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How to Craft The Workout Plan You’ll Want to Stick to

August 30th, 2018 by Nick Notas 7 Comments

Fun spartan race

I was NOT an athletic kid.

In little league, they put me in right field, where they thought I’d do as little damage as possible. Even then, I got yelled at for daydreaming and playing in the dirt as the rare ball whizzed by me.

I never played school sports again.

While I did ride my bike around town and climb trees in the woods, that was the hardest physical activity I endured until about 21 years old.

I was the chubby nerd growing up.

I messed around in gym class. I never lifted weights. I drank sugary juice drinks with silly faces on the bottles and devoured potato chips.

Eventually, I graduated to multiple daily Mountain Dews with steak and cheese sandwiches from my dad’s restaurant. (Damn, they were good though.)

I spent a lot of time indoors — at my house, at friends’ houses, or at the movies. I had no interest in unnecessary physicality. My youth was often spent running around digitally in video games instead.

Then one day everything changed.

At 21 years old, I was diagnosed with hypoglycemia. My family had a history of diabetes and I couldn’t believe I was already on that path. I decided I had to start eating right and being active.

I lost 60lbs and have stayed at a healthy weight for ten years. About six years ago, I started taking cardio seriously. Then three years ago, I started strength training and building muscle.

Now, I’ve gone from hating sports to loving them. I can’t wait to get outdoors. I’ve built habits that keep me working out every week.

I’m not in perfect shape but I’m more active, strong, and healthy than I’ve ever been. And I have a ton of fun being this way.

While getting to this point required real effort, I believe it’s completely possible for anyone. I’ve found ways to make the process easier and build a more sustainable mindset. If my unathletic ass can do it, so can you.

You don’t need to become an immediate workout junkie

Too much working out

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. They also recommend strength training for each muscle group at least twice a week (let’s say 30 minutes each session).

So when a lot of people start trying to exercise, they believe they have to fully commit right away.

They think they need to go running for hours every week. They think they need to lift grueling weights until they almost puke. They think they need to commit to long workouts to hit those quotas. Or else, they’re failing.

Ironically, it’s this mentality that sets people up for failure.

If you haven’t been regularly active, this is asking too much of you, too soon. You’re don’t even have the right habits, tools, or willpower in place yet.

All this seems overwhelming and terrifying. It’s why so many people give up.

Let go of the BS idea you have to be doing X amount of exercises for X amount of time.

Healthy standards are guidelines to work towards, but you should start with small steps on the road to get there. Your body is still getting healthier even if you do the tiniest bit of activity!

Use the 10% healthier rule.

Pick an amount of weekly exercise that’s doable for you. Maybe that’s just 9 minutes right now. Let’s make it even easier by splitting it into 3 minutes a day, 3 times a week.

Each week, try to increase your time by 10%. So next week, go for 10 minutes. The following week for 11 and so on.

(Note: This is just an example. You don’t have to obsess over each minute if you’re making any kind of progress.)

With compounding growth, you’ll get to the 210 minutes of recommended exercise in 33 weeks. The great thing is that the challenge will increase naturally. The first 18 weeks you’ll be adding just a few minutes per week.

After that, the weeks will get progressively more challenging. But by then, you’ll have built up more endurance, self-confidence, motivation, and overall fitness to still keep things manageable.

Most importantly, you’ll use those initial weeks to discover creative ways to play and have fun while being active.

Yes, it’s possible to love working out

Most of my life, I thought there were “correct” ways to work out. You were supposed to do certain activities or exercises for designated amounts of time to get fit.

For example, this meant long runs on the treadmill to lose weight or 100 pushups a day.

This sounded horrible and stopped me from wanting to exercise.

Eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to work out in misery. I realized there is no exact right way to exercise. It’s all preconceived notions and limiting beliefs in our head.

If you move your body around or use physical strength for any reason, you are improving your health and fitness. That’s all that matters.

Once I accepted this, I saw a world of possibilities.

I could exercise in endless ways to keep things fresh. I could do fun activities I enjoyed that also made me healthier. I didn’t have to spent hours in the gym…in fact I could exercise in my underwear sometimes. I could even do bursts of 5-10 minutes rather than always long commitments at once.

