Exercise has been a part of my life forever. When I was a kid I spent countless hours outside running around doing whatever kids do. Today they would call me a free range kid, but at the time it was just normal. My outdoor excursions led to 15 years of baseball that have turned into the last 5 years of softball. I made a brief foray into the worlds of football and basketball where being short and slow is not exactly an advantage.
I lifted weights and ran (begrudgingly) to get in shape for sports, but along the way I learned the value of being active and how it made me feel. Fast forward to college and I started to have more of a cyclical relationship with the gym. I’d get into a groove and get in shape then fall back out of the routine. That, combined with too much drinking, led to me gaining 20 lbs over the course of my time at UGA before shedding all of it thanks to stress from being an orientation leader before my senior year.
As with my fascination with cooking, I rediscovered the value of consistent, habitual exercise when Nicole and I studied abroad at the University of Oxford. While there I started from being completely out of shape and over the course of three months I was able to work up to doing 750 pushups and 1500 crunches in about 60-90 minutes everyday. My inspiration for the workout was 1) that we didn’t have access to a gym and 2) Herschel Walker (UGA’s last Heisman Trophy winner and national champion) used a similar workout throughout his life to stay in shape.
If you had told me when I arrived in Oxford that I would be doing 750 pushups everyday by the time we left, I would have laughed in your face. What I learned from the experience was endless. I slept better, had more energy, was more focused when I sat down to do my school work, felt great physically, and I looked better than at any other point in my life. It reminded me that exercise is not just some sideline activity that we are obligated to pursue once the doctor tells us we have no other option.
We have a culture that shuns exercise in many ways. It’s a shame and it’s harmful to all of us. “It’s hard,” “You can get injured,” “I don’t know how to lift weights,” and “I don’t have time” are some of my favorite excuses I hear regularly. But I think Sir Richard Branson has the right outlook on this thing. When he was asked how to become more productive, his answer was simple: “Work out.” In another interview, he was asked how he has time to work out, to which he responded, “I don’t have time not to work out.” If a guy that busy and successful prioritizes exercise to such an extent, then I think the rest of us would do well to pay attention.
How I exercise
Believe it or not, I don’t continue to do the 75/1500 workout I mentioned above. It’s actually a rather imbalanced approach to working out, focusing almost entirely on the front side of the upper body while neglecting the legs, back, and biceps.
These days my baseline goal is to hit the gym 4 days a week, at a minimum. My stretch goal is to weightlift 3 days a week for conditioning/strength and play basketball three days a week for conditioning/play. So far this year I’ve hit my baseline goal in all but one week, and the key has been making my exercise a habit.
Everyday I work until 3:30 or 4pm and then I head home, where I take Hank (my dog) on a half mile jog to give him exercise and warm me up. I don’t compromise on this because he’s cooped up all day, which isn’t fair. Then, I head to the gym.
At the gym, there is a 5-on-5 basketball everyday of the week but Thursday. The games are competitive and I’ve gotten my game back thanks to making it a habit this year. When I play, I play for 2-4 hours. That’s not nonstop playing, but includes playing time and waiting in between games since there are usually about 20-25 guys in the gym (if you lose, you have to go to the bottom of the list to play again).
If I’m weightlifting, I take a different approach. While my goal in playing basketball is to play for as long as I’m having fun, my goal in lifting is to get as good of a workout as possible in as short a time as possible. To accomplish this, I only lift with free weights and bodyweight unless it’s a recovery kind of day.
Free weight exercises I do include squats, lunges, split squats, deadlifts, bent over row, back extensions, shoulder raises, shoulder press, dumbbell chest press, dumbbell fly, and dumbbell/barbell curls. Bodyweight exercises I do include pushups, pullups, dips, crunches, scissor kicks, planks and leg lifts. You can Google any of those phrases to see plenty of written and video explanations of each.
During a given workout, I do a series of circuits that should hit on each major muscle area. A circuit is a series of consecutive exercises that either use different muscle groups or similar muscle groups in new ways without taking a break. An example would be 10 squats, 10 bent over rows, 10 barbell curls and then rest for 2 minutes. Another example would be 10 pullups, 15 dips, 25 leg lifts, and then rest for 2 minutes. I do multiple sets — usually 3 or 4 — of each circuit.
What this does is get your heart rate up to a level that is good for both conditioning and strength. The goal is to work each muscle group until it is tired but not to the point of exhaustion. This balance is important, and you’ll have to learn your own limits. When in question, do less weight for more repetitions so you don’t injure yourself. (I am not a certified physical trainer or doctor. Always consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program. If you are new to weightlifting, consider hiring a professional to help you get started and learn proper form.)
Using the weightlifting regimen above, I can get a great workout in about 45 minutes.
The benefits I’ve seen from having a consistent workout regimen have been incredible. Just like in Oxford, I sleep significantly better when I workout on a given day. I have much more energy when I wake up and have much more focus in my work. I am more likely to eat well when I exercise. I also maintain much higher productivity because I know I will leave the office at 3:30 or 4 everyday, which means I have less hours to get more work done. Magically, it usually gets done (that’s the beauty of Parkinson’s Law).
When I combine sleep, diet, and exercise I operate with optimal performance throughout my day. I am much more emotionally stable, which is important when experiencing the highs and lows of startup life / running a business. Perhaps the best feeling is knowing that I am playing the long game with my health.
What do you think? How do you exercise? Have you been wanting to get started with a workout routine? What benefits and challenges have you seen from exercise now or in the past?