Your 5-Step Fitness Plan for a Lean, Toned, Healthy Body
Nothing feels quite like that final second of an exercise session when you realize YOU just did it!
Your endorphins are pumping you full of that "natural high" that you can’t get anywhere else and your sweaty clothes are like a trophy engraved with, "You kicked butt today!"
In fact, I think exercise is one of the most powerful drugs on the planet for giving you clarity mind, turning negative moods into delightful optimism, and making your body look pretty darned awesome in the process!
But this isn't news. You know this already. Everyone knows this. It's one thing to know that exercise is the magic happiness pill (no, I'm not exaggerating), and it's another to actually take that pill regularly.
Forget the happiness pills. Exercise is where it's at!
Today I want to pull back the curtain and show you how I set myself up for successful exercise every single week. This is the 5-step process I've gone through many times when I need an exercise refresh. It's also the process I use with my clients who are trying to commit to a new fitness plan. Plus, at the end of this post I'll share how this process has led to the current fitness plan I'm using to stay lean, strong, and healthy.
"But Dave, you LOVE exercise so it's so much easier for you!"
Well, I do usually enjoy exercising but YOU can enjoy it too. Any change to your lifestyle will be a challenge at first. Exercise might seem like hard work, it might be boring, and it might feel like a hassle to fit into your schedule.
BUT, I will promise you something...as soon as you start seeing even the slightest results, your outlook will change. Soon exercise will become a much-needed part of your day, something that you don't want to miss (this may seem unlikely but it's true!)
In fact, that’s one of the goals that I want physical fitness to meet in your life. Staying fit should: a) be enjoyable b) make you feel awesome c) help you look awesome and d) enhance your life and relationships.
Those are some pretty lofty goals, I know. But, I also personally know thousands of people who have been able to get all of this and more from exercise (I’m just one of many!) no matter how busy they are OR how much they thought they didn’t like exercise.
My approach to fitness is one that balances purpose (making my body look, work, and feel better) and pleasure (enjoying the process and revelling in the satisfaction of achievement).
This is what I want for you too. I want to help you develop a deeper appreciation for YOURSELF and therefore crave any activity that will improve YOU. Yes, you’re worth it. Yes, you deserve it. Yes, it’s time to take action and get it.
At the end of this post I'll share the exact 7-day fitness plan I'm using right now. Granted, the specifics of my plan might not be right for you (that’s perfectly fine!), but the 5 principles used to get there are EXACTLY right for all of us. You will be able to take this 5-step process and apply it to your life.
1. Find Your Super-Motivation
My good friend Ben and I started competing in triathlons last year. It's a lot of fun training together and travelling to races, but there's also a little bit of friendly competition mixed in there. I want to train harder because I know Ben will kick my butt if I don't! (Actually, I think he'll kick my butt in the swim no matter how hard I train!)
I call this my "super-motivation."
WHY do you want to exercise? What's your super-motivation?
Most people don't know why they are trying to exercise in the first place. They say things like, "I want to be healthier" or "I know it's good for me."
What will your life look like if you get "healthier"? How will your life be any better?
When you discover your super-motivation for exercise, everything gets so much easier and fitness becomes a priority no matter how busy you are. For example...
A woman tweeted this to me a few days ago. She's starting to exercise because she wants to lose weight, but, her real motivation is MUCH more powerful...
Her doctor told her that if she doesn't lose weight she will end up needing two knee replacement surgeries. This was her eye-opening moment when she realized she had really neglected taking care of her body. Now she wants to solve this problem WITHOUT surgery.
A client told me he is motivated because he doesn't like how he feels about himself. Again, he's exercising to lose weight but he can see how his life will be better for it. Getting in shape will allow him to feel confident when he socializes with others. That's life-changing stuff!
And here's mine again. I know Ben is going to be biking really hard and I want to be able to keep up with him when we ride together. I am going to swim, bike, and run no matter how busy my week gets. It's a priority.
So I ask again: What's your motivation?
It's not because you want to lose weight. And it's not because you want to be healthier. Those are weak motivations that will get procrastinated away or forgotten too easily. It's deeper than that. You're going to get a reward MUCH better than those things. What does that life reward look like for you?
Pro Tip: Staying Motivated
Once you've identified your super-motivation, write it on a sticky note just like you saw above. Post it somewhere highly visible so that you remember your reason WHY for exercise. This is a great motivator even when life gets busy.
2. Power Up Your Success Rate
Can you imagine yourself doing this for an entire year?
That's the question I want you to ask yourself when you start setting out your exercise goals. Personally, I like to use a 10-point rating scale...a 10 = "100% for sure I can do that all year" and a 1 = "there's absolutely no way I could do that for a year!"
You want to choose a goal that is at least an 8 out of 10.
I was talking to a friend recently who is an Ironman. No, not the Robert Downey Jr. kind...Jeff does Ironman races. That's a 3.9km swim, a 180km bike, and then a marathon (42km) to top it all off. Not too shabby.
