How I Train: Fitness for the Everyperson

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:

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.

Next Steps

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.