So now, I exercise in countless ways I love:

  • Play basketball/tennis at the YMCA and at free outdoor courts in my town.
  • Swim at the YMCA, public pools, and at the beach. Then I jump through the waves like a madman and practice boxing underwater.
  • Throw Frisbees and footballs with friends while running around.
  • Hike and mountain bike in New England and around the world.
  • Do yoga in my living room with YouTube videos like Yoga with Adriene.
  • Row a boat vigorously on the Derwentwater Lake in England.
  • Dance or do bodyweight exercises while watching TV or listening to music.
  • Use resistance bands for strength training while chilling on my couch.
  • Take my dog out on daily walks and sprint randomly with him.
  • Do boxing or dance games like Audioshield in my Virtual Reality setup.
  • Build a power rack in my basement to do compound lifts, pull-ups, and dips.
  • Have foot races with friends on the beach at night.
  • Play disc golf in Austria for the first time with Julian and Krissi at LoveLifeSolved. I jog to get my discs.
  • Do random spurts of interval training (4 minutes for example) with exercises like burpees.

This variety helps me stay excited about exercising. But again, this is what works for me. You can experiment with different ideas until you find a few that you love, and then keep those in rotation.

If you don’t have much money to spend, many ideas are free or require little investment.

If you hate working out for long periods, break it up over days or in short chunks within a day.

If you don’t have time for the gym, there are unlimited bodyweight exercises, resistance bands, and free weights you can do while watching TV in your living room.

Forget what anyone else says — make exercise as fun and doable as possible. Then you’ll learn to look forward to working out.

Success is about more than just your appearance

Focus on your effort

We all want to look better. It’s maybe the most common reason why people initially start exercising.

Marketers know this. So they hammer us with before and after pictures to show off that “perfect beach body, just in time for summer!”

But if the way you look is your primary reason for working out, I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to stay on track. Because inherently, it’s a losing battle when so much of how your body looks is out of your control.

Because if you’re really skinny or overweight, it takes time to see major changes.

As a novice in strength training, you might be able to put on two pounds of muscle per month if you work really hard. That’s without time factored in for weight cutting cycles.

For losing weight, you might be able to drop two pounds a week. But that will fluctuate and obsessively checking your scale will only discourage you.

Moreso, your progress will be dictated by your age and genetics. It may take you much longer to get to where you want to be compared to a 20 year old with awesome genes.

Remember, the progress pictures you measure yourself against are often manipulated (lighting, exaggeration, photoshop) or impossible without the use of steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.

So working towards your ideal body often becomes an unattainable chase. Once you lose some weight or look a certain way, you’ll want more. You’ll always want to be leaner, more toned, or bigger.

Instead, measure your success on your efforts and let everything else you gain in the process fuel you.

When your reasons for exercising goes beyond aesthetics, you’ll find a well of motivation waiting to be tapped into. For me, I’ve found that drive in:

  • Developing my skills at sports like basketball or tennis.
  • Being more competitive against others within those sports.
  • Increasing the amount of weight I can lift or improving my overall endurance.
  • Improving my sex drive and stamina.
  • Feeling my mood and energy improve drastically after workouts and in general.
  • Getting better rest at night and gaining more mental clarity during the day.
  • Seeing my blood sugar problems resolve themselves.
  • Looking forward to being a father who can be active with his kids.

I’ve fallen in love with all the other amazing benefits exercise has to offer.

This focus has helped me become more patient with getting into shape and being okay with not having a perfect, idealized body. I know that regardless of my appearance, I’m crushing it in so many other ways. And no matter what, I’m still healthier than I was before.

Don’t go after this alone

Workout buddies

Everyone knows a workout partner makes things easier. However, it’s not always straightforward to find someone who’s willing to commit with you.

So instead, many people start out trying to do things themselves. They attempt to pump themselves up and muster the motivation to exercise.

But just telling yourself that you need to work out is almost never a viable solution. It’s too easy to make excuses or conveniently “forget” that you’re supposed to exercise.

You need some other resource or person to keep you accountable.

