If you’re honest with yourself, you know the real reason you’re not in shape. This article uncovers what that reason is, and exactly how to change.
Everybody has a different “sticking point” — the single moment that makes fitness hard for them. It could be:
- Sitting down and planning a workout.
- Getting up early.
- Joining the gym.
- Walking into the gym.
- Picking up the weight.
- Finishing the workout.
- Eating the right amount of food when you’re hungry at night.
None of these things are easy. But usually one of these moments will take our “willpower” and put it in a chokehold until we’ve lived another day with no change — same body, same physical exertion, same diet, same discontentment, same excuses. The bad news is: These excuses don’t give you a handicap in your health — you don’t get special treatment because you have to try twice as hard. The good news is: There is a way to make these willpower decisions much easier.
IS THERE NO SHORTCUT TO DISCIPLINE?
There is a former Navy SEAL named Jocko Willink who specializes in helping people build self-discipline. In his recent book, Discipline Equals Freedom, he has this to say about discipline:
“People look for the shortcut. The hack. And if you came here looking for that: You won’t find it. The shortcut is a lie. The hack doesn’t get you there.”
“To reach goals and overcome obstacles and become the best version of you possible will not happen by itself. It will not happen cutting corners, taking shortcuts, or looking for the easy way. THERE IS NO EASY WAY.”
Now, you’re probably expecting me to agree with Jocko. I don’t. I personally love his work and find this sort of writing very motivational when I make excuses for laziness and indulgence (actually, I am a huge Jocko fan and would recommend this book and his children’s book The Way Of The Warrior Kid — both very good books about discipline).
HOW TO MAKE DISCIPLINE AS EASY AS POSSIBLE
With all due respect to Jocko, he is simply wrong. He is correct — prophetic, even — about a great many things. But he is wrong to say that if you’re looking for an easy way to be disciplined, then you’re sabotaging yourself. This is false for at least three reasons, which are basically three methods of making discipline easier that essentially disprove Jocko’s statement.
Identify Your Particular Discipline Struggle
First, people have diverse personality types that incline them toward different kinds of struggles. For example, here at TheoFit, I break discipline down into three parts: Intensity, Consistency, and Longevity (which you can listen to or read about in Podcast 002). Everybody tends to struggle with one of these, but it’s different for each person. Therefore, if you struggle with consistency (in which case, you're probably good at bringing Intensity), the very act of being disciplined is a struggle to be consistent.
But there are also many people for whom consistency is easy — but they don't have the stomach for intensity, so their "Discipline Struggle" is Intensity. The act of being consistent and the act of being intense are two completely different acts of the will — and, if Intensity is harder for one person and Consistency for another, "Discipline" means completely different things in each context.
So, if you give advice about how to improve consistency to someone for whom Consistency is easy, but Intensity is difficult, discipline will remain elusive and difficult to them. The act remains as difficult as it did before. But if you give that person advice about how to cultivate Intensity in their workouts, you actually have made discipline easier for them. So, for this reason, it’s wrong to say that discipline “will not happen” if you are “looking for the easy way.”
Write Down Your Pre-Habits
Second, there are fundamental activities that you can perform that will always make discipline easier. In the album One More Time where I help people who are frustrated with fitness to give it another shot, I call these activities “pre-habits.” For example, if you write down your full workout before your workout, then working out — the act which requires willpower — becomes merely a matter of following instructions. More than that, if you watch the exercises on YouTube beforehand, you remind yourself of the movements and are reminded that other people push themselves with these tasks — deadlifts, running, pull-ups, etc.
By watching videos and mentally going through your whole workout before you begin the actual workout, the workout itself becomes merely a task list for you to complete, rather than an intense creative endeavor that requires you to decide again what you'll do. By pre-reviewing your workout, you're reminding yourself that working out isn't a matter of deciding what to do, but rather deciding that you'll do what's on the page. When you're exhausted and hungry, daily obedience requires less willpower than coming up with ways to challenge yourself every day.
Contrast this with going to the gym with a mindset of “I’ll just figure it out when I get there.” You are far less likely to complete a satisfying workout, because you’re requiring your mid-workout self to take on the task of creating the workout while you're getting more and more tired. Chances are — you’ll find a lot more reasons to say, “Eh, that was good enough” if you have no list to complete. You’ll give up, because there’s no end in sight. The pre-habit of writing down your workout and watching the exercises on YouTube — especially if you're struggling to complete your workouts — makes the act of discipline much easier.
Another pre-habit is packing your bag the night before you work out so that in the morning, the only willpower decision you need to make is: “Wake up. Put on clothes. Grab bag. Walk out door.”
Manipulate Your Triggers
Third, motivation is extremely fickle. You can’t rely on feeling like working out and eating healthy to do it. Then, you’d never be consistent. However, in motivation theory, some scientists talk about motivation in terms of “arousal” — not sexual arousal (how we’re used to hearing the word), but a stimulation of your nervous system. Arousal exists on a curved scale. Your level of motivation at any given moment can be mapped onto this curve (this is called the Yerkes-Dawson law):
Basically, the notion is that you will not perform well unless you are aroused. However, there are diminishing returns on arousal. For example, test anxiety will motivate you to study for the test (and probably do better than the person who didn't have anxiety, and therefore didn't study), but if it overwhelms your mind, then it actually sabotages your performance by stealing your mental energy.
The key to manipulating this principle is to discover what triggers you to underarousal and overarousal, and what exactly triggers you to be motivated. It's not a perfect system, and you can't build your behavior on emotional self-manipulation alone, but it can be a great tailwind to help you when you need it.
