The Uncle Buzz Workout: How to Get in Shape Without the Gym

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 14, 2008 · 29 comments

in Health & Sports

I just got back from my tremendously wonderful trip to Vermont this week. I took part in the traditional face stuffing that always accompanies a vacation, and yet when I weighed myself upon my return, I found to my surprise that I hadn’t gained any weight. I attribute this to the fresh mountain air and the fact that we spent the week walking, hiking, biking, canoeing, and even playing ultimate frisbee.

On our trip we stayed with Kate’s uncle, Uncle Buzz, who is one of the coolest men I have ever met. Buzz has never read Men’s Health, doesn’t down protein shakes, and has never belonged to a gym. Yet, he is in better shape than almost any man I know.

Sometimes when I am at the gym, I look around and think, “Man, this is a bizarre place.” I think that if our ancestors were transported to our time and saw us sweating away, running on the treadmills like hamsters on a wheel, stacking weights on our shoulders and pulling cables, they’d think we were slaves or prisoners, forced to labor against our will. In days of yore, men got their exercise from their daily labors, walking and plowing and fixing and building. It is a strange part of our modern existence that we must schedule in an hour of time for our body to move since we are almost completely inert for the other twenty-three.

Yet it need not be so. With a little dedication and creativity, you can build your body in the manliest way possible, by integrating exercise into your daily activities. Here’s how Buzz does it:

Get a dog, take a walk. Buzz rises most days at 4:30 am and takes his dog Buddy for an hour long walk. He also takes him for a long walk each night. Having a dog will motivate you to get out the door no matter the time of day or the weather. In the rain Buzz wears a poncho and mud boots. In the winter he snowshoes. Having a loyal companion while you stroll will make the time more enjoyable. So get a pooch and get moving.

Do your chores the old fashioned way. Modern technology has made our lives increasingly comfortable and easy. Yet it has also removed almost all work and thus exercise from our lives. Sometimes it’s better to turn down the new advancements and do things the hard way to stay in shape. Buzz mows his large lawn with a non-self propelled mower; pushing that baby uphill can really work up a sweat. When it snows in the winter, many of Buzz’s neighbors hire someone to plow the several feet of snow from their driveway. Not Buzz. He’s out there at the crack of dawn shoveling away.

Find volunteer work that will build your spirit and your body. With the eye-popping costs of oil these days, poor and elderly people in places like Vermont have a tough time keeping their houses warm during the long winter. So Buzz started an essentially one man project to help these folks out. He gathers fallen and discarded limbs and trees, splits the wood into logs, loads them into his truck, and distributes them to needy neighbors for use in their wood-burning stoves.

Several times a year Buzz also volunteers to work on the USS Slater, a WWII destroyer escort which sits in dock in Albany, New York. Toured by the public, it requires a lot of upkeep. Buzz, who feels a tie to the ship because his father served on a destroyer escort during the war, volunteers several times a year to work on the ship, doing things like blasting away old paint and scraping off the bird poop.

Combine exercise and recreation. Working out doesn’t have to be chore. Instead of spending your time going nowhere on the elliptical machine, take up an active sport. Several times a week Buzz and his co-workers spend their lunch hour playing ultimate frisbee, which if you have tried, you know is not for the faint of lung. During our stay in Vermont, I had the chance to play ultimate frisbee with Buzz and his co-workers. While I was sucking air and taking several breaks, Buzz never stopped. He was a machine.  Last winter, Buzz started a dodge ball league, which met every Monday night for a rousing game. Find a sport you like and look around in your town for an opportunity to play in intramural or pick-up games.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nate August 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm

Great article! Ultimate is definitely a lung labor of a game, but so much fun!

2 Yura August 14, 2008 at 8:23 pm

Aye aye, taking up an active sport will definitely get you in shape. Running, hiking, (roller-)skiing, rollerblading, bicycling and such can definitely make your life better.

Or you could move to the country: there isn’t lack of hard work there.

3 Odin August 14, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Lovely article! I’ve been reading the rss feeds for this site for about 3 weeks, it’s been great so far! Keep up the good work, and thanks a lot for doing it!



4 Hayden Tompkins August 15, 2008 at 1:54 am

I do my lawn like Buzz! Do I get a bracelet? Like a WWBD “What Would Buzz Do” one?

5 Israel August 15, 2008 at 3:05 am

there is an uncle buzz in every family. its amazing how some men can just live there normal life and be in shape, while others cant.

6 Peter August 15, 2008 at 3:54 am

Your Uncle Buzz, or Kate’s, is in shape b/c of all the natural exercises he does. A gym is a good place to get a workout if you know what you are doing. Many people do isolation exercises that build ‘beauty-contest’ muscles, rather than functional strength. I just wrote an article on “7 Ways To Stay Incredibly Fit Without Joining A Gym”…

7 John August 15, 2008 at 4:57 am

Finally, another article on manliness from Brett that isn’t contingent on fatherhood or matrimony.

I knew you had it in you!