Jeff's training schedule blows my mind. Most days he exercises twice and the weekends are almost entirely devoted to training. It's almost a full-time job (just one that doesn't make any money!) Check out the video below to see why such a crazy training schedule is required...
I don't want to set myself up for failure!
I really enjoy staying fit, but Ironman training is a whole new level. If I set out to train like that I'd have to give myself a 1 or a 2 on the "doability" scale. I'd be setting myself up for failure.
Now, I know this doesn't sound as extreme but many people do something very similar when they say, "I'm going to start exercising every day for an hour." Sure, that's not Ironman-level commitment BUT for many people this goal should realistically get a 1 or 2 "doability" scale rating. They are going to fail.
And here's the problem with failure...it leads to quitting. Nobody likes to fail. Nobody likes to admit that they couldn't do what they set out to do. That's why it's so important that YOU don't set yourself up for repetitive failure!
If you've struggled to keep up with your exercise in the past then it's time to do it differently this time. It's time to approach fitness more intelligently.
When you choose your exercise goals for the week, keep them simple and keep them 8/10 doable. It's much better to set the bar a little low and pass with flying colours than it is to aim too high, fail over and over, and then quit.
Set the bar a little lower and be wildly successful. Then ask, "What's next?"
How much exercise will you do this week? Are you an 8/10 confident that you could keep that up for an entire year?
At the end of this post I've included my entire weekly exercise schedule. It keeps me busy, but it's no Ironman program either. Over time I've modified it as needed to make sure it's an 8/10 doability and still challenges me to get better. You will need to do the same - Your fitness plan should be flexible as your life changes BUT it should never stop altogether. It only adapts.
3. Ignite Your Exercise Passion (seriously, you can do this!)
Last year my friend started dating a guy who was apparently "really into fitness." I was excited to meet him since I knew we'd have at least one thing in common.
To my surprise, his go-to form of fitness was taking step class! (he even demonstrated a few moves for me!) I thought it was so cool that he found something he enjoyed, even though it wasn't the typical form of fitness many guys would choose.
Who says men can't look good in step class?
What about you? If you don't like running? Don't run.
Can't stand going to the gym? Cancel your membership.
Even if you find your super-motivation (step 1) AND choose a fitness plan that's 8/10 doable (step 2), you're much more likely to stick with it long-term if you're doing something you enjoy. So find something that's REALLY enjoyable. ( Need ideas? Check out this list of non-gym types of exercise)
Choose a type of exercise you actually enjoy doing and you're more likely to stick with it!
For me, I've learned that I love strength training, mostly with bodyweight exercises. I like other sports and activities too but bodyweight resistance training has always been my favourite.
Guess what makes it into my fitness routine each and every week?...you guessed it, strength training. It gives me something to look forward to and is my choice on days when I don't feel like exercising.
"Okay Dave, but the things activities I love aren't very good exercise. I need to get results now!"
I hear this a lot. Maybe you enjoy going for walks, or gardening, or ice skating, but don't feel like those are intense enough to get you the results you want? Listen to or watch the podcast below and you'll see why that's just not the case:
Pro Tip: Passionate About Exercise?
To some people, the words "passion" and "exercise" don't go together at all. If you can't find a type of exercise you LOVE, think about how you could pair fitness with something else that you do enjoy...
Can you listen to a podcast while you walk or jog? Maybe you can do a home workout while you binge watch Netflix? Or create a playlist that will energize you to get moving. You can find a way to make fitness more fun.
4. Build "Can't-Fail" Consistency
You've figured out your super-motivation, you've set an 8/10 "doability" goal, and you've found a way to make fitness fun. Now it's time to take consistent action!
Consistency [definition]: Steadfast adherence to the same principles, course, or form
A few years ago I got the idea in my head that I wanted to learn to do the splits (honestly, I can't even remember why...there was definitely no super-motivation involved!). I started doing yoga 4-5 times per week to improve my flexibility and I did see some pretty incredible changes. But then...
I had just opened my own fitness studio and life was very busy. I had to make my business successful, right? So I easily excused myself for "not having time" for so much yoga. My yoga sessions dwindled from 4-5 per week down to 2-3, and then 1, and then I quit altogether.
I'm sure you can guess what happened to my flexibility?...I quickly regressed back to my pre-yoga inflexibility. (And no, I never did manage to do the full splits)
I know you want fitness results that last, so building "can't fail" consistency has to be a top priority. What can you do to make your fitness routine more consistent?
You've actually already taken 3 huge strides towards improving your consistency:
- You have a strong reason to be consistent (super-motivation)
- You have chosen goals that are highly-doable (8/10 or better)
- Any you've selected some type of fitness that you'll enjoy (exercise passion)
Alone, those 3 steps might be enough, but I'd like to offer even more help in the consistency department. Below you'll find a recent podcast where I talk about strategies for building exercise motivation and consistency. (Listen in or watch it when you have a few minutes!)
For me, scheduling official "exercise appointments" is vitally important for building "can't fail" consistency. I like to use Google calendar and I colour my fitness appointments in yellow so that they stand out.
Here's a page from my Google calendar:
This strategy accomplishes two things: First, it prevents double-booking. Time slots that are assigned for exercise are just like any other meeting or appointment - they don't get bumped.