Triggers are the things that stimulate arousal — those events, mindsets, thoughts, people, and places that cause you to go up or down on this bell curve. Certain triggers can suppress arousal and cause unmotivation. Unmotivating triggers are usually events such as:
- Thoughts of self-hatred.
- Memories of past failures.
- A food binge.
- A missed day at the gym.
- An alcohol hangover.
- A poor night of sleep.
- A stressful day at work.
- An exhausting fight with your significant other.
Triggers that cause hyperarousal, which push arousal so far that it actually begins to diminish your discipline, can be:
- Relational rejection.
- Listening to motivational podcasts (ironically).
- Seeing other people of the same sex in much better shape than you.
- Learning a lot about fitness.
- Reading Jocko (seriously).
You've probably felt the effects of these triggers before, but never really taken an inventory of your own personal triggers. So take this opportunity right now to take an inventory of your own triggers by asking these questions:
- When you are de-motivated, what situations are you usually in? What people are you talking to? What has just happened? What sort of things are you saying to yourself?
- Scripts tend to be:
- "Fitness isn't worth it."
- "I deserve a break."
- "I'll do it later."
- "I need to love my body image more anyway."
- "One day off won't hurt."
- "I just don't care."
- **Binge-orders Dominoes to make the voices go away**
- Scripts tend to be:
- When you are hyper-stimulated to the point of losing focus and discipline, what situations are you usually in? What people are you talking to? What had just happened? What sort of things are you saying to yourself?
- Scripts tend to be:
- "I'm so fat."
- "I'm such a loser."
- "I hate myself."
- "I hate my body."
- "I'll never be fit."
- "I'll never feel good about myself."
- "I'm so stupid."
- "Nobody likes me, or will ever like me."
- **Binge-orders Dominoes to make the voices go away**
- Scripts tend to be:
Write down your answers to these questions — which voices do you identify with, and when?
3. Now, imagine your willpower heaven. The purpose of this exercise is to determine what triggers put you in that sweet spot of arousal — Motivation. You won't always be able to accomplish this. Jocko reminds us of this: Motivation is not a reliable ally in the battle for fitness. But it's good to know — if possible, how do I manufacture discipline for myself? If you know how, then you will be able to hack discipline to a degree. You'll be able to create it for yourself, rather than wait for it.
- What would be the perfect situation for you that would make discipline as simple as possible?
- Without erasing your obligations, your family, your job, your personal demons, etc. — What would your perfect setting be to exercise and diet?
- Imagine you are in a place of total psychological empowerment, preparing to work out — what just happened? What room is it in? What objects are you packing? Is it clean, or dirty — or does it matter?
- What song are you listening to — or is it silent?
- What are you wearing?
- What are you saying to yourself?
- Scripts that empower motivation tend to be:
- "I'm gonna feel so good after this workout."
- "I can't wait to see if I can hit a new record today."
- "I'm looking forward to listening to that Audible book during my cardio."
- "Doing this feels so much better than not doing this."
- Scripts that empower motivation tend to be:
Write these things down in the back of your workout journal. Keep it as an emotional glossary for your own motivational triggers. Use this as the official reference book on YOU — and manipulate your triggers by avoiding de-motivating triggers and manufacturing the motivating triggers.
WHAT TO DO ABOUT DISCIPLINE
Now, these realities don’t nullify the need for discipline. Working out is always hard. That’s the point of working out. But it’s really easy to get tangled up in your own frazzled disorganization. You are inclined to overload your difficult diet and exercise decisions with all these little sub-conscious tasks. But you should remove as many of those tasks as possible with a series of pre-habits that allow you to make the decision to work out and eat healthy as easy as possible.
You should want to make your most difficult decisions as easy as possible. I understand what Jocko is saying when he says “THERE IS NO EASY WAY.” He’s saying this: At the end of the day, YOU are the one who has to pick up the bar and do the work. There is no getting around that. You can’t hire someone to vicariously wake up early, work out, and eat healthy for you. And you shouldn’t even want to (the psychological benefits of diet and exercise are arguably better than the physical benefits).
I could absolutely see someone saying to themselves, “Well, I shouldn’t work out, because I didn’t pack my bag.” No — IT’S 4:30AM! GET UP AND PACK YOUR BAG AND GO TO THE GYM. Pre-habits could very easily become excuses not to be disciplined. That’s a dumb way to use pre-habits. But reducing everything to sheer willpower is equally as self-sabotaging, in my experience.
So, in summary, when it comes to cultivating your own self-discipline, here are five things you can do in order to pretty much guarantee success in the mental game of fitness:
1. Identify Your Particular Discipline Struggle. Know whether your personality inclines you to struggle with Intensity, Consistency, or Longevity — then, you’ll know why you’re getting choked out by your own laziness when you hit a wall. (Again, read/listen more about it in Podcast 002).
2. Write Down (And Implement) Your Pre-Habits. Admit how you’re self-sabotoging your own discipline (it may not be obvious). Write down and implement pre-habits for yourself that are easy willpower decisions that disentangle your hard willpower decisions from every unnecessary task. Pre-habits will make your willpower as easy as it can be. What are simple, easy actions you can perform to prepare yourself for your workout every day that will enable you to focus singularly on your workout for the next hour? (again, I walk you through this in the album One More Try, which you get for free in a TheoFit Annual Membership).
3. Manipulate Your Triggers. Avoid de-motivating triggers as best you can. Pursue motivating triggers as best you can. Exercise self-awareness about where you are presently on the scale of arousal and focus. Are you underaroused? Frazzled? You know how to hack your own motivation. Motivation might not always appear, but if you follow the instruction manual you wrote on yourself, you're more likely to follow through and make the difficult decision you know you need to make ... for your own sake.