That could be some third-party tool that actively reminds you. Or a visual reminder of some sort that you can’t help but see every day.

I’ve written a lot about setting active calendar reminders, using commitment sites like Stickk, or gamifying your goals with smartphone apps such as Habitica. I’ve recommended putting goals on your phone/computer wallpaper, using sticky notes around your house, or even writing goals on the back of your hand to be randomly reminded throughout the day.

But for something like working out, I really believe having people along the journey is important for long-term accountability. If you’ve struggled to find someone before, this is where we get creative:

  • Join a Meetup.com rock climbing/kayaking/volleyball/soccer/etc group near you.
  • Google “yourcityhere social sports” and sign up for some local social sports or recreational leagues.
  • Walk onto a game of pickup basketball at public courts or at a gym like the YMCA.
  • Ask someone in the gym to spot you. Then do the same for them. Everyone can use a spotter or someone to form check. Then it becomes natural to keep supporting each other when you’re at the gym.
  • Go play paintball. You’re going to be pushed onto one of the teams and encouraged to talk to your teammates.
  • Take a MMA, boxing, or dancing class where people partner up and comradery is encouraged.
  • Invite friends to play disc golf or go on a trail biking adventure.
  • Hire a professional trainer or coach from somewhere like CoachUp.
  • Compete in a short, manageable race like a 5K where you’re surrounded by other people.
  • Go hike on some popular trails using AllTrails. At rest points, introduce yourself to a group of people. Hikers tend to be some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. You can say you’re new and ask if it’s okay to join them on the way up.

There are unlimited ways to find people to workout with, you just need to think outside the box.

You don’t always need an existing friend to exercise with. You don’t even need one consistent person, you can have a few different people who provide the consistency you need.

The most significant hurdle to begin exercising is often a mental one.

We try to take on too much at once. We choose activities we don’t love. We unfairly obsess over our appearance or weight. We don’t find people to share the journey with and then feel lonely and disheartened.

We have all these self-imposed restrictions and beliefs that make the process boring and miserable.

Everything in this article is designed to help you let go of that mental BS. There are no set rules. You can and SHOULD focus on making this as easy and fun as possible.

So for your final lesson…I want you to forgive yourself.

It’s fine to miss a day. It’s fine to cheat once in a while. It’s fine to be out of breath and not have the endurance you want right now. It’s fine not to beat your previous best every week and take another week to get there.

Those things are not the problem. The problem is shaming yourself and therefore again, taking all the potential fun out of this.

You can take a couple of days off (which you should). You’re not going to suddenly lose all progress– In fact, it takes about 2-3 weeks of doing nothing to even begin losing previous strength gains! You can take your time making progress, however slowly that may be.

You can always try again tomorrow. That’s an attitude you can stick to.

  1. Gordon on August 30, 2018

    I never worked out in my life until a few years back. I signed up for a gym and pushed myself to ask everyone I could for advice. People were great about supporting me and took me under their wing. Now there’s always a friend at the gym to work out with and I’m the guy helping out the newbies. Pay it forward!

    • Nick Notas on August 30, 2018

      I’ve had the same experience. It takes a lot of discipline and patience to build a good routine. The guys who’ve made it tend to be really cool and supportive.

  2. Ross on August 30, 2018

    I’ve tried almost everything to get one of my friends into working out. I’m going to send him this…maybe he needs to accept it himself first.

    • Nick Notas on August 30, 2018

      Yeah. They definitely need to accept that it’s possible for them and they have to want it for themselves.

  3. Derek on August 30, 2018

    This is a brilliantly written article. I’ve been into fitness for more than half my life and I still found tremendous value in what you wrote. Well done sir and thank you.

    • Nick Notas on August 30, 2018

      Thanks Derek, I really appreciate it. Glad to hear even a vet can gain something from it!

  4. Ryan on August 31, 2018

    A few years back, I made the decision to whip my body into shape and eat healtier. Recently, I got back into kickboxing since I was away from it for about a year almost due to finanical hardships (got a new job recently that I just started this week so now I’m stable financially to resume my kickboxing) with training with my trainers. I love kickboxing because it’s challenging, intense, and the gym is like a family to me


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