Second, it reminds me what exercise I AM GOING TO DO each day. I look at this calendar hundreds of times per week so it's continually reminding me of the exercise plans I've set - There is no way I'll forget and there's no room to procrastinate.
Back to you...
How will you build "can't fail" consistency so that you get results AND keep those results?
If you are persistent you will get it. If you are consistent you will keep it.
5. WIN Every Single Day
No matter what mechanisms you set in place to improve your exercise motivation and consistency, there are going to be days when your plans don't play out as intended.
This happened to me a few weeks ago...
I had a swim workout planned for 8pm that evening (which I don't really like doing because I feel restless all day waiting to exercise). Around 7:30pm I got a phone call from my real estate agent saying that my loft had just sold (awesome!) and that she needed to come over that night to sign a bunch of paperwork (not awesome).
My swim plans were instantly dashed. My exercise schedule wasn't going to happen.
Here's the thing: In that situation I could A) Feel annoyed but tell myself, "It's okay, I'll swim next week" OR B) Get a "WIN" in another way.
A WIN is a right choice in light of all circumstances. That night I couldn't swim but I could still win. I just needed to be creative in how I was still going to exercise despite the wrench that was thrown into my plans.
My friend Carla Birnberg has a really neat concept she calls #wycwyc (pronounced 'wik-wik'). This stands for "what you can, when you can" and it is one of the most important lessons you can keep in mind when it comes to fitness.
Instead of focusing on what you CAN'T do (what you don't have time, energy, money, etc. for), focus on what you CAN do.
For example, here's a #wycwyc workout that you can do in just a few minutes. When I couldn't swim that night, I did something like this along with a little yoga. It took about 30 minutes and I felt great - That's a WIN.
It seems so simple, but it's so powerful. Focusing on "what you can, when you can" will shift your mindset from one of counting losses (i.e. missed workouts) to one that counts WINS (i.e. good choices).
This doesn't take much effort either. I have about 3-4 #wycwyc-style workouts that I can squeeze into any day no matter how busy I am, where I am, or how I feel.
For you, it could be a #wycwyc workout like the one I shared, some stretching, a quick walk around the block, or anything else that gives you a WIN and reminds yourself that you ARE committed to fitness even if every day isn't perfect.
Pro Tip: Creating Your 'Plan B'
Instead of getting caught off-guard when something throws a wrench into your fitness plans, prepare ahead of time by having a few backup workouts ('Plan B') ready to choose from. Be specific so that you can operate on autopilot in those instances: "My scheduled workout ins't going to happen so that means I'm going to...<fill in the blank with your Plan B>"
BONUS: My 7-Day Exercise Schedule for Lean Strength
Again, I want to emphasize that the 5-step process we just discussed is the best way for you to determine what sort of fitness plan will work for YOU.
Following my exact plan (or anyone else's) might make sense if we have similar goals, but your plan may also look completely different - that's okay! The following schedule is what I'm currently using to keep me lean, strong, and to prepare me for upcoming triathlons (my super-motivation!)
Day #1: Bodyweight Resistance Training - I spend 5-10 minutes warming up with light calisthenics before diving into a double circuit workout. Each of my circuits consists of 4 exercises, and I complete each circuit 3 times (total of 24 sets).
Check out my Lean Strength 28 program if you're interested in learning the exact exercises I tend to use and how I arrange them over the course of a 4-week period.
Day #2: Bike/Run Intervals - I usually do this workout at the gym, but do similar styles of training outside in the summer months. I start on the bike and work at about 80% of my max effort for 4 minutes, then increase that to a 90% effort for 1 minute. I repeat this interval 6 times and follow this with a 20-minute run at a very moderate pace.
Day #3: Short Swim - I swim at a moderate pace for 45 minutes.
Day #4: Run - This is my "long" run for the week. I run 12km and aim for the fastest pace I can sustain over that distance.
Day #5: Resistance Training - This workout is similar to the one on Day #1 except there is an emphasis on core and upper body training since my legs need recovery time after the run on Day #4.
Again, my Lean Strength 28 program teaches all of the exercises I personally use and use with my clients.
Day #6: Swim Training - I attend a Master's swim class each week that uses drills for improved technique and conditioning. It is very much interval-based and lasts for 90 minutes.
Day #7: Recovery - Yoga! I do this "yoga for injury prevention" series and usually go for a walk. Time to let my body rest!
TOTAL WEEKLY EXERCISE TIME = 8 hours (which is doable for me right now)
Want help getting started? My 28-Day Fitness Program is the BEST if you want a specific plan to follow that will get you lean and strong! (no bulky muscles)
I know that it can be confusing to put together your own fitness plan. It's so hard to figure out which exercises to choose and how to arrange them into a program that will help you get a lean, strong, toned body.
You don't want to waste your time doing something that is never going to work, do you? That's why I created my Lean Strength 28 program. It's a done-for-you fitness plan that you simply follow day-by-day. I've been using this system with clients for over 15 years so I know it gets results!