Say Goodbye to Your Gut: 3 Mental Preparations to Starting a Fitness Routine

by Brett on June 4, 2008 · 18 comments

in Health & Sports

Editors Note: This is a guest post from Grant Gannon.

When you visualize the perfect man what comes to mind? Is it the clean-cut, well-dressed, trim and fit man? Or do you think of the slovenly overweight man waddling down the street stuffing a double cheeseburger in his mouth? Exactly.

In a country leading a more sedentary lifestyle every day, often the most important aspect of what makes us a man, our body, is overlooked in its care. In the transition from youth to manhood it’s sometimes easy to let the upkeep of our bodies fall by the wayside. Whether it be school, work, or starting a family, we spend more time neglecting our bodies than maintaining them. Obesity and inactivity are slowly killing the men across the country and world. While we may only notice it as an extra breath or two climbing the stairs, the effects of a lack of physical fitness are many. Increased risk of heart disease, decreased sexual stamina, diabetes, high blood pressure, and sleep apnea are just some of results of being overweight and out of shape.

A year ago, on my 26th birthday, I decided I was going to get into shape. I was tired of living my life 50 pounds heavier than when I was 18; I was tired of getting sick all of the time because I smoked daily; I was tired of not being able to run up a flight of stairs without stopping to catch my breath; I was tired of not being fit. So I decided to change. Along the way I dropped all that weight and found myself not only looking and feeling better physically, but mentally as well.

As you read this column, understand that I am not a doctor or a professional trainer. What you’ll read is my advice on fitness acquired through an above average level of immersion in getting one’s self into a state of fitness. Any activity you decide to pursue as a result of reading this column should only come after careful consideration of where you are with your level of fitness and a consultation with your doctor. So let’s get started. Before you step on foot on a treadmill or pick up a weight let’s look at three key factors in getting fit: Motivation, humility, and goals.

Motivation

Ask yourself, why are you doing this? Is it for yourself? Your spouse? Your children? Maybe it’s for a friend who’s overweight and needs a little bit of boost to start working out? Whether it’s a single factor or many, the motivation to get in shape will be the core principle that drives every workout.

When you first start, when you’re six months into a fitness plan, there are going to be times when you don’t want to work out. You just won’t. These are going to be times when you’re going to need to refocus on why is it you’re working out. There are plenty of doomsday scenarios to motivate you to workout, but I won’t touch on those. Instead let’s touch of a few happier, more applicable motivations.

Maybe you’re tired of standing on the porch watching your kids play football in the yard and you want to join them. Maybe you’d like to provide more to your spouse in an intimate situation rather than just being a huffing and wheezing blob. It could be as simple as wanting to be able to take your shirt off at the beach without embarrassment. You don’t need to have six pack abs, but do you want to feel confident about your appearance.

When you find out why you want to get back in shape, find some way you can remind yourself of this reason. I was never a big believer in doing things like writing on your bathroom mirror or wearing a bracelet with some inspirational message on it. You need to be reminded of your motivation, not smothered by it. I had a photo of myself from high school that was taken the day before I started basketball practice my senior year. Some friends and I got together for a full contact football game and took a goofy photo afterwards posing with our shirts off. That was the best shape I’ve been in in my life. Every so often I’d take a quick glance at the photo to remind myself I was capable of a high level of fitness. How you choose to remind yourself is up to you, but make sure you do it.

Humility

YOU ARE NOT 17 ANYMORE. Got it? Whenever people ask me how to get back in the gym I tell them going to the gym the first time isn’t the hardest part, it’s the second time where many men fall short. Too many times men fail in their quest for fitness because they pretend like they’re still 17 and go full speed on the first workout. If you don’t pull a hammy during the workout you wake up the next morning feeling like you went three rounds with Kimbo Slice. Your knees, back, and neck all hurt and you can barely stand. So when you think about the next workout, the words ‘Hell’ and ‘No’ usually follow shortly thereafter.

