Fitness is simple. Crushingly, brutally, soul-sucking simple. I think the simplicity of it all is a major reason why people complicate it – by trying to find some easier answer, some little trick, some “hack” that they forget the foundational basics of working hard and eating less.
That said, there were three major changes to my thinking that made the simple thing much “easier” – not necessarily that it took less effort or hurt less or sucked less, but “easier” in that these three major changes made me much more likely to actually show up and do the damn thing. “Effective” might be a better word.
Major compound lifts: deadlifts, squats, rows.
Some would say bench press, too. Altogether, these lifts work every muscle in your body, and every incremental improvement in these lifts will reflect in other movements. Once I oriented my workout plans around these lifts, starting each workout with these lifts and focusing on squatting/rowing/deadlifting more week-over-week, every other element of my athleticism progressed accordingly. As my deadlift got stronger, I was able to do way more pullups, sprint much faster while playing sports, and bicep curl even more. Starting Strength is seen as the holy grail for laying a foundation in weightlifting, and for good reason.
It’s a buzzword by now, but I think it’s worth the hype. Forget any of the magical benefits people talk about – for me, it’s just fundamentally sound diet strategy. Eating all my calories in one meal (or two) meant I’d eat less calories while feeling much fuller. It’s much simpler to not eat anything for most of the day (besides maybe a banana, and don’t forget the black coffee) and then to scarf a bunch of chicken and roasted vegetables and eggs until I’m actually full. Once you get used to it, it barely feels like dieting.
Make it enjoyable:
After I stopped playing high school sports, it took me a while to take fitness seriously again.
Going to the gym for an hour and lifting heavy things and sweating and grunting and hanging on to every precious second of rest time between sets was just garbage. I can’t really point to some “aha” moment where the gym became genuinely enjoyable – I think it was a mix of seeing progress and having buddies in the gym to mess around with, but gradually I started to find something deeply relaxing in plugging in my favorite house/EDM set or trap playlist for an hour. You don’t have to think about any project deadlines when you have a couple hundred pounds of steel hanging over your head. All the more fun when you time your lift with the drops in the set. Once it was actually fun, I rarely missed a session. And for cardio, playing basketball or soccer or hiking is much easier to stick to than running on the elliptical and hating every second.
Once you get those three major, fundamental changes down, you’ll see much more success. These three might be more “hacks”, but they won’t matter as much if you don’t nail the first three down.
Weighted pull-ups and dips.
Pull-ups and dips hit tons of muscles that make up the “V” silhouette for men – they’ll make your back bigger/wider, bulk up your shoulders, strengthen your core, and even work your arms. Once you’re strong enough to add weight to it, they’re almost as good for you as the major compound lifts. Once I was strong enough to hit weighted pull-ups and dips in a tough 5-8 rep range with some major weight, I was really pleased with the results. They’re great “base” workouts for arms days, much like deadlift is for back eg.
I’d usually have a deadlift + back day, an overhead row + shoulder day, a weighted pullup/dip + bis/tris day, and a squat + cry day.
Find a nice hill. Sprint 50 yards up. Walk back down. Do it again 6-12 times. The most shocking part is when you check your watch and see that it only took you 15 minutes – it’ll feel like a fucking eternity. I started doing them to get faster for sports – super effective for explosion and quickness, and also great for burning an insane amount of calories.