4. Listen to Jocko. Once you know your particular struggle and have your pre-habits in place, you must reckon with Jocko’s truth: There is no avoiding the work. Self-knowledge and pre-habits can easily put you in the mindset of “I want to do as little work as possible.” This bastardizes both concepts. They exist so that you can work as hard as possible without any distractions or subconscious willpower leeches making your diet and exercise twice as hard. Listen to Jocko: “The hack doesn’t get you there.” About that, he is absolutely correct.
5. Pursue your goal in community. You can do that at your local gym, with your friends, or you can become a TheoFit Member (in the annual membership, you also get a bunch of free ebooks and downloads, including an workbook on discipline).
Get Weekly Discounts + Diet/Exercise/Discipline Tips+Tricks
The amount of food you eat directly determines the results of your exercise. If you exercise 3 hours a day, 7 days a week, but do not eat fewer calories than you expend, you will not lose fat. You will have failed to achieve a Caloric Deficit. If your goal is to build muscle, and you don't eat more calories than your body uses, then your body will not build muscle or strength in response to that weight lifting.
Whatever your goal is, the amount of calories you eat is the single greatest factor determining the results you see. Think of fitness as a car. If exercise is the gas pedal, food consumption (measured in calories) is the steering wheel. Where do you want to go? Do you want to build muscle? Build strength? Lose fat? Run faster? Caloric consumption is the means by which you will direct your physical activity toward the right results.
If you fail to count calories, there's a chance you could end up in the right place. But there's also a chance you could end up 3 months down the road, having exercised for hundreds of hours, with nothing to show for it. This is basically how it works (a bit of review from How To Eat To Get Fit:
- Your body requires a certain number of calories to perform all its tasks — everything from sleeping to breathing to lifting weights. The total number of calories your body uses every day is called your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure).
- You BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) is what your body would burn in a single day while completely inactive (or, in a coma), at your age, gender, and body fat percentage.
- If you want to lose fat, you should eat eat 80% of your TDEE (in other words, maintain a 20% Caloric Deficit).
- If you want to gain muscle or strength, you should eat 110% of your TDEE (in other words, maintain a 10% Caloric Surplus).
Below, I will explain how to calculate your TDEE and how exactly to count your calories.
How to Calculate Your TDEE
Who likes calculating things? Nobody. But this number — your TDEE — will be your North Star. It will be your center of gravity for every food decision you make. So it's important to figure it out. It only takes two steps:
- Calculate your BMR in the calculator below.
- Below, the BMR will display as a decimal, which should be interpreted as a comma. So, if your result is 1.900, that means your BMR is 1,900 calories per day.
- Determine your activity level, and use the math calculator provided below (ugh, I know) to multiple your BMR by your activity level multiplier.
- For example: My BMR is 2,003, and I exercise 3-5 days per week. So, I enter into the calculator: 2,003 x 1.45. That gives me a TDEE of 2904.
- You don't need to recalculate your TDEE every day based on whether or not you work out. The TDEE is based on averaging your weekly TDEE, which is why the formula is based on how many times per week you work out.
- One last thing: If your calculated result is 3 digits instead of 4 (for example, it says "206", that means your BMR is 2006. The calculator struggles to display double-00's.
|powered by calculator.net|
How To Count Your Calories
Now that you know your TDEE, in order to Bulk or Cut, you have to begin counting calories so that you can ensure you're eating the appropriate amount of calories each day in order to hit your goal. Counting calories is as simple as downloading an app. There are two popular apps — MyPlate (click here) and My Fitness Pal (click here). They are exactly the same. I use MyPlate, but most people I know use My Fitness Pal.
Two quick logistical points:
- You can also make accounts that sync to your phone here: MyPal (Desktop) / My Fitness Pal (Desktop). MyPal is a LiveStrong appl, and My Fitness PAl is an Under Armour product. The only difference, I've heard, is that My Fitness Pal can be a bit "spammy" and keep asking you to upgrade to a paid plan. I've never that experience with MyPlate (for what it's worth).
- If you don't want to use your phone to count calories, but prefer a physical alternative, the solution is very inexpensive. Purchase these items (linked):
A great journal with a clear layout that allows you to enter all diet information and basic exercise information. For a more exercise-focused journal, I recommend the TheoFit Strong Journal (click here).
This is a larger book. Calorie counting can seem daunting, because people think of carrying around a large dictionary with them doing complex math at every meal. That's not the case at all. Here's an easy way to do it:
Record what food you eat and how much throughout the day, and then look it up when you get home. Or, if you're not completely computer-averse, the easier thing to do would be to record your calories in the journal, and then search them in the MyPlate website and enter their caloric values in the evening.
If you want to calculate your calories on-the-go, CalorieKing makes this conveniently small book.
Yeah but HOw do I count my calories?
Right. Sorry about that. Got caught up in the tools. When it comes to using the app, it's very intuitive. The value of the app is that the calorie amounts are all loaded into the app — you don't need to look up any calorie information. It does all the calculations for you.
Here's a helpful video from a trainer who uses My Fitness Pal with all of his clients, and gives a few helpful principles which are helpful to the degree that they actually help you to hit your caloric goals:
WHY To UnderEstimate Your tDEE (and overestimate your calories)
I've coached tons of people who work really hard in the gym for a month, and then ask me why they're not losing any fat. My first guess is always: "You overestimated your TDEE, so you probably think you're in a 20% Caloric Deficit, but you're not." So I tell them to knock off 200 calories per day, and the fat melts off the following month.
