With Movember in full swing, one topic I really enjoy when it comes to men's health is physical fitness. Our lives are so busy in today's world and exercise often gets put on the back burner because of lack of time or energy. I've been really curious to find the methods that give you the most bang for your buck, and after trying these all on myself, I want to share with you three key tips for staying fit and getting the best results in the fastest, most efficient, and sustainable way possible. I've narrowed these down over the course of the last six months, where I suddenly found myself out of shape from being so consumed with Aurelian and in less than two months, with some fun experimentation, I turned it around. Some of these principles have been spoken about in the fitness industry a lot, but they're often not explained correctly or they are misunderstood. These apply to both men and women, and for varied goals - whether you're trying to lose weight, put on muscle, or both.
Back in April I took this mirror selfie (below) and was a little bummed with what I saw. I hopped on the scale for the first time in months and realized I had put on 15 pounds. Not cool! I think that if you're running your own wellness brand and promoting wellness, then you better be well and fit yourself. Now everyone has their own standard about what in shape looks or feels like, and that's totally cool, but for me personally, this was just not up to my standard. It was time to get moving.
I've always been athletic, so I knew the basics of how to discipline myself and get back in shape. But I thought that because I was pretty out of shape this time, it would be a perfect opportunity to sample some different approaches and extract the core principles that really worked from each and create my own sort of method. I was interested in finding the elements that give you the best results in an efficient way, so that you can train hard and smart and make the most out of the time you devote to exercise.
So over the course of the next two months I tried a bunch of different workout techniques. I worked out with a guy in my neighborhood in NYC named Marlo who I've seen for years at the jungle gym bars by the East River. Marlo is 60 and is the most fit, shredded, jacked - whatever you want to call it - person, much less person over 60, that I have ever seen. I mean you can literally see every muscle in his body, but he's lean, fit and athletic, not big and bulky like a bodybuilder. He lifts no weights and does just bodyweight calisthenics (pushups, pullups, dips etc.) and sprinting.
I also worked with Joe Rosko who is an amazing Crossfit-based trainer and the creator of Built For The Stage, a service where he designs training programs for actors to get them in shape for roles and everyday health. That involved lifting weights at the gym as well as 10-15 minutes of high intensity metabolic conditioning after each workout.
And finally, I applied some of the principles from KinoBody, an online fitness movement led by Greg O'Gallagher, a young Canadian who markets his workout plans off famous physiques from movies (in a slightly douchey way), but his programs do take a unique approach and show plenty of impressive results to back up the methods.
It was a lot of fun getting to try it all - I'm someone who loves to move and exercise, so despite all the hard work it was a pleasure for me. But the goal all along was to simplify it down to the key principles that make each of these approaches successful. I think I've done that and I want to share it with you. Btw, this is me after two months of doing this.
The concept of progressive overload is very simple. You're doing more than you did the time before. So whether it's lifting a weight for an additional repetition than what you did the previous week, or lifting more weight than you did the previous week, or running a fixed distance slightly faster than you did the previous week, each time you're improving. The reason why this is so powerful and effective is because you're monitoring your progress and each week you know what you need to hit. It's so easy to get stuck in a plateau doing the same thing each time and the thing is, your body will not respond because it's not being conditioned to do so. Though the performance improvements may be incremental each week, it adds up really quick and your body has no choice but to respond to the fact that you keep challenging it.
On this post I'm not going to get into all the different types of exercise programs you can apply this to, but get in the habit of writing down what weight you're lifting and how many reps, or how long you're running or biking and how long it takes, and each week try to lift a few more reps, or increase the weight, or clock in a better time. The concept of progressive overload works well with exercise routines where you can measure repetitions, weight lifted, or time to complete, which is to say it can be done with almost anything. Here's a simple progressive overload example for the chest press. Let's say I want to stay in between 8-12 repetitions for my workouts.
Week One: Lift 100lbs for 8 reps.
