised or intensity. Don’t do both at the same time. You might get enthusiastic and want to increase quickly — that’s a newbie mistake and often leads to overtraining or injury. You’re in this for the long haul.
- Don’t forget to rest. Recovery from training is a huge component of training. Most people (myself included) tend to overtrain and rest too little. Again: that leads to overtraining and injury. I’ve done it and it sucks.
- Log your progress. This is not absolutely necessary but … well actually it is. If you don’t log your progress you won’t see the progress. It’s hugely motivating to look back on your workout log and see how far you’ve come. If you stick with it for a few months or longer you’ll see tremendous improvement. That feels amazing. You’ll also be able to see what you’ve done wrong — if you’ve overtrained then the logs will make that obvious.
If you’re a beginner: I recommend you follow the advice in the above section. Start small and increase gradually and make it enjoyable and social. Watch yourself make progress.
After that I suggest you mix it up and challenge yourself in new ways all the time. Fitness can be incredibly fun. Do a race or join a class or do a group challenge. Find a variety of workout partners and enjoy the conversation and competition.
Some of my favorite resources:
- Bodyrock.tv: Great workouts and beautiful videos.
- Crossfit: Intense stuff. I recommend you use the “Brand X Scaled Workouts” in the “Start Here” section in the sidebar of the site. This is a forum where each workout of the day (WOD) is scaled to different levels. Start at the lower level and move up gradually.
- Ross Training: Excellent all-around fitness as well as instructions for making homemade cheap workout equipment.