Motivation made simple – how to stay in shape all year round

Who needs inspiration?

Have you tired of the endless stream of motivational sound bites that permeate the social media landscape?

I’m talking about garbage like this:

 

It’s not who you are, it’s where you’re coming from

It’s not where you’re coming from, it’s where you’re going

It’s not who yo are, it’s what you do

It’s not what you do, it’s what you want

Thoughts are nothing, action is everything

Gymspirational quotes are even worse. Always extreme, always focusing on pain and suffering, often presented together with photoshopped pictures of professional models at their peak. Utterly unrelatable. Hopelessly counterproductive. Often just plain wrong.

Are you nevertheless struggling with sticking to your workout schedule?

Are you looking for something more tangible that actually produces results?

This is it: Keep it simple and aim for the smallest possible increment just to get started; the rest comes automatically – and you don’t want to burden your lazy self with that beforehand. Then just add ‘one more’ (of everything), while saying to yourself “that’s why I’m here” and “the other guy is more tired”. More below.

Jedi mind tricks to stay motivated

I don’t consider myself ‘motivated’ or ‘disciplined’. I don’t strategically plan out productive habits. I never thought I even needed motivation or inspiration. I just am. However, thinking hard enough about it, I’ve realized I do use a couple of jedi mind tricks.

This is me today, preparing to go under the snow; just sitting back without flexing or minding the camera in any way. My face wouldn’t look like that if I did.

This is my winter shape. No filter, no photoshop, just a still from a cell phone video. I never intended this as a form picture, I was just goofing around with my dog. However, apparently, I am in shape. All year round.

This is how I do it.

Washboard abs in snow

 

The hacker’s guide to minimalist weight training

As a twelve year old, I thought physical fitness was obsolete, something for cave men. The future would belong to brains, not brawn. I was too busy charging high interest rates for small, short-term danish loans, and programming simple but addictive computer games (imagine angry birds but 1984 and a little less money involved).

Then I saw the movie Rocky IV (1984) with Sylvester Stallone – and started tormenting my tiny arms with lead weights from an old mechanical clock.

As a 14-year old I commenced my ninja training, later complemented with kickboxing and taekwondo. I kept pumping iron on the side, and when I started working, I abandoned martial arts. It was too difficult to attend all scheduled classes, so I thought I’d just stay in shape in the gym, until I could resume my taekwondo education.

I’ve been a regular at the gym for over 30 years, trying everything: high reps, low reps, long sessions, short sessions, light weights, heavy weights, basic compound movements, strange esoteric muscle concentration exercises and so on. I’ve been very thin (54kg/119 lbs) and quite heavy (100kg / 220 lbs) for my height (183 cm / 6″0). I think I know what I’m talking about when it comes to weight training (for happy amateurs with limits regarding time and motivation)

The world’s simplest exercise schedule for a strong and fit body

This is my current weight lifting program:

Day 1: Bench press + Dead lift

Day 2: Rest

Day 3: Bench press + Squat

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: Squat + Dead lift

Day 6: Rest

Repeat

How to periodize

Okay, there is a little more to it… But the above is the important part, the one that makes me progressively stronger. And just because it looks so simple and limited, I always walk lightly to the gym.

Notice how I train each movement X, X, rest, X, X, rest, X, X, rest…

To improve the effects of the program, I train heavier on each first ‘X’ and lighter on the second ‘X’: heavy X, light X, rest, heavy X, light X, rest… I also periodize the weeks: heavier week, lighter week, heavier week, lighter week… Depending on how your body feels, you can go heavy, heavy, light or heavy, light, light as well.

Sets and reps? approximately 3-4 reps per set, but it’s okay to experiment with other number of reps occasionally. Aim for around 6 work sets (not counting warm-up sets); sometimes as few as 4, sometimes as many as 8. It depends on how many you can do with good form and still stick to the program the next session.

Weights? A rough guide is to aim for around 85% of your 1RM (1-rep maximum, i.e., the maximum weight you can just barely clear for one repetition). Spend most of the time around 77.5% – 82.5%, gradually increase toward 85%. After two months you could try some 1-rep sets on 90% of your old 1RM.