8 Chris W August 15, 2008 at 5:27 am

Great article. I use a manual lawnmower and bike every chance I get. Those two things alone coupled with weight training at the gym give me a great work-out. Now, if I would just cut back on biking to the neighborhood pub for fattening pints…

9 Rickey Henderson August 15, 2008 at 7:54 am

Ah yes, chopping wood: the sign of a true mensch. Rickey approves.

10 Mark August 15, 2008 at 8:22 am

Good article. I have a self-propelled mower right now, but even with that doing my big yard is a workout. I think when this mower craps-out I will get a non-propelled mower and really make a workout of it. Plus, it will be cheaper right? Wood chopping season is right around the corner for us too, that will be a good workout.

11 Peter Mottola August 15, 2008 at 1:00 pm

I helped build a shed this week. That’s some of the best exercise going! It’s more fulfilling if your labor produces something, don’t you think?

12 James Cassell August 15, 2008 at 1:31 pm

Cool, there is group of people in my ROTC unit who also go to help work on the USS Slater!

13 Kevin (ReturnToManliness) August 15, 2008 at 3:18 pm

Great point on working in the yard. Just don’t forget your favorite yard beer (after your workout, of course)…

Peter Mottola has a great point on accomplishing something. This makes the workout THAT much better.

14 Brett August 15, 2008 at 3:59 pm


Very cool. My wife and I toured the Slater while we were on vacation this last week. It was a great experience and I appreciate the work that your ROTC comrades put into the ship.

15 Bobby August 15, 2008 at 8:49 pm

Thanks for this reminder. There’s nothing like a relaxed (nowhere to go) yet invigorating time doing yard work or working in the woods. I’m not one to believe in the traditional definitions of manliness but man do I feel ALIVE when I do that type of work (despite not being thrilled in the beginning).

16 Lance August 16, 2008 at 5:17 am

Great stuff!

Sometimes we just need to get out and be active. I know when I play a game of football in the backyard with my kids, it’s always a great workout – my heart is pounding. Yesterday, I cut part of the lawn with our push mower. I was sweating buckets. I didn’t eat all that great yesterday, and yet – I weighed myself this morning – and had lost weight!

I love these points – it’s about building activeness into our daily lives.

17 Timo August 17, 2008 at 6:04 am

If you do construction work, you can do without the gym as well. In fact, you are basically getting paid to workout (unless you just operate machines…).

18 Charlie August 18, 2008 at 4:56 am

@Kevin My favorite yard beer is good ol’ Miller Lite. Hey, save the microbrew for later, is my feelings.

Great article, Brett. You know, I have often maintained that th trick to getting active is finding a sport you like and then playing that sport couple times a week. For me, that’s been martial arts, specifically kendo (but also, at times, kickboxing , judo and mixed MA, too) but something liek softball, volleyball, basketball or swimming could be just as good. Just the fact that you have to show up a couple of times a week to participate will keep you on track. If you also feel like running and/or lifting on the side of that or can work like Uncle Buzz does, so much the better.

19 Ali August 19, 2008 at 7:00 pm

This reminds me of the montage scene in Rocky 4.

20 Giorgio August 20, 2008 at 1:57 pm

How about having more and more energetic sex?

21 Aman Chaudhary September 14, 2008 at 11:31 pm

I want to have arms like that when I’m his age! Um… actually, I want to have arms like that now. :-/

22 jack the clipper October 5, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Is it not true that by doing things the HARD way that you are probably leaving a smaller carbon footprint

23 Rodney Hampton January 2, 2009 at 4:06 pm

You should take a look at the abridged copy of De Tocqueville’s Democracy in America written in the 1830s. I seem to recall he commented on the extensive selection of meats available at every meal.

24 nephilim May 30, 2009 at 10:40 am

Well too begin I’m almost 1.85m tall and I weigh 58kg
I tried everything too gain weight, but nothing works for me
If I work out I loose more weight and get thinner at the time I tried USN but
it doesnt work aswell so what can I do or use too help me get a nice
body that is NOT shaped like a womans’ body??????

25 Roberto April 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm

having fun while working out is key……

26 Christy August 14, 2010 at 9:47 am

Nephilim- check out Starting Strength- you can buy the book or look at some of the basic, free version online. You probably need to eat more- sometimes even to discomfort for some people.

27 Paulie Z October 1, 2012 at 6:14 pm

When I was 12 my dad started taking me small game hunting in the mojave desert. I always wanted something harder to challenge myself, so I started getting into desert sheep and mountain lion hunting. There is no better feeling than that happy exhaustion from the hell of an excercise you get from hauling a 200 pound sheep down a 10 story. By finding a outdoor activity that gives you the desire to push yourself, excercise will never feel like excercise.

28 Ebbe P October 9, 2012 at 2:39 pm

Just this weekend i gathered my sons new room, with furniture from ikea. Boy that was a workout! Following the instructions even more so!

29 Zoltan August 14, 2013 at 6:37 am

I’m curious, what is it that UNcle Buzz does for a living? All this activity is “extra-curricular”. is it a balance to being tied to a desk all day? Also, well impressed with 4:30am rising time. Not many 9-5ers can do this.
Great article, thanks.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post:

Site Meter