I’ll get into a plan in subsequent columns but here’s how I started out last spring with my workouts: 30 minutes on the treadmill, walking at 2.4 miles per hour with varying degrees of incline. It is impossible to look cool when you’re slogging away on a treadmill dripping with sweat doing a workout like that. But starting slow will provide a stronger foundation for fitness gains. Getting past the ego aspect of ‘looking cool’ when you’re working out requires a certain level of humility. Isn’t that something all men need more of anyway?

Goals

Setting and reaching goals is a big part of getting back in shape. Having a benchmark to reach as a measure of success provides positive reinforcement that your efforts are worth your exertions. The easiest goal to set is the bathroom scale. Pick a number you want it to read and get to that number. This is something you can discuss with your doctor. Goals can be small or large. You might just want to run a mile without stopping, drop 10 pounds, or complete a 5K race.

The best thing about your goals is you can easily set new ones when you accomplish the others. My first goal was very simple, run a 10K. I figured if I could do that then everything else – losing weight, quitting smoking, getting in shape – would take of itself. That’s exactly what happened when I completed a 10K last September.

Don’t set too high a goal though, you want to be able to reach it in a reasonable amount of time. You might want to run a marathon some day but starting with a 2 mile fun run may be the better goal. The key to remember is that no matter how out of shape you may think you are, getting back in shape is possible. It took you years to get to this point but you can get back on the road to health in a matter of weeks. You’ll be a better man for it too.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark June 5, 2008 at 12:28 am

My situation was a bit different. Ever since I was about 13, I had hovered at 5′ 9″ and at 175ish lbs… but that wasn’t muscle, that was blubber. I always kicked myself and felt bad about being a pretty chubby guy, no chance of a six-pack, no arm definition, wobbly pecs when I tried running… fast forward 10 years. At 23, I met a girl that fell for me even though I was bubbly and she was skinny and fit looking. And I realized I wanted to try diligently, with her help and advice, to give her something better. That was the kick off point. She had said that my goal should be about 165 lbs to fall within the 5’9″ guys acceptable BMI… and 165 was the upper edge. I didn’t think I could drop 10 lbs at all. I’d always been 175.

Well, I gave her 3 months of doing exactly what she said and I’d try to hit 165. A month later, I was busting past 165 like I was melting off fat with a hot iron… two months later and I was at 155 and getting great definition and lifting more than I had been able to before. Losing fat (lots of fat) and building muscle. In short, my whole conception of the body I had was wrong for so long. My body was able of more, and it was my ignorance, my naive understanding of what I had that had trapped me with the chubbiness I had been unhappy with. What a liberation to realize there were no such destined limits!! What a liberation to surprise oneself in such a glorious way. Soon, my motivation became to surprise myself even further and test the true limits of my body. I’m no olympic athlete, but I’m glad I discovered the hidden abilities of my body that had been untapped for so long. Now I’m sure I’d never let myself balloon, for I’ve learned a valuable lesson through my path.

Basically, whether you’ve always been chubby or overweight, or you were fit and let yourself go, you can attain a far better and abler body than the one you have right now. And believe me, the results, with diligent work, start coming fast! My suggestion is, weigh yourself only one day a week… like, pick monday. It’ll give you something to look forward to at the beginning of the work week. That way, you’ll see the couple pounds you dropped. And before you know it, 4 weeks later, you’ve lost 10 lbs… and if you’re like me, that’s over 10 lbs of fat and gained some lbs of muscle. You’ll notice quickly you can run further and further. Take it slow, but progress comes faster than you realize, especially as your body becomes accustomed to being challenged and you can push it harder each session. It becomes an adrenaline fueling endeavor of improvement and the momentum builds.

Hey, I hope that helps someone… I am just very enthusiastic about the topic as it has changed my life in many ways, and I hope I can help pass that on to someone else, for it is a great gift.

2 AK June 5, 2008 at 2:14 am

I had a similar goal: quit smoking and run a 5K. It took me a full year to get to the 5K, though, because while I was able to quit smoking with little problem (4th time trying, 1st time successful with the help of Chantix), my body took a while to get used to the running regimen. I was never out of shape, but I was never in shape. Just sorta there. But with determination, I finally ran that 5K a couple of months ago. I plan on giving the Chicago half-marathon a shot this fall.

How did I get there? With this: http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml

That is the Couch-to-5K running plan. Works like a charm, especially for you folk that start too quickly and injure yourselves and end up giving up.