When you're calculating your TDEE and counting your calories, you'll be tempted to fudge the numbers. The problem is, unlike white collar crime, no one gets away with cheating on their caloric calculations. The results always tell the truth. So, it's better to underestimate your TDEE (if the calculator gives you 2,650, round down to 2,600), and overestimate your calories (if the calorie tracker says 1 tab of butter is 90 calories, enter it as 100).
Think of it this way: It only takes you "under-estimating" 5 foods to completely destroy your deficit. That little "treat" that you popped when no one was looking — yeah, it evicerated your fat loss gains for the day. The only way to lose fat is by creating daily deficits that only amount to 500-1,000 calories per day. A single pound of fat is 3,500 calories. So, best case scenario, with these easily sabatoged and small deficits, you're losing 1-2 pounds of fat per week. With a little sneakiness each day, you could spend hundreds of hours in the gym, and tons of effort "dieting," but never see any fat loss. Hold the line on your deficit. Be unforgiving with your numbers. Underestimate your TDEE, and overestimate the caloric value of the foods you eat — and enter everything.
The top reasons people give for not exercising are: (1) gyms are too expensive, and (2) gym workouts take too much time. Luckily, every exercise gym-goers are able to perform, you're also able to perform in the comfort of your own home. If you're on a serious budget, or are too overcommitted to realistically make it to the gym, start here. You can accomplish 60% of what beginning gym-goers accomplish with your own body. Considering the time and money you save, that's quite a bit.
Even if you went to the gym, what weights would you pick up? A 20 pound dumbbell? A 100 pound barbell (if you're feeling ambitious)? The average American woman weighs 166 pounds. The average American man weighs 196 pounds. You are your own barbell.
Skip the corporate gym sales pitch. Skip sharing sweaty equipment with gym rats altogether. And best of all: Skip the extra 30 minutes driving to the gym and back every day. Money and time are no longer valid excuses for not working out. Start here. Start now.
Ditch the "Maintenance" Mindset
You need to push yourself to exhaustion. Challenge your body. Don't use a "home workout" as an excuse not to work as hard. Prove all those gym rats wrong by out-working them and packing on more muscle and strength than they do with all their weights.
It's easy to go into a home workout thinking, "I just want to maintain my current level of health." Forget that. That mindset won't keep you healthy. It will just slow down your progressive deterioration into weakness. You must have the mindset: "I want this workout to make me better." If you don't, you'll just give up when it gets hard. You won't push yourself through the nausea and burning sensation of muscle fatigue. You won't become fit at all.
If your goal is body maintenance, just follow some Pilates videos on YouTube. But if you want to actually transform your body, you have to chase intensity. You have to sweat. You have to push your muscles to the point where they are shaking.
How To Achieve Intensity With Bodyweight
Workout intensity is necessary for building muscle strength and size. Intensity is perceived exertion — the more time you spend doing things that feel really hard, the more intense your workout is. At home, the hardest challenge is to make your workout intense. At the gym, people achieve intensity in two ways: (1) overloading their muscles with lots of weight, and (2) isolating each muscle with precision through the use of machines. But when you're using your bodyweight, it can be hard to figure out a way to overload a single muscle and work it to exhaustion. It can also be hard to build strength without the ability to add 5 pounds at a time each week. But we'll keep these tactics in our back pocket for when we reach the Advanced Workouts below:
- Standard: Perform each repetition of the exercise at a pace that feels natural to you. Don't try to go slow, fast, or do anything special with the rep. Just perform the movement as if you were being filmed and graded on the movement.
- Modified: Perform the exercise in a way that makes the workout easier.
- For example, modified pushups are performed with your knees on the ground, compared to the Standard pushing which is performed with your knees off the ground.
- Quatro (4x4x4): Take four seconds on the "downward" part of the rep. Hold the "bottom" of the rep for four seconds. Then, take four seconds to reach the top of the rep.
- Let's use a pushup as an example. Imagine doing a very slow pushup. Now, imagine that very slow pace was calculated — 4 seconds down ("One, two, three, four"), 4 seconds pause ("One, two, three, four"), 4 seconds up ("One, two, three, four").
- Kipping: Throw all form out the window. Use momentum — cheat if you have to. Do whatever you need to do to "complete" the movement over and over again.
- Weighted: You can increase the intensity of the Standard, Modified, Quatro, and Kipping forms by adding weight. The best way to do this is to use a weighted vest (which you can get on Amazon for about $30 — click here).
Prepare yourself. Protect your future self from injury. Limber up. Unless you have an established routine that feels good, just follow along with this video before every workout (please just laugh along with Tony Horton — the guy's hilarious):
If you're just starting out with fitness, follow Beginner Workout #1 for seven days in a row. Once you've completed that week-long protocol, you can move on to Beginner Workout #2. Two things:
1. Don't Be Embarrassed About Using Workout Videos
Following along with workout videos can feel so tacky. It can make you feel like Richard Simmons in short shorts — the kind of thing that's memed and mocked on the internet. I get it. I really do. If someone sees you at the gym, it's cool, but if someone saw you following along to one of these workout videos, you'd be embarrassed.
Don't be embarrassed. Working out just is tacky. All these videos are made by weird people, but the things they’re teaching you really work. They start you on a path that results in better health, a better body, and a better quality of life.
You might feel dumb when you're following along with a workout video and someone walks in on you. I do every single time. I don't really know why. But once you start sweating and pushing yourself, you realize why these fitness models like Tony Horton (warmup guy above) act so silly and peppy: Because once you’re tired, you’ll take whatever weird bump you can get just to fake some energy until you’ve completed your workout.
