The start of a new year is the time when people make all kinds of promises to themselves. You commit yourself to eating super healthy food everyday, you stop smoking, run 2 times a week, go to the gym 4 times a week and you’ll start with Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine Workout because that is how you were born to look like.
You immerse yourself in all those good intentions for a week and then you get back to your old life. Rinse and repeat that every year.
Let’s stop that now.
I’m not saying you should not attempt to better yourself — quite the contrary. I’m just saying that the approach I outlined above does not work for 99% of the population.
If you think your life path will consist of 180 degree turns, you are making a fool of yourself. Dreaming up these big overnight changes gives you an excuse to screw up today.
A New Year’s resolution is nothing else than handing the responsibility for your life to someone else: your future self. Your future self, formed by the behaviour of your past and present self, will do the same thing — handing the bag of shit down to your next future self.
You and I have probably both experienced this kind of fucked up reverse psychology. One night, you eat a boatload of cookies. You tell yourself to make up for it and eat super healthy tomorrow.
You are simply saying “I won’t deal with this problem today.”
The key is to be aware of this behaviour because it’s natural. The next step is to accept that you have this lizzard brain and you just need a smarter strategy to trick yourself into doing the right things.
One area of my life where I successfully use such a strategy is my financial health. Let’s say my goal is to save 20% of my monthly income. I could do this by trying to control my spending behaviour and just check if the sum in my bank account increases by a certain amount (20% of my monthly income).
I then overspend one month and try to make up for it the next month, which I’m barely able to do because my habits do not match my goals. You see that this is not a fool-proof system and I’m just kidding myself with this approach.
A better way is to use the fact that I am stupid and set up my environment so that I have no other choice than achieving my goal.
At the beginning of each month, I’m sending 20% of my income to a savings account. I automated this process, so not saving would be an effort. I would have to go into my online banking account and deliberately cancel the saving process. I cannot easily access the savings account, so I cannot spend that money.
I’m taking advantage of my laziness and my natural resistance to change.
Automating Your Health and Fitness
The process I outlined above does not make me rich overnight. Just as you won’t get a rock-hard sixpack overnight. You have to first accept that fact very rationally. Then — strategically — install habits into your life that get you closer to your goals.
The advice that follows is nothing new or rocket surgery. I just want you to see that adding small habits to your life — one at a time — is 100% more effective than making a heap of New Year’s resolutions you won’t follow through.
Don’t do all of it at once. Pick one and do it for a month. Next month, pick another item. Over a year, that’s 12 new habits, enough to achieve that transformation you dreamed of.
- Don’t have crappy food in the house. Throw it away. Don’t “use it up” because it would be a waste of money. It’s a waste of your health and well being to eat it.
- Stock up on frozen vegetables. They are convenient, healthy and just need to be steamed or thrown in a pan with some protein to make for a healthy meal.
- Have 3-5 go-to-meals that you can cycle through each week/month. Get comfortable with eating the same things again and again. If you take an honest look at your current diet, how much variety do you actually have right now? You’re probably doing this already, why not do it with healthier options?
- Pick one exercise — yes, just one — and practice it every day until you are comfortable with it. Push-ups and bodyweight squats require no equipment, can be done anywhere and are easily scaled (click the links for progressions).
- Schedule your workouts in your calendar. Don’t make it optional. You are busy during that time. Treat it like a doctor’s appointment. Make it 5 minutes for starters. If you are not a morning person, don’t try to train in the morning. Do it right after work (like I do).
- Pick a convenient workout environment. If you like gyms, sign up for one that’s near your home or on your way to work. If you are shy, work out at home and have a dedicated space for training. Put away your phone, close the door. This is your time and your time only.
Minimalist Beginner Workouts
I love geeking out on workout routines, so I’ll elaborate on this: Pick one exercise.
I recommend push-ups or squats, because there is literally nothing you need in order to perform these. Pick one and take a few minutes to educate yourself on them. Learn the proper form and focus on doing them really well — quality over quantity.
Is a routine consisting of just one exercise a well-rounded one? Hell no. But it is better than doing nothing. It is the gateway drug to fitness.
Find a suitable progression. For push-ups, pick a variation so that you can perform at least 15 reps. For squats, 25 reps. Pick whatever exercise feels more comfortable.
Push-ups from a table (hands on the table, feet on the ground) are the best starting point for most people. Holding on to a door frame or some sort of pole is helpful for most people who fear they could fall on their butt during squats.