3 GrantG June 5, 2008 at 2:56 am

@AK – The coolrunning couch to 5K plan is a pretty fail safe plan to start a training regimen. I was on a similar plan and it’s tough to accept you have to start just walking.

@Mark – Good call on the scale. You have to treat it like the stock market really. There will be some minor fluctuations day-to-day and you have to accept that.

4 JP June 5, 2008 at 5:36 am

I’ve never been a runner. I have tried over five years to enjoy running, but I am miserable every time I do it. So, I’ve quit trying to run. If I dread the afternoon’s exercise, I’m sure there will be something on TV that will make me happier. And a bag of chips. And a nice long nap. Maybe some cookies…..

Instead, I’ve found that distance-based objectives are goals I can get excited about. I am fortunate enough to live in an area with a long rails-to-trails path that cuts through some gorgeous countryside. It has mile markers and plenty of rest stations with charts that give distances between all rest stations.

I greatly enjoy rollerblading, biking, and cross-country hiking. Using the trail, I can set mileage goals for each activity. I’ve been doing it for a month now, and I am up to rollerblading 15 miles, biking 22 miles, and hiking 14 miles over various amounts of time. I switch up each exercise to make sure I don’t get burned out. But with ever increasing distance as a goal, I don’t even think about burning calories or losing weight. Those come as a primary benefit of the goal achievements.

With exercise, your appetite naturally wanes, so you automatically eat fewer calories. After biking a long distance and sweating hard for two hours, the last thing you want to eat is a heavy, greasy burger. A small salad with some cut-up chicken on top usually hits the spot after a hard workout.

I have so much fun watching the mile markers pass by that I find myself looking forward to my workouts now instead of dreading putting on my running shoes. So, find what makes you excited about getting out. Simply walking two miles burns more calories than sitting on the couch watching TV. That’s how I started. I burned 40 pounds in a few months just by walking (several years ago). One doesn’t have to run a marathon every day to get fit.

5 Brett June 5, 2008 at 7:15 am

@JP-

Good advice. Running is definitely the exercise de jour these days; everyone seems to claim to be, or to one day want to, run a marathon. But it’s not for everyone. It’s much more important to find exercise that you enjoy, like you did, than to try to make yourself like something you don’t. It’s like trying to eat a plate full of steamed broccoli when you hate broccoli. If you do that, you’re going to throw in the towel altogether and eat some french fries. Instead, you should identify some healthy food you do actually like, and eat that instead.

Anyway, I digress. Good call on the rollerblading. My wife is really into it, and she got me to try. It’s really a lot of fun.

6 Art Gonzalez June 5, 2008 at 9:18 am

Excellent recommendations. Additional to a proper fitness routine I would emphasize though the importance of hydration. A technique I was taught about a year ago is to drink six glasses of water (it’s difficult when you are starting!) first thing in the morning. Then wait about 45 minutes or an hour (while you are getting ready) to eat or drink anything else. Then continue drinking clean pure water the rest of the day as normal. This technique stimulates all the internal organs and brings them rapidly to prime condition. You will feel the difference in a few days. Also another tip is to take ice cold showers a couple of hours before going to bed. It will feel you with super energy and also make you sleep better at night.

Many blessings,

Art Gonzalez
Check my Squidoo Lens at: Quantum Knights

7 Iain June 6, 2008 at 6:06 am

You’re absolutely right on the need for goals. For my own example, I started riding a bike again about nine years ago. I had a bike that I rode during law school, but not regularly and not with any particular goal in mind. As a result, my exercise routine was hardly routine, at all.

Then I saw an advertisement for the biggest charity bike ride in my area–the Houston to Austin MS150. I got myself an inexpensive road bike and decided that I was going to enter that ride in about a year’s time. That was the spur I needed to make me work out regularly. I eventually got a gym membership as well for those times it was too late or the weather was too bad for bike riding. This last April, I completed my sixth MS150.

8 John B June 6, 2008 at 11:14 am

Try golf, and walk with your bag, don’t laze around in a golf cart.

Walking the average 18 holes is 4+ miles, with 15-20 pounds of clubs on your back.