If you’re interested in setting a new personal best, rest (only lift very few sets and reps at just 50% of 1RM) for a week after about three months. Then warm up and just go for it.

Oh, did I mention you probably should add some lighter, complementary exercises (CE) to the basic compound exercises above?

I do two CEs per session. I do 4 sets of 8 reps, making sure I could have done 1-2 more reps per set. You should not get exhausted by the CEs, neither physically, nor mentally.

These are my six CEs: chin-ups, pendlay bar rows, overhead press, dips, biceps curls, hamstring curls. I do chins and hamstrings on Day 1, Rows and biceps on Day 3 and press and dips on Day 5.

The entire program thus looks like this (but you really should think about it like the simple 2-exercise program above):

Day 1: heavy Bench press 6*3 + light Dead lift 8*4 + Chins (non-failure 4*8) + Hamstrings (non-failure 4*8)

Day 2: Rest

Day 3:  light Bench press 8*4 + heavy Squat 6*3 + Rows (non-failure 4*8) + Biceps (non-failure 4*8)

Day 4: Rest

Day 5: light Squat 8*4 + heavy Dead lift 6*3 + Press (non-failure 4*8) + Dips (non-failure 4*8)

Day 6: Rest

Repeat (and alternate more straining weeks with lighter weeks) 

 

Increase % of old 1RM from 77.5% at the lightest to 90% at the heaviest after 2 months. Rest for a week at the end of month 3, if you want to try a new personal best.

 

But how do I get to the gym at all?!

The first trick is to have as simple a workout schedule as possible. Check

The second trick is to aim low. No even lower.

Fool yourself by saying “I’ll just go to the gym and walk on the tread mill, then get back home.” If you’re anything like me, you’ll soon be increasing the speed and getting your sweat on. You just as well might, since you’ve bothered to go to the gym. It’s the sunk cost fallacy turned into a motivational tool.

After that you’ll say to yourself “I just can’t lift heavy weights today, but I could do some light exercises with just the bar… or perhaps 45 lbs…, maybe just try 90 lbs…, maybe I can do just one work set on 80% of 1RM… or two…, just one more“.

I often want to quit right in the middle of a set and go home. At that point I say to myself “just one more rep, that’s why you’re here“, then “just one more set, a short one”, and “I could do just one easy set in the last exercise on the program”…, “perhaps just one more set” and so on.

It’s not really discipline or motivation; it’s almost the opposite. I keep telling myself to cheat, to go home, to just do one of something I was supposed to do 8 of. But I always end up doing it all, since my body of course can take it. It’s just “me” that is weak.

As a final jedi mind trick, I told my thai boxing girlfriend to always imagine that “the other guy is even more exhausted, more off balance, more afraid”.

Whatever negative feeling you are experiencing when exerting yourself, turn it into a source of strength by remembering that the other guy is also just human and more fazed than you are – in particular considering you have this powerful mantra.

 

PS: You can see the whole snow movie prepping here – not entirely clear why you would want to, but I would get the satisfaction of more views:

Come on! Explain those abs you sad old (43) desk jockey!

I will, if you promise to subscribe to updates and off-site material by providing your e-mail address. Or even better, share this post with a friend who might be interested.

Okay, busted, I’ve done around 50 crunches (or similar) two times a week for most of my exercise history. It’s unclear whether that explains it, or if it’s core strength from the heavy compound exercises. Do as you wish with that. Just remember that we all have sixpacks under the fat.

For the cost of one e-mail address I’ll tell you my specific abs exercises as well:

1. V crunches (often 20+15+10 with 10 seconds rest between sets)

2. Plank (1-2 minutes, directly after my crunches; no rest)

3. Hanging straight leg raises (e.g., 3 sets of 10-20)

4. Ordinary ab crunches or side crunches

Pick one or two exercises two-three times a week, and do a total of 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps each session. Aim for 100 reps/week. It’s a lot but not excessive. That’s how I did it.

abs sixpack exercises

 

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4 Comments

  1. The core is the most underplayed muscle group. The most significant gains I have made in the gym have occurred as a result of an increase of core strength. This is why I aim to destroy my abs at least 3-4 times a week.

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