“No man has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” – Socrates
Right around the beginning of the year, I looked in the mirror. I was working out 5 days / week, getting my butt kicked and when I looked in the mirror, I thought “meh.”
I wasn’t fat, wasn’t jacked, but definitely didn’t think I looked like I worked out as hard as my workouts were – or more importantly – the shape I wanted to be in.
The realization became more stark when I did a DEXA scan and was told I was 23% body fat (24% body fat is considered overweight).
I’m not sure if I was being gaslit by a medical device, but it worked. With my 35th birthday glaring at me coming up – I had one mantra I started repeating to myself.
I can be old, but I can’t be old and fat.
Over the next 3 months, I dropped about 12 pounds, an undetermined amount of body fat (yet), uncovered my abs and became stronger and faster than I’ve ever been. I’ve hit new PRs on almost all of my lifts, ran a half marathon on a whim, and somehow picked up a couple new skills along the way.
Here’s exactly what I did.
I Outsourced My Fitness
I work out at the best damn gym in Austin. Maybe the world. You can come if you want. It’s not fun – but if you do the work it will change you.
I realized I either have enough time to come up with the workout or enough energy to do the workout. I don’t have time or energy to do both.
If you’re taking on something that’s challenging – you should probably consider outsourcing your fitness too.
Jordan, Jake and Todd are the truth.
→ Go workout at Atomic
→ If you’re not in Austin, we have some damn good programming in our Impossible Fitness training app here.
I had been getting my butt kicked at the gym for the previous 18 months, building the baseline strength and toughness that I needed. But the next part of the equation is what unleashed the potential of the work I was doing.
I Hired a Nutrition Coach & Accountability Partner
Everyone has a coach. Even top athletes hire coaches to see things they don’t see, keep them on track, and remind them of what they’re working towards. Even if you don’t have a “coach” – you basically do – yourself – and you might not be the coach the athlete version of you needs.
I hired a coach (Matt Stephens) to tell me stop eating like an idiot.
Much like outsourcing my fitness, hiring matt was like outsourcing my brain for nutrition. I don’t have to think anymore, I just do the thing he told me to do.
It’s really relieving to be able to just do the work instead of having to plan the work, decide to do it, and then do it.
It’s one thing to eat like an idiot. It’s another to have to admit to someone else that you’ve been eating like that.
I don’t have any emotional hangups on food. If I have a goal and I need to do it – I’ll “flip the switch” and just get it done.
But, it’s super helpful to have not just a coach but an accountability buddy that will raise his eyebrow and be like “really” if I go face first into a donut/pizza fueled bonanza.
→ Matt’s Nutrition Coaching
Added 90-150 minutes of Zone2 to my Week
Most people screw up when they log cardio. They do long sections of cardio that are either too hard or too easy. They either beat themselves up or barely even push themselves enough to get any results or adaptation.
The sweet spot for a lot of this work is zone 2 – basically a heart rate zone roughly between 115 & 135 bpm (depending on your age + sex).
Adding this to my weekly schedule helped burned a few hundred extra calories / week and keep me in a caloric deficit for the week while still retaining most of my muscle mass..
While I did this in order to improve fat loss, I found this helped dramatically with my cardio and aerobic capacity. My “gas tank” for workouts was much higher and I found I was performing through my workouts so much better than I had in the past.
→ Read Training for the Uphill Athlete for more on the benefits of Zone2 as an endurance athlete.
Tracked My Food with Cronometer
Instead of just guestimating what I was eating, I logged every single thing I ate with Cronometer. Lots of people use my fitness pal, but I found Cronometer to be more intuitive and useful for me.
Tracking your food is always eye opening. No matter how long you do this, you usually find out that you’re eating something you don’t normally register when you’re not tracking things.
As usual – if you’re not getting the results out of action that you desire, start measuring the action. Often, you’ll find the problem straightaway.
Cut Out Alcohol
I basically cut out alcohol for 95% of things. It’s just easier to not drink anything than have one drink and have to calculate things. It also gave me a lot of time back to work on other things, get more Zone2 work in, launch projects within the business, or even mess around with standup while I was doing all this.
A Short List of Things I Gave Up
When people talk about doing things they want to do, they always talk about what they want, but they never talk about what they’re willing to give up.
If you’re not where you want to be, you have to be willing to give up something in order to get to the next thing you want to in your life.
Here’s a non-comprehensive list of things I gave up while I was working on this:
It’s really nice to think you’re the best and you have it all sorted out – but that’s not the case – even when you have a training apps and programs to help other people do this.
I could just follow my own, right?
I could and I do! But there’s a thing that happens when you plan things for yourself.
My life is not just fitness right now. I have a lot going on where I have to make my own decisions, weigh tradeoffs and expend mental energy at the moment. I just don’t have space to do that with fitness.
Most people underestimate how the mental taxation of their day-to-day can sabotage other goals outside that (like their fitness goals).
It’s not that programs are incredibly hard to write. But it’s one thing to write something yourself. It’s another to decide to do it. Then it’s another to do it.
There’s something about shutting off your ego, humbling yourself for a coach, and then just showing up and doing the work.
Sure you can do it all on your own – but if you’re like me – even if you know what to do – the act of having someone else plan it for you and reducing your only responsibility down to doing it is massively helpful in making sure you actually stick to the plan.
My Social Life Took A Backseat
The gym largely became my social activities. This was a fine tradeoff, but casual weekday drinks became nonexistent. The closest I’d get were gym social events or hanging out at the back of a standup comedy open mic. Even those – however – were cleanly scheduled with hard stop times.
I Stopped Dating & Random Social Apps
I stopped dating and messing around on random social apps for this entire period. It’s amazing how much time you get back when you stop focusing on other people and focus on yourself. You can get a lot done when you disappear for a little bit.
I Gave up on Having an Unorganized Schedule
Free time became basically nonexistent. I had stuff scheduled throughout my days and lived by my calendar. I didn’t have the luxury to have swaths of free time. I was basically fully booked with no intermittent spaces of extra time around.
I Stopped Alcohol + Eating Out
While some people do fine with this, I knew from my DEXA scan that I was far off my goal and I’d rather get to my goal faster. Rather than drinking alcohol once / week or some similar plan – I basically cut it out entirely except for a couple occasions around SXSW.
Eating out basically stopped as well – not because you can’t do it – but because it got to be a pain in the butt to try and track each meal vs. just cooking things at home myself before I headed out.
Final Thoughts on Aging & Fitness
I remember reading in my late teens and 20s that your 30s were when everything started to go downhill health wise.
The way people talked about it seemed inevitable. Like there was nothing you could do to stave it off.
Whether it’s time, resources, science or just who I’m hanging around – I’ve found this is objectively not true.
Despite what most standards news sources will say – 30, 35, 40 or more is not a good excuse to stop taking care of yourself anymore – it’s just what most people do.
I was talking with Ed Latimore in town the other day and he remarked – as you hang around the gym more, you start to bump into people you think are your age (mid thirties) and you find out they’re in their 20s (and not taking care of themselves).
I told him the opposite is true. If you hang around a badass gym enough time – you’ll start to see people you think are in their early 30s and find out they’re in their early 40s and smashing people (Atomic has tons of these psychos).
30, 35, 40 or more doesn’t mean the end of fitness. It’s just when most people can’t coast along on momentum alone. Your habits start to reveal themselves.
The good news is – you don’t have to become lazy, out of shape, or weak. Most people do, but you don’t have to be most people. In fact, you don’t have to even do anything as crazy as I did. You can do about 50% of what I did and still likely be in the top 20% of your age group.
I’m not the peak of physicality (yet ;)), but I’ve found that what started as an aesthetics challenge changed my entire fitness and I’m a better athlete now than when I finished the 777 challenge. I’m stronger, with better endurance, and I don’t hurt nearly as much.
If you’re thinking about getting back after it – you owe it to find out what you’re capable of.
There are no finish lines. There are only plateaus. But you must not stop there. Keep going. Push your limits.
→ If you want to outsource your fitness and get in the best shape of your life and don’t live in Austin – check out our Impossible Fitness app for custom 8-week, goal-specific fitness programming.