Push through the embarrassment and the weirdness. It's a moment of decision for you: Feel dumb now and look better later — or feel comfortable now and never change? Just press through it. I get that it can feel weird. But it's just part of the deal.
2. Don't Feel Discouraged That You're A Beginner
Most people at the gym never get in shape because their routines are full of advanced techniques that they don't understand. Using "Beginner" training protocol will actually get you in better shape than most people who let their ego force them to use "Advanced" protocol. Forget the labels. Even the most advanced weight lifter will be able to challenge themselves with the most basic routine. Growing muscle is about mindset and intense effort, not flashy fitness techniques.
3. Feel Free To Substitute Exercises
If a video requires you to perform a movement that is too difficult for you, feel free to do one of several things:
- Substitute the movement with a modified version that is easier to perform.
- Keep performing the previous movement until the video moves on to the next movement.
- Jog in place at a pace that keeps your heart rate elevated.
Any of these substitutions are acceptable if you run into a movement that feels either too complicated or risks injury.
4. Pick One Of The Videos
Skim through each of the videos below, and decide which one feels easier to you. I recommend the first and second videos, which are a bit easier, for those who are very overweight and need a lower-impact bodyweight workout. I recommend the second video for those who are comfortable completing either the first or second Beginner Workout #1 videos.
5. Walk After Each Workout
It's not enough to simply complete a workout video. After you complete the video, aim to complete 30-60 minutes of brisk walking — outside, on a treadmill, around your apartment building, etc. Just throw on a podcast or an Audible book and keep walking. This will burn anywhere from 200-500 extra calories (depending on your bodyweight and length of time walking) that will help you to lose fat even faster.
BEGINNER WORKOUT #1 (10-15 Minutes):
BEGINNER WORKOUT #2 (45 Minutes):
1. Push For Six Days Per Week. The following workouts can be used for a 3-day routine, but if you can double down and turn it into a 6x-per-week routine, you'll double your results. If any of the terms I'm using below are confusing, read the introduction to the Beginner's Gym Workout, where I cover some basic terminology.
2. Even Advanced Lifters Warm Up. Perform the Tony Horton warmup video above before you begin the bodyweight workout. By warming up, you'll actually have more focus and strength during your workout.
3. How To Rest Between Rounds. Complete each exercise in the round with only a 10-second break between each exercise. Rest for 2 minutes between each Round. If you can't complete a round, simply take a 10-second break and continue the repetitions until you complete the required amount. Record how much time it takes you to complete each full workout. To increase intensity, decrease rest time between rounds to 1 minute.
4. Methods For Completing The Rounds.
- Wolf: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3
- Warrior: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 2, Round 1
- Wolverine: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3, Round 1, Round 2, Round 3
5. Do Abs Every Day. ... Do it (see Ab section below). The Ab workout is not a substitute for a bodyweight workout. It should always be completed after you complete either your Push, Pull, or Legs day.
6. How To Watch The Videos.
- Watch all the videos before your workout. You don't have to watch every second of every video — just skim through them in order to get the gist of how to properly perform the movements in the TheoFit program.
- Don't pay attention to the rest times or rep numbers they tell you in the videos. They are merely for reference so that you know how to perform the exercises. Follow the routine I outline below.
PUSH DAY (Day 1) — Chest, Shoulders, Triceps
- 20 Standard Push-Ups
- 20 Wide-Grip Push-Ups
- 20 Diamond Push-Ups
- 20 Standard Push-Ups
- 15 Clapping Push-Ups
- 15 Pike Push-Ups (Advanced: Wall Assisted Handstand Push-Up)
- 15 Tricep Extensions (or Dips Between Chairs)
- 15 Clapping Push-Ups
- 10 Hands Off Push-Ups
- 10 Archer Push-Ups
- 10 Hindu Push-Ups
- 10 Hands Off Push-Ups
PULL DAY (Day 2) — Back, Biceps, Deltoids
Round 1 (Video #1):
- 20 Back Widows
- 20 Full Body Drags
- 20 Reverse Supermans
Round 2 (Video #2, Towel Required):
- 15 Back Extensions
- 15 Back Hyperextensions
- 15 Pulse Rows
- 15 Supermans
- 15 Reachers
Round 3 (Video #3, Door and Sturdy Table/Desk Required):
- 10 Door Pulls
- 10 Table Pulls
- 10 Pull-Forwards (If you don't have a smooth floor, you can do this on a large bed or lawn).
LEG DAY (Day 3) — Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Groin, and Calves
Round 1 (Video #1):
- 20 Squats
- 20 Explosive Lunges (10 Each Side)
- 20 Quick Hamstring Lunges (10 Each Side)
- 20 Lateral Lunges (10 Each Side)
- 20 Single-Leg Hip Thrusters (10 Each Side)
- 10 Squats
- **Skip the Knee Get-Ups
Round 2 (Video #2):
- 15 Split Squats
- 30 Pile Squat Pulses
- 15 Switch Lunges
- 15 Straight Legged Hip Raise
- 15 Stiff Calf Jumps
Round 3 (Video #3):
- 10 Jump Squats
- 10 Squats
- 30-Second Holding Squat
- 60-Second Wall Sit
- 10 Squat In & Out
Follow this video below for 5 minutes. For increased intensity, repeat this video twice. The exercises are as follows:
- 10 Roll-Ups
- 10 Plank-Crunches
- 12 Side Plank Crunches
- 10 Leg Ups
- 10 Butterflies
- 15 Six-Inch Scissors
- 12 Supermans
- 8 Single Leg Plank Crunches
- 10 Flutter Leg Lifts
After every workout, complete either 60 minutes of low intensity brisk-walking (explained in the Elliot Hulse video below), or 3 sets of Tabata exercise, explained below (12 minutes total). If you're pressed for time, Tabata is obviously the better option. If you need time to decompress from a heavy workout, low intensity brisk-walking is an equally effective way to burn calories while catching your breath.
Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio (LISS)
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), A.K.A. Tabata
Tabata: A 4-minute exercise following this specific structure. A :20 second period of maximum exertion, followed by a :10 second rest period. Repeat 8 times without any breaks except for the 10 second rest periods. Repeat 8 times, which lasts exactly 4 minutes.
You can repeat the same exercise twice for 3 sets of Tabata, or alternate between high-knees and burpees. You can also improvise other difficult stationary exercises to perform as Tabata exercises, such as a plank or kettlebell exercise.
Equipment To Make Home Workouts More Effective (If You Have A Small Budget)
First, I need to appeal to those who want to get the absolute most out of their bodyweight workout. If your reason for not exercising is time, but not money — even if you have a little money scraped together — I need to recommend a few very lightweight purchases that will enable you to accomplish 150% of what the average person can accomplish with the same bodyweight workout.
If time is your main issue, and you're able to invest a little bit of money in your home workout equipment, I highly recommend picking up these items. Don't worry — I'm not going to ask you to purchase any weights. You can store all of this stuff in the corner of a small closet, and break it out for an intense 30-minute session once a day (workouts below).
I bring my TRX cables with me every single time I travel. Honestly, even if you don't have a budget, I'd sell your old xbox games or ask grandma for early Christmas money, because these things are like having a full gym that you can fit right in your fanny pack. And, if you can only afford one product, this is far and above the most bang for your buck will get out of any piece of fitness equipment.
If you can get TRX cables, you'll get results most people are never able to get with bodyweight exercises.
This dip bar transforms all the sketchy workarounds of a home bodyweight workout into something gym-worthy. If you can accomplish 60% of what you could at the gym with a home workout, this portable dip bar will turn that into 90%.
1. Just Finish The Workout.
The most important thing you can do is to move through each workout as quickly as you can. That doesn't mean do sloppy reps and sacrifice good form (you'll get injured). Just get in this mindset: "My only goal today is to finish every exercise, every set, every rep. The faster I work, the faster I'll be done."
2. Don't Get Hung Up On Strength Gains/Losses
It's really easy to get discouraged when you go to the gym and you're weaker than last time. It's okay. It happens to everybody. You have really good days and really bad days. You can't make your best days in the gym the bar for enjoying the process. If you're at the gym pushing yourself through the workout, you're getting stronger. Trust the process. Trust the workout. Trust your body. Push yourself, but don't let vanity become the metric by which you measure your fitness progress. Real progress is measured by your consistency.
3. Make Sure You're Consistent In Your Diet
Remember: You won't see any of the results you work so hard for if all your muscle is covered in a layer of fat (no matter how thin). Don't just become better at exercising. Gain something that you can show off. The only way that's going to happen is if you dial in your diet, which you can do by reading the Diet and Discipline articles in the CORE SERIES.
4. Don't Do This Alone
Join dozens of other people doing this exact same workout routine, and get free workout and diet tips, motivation, submit podcast questions, and get private coaching if you need it at the TheoFit Membership.
Now, GO. Do it. Start today.
You have no excuse. You know exactly what to do. The only other things to consider are diet and, if you are deeply committed to avoiding a gym, the bodyweight version of this fitness regemin.
Once you have completed the Beginner’s Workout for at least one month, if you feel comfortable, you are ready to begin using this advanced program.
Eating can feel like the most complicated part of fitness.
- "Eat clean for 5 days, and binge for 2! It totally resets your metabolism."
- "Cut out all gluten and sugar. Eat totally organic. You'll be set."
- "Eat carbs in the morning. Eat protein at night."
- "High carb, zero fat."
- "High fat, zero carb."
Do you want to know something all of these pieces of advice have in common? You can follow all of them, and still gain fat and lose muscle. Every single one of them. I'm going to explain to you the fundamental, unbreakable principles of eating for fitness. But first, I need to define some terms. They may seem a bit boring, but trust me — there's a huge payoff for your physique once you understand these terms (many of which you've probably heard before). It starts basic, but stay with it.
Terms for Understanding Your Body
- Calorie: A unit of energy measurement, which can calculate the energy potential in fat and sugar. "Calorie" is used to measure the potential energy in the fat and sugar in your food, as well as the fat and sugar in your body.
- Calorie Burn: Your body's use of a "calorie." In the same way that your car burns gasoline to run its engine, your body "burns" a certain number of calories (energy) in order to perform activities — everything from unconscious bodily movements like pumping your heart and digesting your food, to conscious movements such as lifting weights and running.
- BMR: Your "Basal Metabolic Rate" — The total calories your body burns at rest. It's different for every person, and is determined by weight, gender, and muscle mass.
- TDEE: "Total Daily Energy Expenditure" — The total calories your body burns in an entire day — everything from getting in your car to working out.
- Caloric Surplus: The amount of calories you eat above your TDEE, measured as a percentage. For example, if your TDEE is 2,000 calories, then if you eat 2,200 calories in a day, you are in a 10% Caloric Surplus.
- This 10% surplus would be ideal if you were lifting weights and wanted to gain muscle or strength.
- Caloric Deficit: The amount of calories you eat beneath your TDEE, measured as a percentage. For example, if your TDEE is 2,000 calories, then if you eat 1,600 calories in day, you are in a 20% Caloric Deficit.
- This 20% deficit would be ideal, if you are lifting weights, to lose fat and retain muscle.
