How do some of your friends continue to fit into the same pair of jeans that they were wearing in college decades later?
Maybe it’s aging. Maybe it’s genetics.
These are important but I think it’s something else—something that you have control over…even if you work long hours.
Back in elementary school, when I was 12 years old, I had no shoulders. Well, I had shoulders, but shirts would hang from my shapeless figure. Jacket sleeves would be too long for me and hang past my hands.
One of my friends even made it a point to poke fun at my shoulders.
“Your shoulders are so slope-y!”
Friends at that age can be really mean.
I was a chubby kid too. My Chinese grandparents expressed their love by greeting you on the phone by asking if you ate dinner yet.
My grandparents would bring my two younger brothers and I to Burger King to get ninety-nine cent Whoppers. They also had a ready supply of Sunny-D, cheese puffs, and 7-Up at their apartment…and of course home-cooked Chinese food.
We were well-loved, and our husky waistlines showed it.
I was not born with an athletic physique. For years my clothes wouldn’t fit me right. Shirts were always too wide or too long.
Even after my seven-inch growth spurt entering high school, I was not exactly an imposing figure. (Not that I am today…)
Then my friends started going to the gym and introduced me to weight lifting, which could help put on more muscle to my slender frame
In college, I knew that I wouldn’t go to the gym consistently on my own. So, I signed up for the same Beginner’s Weightlifting class two quarters in a row. For two days a week, I had to at least show up at the gym and lift for an hour.
I developed a habit of going to the gym to workout—a habit that continues today.
Over time, I noticed that my t-shirts started to fit better. More importantly, I actually felt more confident because my clothes didn’t hang off of me like a shirt on a plastic hanger.
Till this day, there are few times where I’ve completely fallen off the workout wagon. Of course, my workouts change over time depending on my goals and life situation, but I can’t go more than couple days without my body freaking out from the lack of movement.
Fitness is a habit.
The payoff is staying fit and feeling great in your clothes and your own skin.
Last July, I decided to run my first marathon. I’m not sure what came over me.
(Seattle Marathon 2015…before my legs decided to cramp up on me.)
No. I know exactly what it was. I was sick and tired of knowing what I needed to do but not actually doing it—not just in terms of exercise, but also in my work life.
Disgust can be a great motivator when channeled properly.
I needed a big goal to force me to structure my time and effort. I used MeetUp.com and found the Seattle Greenlake Running Group to find a others that kept me accountable.
I had the revelation that a lot of people start their days at 5:30AM or even earlier.
The first month of joining the early morning runs were difficult. My body was not happy waking up early let alone going for a run.
But if it works for The Rock and all these other people just like me, why couldn’t I do this?
I started sleeping earlier and training consistently 5-6 days a week.
The results gradually showed up. An early morning 6 mile run started feeling like a 3 mile run.
I noticed benefits to a training regimen:
- I got stronger and leaner as a result of consistency, not just wishing for this to happen.
- My clothes fit better, and I had way more options when I went shopping.
- My thinking was clearer.
- I got fitter—less winded going up stairs and could walk miles without huffing and puffing.
- I started the day feeling like I accomplished something before most people were even awake.
- My metabolism was more efficient.
- My mood improved.
- My mental toughness and perseverance improved.
- I also met a lot of great people. I’m an introvert by nature, but I really enjoyed the reward of hot coffee and chatting with new friends after the morning runs.
How to Build Your Fitness Habit
1) Identify your “why”
Do you want to fit in those old pair of jeans again? Is it to improve your health? The stronger the associated emotions, the better. It will be harder to forget when things get busy.
What makes you feel disgusted enough to move in a positive direction? How will it help you reach your aspirational goals?
Write this down on a note and stick it somewhere you will see it everyday or create a calendar reminder that notifies you daily.
You can also set a recurring daily event that pops up in your electronic calendar of choice. I use Google Calendar.
2) Pick a goal that aligns with your why
Maybe fitting into your jeans will give you more confidence and this will help you professionally. Maybe you are not as fit as you’d like and you want to feel more energetic throughout the day.
Set a 3 month goal. This gives you enough time to make progress but isn’t too far away to forget. Pick a goal that is challenging but not totally impossible.
If you have never run on asphalt, choosing to run a marathon in 4 months could be counterproductive, demoralizing, and risky.
Rather, the goal could be running or walking a 5K in 3 months with the 1-2 year goal of running that marathon.
Take significant baby steps.
State your goal following the format: I will achieve [measurable goal] by doing [measurable activities] by
Using my goal as an example, “I will run the Seattle Marathon (26.2 miles) on November 29 by training 4-5 days per week on my own and with the Seattle Greenlake Running Group.”
3) Determine lagging and leading indicators
Lagging indicators tell you if you’ve reached your goal. For example, fitting in a specific pair of jeans or being able to run a certain distance. However, as the name implies, lagging indicators take some time to tell you how you are progressing.
Leading indicators tell you how well you are sticking to the process of reaching your goal. Leading indicators answer the question, “am I doing the work I need to do to reach my goal?”