9 Travis July 13, 2008 at 5:29 pm

Im gonna RUN down to Sonic and get me a cheeseburger.

10 Ford August 12, 2008 at 11:55 am

With regard to the water idea: There is no evidence that drinking unusually large quantities of water is good for you. In fact, it can be very dangerous, because it can wipe out your body’s electrolytes. In extreme cases it can lead to water poisoning, which can cause severe brain damage or death. Six glasses of water is three quarters of a gallon. That is a hell of a lot of water.

See http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4574912.stm and http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7164030.stm

11 bob August 17, 2009 at 10:40 am

am 56 years old. recently dropped 20 pounds. 2 things…
1. losing it slower is better. you’re not dealing with an emergency, you’re changing how you live. if fitness is not part of your life matrix, the pounds will come back. if you’re trying to do it fast, tehn it is just for your ego.
2. older guys should go with lower impact stuff: I ran in high school and college… quickly realized that the impact is too hard on the ole bod. so I began with walking and progressed to biking and blading. x country skiing is good too. mixing it up made it better too.

12 Paddy August 26, 2009 at 9:31 am

I was always into keeping fit and eating healthy, even though I was naturally skinny. But I found I was trying to push myself at sports that didn’t ‘suit’ me – cycling, running, gym, swimming. They were all solitary, whereas I am a very social guy and didn’t seem to be leading anywhere for me or have any real meaning to me. I found I was less and less motivated and cutting back on training. So I stepped back and considered carefully what I wanted from my fitness. I always had an interest in martial arts. I have a fear of physical aggression and wanted to get past it. But I also like the martial aspects of the different types – some more than others. So I had to choose a martial art that would appeal to me in both form and effectiveness. I knew it was a sport that had practical use, would hold my interest as it’s a lifelong learning curve and had both physical and spiritual advantages to it. I chose the Wing Chun style. It has everything that I know will keep ME hungry to keep going back.

Find a sport that you really WANT to do for all the right reasons. Physical and mental health will then come as a side-effect not a chore.

13 Victor January 3, 2010 at 9:52 am

You’re right. I’m not 17 anymore.
I’m 18. Surprised you caught that.

14 Oliver October 10, 2012 at 8:20 am

For those of you who hate running, try skipping rope. Skip for 1 minute straight (at a good fast pace), then rest for a minute. Do this 10-15 times. Or just get up in the morning and skip for 10 minutes. I found this to be much more enjoyable than running..

Also, ever thought of backpacking? It’s a great way to lose weight! You’ll burn an amazing amount of calories while out on the trail, and you can’t really just… Eat whenever you want..

15 Anthony February 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm

It’s funny ’cause you’re all like “You’re not 17 anymore!” and I’m all like, “Actually, I am..”

16 Doug May 23, 2013 at 10:20 am

Running isn’t for everyone. Even if it used to be your ‘thing’, over time, the knees can wear down from the pounding. I’m 51 and had trouble with one knee about 15 years ago – during rehab of the joint, I learned that to keep running, joint maintenance is absolutely necessary. Take care of your knees by doing isometric quadricep squeezes twice weekly: 10 seconds of contracting your quadricep at maximal intensity, followed by 10 seconds of rest. By maximal intensity, I mean really put your focus into contracting the muscle at the top of the kneecap. Start at 10 reps and work up to 30. Boring, but your knees will feel stronger and more ‘springy’.

As for the marathon craze – I know many marathoners, and really, the amount of time (as well as the joint punishment) they devote to training is questionable. I’d rather have a “2.62″ sticker, knowing I can run that in 15 minutes. Running with higher intensity for short distances places the desired stress on the cardiovascular system and decreases the undesired stress on the parts that wear out – joints.

17 Gregory Bolton September 10, 2013 at 11:27 am

Thanks for the quad squeezing training advice.

18 Gregory Bolton September 19, 2013 at 8:48 am

I’m pushing fifty, am serving in the Army National Guard. I have to stay in reasonably good shape for the anual fitness test. Some good training you can conduct that possibly wont bore you or kill your joints are circuit traing and metabolic training.
You can find some great routines online.

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