- Lean Muscle Mass: The total amount of mass in your body that isn't fat, measured in pounds. For example, a 200-pound person in fairly good shape may have a lean muscle mass of 180 pounds (a 10% BMI — see below)
- BMI: "Body Mass Index" — The total percentage of your body composed of fat.
- Bulk: A duration of time (usually 12 weeks) when you intentionally focus on building muscle or strength, while gaining as little fat as possible.
- Dirty Bulk: When you bulk, but don't try to prevent fat gain — you simply eat what you like, and pay no concern to any fat gained in the pursuit of strength and muscle.
- This approach makes subsequent cuts much more difficult, because they must be more intense and longer in order to lose more fat.
- Cut: A duration of time (usually 12 weeks) when you intentionally focus on losing as much fat as possible, while maintaining as much muscle and strength as possible (which is inevitable).
Terms for Understanding Your Food
- Protein (1 gram = 4 calories): The building blocks of muscle, measured in grams. Highly concentrated in animal products such as steak, chicken, turkey, and to a lesser degree, eggs and milk.
- If you don't eat enough protein, your body will put your existing muscle through a process called "glycogenesis," whereby your muscle is converted to sugar for energy. If you are in a Caloric Deficit, but do not lift weights and eat a sufficient amount of protein, your body will burn your muscle for fuel. That's why most people who go on diets don't actually look more fit — they merely look like smaller versions of their former skinny-fat selves.
- Carbohydrate (1 gram = 4 calories): The food molecule most easily converted into energy. Your body breaks carbohydrates down into sugar and utilizes it for energy very easily.
- It's popular today to say that carbs are "bad" and fats are "good." But as a source of energy, carbohydrates provide immediate energy, whereas fat must undergo a process called "lyposis" (the breakdown of fats). Fat is a much less efficient source of energy, and a poor major source of energy for athletic performance. However, eating "zero fat" is a bad idea, because many Micronutrients (below) are "fat soluble," meaning they can only be used by the body when broken down in a fatty context.
- Fat (1 gram = 9 calories): The food molecule intended to sustain humans for long periods without food. This food most easily makes you "feel full," and is also most easily stored as body fat.
- Alcohol (1 gram = 7 calories): A molecule that is metabolized by the liver and the brain which, when ingested, is metabolized before all other food consumed. So, if you eat an ice cream sandwich and drink 2 oz. of Macallan Rare Cask (no judgment here), your body will immediately digest the Macallan and store the ice cream sandwich as bodyfat.
- Macronutrients ("Macros"): A catch-all classification which refers to the Protein, Carbohydrate, Fat, and Alcohol.
- Micronutrients ("Micros"): A catch-all classification which refers to the vitamins and minerals in food — for example, Vitamin C, B6, K, Iron, Magnesium, etc. When people speak of "nutrition," they often have Micronutrients in mind, but proper nutrition ought to have three things in mind: (1) A certain goal dictating which nutrients (Macros and Micros) ought to be consumed, (2) Sufficient Micronutrients to achieve the goal, (3) Sufficient Macronutrients to achieve the goal.
The One Choice Every Diet Requires: Bulk Or Cut?
Before you put any of these categories to use, you have to make a decision first: Lose Fat or Build Muscle? You can only do one at a time. People will throw all kinds of stories in your face about how they gained muscle and lost fat at the same time, but that's just anecdotal evidence. Is it possible to gain muscle and lose fat at the same time? Yes, but you shouldn't build your whole workout program around that possibility. Instead, you should pursue one at a time, and take anything else you get as icing on the cake.
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU SHOULD BULK/CUT:
So, how do you know if you should bulk (gain muscle) or cut (lose fat)? If you're unhappy with the way you look in the mirror, there's a 95% chance you should cut. There are really only three reasons to begin your fitness journey with a bulk:
- You're super skinny. You've always had a six pack, and still have a six pack. But you really struggle to put on muscle.
- You're borderline anorexic. You have next to no muscle. You've been on a lot of "caloric deficits," but lack strength and vitality.
- You're just going through puberty, and feel skinny-fat. I know you really want that six pack now, but trust me: You will benefit for the rest of your life from taking the time now to build muscle and strength.
- The only exception to this is if you're overweight or obese and going through puberty, then you might want to begin with a cut. That fat loss will actually help your body restore hormonal balance to your body. You likely already have a decent amount of muscle to work with.
If you're one of these three categories, you should probably not begin with a cut, but rather a bulk. This will allow you to gain muscle, and make your subsequent cut about revealing the muscle you've built, rather than "getting skinny."
HOW DO I BULK/CUT?
It's very simple. To bulk, or to cut, you don't need to change your workout at all. All you need to do is eat more, or eat less. Specifically:
- To Bulk, eat a 10% Caloric Surplus for 12 weeks.
- To Cut, eat a 20% Caloric Deficit for 12 weeks.
It really is that simple. The only thing is: adding extra cardio to your routine will increase your TDEE, and therefore allow you to eat more food while on your calorie deficit. So, for example, if you're cutting, and your regular TDEE is 2,500, that means you should eat 2,000 calories per day. But if you add an hour walk at a brisk pace 5 days a week (or 20 minutes of difficult cardio), you can add about 350 calories to your TDEE, allowing you to eat 2,350 calories — that's an extra chicken breast. Or, 35 cups of sugar-free Jell-O. Whatever your liking, it's up to you. But if you up the additional cardio, you do get to eat more (or add the extra "bite" to your fat loss).
HOW QUICKLY WILL I LOSE FAT?
