I have a two-year-old son, a one-year-old baby girl, a beautiful wife who deserves my time, a book I’m finishing, a full-time job, and an online blog and lifestyle development business. In addition to these pursuits, I cook most of my meals at home and maintain a few self-development practices like gratitude, meditation, and reading. But the most important part of my routine is getting some exercise every day.
Every area of my life is amplified by my fitness habits, yet with so many pursuits it is harder than ever to find the time to exercise daily. I’ve found out the hard way that you can’t just keep adding to your plate and expect good results. There is only so much quality work available to most people in a given week and we are all better off when we have space to sleep, play, and relax. So rather than trying to fit hour-long workouts on top of my already packed schedule, I shifted my fitness approach. To my surprise, this past year I’ve maintained strength and endurance, lost a couple of pounds, and felt as good as ever while hardly ever having a formal “workout” that lasted longer than 25 minutes.
Humans lived with impressive strength and vigor for tens of thousands of years without any occasion to incorporate a regimented exercise routine. It was civilization that brought extensive chair sitting and compartmentalized our world into gyms where you work out and everywhere elsewhere you don’t. For most of us, there is no going back to those healthy nomadic patterns, but we can learn from them to start approaching fitness in a different way.
The two following principles have guided my shift in approach.
Principle 1: Exercise Every Day
“If it is important, do it every day.”
I exercise every day with a few sick-day and travel day exceptions. Even if it is just five minutes, I know that something is always better than nothing, so I do it. This consistency allows great results without having to exercise as long. I never dread workouts because they aren’t a grand production. I get in an out and feel revitalized for the rest of my day. Even more, this allows me to autoregulate based on how I am feeling and take advantage of the science behind habits.
There is power in consistency. Habits tend to fall off when we allow ourselves to interrupt the pattern with days off. That is not a problem when you exercise every day. Maybe it is just your Monday to Friday workday routine, but consistency allows busy people to maintain their desired actions without requiring a massive expenditure of willpower. You can accomplish this by setting a consistent block for exercise and be efficient about it. This can be made far easier if you embrace the kettlebell and bodyweight training approach. Portable modalities allow you to opt-out of inconvenient gym trips so you can exercise anywhere.
This approach does not lend well to strictly following most traditional exercise programs. If your goal is to do Wendler’s 5-3-1 or to follow each day’s CrossFit WOD, you are going to get frustrated quickly. This is a more human approach to exercise where you drop the insistence on following a strict regimen and instead work on total body movements each day for as long as you have. You are practicing the skill of strength and better movements.
I tend to rotate variations of the following:
3/side heavy KB strict press 5/side heavy 1-leg RDL 10/side RKC rows
Circuit these for 3-4 rounds.
Pavel’s Kettlebell Simple & Sinister Program
5R/5L KB 1-arm swings 5R/5L Turkish get-ups
Superset: 3×3/side 1-arm push-ups w/ 3×3/side KB full snatches w/mobility Superset: 3×1/side Turkish get-ups w/ 3×10/side 1-arm plank rows
Strict pull-ups x40 throughout the day KB full snatches 3×3/side 1- leg squats 3×5/side Plyo push-ups 3×5
Or if you have time and kettlebells at home, you can choose any of the other options. Investing in a pull-up bar and a couple of kettlebells might go a long way to making your environment promote more daily movement.
Gut Check Day:
5 minute non-stop 1-arm kettlebell swings Push-up set to failure Tabata bear crawls
Often I’ll finish one of these options and have extra time. Depending on the day, I tend to fill that time playing with one or two of these movements:
Bodyweight: airborne lunges, handstands, front levers, animal movements, muscle-ups Kettlebell: suitcase carries (switching arms at failure for as much time as I have); Turkish get-ups; KB full snatches
What about warm-ups? I usually do a round of:
5/side KB halos KB deep squat with knee distractions 5/side light KB 1-leg RDL 1/side light KB Turkish get-up 1xfail/side KB suitcase carry
By going heavy a couple of times a week, hitting big value movements, and maintaining a weekly gut check, I’ve made progress and had a lot of fun with these shorter workouts.
Principle 2: Move As a Way of Living
If this was the only movement I did in my day, my strength numbers might be okay, but I wouldn’t be as healthy, balanced, or effective in other pursuits. When you move as a way of being, this approach becomes a better way to live, rather than just a way to fit exercise into a busy schedule. My formal “work out” block may only be 15-minutes on a busy Tuesday, but that is no big deal because I have other exercise built into my life.
Most days I hit four blocks of exercise:
Wake up to a ten-minute flow/morning calisthenics routine Bike 20-minutes (five miles) to work 20-minute kettlebell-centric training session upon arrival at work Bike home
I do understand that I am lucky to live within biking distance of my workplace, to have an active job with access to a gym, and to have no social inhibitions about being the weirdo who doesn’t drive to work. Still, there are simple defaults that you can embrace to funnel yourself towards better health.
Suggested default behaviors:
Wake to a movement flow, every morning. If there are stairs walk them. If the drive is less than a mile, walk it. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks while going on walks. Park at the furthest parking spot. (If you have two young children with you, don’t do this. It will piss off your spouse).
Be Present With Your Routine
Explore your life and consider other rules changes you can make to your environment that will funnel you toward more activity. For more help designing your life so that you automatically act like you’d want to, see my free ebook, The Essential Guide to Self-Mastery.
When you make movement a natural extension of your daily patterns, it is easy to fit exercise into every day.