And no, you won’t get a massive chest and arms from push-ups, just as you won’t get huge legs from squats alone. If that happens, call me. I wanna know your secret.
With that in mind, here are a few options you can explore that use just push-ups or squats.
3 Easy Sets a Day
A set is when you perform an exercise consecutively for repetitions. Stop the set before form breaks down. You know form is breaking when you start to shake, when your core is losing its tension (butt is sagging down during push-ups or back starts to round during squats).
After each set, rest for 10 veeery slow breaths. Breath deeply into your belly, in and out through your nose. Then start the next set.
1 easy set
1 easy set
1 easy set
Write down your reps and record them.
Do this every day. If you feel particularly sore, either take a rest day or (maybe better), do 3 sets that day but with half the reps you did yesterday.
Try to increase the total daily reps (so all 3 sets summed up) by 1 rep each workout. So on Monday you might have performed 15, 12 and 10 reps (= 37 total reps). On Tuesday, 16 + 13 + 9 = 38 total reps is enough to meet that goal.
You won’t manage to make that goal each and every workout. On some days, you don’t even manage to do the same total reps than the day before, and that’s okay.
Get comfortable with this routine before you try any of the options below.
With a variation you can do for at least 15 reps, do the following:
10 slow breaths
9 slow breaths
8 slow breaths
3 slow breaths
2 slow breaths
1 slow breath
So start with 10 reps of push-ups or squats and 10 breaths, then decrease the number of reps and breaths by 1 until you are at 1 rep and 1 breath.
That’s 55 reps. If this get’s easy, start from 11, then from 12, etc. with one exception: For rep numbers greater than 10, only use 10 breaths for rest.
Repeat until “finished”. One round is 15, so 5 rounds is 75 reps. Try to increase the number of rounds each workout. With these minisets, there is no reason to not do the push-ups with crisp and clean form. And trust me, you will know what “finished” means.
Because the legs can take much more volume, I like to use a different rep scheme for squats here. Other than that, the workout works the same:
So one round is 20 reps. Breath as slow as possible. The slower you breath, the more rest you’ll get.
This workout will make your form picture perfect. Set a timer for 5 minutes. You will now do one set, but the reps will be slightly different.
You will need good mobility for this. So, if you cannot yet get into the end-range positions I describe below, skip this.
- Lower yourself down until your chest touches the floor.
- Lift your hands from the floor.
- Push up again.
- Hold the top position and start again.
The only rest you get is in the top position or when your chest is on the ground and your hands don’t touch the ground. This will engage your upper back, improve your posture and force you to use the full range of motion.
This also works when the push-ups are performed from a table or with knee push-ups. This is the only variation where I think knee push-ups are useful. Just make sure your upper legs always line up with your upper body.
The same procedure is applicable for squats.
If the bottom position of the squat is difficult for you, do this in front of a pole, a door frame or something else that is heavy and you can grab.
- Lower down as far as possible.
- Hold a deep bottom position.
a. If the bottom position is difficult, grab that pole and pull up with your arms as if you wanted to pull it out of the ground (so that you force yourself deeper into the squat). Keep a proud chest as if you’re on a beach and a Victoria Secret’s Model / Ryan Gosling walks by.
b. If you are comfortable in the bottom position, grab the fronts of your feet with your hands, drive the heels into the ground and also keep that beach chest.
- Let loose of the pole/your feet and get up again but do not lock out at the knees. Keep a slight bend.
You can rest in the bottom position or at the top with slightly bent knees.
This can be a long 5 minutes. Stop if you are truly gassed out before the time is up. This workout is about improving form, not doing exhausted rep after exhausted rep.
When you start the set, keep the end-range holds short and increase rest time as needed throughout the set.
This is the first workout with 2 exercises. Make sure you are comfortable with both of these movements before attempting this workout.
Again, the legs can take more volume, doing 10×10 squats should be doable if you’ve done them for a few weeks.
Take as little rest as possible.
If you struggle to complete one of the 10 rounds, simply stop and rest for a few breaths, then try to get the remaining reps in the round and carry on. This might look like this:
10 squats (last rep a bit shaky)
7 squats …damn, need to catch my breath… rest a little… 3 squats
5 squats …rest… 3 squats …rest… 2 squats
So if you don’t try ridiculously hard squat or push-up variations, you will never “fail” this workout.
May this little guide help you get on track with your health and fitness endavours in 2017.