The immediate feedback helps you stay on track. Each week, you score yourself to see what percentage of these tasks you completed as reality check.
For example, a lagging indicator for completing a marathon is reaching the finish line. The leading indicator might be running 30 miles over 4 training runs per week.
If you completed 3/4 training runs for the week, the completion rate was 75%. You can see whether or not you’re putting in the work to reach your goal.
The data doesn’t lie!
4) Block out time in your calendar
Blocking time off in your calendar protects time for training. Start by setting appointments in your calendar daily for movement.
I recommend setting at least 15 minutes for your morning routine.
Wake up, brush your teeth, throw some cold water on your face, and put on your workout clothes right away.
TIP: Put your workout close right next to your bed so you see them right when you wake up.
Don’t risk getting carried away with the obligations of the day.
5) 15 minute workout ideas
If you don’t have time to go for a 1 hour training run in the morning, don’t worry. I have learned some great workouts you can do in 15 minutes or less that will get your heart pumping and your body sweating.
The best workouts for boosting metabolism and improving cardiovascular health are high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. HIIT involves cycles of high intensity and rest.
Find Your Ideal Intensity
Heart rate during activity tells you how hard your heart is working.
To estimate your maximum heart rate, take 220 minus your age. High intensity/vigorous exercise is 70-85% of your maximum heart rate.
So, my max heart rate would be:
Max heart rate = 220 – 31 years old = 189 bpm (beats per minute)
High intensity zone = 189 x 0.7 and 189 x 0.85 = 132.3 and 160.7 bpm
Let’s round that to 130 and 160 bpm
Using either a heart rate monitor or using your radial pulse (on the wrist on the thumb side) or carotid pulse (on your neck under your chin an inch or two to the left or right of midline) for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 after your workout to see if you are in the right heart rate zone.
If your heart rate was low, you know you can push yourself a little harder. If it was high, you can back off on the intensity.
NOTE: HIIT might not be for those who are just starting to be more active, so if you have any doubts about your fitness level, consult your doctor or a good physical trainer.
Option 1: Tabata Training (Difficulty: easy to advanced)
Tabata training sessions are a heart pumping 20 seconds on and 10 seconds of rest repeated for 4 minutes.
The great thing about Tabata is that you can adjust the difficulty based on your fitness level. Just get your heart rate up for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat for 4 minutes.
If I’m using a treadmill, I’ll do a warm up jog for a few minutes at low intensity. Once I’m warm, I set the incline to 2 and speed somewhere between 8.5 and 10.
Start low and go slow.
As the timer reaches a 30 second interval that’s easy to count, I’ll start running for 20 seconds and then jump off the belt and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat 8 times (4 minutes total).
You can do this with push ups, burpees, squats, jumping jacks, or even your interpretive dance of choice.
Option 2: The 100 Burpee Challenge (Difficulty: Advanced)
I learned this from one of my best buddies, Alex. He loves fitness challenges, and I always reluctantly give in to joining him.
This one is simple, but not easy. Do as many burpees as you can in 10 minutes with the goal of hitting 100.
Start a countdown timer on your phone or on a kitchen timer for 10 minutes. And start hitting those burpees.
Here’s a quick video of me doing burpees in my living room:
This can be TOUGH. Maybe you hit 100 or maybe you don’t. That’s okay. Now you have something to work towards.
– Chunk it down: do mini sets of 10 to start, then sets of 5 as you get tired. Rest just enough to get through the next mini set. Just keep going till you run out of time.
– Do as many in a row as you can keeping good form. Don’t compromise form just to reach 100. Getting hurt will be counterproductive.
6) Who’s keeping you accountable?
Accountability, especially public accountability, is a great motivator.
Every time I said I would be attending a MeetUp, I was 99.9999% more likely to go. Once I got to know people in the group, my new friends would notice if I didn’t show up when I said I would.
Whether it’s paying to join a class, joining a MeetUp group, or having a friend check in with a text message, find someone to keep you accountable.
If you have a history of letting your foot off the gas when no one is looking, why take the chance?
As they say, throw your hat over the fence so you have to go get it.
7) Reward yourself (IMPORTANT!)
Find a little treat that you can use to anchor your new habit. A cup of coffee. A leisurely shower. 10 minutes reading your your favorite book or browsing Facebook.
Associate an activity with something pleasurable, and soon you’ll start looking forward to your morning workouts without needing that reward.
Will you be perfect on the road to getting fit and building a habit of exercising?
Probably not. I’m definitely not perfect.
However, 85% success consistently will get you far.
If you fall off the wagon, re-commit to it. Remind yourself of your “why.” Feel the pain of NOT doing it. Feel the pain of what you will LOSE if you don’t do it.
Here’s to you looking and feeling great.
What’s your plan for getting fit and feeling great in your clothes? I’d love to know what they are.
***Recommended reading that inspired these strategies:***
– The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod
– The 12 Week Year: Get more Done in 12 Weeks Than Other do in 12 Months by Brian P. Moran
– The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg