I’ve found a workout routine that I’ve been able to maintain despite the challenges of parenting, travel, sickness, and founding and leading a startup company. Not only do I sustain the regimen, it sustains me. This is my workout practice.
I’ve never liked “going to the gym,” although I’ve forced myself to do so in order to stay healthy. But a few years ago I found something that I prefer. It began with CrossFit in 2011. CrossFit was fun for me. I enjoyed not only the challenge of pushing myself, but also the friendly competition with others around me, the minimalism of the equipment, and of course the results. I started CrossFit after my kids were born and I was in terrible shape: weak, fat, sleep-deprived, low cardiovascular capacity. After a couple of years of CrossFit, I was much fitter overall, and way stronger, than I’d ever been.
But after a few years of CrossFit, I wasn’t gaining any ground. I couldn’t go to the gym every day, and the exercises were a little too intense; I had a lot of other demands on my life and couldn’t recover properly, so I felt like all I was doing was beating the hell out of my body and staying sore. And driving to the box, working out, showering, and getting back to my life was just taking too much time.
I was also increasingly unwilling to subject myself to the potential of injury that I’ve seen there. I had to take some time off to rehabilitate some minor stress injuries. Afterwards, instead of returning to CrossFit, I did CrossFit-style workouts at a traditional gym. The years at CrossFit had taught me well that I can do an intense workout anywhere, anytime, with limited or no equipment.
But I hated it, because I hate gyms. Not only did people look at me like I was a nuisance all the time (boy, had I forgotten the cultural difference between CrossFit and an ordinary gym!), it just wasn’t much fun. And it was expensive. I ended up going to the gym just to force myself to commit to a workout: show up and I’ll do it, don’t show up and I won’t. It was that simple. And I hated showing up in a place like that, full of stupid machines and stupid rules.
So I switched back to home, and bought a minimalistic amount of the most common and versatile equipment needed to do CrossFit-style movements. And I modified my routine to make it failsafe, day in and day out. It worked. Here’s the essence:
- Intense. CrossFit-style movements, biased more towards high-complexity METCON (metabolic conditioning) movements, which are essentially high-intensity calisthenics such as pushups, burpees, double-unders (jumping rope and passing the rope twice under with each jump), and thrusters. The compound nature of these movements requires little equipment and works many muscle groups at once, which makes them exhausting very quickly.
- Short. I usually do my workouts in 4-10 minutes total. I often do timed AMRAP (as many rounds as possible in a fixed time), a few rounds of 2-5 complex movements in moderate repetition counts for time, or Tabata workouts (40 seconds all-out effort, 20 seconds recovery, repeat).
- Daily. Every day is a workout day. Every day. This eliminates the internal dialog about whether today is a workout day. The answer is “yes, now get a move on it.” No matter where or when, even when I’m on the road and the hotel’s gym is smaller than my kitchen.
- First Thing. I wake up, drink a cup of coffee, journal, meditate, and hit it hard before breakfast. As a bonus, science shows that exercising before eating has a lot of benefits.
- Constantly Varied. I come up with something new every day and rarely do any type of standardized workout. There are plenty of named benchmark workouts, and these are great in a pinch when I’m lacking imagination. But even when I use them, I’ll usually modify them. For example, I’ll do “5 rounds of Cindy; add 20 kettlebell swings and 25 double-unders to each round.” I simply listen to how my body feels, notice what feels neglected and what feels like it’s recovering, and think about a workout that fits. And I cycle in lifting or heavyweight workouts a few times a week when I’m at home and have weights handy. For example, 6 rounds of 6 heavy squats.
So I’m doing what I regard as the best of CrossFit: simple, safe, fun, ever-changing exercises that challenge me and are ceremony-, danger-, and complexity-free. And I’ve saved thousands of dollars.
I time it all, and write down each day’s workout in a summary form in a notebook. I’ll write what I did, my “score” as appropriate (reps, time, etc), how long it took, what weights or other parameters were involved, and how I felt—should I go heavier next time, for example?
Here’s one page from my notebook:
- 2017-09-22: 6x6 heavy squats
- 2017-09-23 4:00 Tabata of wallballs, burpee pullups
- 2017-09-24: 6x6 touch-and-go clean & jerks
- 2017-09-25: 9:00 Tabata of double-unders, situps, and kettlebell swings
- 2017-09-26: “Diane” in 4:20 (21-15-9 heavy deadlifts and modified handstand pushups)
The result? I’m spending 5-15 minutes per day working out in my slapped-together home gym. I’m having fun. And I’m stronger and fitter than I ever was even when I was doing CrossFit avidly. To give an idea, my resting pulse is 40, and I’m squatting 6 rounds of 6 reps at 35% heavier than my one-rep max squat when I was at CrossFit.
I’ll write about my “gym” next time—it’s charitable to call it a gym and I’ve spent little on it. A few months’ subscription fees at a gym or box would be more than my gym has cost me.