In 2017, I decided to become a runner. I’d had a life-long disgust of running, but it was something I always wanted to be good at. I would think how great it would be if I could just put my shoes on, walk out the door, and run.
So I made the decision to run every single day for four months. My goal wasn’t to get good at running, it was just to run.
I will restate that, because it’s important: My goal was not to get good at running, it was just to establish running as a habit and a practice.
While running every day through the Canadian winter seemed like a daunting task, I discovered that actually getting it done wasn’t as painful as I thought. By the end of the four months, I actually grew pretty bored with running and found little challenge in it.
When it comes to exercise, conventional wisdom says to start conservatively–like with two or three workouts per week. The idea being a slower start is less daunting, safer, and therefore easier to pick up and maintain.
I don’t agree with this.
I don’t have time…
The number one thing that holds people back from consistent exercise is time, or rather, their perception that there’s not enough of it.
Something happens at work…something happens with the kids…something just always happens–and training takes a back seat. No big deal though, you can just make it up tomorrow and get your three sessions in for the week.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this. Having a conservative goal of a few workouts per week takes the pressure off and allows for a little wiggle room.
But here’s the thing: You need pressure.
You need to feel the heat and struggle a bit with finding time to train, because the truth is, this is the only way to discover that most days–regardless of what happens–the time is there.
The belief that things are always going to be smooth sailing is part of what got you in trouble in the first place. The moment that “life gets crazy” you give up and push your workout back a day.
The once iron-clad promise to “get back into it” becomes a flimsy commitment that is easily broken. What starts as one day missed day turns to two, and then three, and then it’s a crazy week, month, and finally “this just isn’t a good time in my life.”
Trust me, I’ve seen it happen countless times.
Commit to less
People get away with the “I don’t have time” excuse because they try to devote too much of it at once.
Training doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. It doesn’t mean working out for an hour. Or running 5 miles. It doesn’t always have to hurt. You don’t need to change into special clothes. It doesn’t have to look like what you envision exercise to be.
If you’re struggling with consistency, it just has to be something.
The real discipline is in the initiation, not the act. Once you’re at the gym, once you’re up and moving, once you’ve begun…typically you’re fine to keep going. You get into it. You have fun. You feel better. Your mentality totally shifts.
The hard part is putting your phone down. It’s saying no to that meeting. It’s getting up earlier. It’s stopping what you’re doing and starting something new.
So make that perceived barrier as easy to get over as possible. Commit to doing 20 push-ups a day. Commit to running 15-minutes a day, which is exactly what I did. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Just commit to doing small tasks, but do them religiously and begin building consistency. The results and epic workouts will take care of themselves.
Don’t go too easy though
If you’re going to commit to doing the minimum, that’s fine, but just be careful not to start lying to yourself.
Doing five push-ups a day or walking around the block for 10 minutes is great if you’re a beginner…truly I mean it. But training only works if you apply the appropriate level of stress to your body. There needs to be some kind of stimulus.
If you’re mailing it in just to tell yourself you worked out, you’re just wasting your time and deepening the delusion you live in.
So how do you establish an appropriate daily minimum?
Well if you’re a total novice and have no physical fitness to speak of, or are morbidly obese this is pretty simple. It’s as low as you can go–start with a daily walk. Do one push-up (if you can). Do one body weight squat. No amount of activity is less than what you’ve been doing thus far.
For everyone else, you need to ask yourself one question:
“On my worst day, what’s the most (or best) I can do within a 5-minute window?”
Notice I said…worst day. Not best. Or even average. I’m talking about not sleeping for two days, sick, and hungover…how far can you run? How many pull-ups can you do in a row? If someone were to wake you up at 2am and punch you in the balls, how much could you deadlift cold with no warm-up?
That’s your minimum.
You’re basically establishing your floor. This is the performance you can deliver at any time, no matter the circumstances.
Your job is to execute, and then raise that floor over time.
What If I Over-do It?
What if I get injured?
Unlikely. But if something starts to hurt, do something else or figure out where the imbalance is. Do something often enough and you’ll learn how to manage it.
Not if…but when to exercise
So here’s the reason why choosing to exercise seven days per week is actually easier: It’s easier to decide when to work out than if to work out.
The fewer decisions and less analysis you have to make, the better. By adopting this approach, you don’t have to play the mental game of “is it in the cards today?” You just have to figure out when it’s going to happen.
But be clear. It’s important to know the difference between adopting the habit of exercise, and using exercise as a tool to get a specific result. My daily running challenge was all about getting over my resistance to running, and establish it as a part of my daily routine. I didn’t track volume or distance, I didn’t care how fast I ran–it was purely about the daily practice and ingraining the habit.
Once the habit is in place, that’s when the real magic happens and you can worry about performance.