My commitment to health and fitness over the past 20 years, like many people, has been hot and cold. For periods of time I was very committed and saw positive results. I’ve also had longer periods of time when I did not prioritize my health and fitness. It was always easy to find other things to prioritize. The main one for me was work. Whether it was my job in public accounting or my job now, it was always easy to think I had so much to do. Instead of getting up early to work out, I would get up early and go to the office. Once I get caught up I will get back to working out I thought. Sleep is a super common excuse for many people. You wake up with your alarm clock and you feel exhausted and decide to sleep in, just for today. You tell yourself tomorrow I will get up and get after it. After a couple days of this any momentum you had with exercise is gone and the habit changes. You sleep in every day. You never actually get caught up at work because there is always going to be something to do. It is always easier to choose the path requiring less effort and discomfort, but I’m certain that is not the right choice.
I’ve had an extended period of time now where I have been extremely committed to fitness and my overall health. I’m convinced it’s here to stay and can say that with confidence because of how much I love it, but more specifically why I love it. I love the process. I really, really love the process. I also love the fact that I control it all. I control the inputs – EFFORT. The effort drives the outputs – RESULTS. The weights, the treadmill, the road, those things don’t lie and don’t let you down. If you put in the effort you will see results. Obviously, this kind of effort is just one piece of a very complex puzzle. Nutrition is the other piece. I’ve been decent with nutrition over time, but I continue to make progress. My wife who has always done a great job of feeding our family healthy food has gone all in on going as all natural as possible. She is doing an amazing job of helping our family get a little bit healthier every single day. I love it even as I make fun of how obsessive she is getting about it.
The last three years have been an interesting learning experience. I’ve spent a ton of time reading and learning about various fitness and nutritional topics. It is truly a journey and isn’t going to be something that I figure out. It’s not easy to navigate all the information available, but I can say I am in a better spot today than I was when I started on this path. Ultimately that is all that matter – make progress!
Fitness has played a crucial role in my life during this period of time. It has been my meditation and therapy all wrapped into one. I didn’t realize how important it was for a long time. It became clear during some very stressful months at work (my wife would probably say years). Working at a startup is not easy. Putting in hard physical effort each day allowed my brain to reset itself. I pride myself on not “needing” much to live my life, but I can say fitness has become something that not only do I want, but I really need to be the best version of myself. I need the process. The results are just a nice side effect. The constant racking and re-racking of the weights. Trying to increase that weight incrementally each session. The display on the treadmill that shows the time served, miles per hour, and distance – constantly challenging me to do just a little bit more. Tracking everything I do – every activity, everything I eat, everything I drink, my weight – I track it all. Tracking helps identify where and how I should push myself each day – make progress!
Let’s talk details. I’m 5’11 and have always been a classic ectomorph – very hard for me to gain weight. So naturally my goal was to put on some weight and get stronger. For a decent chunk of the last 20 years I think I would consider myself skinny fat. I was thin and kind of athletic, but not in great physical shape. I took steps to change that back in 2014, but really started working hard on a consistent basis a couple years later.
For the majority of 2017 I was hyper-focused on reducing my body fat. I did a ton of research during that period and became very well versed in intermittent fasting and high intensity interval training (HIIT). I fasted several days a week and usually did HIIT twice a week for most of the year. The program worked very well. I reduced my weight to 146.4. I was very thin, but I was toned and more athletic. I certainly wasn’t skinny fat anymore. These two tools were critical to my success then and I still use them now. They are truly invaluable in my opinion.
After reducing my body fat, I wanted to really focus on putting on muscle and adding some weight. I turned to research again and became familiar with various nutritional concepts – caloric surplus, protein requirements for building muscle, macronutrient splits and so on. Obviously, there is a ton of information on all things nutrition and for every “fact” you find, you can find another that disproves the initial fact. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t getting crazy. I was not trying to be a bodybuilder or fitness model. I was simply trying to be a healthy, strong individual. I didn’t change my eating habits a ton, but added creatine and protein powder to the mix. As a result of working really hard and adding in some supplements I was able to put on 10.2 pounds in 2018. It felt great to know the work I put in was effective. I was enjoying the process more and more each day. The only issue was I wasn’t seeing the overall strength gains I was hoping for. I was clearly making progress, but I felt like something was missing.
