First off, thanks go to everyone who’s taken the time to show interest in this idea over the past couple of days. Further posts will follow twice weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays. To receive these as they appear, please sign up for RSS or email.
This site was created to disprove the perception of certain folk in the fitness industry who seem to think it’s impossible to be a regular computer user living a healthy, active lifestyle.
Shaking off Mr. Sloth
I’ve posted my story before but to recap, I hit rock-bottom in mid-2010. Whilst my awesome girlfriend was off climbing mountains and crushing 10K races, I sat on the sidelines twiddling my thumbs, telling anybody who’d listen ‘I don’t do fitness any more’.
By the summer, I couldn’t kid myself any longer. I’d become a bloated, haggered version of the teenage me. My arms and legs were like twigs, my stomach was getting bigger all the time and my face was wider and chubbier. I was uncomfortable and resolved to do whatever it took to shake off the feeling of the lazy, old sloth. It didn’t feel good.
I knew I had to make changes but I didn’t know where to start.
The fitness industry is huge. There are lots of different approaches. Some work, others don’t. I don’t claim to be an expert but I am against anything I feel is a waste of time, energy and effort. There are far more important things in life.
That summer, I set myself two different goals – a weight goal (lose two stones to get back under 170lb/12 stone) and a performance goal (complete a 10K). Eventually, I achieved both. I was made up but the greatest outcome was the way I felt. I managed to shake off Mr. Sloth.
I know he’s still loitering around the corner, ready to clamber onto my back whenever I let my guard down. That’s partly the reason for this site.
A quick note: Everybody has different goals. You might need to lose 200 pounds, you might want to run a marathon. The important thing to remember is that it’s only achievable if you begin to make it happen.
This post is my missing manual of everything I wanted to know when I decided to change things. I hope it is some use to you.
This is the most important point in this post.
Nothing else will have as big an effect over the way you feel, your mindset or your successes.
Craig Ballantyne, a huge inspiration to myself and somebody well worth following, posted this video showing the effects of diet vs exercise:
It seems so simple once you think about it. If you get your food intake right then you are most of the way there.
I began to eat lots of fibre-rich, high-quality foods, especially those that are only made up of a single ingredient (i.e. veggies, fruit, nuts). I tried as many combinations as I could and you should too. Find any that suit you and eat lots of them. If you want to, you can add animal-based produce too (meat, diary etc). The great thing about veggies is that they will not add body fat. Plus, they’ll leave you satisfied for longer so I’m no longer snacking on bags of crisps in the office.
I forced myself to cut out processed foods, too. It was tough (very tough!) but I realised if I wanted to make any progress, I had to do tough things.
Also, be aware of your sugar in-take. It’s criminal that many ‘low-fat’ foods are then pumped full of sugar because sugar makes you fat. Sugar is best avoided the majority of the time (fruit doesn’t count!).
One thing to remember is that any changes need to be sustainable. Introduce changes over time and you’re more likely to stick to them.
Drink more water
If you’re anything like I was, you’re not even thinking about drinking water… In fact, you’d happily drink anything but water (coffee, can of coke etc).
This is a big mistake.
Your body uses water all the time, especially when you’re active. These fluids need replacing and the most effective way is to drink more water. There are lots of benefits:
- You won’t be taking on needless calories
- It’s readily available straight out of the taps
- You’ll feel brighter and more alert
- You’ll realise that often when you think you’re hungry, you’re just thirsty
Seriously, avoid liquid calories like the plague if you’re looking to lose weight. They won’t fill you up so you’ll always be wanting more, it’s expensive and it’s not good for you – and you’ll end up with teeth like mine!
Embrace your Inner Geek
“What gets measured, gets managed.”
Tracking your weight can be a huge motivator for anyone looking to make gains. If you do this every day, you can graph changes over time to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.
This post by Daniel Tenner captures this idea perfectly. It’s well worth a read.
Do the right kind of exercise
You hear folk banging on about ‘doing more exercise’ and ‘getting in shape’ all of the time, especially around this time of year. What does it even mean? If you’re going to get anywhere, you need clear goals (weight loss targets, achievements etc). They’ll give you purpose, motivation and focus.
Often when people say these things, they mean that they’re going to drive to the nearest gym (which is usually at least 15 minutes away) where there’ll spend anything up to 2 hours pounding away on the treadmill. For what?
So that they don’t feel as guilty about all the junk food they’ll eat when they get home?
People eat so much that they obliterate any positives their jogging achieved, which is minimal to begin with. (This is understandable, they’ve just exercised themselves to oblivion, course they want to eat!)
There has be a smarter way, and thankfully there is.