Week Two: Lift 100lbs for 10 reps.
Week Three: Lift 100 lbs for 12 reps.
Week Four: Lift 105lbs for 8 reps
Week Five: Lift 105 lbs for 10 reps
Week Six: Lift 105lb for 12 reps
and so on...
Progressive overload is a key component to making continued progress and getting the most out of each workout. Once you get into it, it becomes really fun and exciting because you see yourself making these incremental improvements each week - whether it's lifting slightly more, or running slightly quicker - and knowing that you couldn't do that the week before. And as I said, because you're continually challenging yourself, your body is forced to respond and adapt, so you never hit a plateau.
HIIT (But Done Correctly)
HIIT refers to "high intensity interval training." It basically means doing an exercise at full intensity with 100% of your effort for a short amount of time and then resting. And then repeating that cycle a few times. HIIT works well with cardio exercises such as sprinting, erging (aka rowing machine), or biking. Countless studies have shown that HIIT is more effective at getting you in cardiovascular shape, burning fat, and building lean muscle, in a fraction of the time compared to steady state cardio (like jogging for half an hour).
The issue is, many people who think they are doing HIIT actually aren't, and they're missing out on the true benefits of it. What's happened is that many people are doing these marathon 30-45 min HIIT workouts where they'll do an exercise full out for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, and follow that pattern. While that can certainly be affective for getting you in shape, and you'll definitely raise your heart rate, you're not allowing yourself to work at 100% intensity each round since you're not giving yourself enough time to recover in between. So what ends up happening is people do a "HIIT" workout where they are performing at around 60-70% intensity for 30 minutes.
There's an easier and more effective way to reap the benefits of HIIT. The concept of true HIIT involves doing an exercise at 100% full exertion, each round. This is significant because it sets in motion the process scientifically known as "excess post-exercise oxygen consumption" (EPOC). This refers to the oxygen your body needs to restore itself to its pre-workout state. Your body uses oxygen to produce fuel needed for your muscles during exercise, but it can also call on stored energy sources that don't require extra oxygen. HIIT workouts typically utilize these stored energy sources more so than steady-state exercise, and also require more oxygen after the workout. The EPOC effect is also dubbed the "afterburn" effect, because even hours after your workout your body continues to burn fat and experience a metabolic boost.
What I'm recommending is doing HIIT correctly by choosing an exercise at the gym like sprinting, erging, or biking and doing 20-25 seconds full out and then resting for say 2 minutes or until you get your breath completely back. Then when you're ready to go at 100% again, you go for another 20-25 seconds. You would repeat this for anywhere from 3-7 rounds at which point you're done. The most important thing is that each time you are going 10/10 on intensity, that's where the incredible benefits of HIIT come from. And it's so efficient - this will only take you anywhere from 8-12 minutes and then you're done. I recommend saving HIIT for the end of workouts because you'll be pretty tired at the end of these and won't have much energy to do much else at the gym.
10 Min Abs
Coach Joe Rosko from Built For The Stage taught me this simple and effective abdominal routine that if you do four times a week, will take care of your midsection completely. Rather than explain it in writing I made a video showing you the steps. This really, really works and it's so easy to implement since it only takes 10 minutes, hits your whole midsection, and you can do it anywhere.
You do 40 seconds of work, 20 seconds of rest for each movement. 5 movements in total, and you complete two rounds. You can download an interval timer for free on your phone off the app store.There's one more crucial element to all this which I'll delve into next time and that is nutrition. Whatever way you slice it, you cannot out-train bad eating habits. As with the workouts, I experimented with a bunch of the popular "diet" approaches, and distilled it down to some simple, key elements that I'll share next time.
I think there's something very powerful about simplifying things down because it makes them much more actionable. I hope you'll implement these tips in your workouts and set yourself up for 2020. If you have any questions or want to learn more about the specifics of the workouts I'm using, just send me an email, I'd love to share it with you: firstname.lastname@example.org