1 Pound of fat is approximately 3,500 calories. How So, if you hit a 500 calorie deficit every day, you will lose 1 pound of fat in 1 week (500 x 7 = 3,500). If you hit a 1,000 calorie deficit every day, you will lose 2 pounds of fat in 1 week. The greater your caloric deficit, the faster you will lose fat.
CAN I JUST EAT NO FOOD AT ALL?
However, pure starvation (that is, "fasting") has been shown to be beneficial in some studies, during a fast, you're not actually learning to build any of the habits that will sustain long-term health. The goal of maintaining a 20% deficit is not merely to learn fat, but to learn to measure how much food you're eating so that you can change your body fat and muscle composition merely by choosing to do so. Simple refraining from all food for extended periods of time not only leads to malnutrition, but also strengthens one's biological impulse to binge on food, while weakening one's metabolism severely.
A long fast (for example, a 3-day or week-long fast, which accomplishes an impressive Caloric Deficit — anywhere from 6,000 to 14,000 calories), and can be productive for weight loss in 2 circumstances: (1) if you've already had your diet and exercise under serious control for a long time, and (2) if you have an immanent event like a bodybuilding show or a trip to the beach with college friends, for which you want to appear extremely lean. Aside from these situations, fasting is a severe method that never produces long-term results.
HOW DO I COUNT CALORIES?
The One Activity Every Diet Assumes: Resistance Training
If you don't regularly perform some form of resistance training, eating a Caloric Surplus of 10% calories will only make you more fat, and eating a 20% Caloric Deficit will only make you a smaller version of your current self.
You don't have to be an expert. Here are the Core Series articles that give you full weekly routines for resistance training — whether you're a Beginner at lifting, an Advanced lifter, or prefer an at-home bodyweight alternative.
- Beginner Weekly Gym Routine (click here)
- Advanced Weekly Gym Routine (click here)
- Weekly Bodyweight Routine (click here)
The One Weird Rule For An Effective Diet: 1 Gram of Protein Per Pound of Bodyweight
Everybody hates this rule. It's really weird. But here's how it works: When you go to the gym, your muscles don't get bigger at the gym. When you lift weights, your body actually creates micro-tears in the muscle. It's during sleep that your body utilizes the protein you've eaten to rebuild your muscles to be even bigger, and thus adapt to the stress of lifting heavy weight.
However, if you don't eat sufficient protein, one of two things will happen. On a Bulk, if you don't eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, you'll likely get fatter, but not stronger. On a Cut, if you don't eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, you'll likely lose muscle during your Cut — this will result in "weight loss" (yay! ... not), but will ruin your metabolism and your physique.
Now, it's popular today to say that the bodybuilder mindset about protein is wrong — that only meatheads on steroids eat stupid amounts of protein. It's popular to say that we should only be eating 50g of protein per day. And guess what? That's true for most people. Do you know why? Because:
- Most people aren't lifting weights (damaging their muscles), so they don't need the protein to recover (that would be like buying building materials for a house with no land).
- Most people aren't in a Caloric Deficit during a Cut, so their body isn't inclined to turn to their muscles for energy — they are likely living an athletically stagnant life, slowly becoming fatter and weaker.
- Most people aren't trying in a Bulk, trying to hit muscle and strength goals. So, they have no need to consume materials that are intended to build muscle.
- If you're a stagnant person and you do consume massive amounts of protein, because you're not Cutting or Bulking, your body has no need for that macronutrient. Your body has no purpose for the protein. So, it likely increases your caloric intake unnecessarily and causes weight gain — again, if you're living a stagnant, goal-less life in regards to fitness.
Now, is there anyone who shouldn't eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight? Yes. If you are very overweight or obese, then the general guidelines of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight doesn't really work. Then, you should aim for 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body mass. Your BMI (Body Mass Index) is the percent of your body composed of fat. You can calculate your lean body mass by calculating your result
If you need help calculating your Body Fat Percentage (Sometimes called "BMI" — Body Mass Index), calculate it here:
These are the basics of eating to get fit. No lengthy scientific explanation of "carb timing" or hormone manipulation. Nothing about insulin or testosterone or cortisol. Eating for fitness is far more about how much you eat than it is about what you eat. In other words, the best diet for getting fit is highly calculated and intentional in its consumption of Macros (carbs, fats, proteins), and not built entirely on some myth about consuming the right Micros (vitamins and minerals) to put you in "fat burning mode."
One Last Thing: Can Meal Timing Help Me Lose Weight?
When you eat during the day, and which foods you eat at which times is almost completely irrelevant to fat loss and muscle/strength gain. The only reason we should think about the timing of our meals is to help our own psychology: "What meal timing best helps me to achieve my Caloric and Macro goals?"
Personally, I eat one big meal at the end of the day every single day. Why? Because if I'm hungry at the end of the day, I can't sleep at night. So, I eat one meal at night to ensure that I feel full when I go to bed.
However, I know many people who function much better eating 5 meals a day. It keeps them sane, and actually empowers them to achieve their Calorie and Macro goals with less psychological stress. The key is to do whatever you have to do in order to follow these basic rules of eating for fitness that we've named here:
- Resistance Train
- Cut or Bulk (20% Caloric Deficit or 10% Surplus), but don't try to do both.
- 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight
P.S. Should I Eat Organic?
If eating organic helps you "get in the mindset" of healthy living, and you can afford it without too much stress, then by all means, eat organic. But, it won't aid your fat loss or muscle gain much at all besides the psychological payoff of "eating healthy" — which is, for many people, a strong factor. But, it is not necessary.
TheoFit Newsletter Signup
Get weekly deals, suggestions, and content updates: