You finally get to the top of the flight of stairs.
Out of breath.
As you lean on the rail to catch your breath the voice in your head says, “It was only 3 flights of stairs, I am out of shape!”
Visions of Rocky training until he could conquer his stairs play in your mind.
But then you remember, you aren’t training for a competition.
You have a life. A job, family, friends, and a few hobbies that you really enjoy.
So how does a normal person get into shape then?
The Failure of Exercise Science
We have an obsession with athletes.
If aliens came to our planet, they might (easily) come to the conclusion that we worship athletes.
Billions of dollars, countless years of research, and some of the best and brightest minds the human race has produced have been dedicated to winning sporting events.
And all that investment has produced amazing results. Athletic feats that were thought impossible have been accomplished.
The problem is that when it comes to you getting into better shape it is like apples and oranges.
Maybe it’s more like peaches and carburetors.
Athletes have very clear goals, staff to help them get there, and teammates to provide social support.
And, many athletes are obsessed and willing to do almost anything to win.
So they can go to practice and strength train and do cardio and stretching sessions…the list goes on and on.
You have a job, a social life, and hobbies.
And you just want to feel better and also have your clothes fit better.
And some days you are lucky to find even 15 minutes to exercise.
The bulk of the research and science behind exercise forgot about you.
But just because you won’t be winning any gold medals for your country or playing in the Superbowl doesn’t mean that you don’t matter.
You do matter.
And so do your health and fitness.
Before we dive into “how” you will get in shape we have to start with “why.”
Because it’s not going to be easy and you will have to motivate yourself to do things that make you slightly uncomfortable.
And there is no coach who makes you sit on the bench if you don’t show up to practice.
Instead, there is a comfortable couch and all the entertainment ever created at your fingertips.
How to Find Your Inspiration
Athletes love to compete, and they love to win.
When the going gets tough they have a very clear and easy thing to focus on: the competition.
So when they get to the end of a long day and they are tired and don’t want to do the next workout that answer to “why” will pop right up.
But why do you want to get in shape?
Why do you want your life to be different?
And it’s not just to fit into an old pair of pants. That might work for a short period of time but to stay in shape you need to go deeper.
The exercise that I use with clients to help them determine this is called The Five Whys.
The way it works is that you ask yourself “Why” at least 5 times to dig deep into your motivations.
Losing weight might keep you motivated for a short time. But feeling in control and able to get what you want out of life will change everything. Something that big will keep you going when the going gets tough. (And it will be tough sometimes).
For a more in-depth look at this tool for finding your why check out this article.
Finding Your Medical Team
Athletes have a team of medical professionals to keep them performing at their best. Doctors, athletic trainers, physical therapists, chiropractors, etc.
You will need at least one Primary Care Physician.
Hopefully, you can just see them once a year, and everything is fine.
But if you need regular medications or have a chronic condition you might be seeing them more often.
They also can refer you to other professionals.
When it is time to get in shape you might have pain that bothers you when you move.
If that is you now is the time to get that treated. Right now.
Exercise is not supposed to tickle but it shouldn’t hurt either.
Get it dealt with so you can have pain-free movement.
My first recommendation is a good physical therapist.
But your Primary Care Physician is a good person to ask as well, as he/she can refer you to someone who can help you.
Finding the Time
Some athletes are blessed enough to make playing their sport a full-time job.
This obviously makes finding the time to exercise an easy task.
Others work just enough to support themselves, and then create a huge amount of time for practicing their sport and training to improve athletic abilities.
Often 10-20 hours a week. Which is really like have a part-time job! And one that doesn’t pay but that you do out of pure joy.
But if you are not an athlete you don’t need nearly this much time to get into shape.
Maximum 3-5 hours a week.
I have found 3 is the sweet spot for most people.
But don’t let that number scare you. The secret to getting into shape is that it isn’t getting “there” as soon as possible.
It is about slow and consistent improvement.
So if you are currently spending 0 hours a week exercising and this week you did 2 ten minute workouts you are on the right path.
Keep up the good work.
When you find the time depends on your schedule.
Just remember to be flexible; it is about finding the time to fit fitness into your life.
Not the other way around.