I began to try a combination of bodyweight exercises that can be done in the comfort of my own home without equipment (think squats, planks, pull-ups, push-ups) and high intensity interval training (basically, working very hard for a short period, recovering, then doing it over, approximately 6-8 times). This can be anything from running on the spot (in place), sprinting, cycling etc. It’s possible to finish a powerful, effective workout in half an hour (other folk will still be getting changed at the gym!).
Also, be aware that you don’t need to train five days a week. In the beginning, it’s useful to aim for two or three as long as you’re staying active on your off days (and by staying active I mean walk around more, play sports, jog if you can’t resist it!).
I’ll cover bodyweight exercises, interval training and evil cardio in future posts. Of course, if you love running long distances at steady speeds, I’m not going to criticise. I just think it is wrong that for many people it is there ‘go-to’ exercise when they don’t enjoy it, don’t feel good afterwards and don’t want to drag themselves out of bed at 6am. Exercise should be fun!
Also, before taking part in any form of physical exercise, get yourself checked out by your GP.
Run (like the wind blows)
As I said above, I HATE jogging. Anything over a couple of kilometres and my mind turns to mush. I get bored, my joints take aaaaaaages to recover afterwards and I’d rather spend all that time doing something else.
But sprinting… Sprinting is different. I love sprinting. Honestly, if I had to pick a single activity to concentrate on, it’s be sprinting. There’s no better feeling than accelerating away at speed. The rush of the wind, the buzz of adrenaline. There’s nothing else like it. (Incidentally, I’d forgotten this too. As depressing as it sounds, I didn’t move faster than a brisk walk between the ages of 21 and 25)
If you’d like to give it a try, make sure you start small. If you haven’t sprinted for years, it’s unwise to expect to be able to go hell for leather immediately. Just get out there, build up slowly. You won’t regret it.
When you’re starting out, it’s difficult to know what to put your faith in. One of my biggest issues with hitting goals is my non-existent attention span.
Whether it was cycling, going to the gym or waking up every morning and going for a run, I rarely focused on anything for longer than a week before I grew frustrated and my mind wandered onto something else.
This scattergun approach to fitness will lead you to only one place. The looney bin.
Whatever you try, make sure you commit to giving it a fair shot. If you’re starting from scratch, progress can be hardwork. Despite being the period where you can often make the biggest gains, this period will take willpower you didn’t even realise you had.
But you do have it. So steel yourself and commit to making the changes you want to.
Don’t give up
This point goes hand in hand with the point above. You need to believe that the outcomes are achievable. Lots of people have had it far worse and they have managed to succeed. It is possible.
Seriously, don’t give up. Ever. I don’t want to sound like a motivational lunatic but if you’re just starting an exercise program there WILL be days when your muscles feel too tired to exercise, you’ll dread waking up early to work out and you’ll consider going back to the easy life. Don’t.
The results will be worth it.
That breakthrough is closer than you think.
Get more sleep
This was the toughest change I had to make and it probably will be for you, too.
Everybody knows how important it is to get enough sleep but the trouble is it is so easy to go without. There’s always another hour to squeeze in some more work but then we’re left scrabbling around in the morning, rushing into another day. When I realised it didn’t have to be this way, it was a massive weight off my shoulders.
I regularly stayed up coding until 1 or 2, waking at 7.30am. I switched things around and began sleeping by 10.30pm or 11pm at the latest, spending the final hour winding down, laptop and phone switched off. Things feel less manic and I have more than enough time in the mornings to complete any outstanding work (I now wake up a lot earlier). I’m better prepared for the day ahead, too.
As an added bonus, sleep also has benefits when it comes to gaining muscle and your recovery from exercise. Awesome!
Make it social
You know Stack Overflow, right?
There’s no reason that the successful principles of the site cannot be applied to fitness.
If you make your fitness goals public then not only will you get support and assistance from others, you’ll get accountability.
I managed to convince a mate that we’d begin exercising together. All of a sudden, it became a lot tougher to drop out. Try it. They will be somebody you know desperately waiting for someone to take the lead.
If there really is nobody else, then I’m all ears. Hearing stories of other folk is a massive inspiration and drives me on to meet my own goals. Are you familiar with Eddie Izzard? It’s an amazing achievement.
Finally, the office can be the ultimate diet killer. Sweet food is everywhere and it’s difficult to resist.
I have a motto: Don’t let the bastards grind you down! Stick to your guns! Find support from your peers and you’re laughing!
The wrap up
These methods are all changes I found to be successful over the previous months. Some of them have now become habits, some still take a lot of work. If you’re interested, pick a couple, stick with them for a few weeks and see if you feel the benefits. But remember your brain needs time to adjust, just like your body does.
Health and fitness is often overcomplicated, shrouded in mystery. It doesn’t have to be.
My reason for change was that I felt I wasn’t making enough of the limited time we have. What’s yours?
Thanks for reading. I’d be chuffed if you shared this post with others, too.
Photo by gesteves