Not much changed for most of 2019. I was doing the same things and seeing some progress, but it was fairly limited. That’s when I decided to really get serious about what I was eating. I had been eating pretty clean for a long time at this point, but it was becoming clear I was not eating enough to see the strength and muscle gains I wanted. Honestly, I think all along I was more worried about putting on fat by eating more than what it could do for potential muscle growth. It hadn’t been worth it to me. So, I started tracking my food intake much more seriously. I was able to easily see that my calories were way too low for my strength goals, so I started to make some changes. At this point in time I was lifting three days a week and doing HIIT two days a week, the same as 2018. Almost immediately after adjusting how much I was eating I began to see strength gains. I was really excited because I hadn’t stopped my cardio routine, which I thought I may have to do to put on weight.
At the end of 2019, I had only added a pound compared to 2018. That was disappointing, but was offset by the fact I knew I was getting stronger. I could tell by the weight I was pushing around and the ability to add more weight consistently each session that things were moving in the right direction. Ultimately this is proof that health and fitness are a journey and not a destination. There was a lot of discouragement and ups and downs in 2019, but I carried on. I was confident that 2020 would be a great year.
We are now nearly two and a half months into 2020 and my focus couldn’t be better. I am dialed in as it relates to nutrition and my fitness program. I did adjust it some based on a challenge I created for myself. I really like this change and may not deviate from it anytime soon. I’m lifting five days a week and running five or six days a week. I had to break down my lifting to one body part a day to accommodate the additional running. So far it’s worked great.
The challenge was inspired by Jesse Itzler. He did the calendar club challenge in February. He ran miles corresponding to the day of the month. So, February 5he ran 5 miles. February 27 he ran 27 miles and so on. Totally insane effort required, but he got it done. I wasn’t willing to be that crazy – yet. Instead I put together what I call the birthday challenge. I took my birth month, birth day, and last two digits of the year I was born and the total is how many miles I’ll run In March – 113.
I’ve never been stronger, and my weight is up three pounds this year, which again has surprised me due to all the extra cardio. I haven’t adjusted my diet a ton but do pay very close attention to what I eat versus what I am burning. The progress I am seeing in my strength, weight and cardio health is all the encouragement I need to continue grinding.
I had set out goals for myself for 2020, but I am rethinking all of them as we close in on the end of March. The goals in place were exercising 235 days this year, weigh 160 pounds, and run a 20-minute 5k. The first two seem easily achievable now barring injury, so I think a revision is necessary. The 5k goal is a challenge, especially since running for distance is not something I particularly enjoy. I may keep it because I think I would be proud to get that done. I’m considering adding something that will test me in a more holistic way like a triathlon or a spartan race. Time and balancing our busy life will tell. If I have to I will do something 100% on my own. I enjoy what I do enough to realize that a formal race isn’t necessary for validation.
So why did I write this? I want to tell people that investing in your health is worth it. The process and the grind are worth it. I understand that it is easier to choose complacency and avoiding pain and discomfort. It’s not always easy to put in the time. I totally get it, but I can tell you from my experiences that the pain, the effort, and the discomfort are all worth it.
It doesn’t matter what the goal is. What matters is how you will feel when you put in the effort to better yourself. If you need a goal, think about your kids or the type of grandparent you want to be. I can’t think of anything more motivating than that. Whatever it takes to take that first step, figure it out and take it! You won’t regret it.
If you aren’t willing to prioritize your health, don’t bother making excuses, it’s unnecessary. Excuses are simply telling the world you don’t care enough about it and that will be obvious anyway. We all can justify our way out of anything we don’t want to do. I could say I can’t focus on my health because I have too much going. I have seven kids. I have a three-month-old that doesn’t sleep well right now. I have two older kids I have to get to the bus stop, to practices, and to games. I have a couple disabled kids that take a ton out of me most days. I have a very demanding, high stress job that takes every minute I am willing to give it. And most important, I have a wife that I want and need to spend time with every single day because our relationship is critically important to my happiness. It’s not hard to find an excuse or try to justify why you aren’t going to do something. Don’t fool yourself though, you are making a choice and that is completely under your control.
You have the time. You can make it work. And I promise it is worth it. You will never look back and regret prioritizing your health. It is worth it today and the value will only grow as you look at who you will be in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years from now.
Always choose effort!
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