Finding the Perfect Place to Exercise
Most athletes' primary place to train is the practice field.
But they also spend time inside at other training facilities, like the weight room.
You have 3 options to choose from:
1 - The Gym
This doesn’t just mean “the gym” per se, but any place that you pay for that provides exercise equipment or instructions.
This could be a conventional gym or a yoga studio or a dance studio.
The options you have are endless.
Your two concerns should be convenience and cost.
If the place where you work out isn’t convenient you will never workout.
If it costs too much it would hurt your financial health. Which obviously won’t help you fix your total health, in fact, it will subtract from it.
2 - Your Home
The place you live in is the most convenient place to get your exercise.
You can start by just doing bodyweight exercises with stuff that you already have like the floor, chairs, and counters.
You also might already have some stuff that you “invested” in but aren’t using.
And of course, you can always invest in more stuff.
Just remember it is only an investment if you use it!
For some tips on setting up your space, you can check out my Guide to “How to Build a Home Gym (without spending any more money on exercise equipment).”
3 - Shared Public Space
You live in a big world with lots of shared public spaces.
Parks (sometimes there are even free exercise parks), running paths, nature, even the road can be a great place for workouts.
You can bring exercise equipment and sometimes specialty equipment. Such as a bicycle if cycling is how you want to get into shape.
Safety is a priority too so do make sure that you always stay safe.
And sometimes you can even find group instructors in these places. Such as the November Project and yoga classes which often meet in local parks and can be free (or very affordable).
Finding a Wonderful Workout Plan
Athletes choosing a training plan have a very easy test to figure out what kind of workouts they need to be doing: whatever makes them perform better at their sport.
But you have to answer two questions:
1 - What will help you reach your goals?
2 - What will you enjoy doing enough to keep doing it?
The reason that athletes don’t have to answer the second question is that they enjoy their sport so much that they are very willing to do auxiliary training that they don’t enjoy.
To improve and win.
But your exercise has to be enjoyable for you to keep it up.
The biggest mistake you can make here is not spending enough time with a type of exercise to find out if you really enjoy it.
Because it is hard to know if you enjoy something until you are decent at it. And it will take a little bit of time to get decent at it.
A month is a good amount of time to find out. Be patient and be consistent.
Many people just like you have found they love running or kettlebell training once they learn how to do it correctly and they have gotten into a little better shape.
There are 3 basic types of training that you need in a balanced program.
Strength Training: Things that get your muscles stronger. Dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance Bands, etc. all fall into this category.
Endurance Training: Things that keep your heart up for an extended period of time, such as walking, hiking, biking, etc.
Mobility Training: Things that help you increase your range of motion, like stretching, using a foam rolling, yoga, and the like.
Remember that many activities can help you check multiple boxes. For example, you can do yoga for mobility or for strength.
Or you can train with kettlebells and easily do all three!
You can do some research and start experimenting to find what works for you.
Or you can also hire a coach (in person or online) who can help you figure out what is good for you.
Finding Social Support and Accountability
Athletes have built-in social support systems.
Competition, teammates, coaching staff.
And sometimes countless adoring fans.
And for accountability, they have scheduled practices, training sessions, and games.
You also need both of these things.
There are many ways to find yourself a social support system.
You could start exercising with a friend and also use the time to catch up.
You could make new friends at the gym or the park.
You can join an online community or forum.
You can have a virtual accountability partner whom you connect with about your workouts.
You could hire a coach or personal trainer.
Any and all of the above work!
And for accountability, you can use some of the above strategies to do double duty.
Such as an accountability partner or a coach.
You can also track your workouts to see how often they actually happen.
One of my favorite ways to do this is the Seinfeld Strategy. You can learn more about it in this article..
Or just put your workouts on your calendar and do them or reschedule them when the time comes.
Athletes are special.
They keep us enthralled with their abilities.
But you are not an athlete.
And that is OK.
You can still be you.
And you can be a stronger, leaner, fitter you.
You can do it.
Find your Why.
Find your Team.
Find some Time.
Find your Place.
Find ways to enjoy exercise!
And find people who will support you on your journey.
Once you start to do these things, you will be on your way to getting into better shape and fulfilling your goals. Not just for the next 30 days, but the next 30 years.