A New Year's Resolution That Actually Worked: 2 Years of Daily Exercise

2 years of exercise - before and afterHey! It’s been a few years since I last blogged here! Let’s get this blog thing back in action, starting with something non-technical that I’ve had a few requests for – my story of two years of daily exercise.

Happy New Year! Today’s a day where half the world contemplates starting some new year’s resolutions and the other half of the world tells them that new year’s resolutions are stupid and nobody sticks with them. They’re mostly right, but let me share my experience with a new year’s resolution I’ve actually stuck with for two years now.

Two years ago, I had realized that my loose plan of kind-of-eating-healthy and trying-to-jog-once-a-week-or-so wasn’t working. Each year, I’d make an effort to drop some weight at the beginning of the year, I’d lose a bit, and then by the end of the year I’d put even more back on. My blood pressure was going up, I was getting winded taking out the trash (in my defense, I have a steep driveway!), and in general things were not headed in the right direction. So I made a New Year’s Resolution on January 1, 2018, to commit to 90 days straight of consistent exercise.

TLDR;

  • It’s been 2 years now and I haven’t missed a day, despite travelling 160 of those days (Russia, Turkey, Serbia, Bulgaria, UK, Norway, Australia, etc.)
  • I dropped 30 pounds in the first 6 months and have kept it off
  • I’m down from a size 38 waist to 34
  • I turned 49 this past year haven’t felt this healthy since I was in my 20’s, just out of military school
  • I’m not a fitness expert, but if you’re starting on a New Year’s exercise resolution, I can give some advice that’s worked really well for me, and might work well for you

Top Recommendations

  • Commit to daily activity for a period of time. For example, I committed to 90 consecutive days.
  • Don’t commit to a goal (drop 20 pounds) or a vague target (try to get to the gym 2 or 3 times a week).
  • Some kind of accountability / support group really helps.
  • If you don’t know where to start, I recommend P90X3 as a good, balanced fitness routine.
  • In my experience, it’s easier to stick with if you don’t have to devote an hour or more of going somewhere like a gym.
  • Beachbody On Demand is like a Netflix of workout programs – it costs $39/quarter or $100/ year. (note: I'm a fan, but not an affiliate or anything - I don't get anything for recommending them)
  • Gamify fitness with gadgets (Fitbit, Apple Watch, Garmin, etc.). Many employers will pay for them as part of their fitness programs.

Season Opener

I ran cross country in high school and have always been a jogger. I’m not a fast runner, but regular jogging and generally eating low carb mostly worked for me. But as I hit my late 40’s, that formula had stopped working. Each year I made an effort at the start of the year to drop some weight, had a bit of success, but couldn’t keep with it and ended the year worse than I started it. I was also noticing that my flexibility was getting worse, I was getting winded playing with my kids or doing simple tasks, and was starting to feel old. Not cool.

I figured it was time for a bigger change with some real commitment. After looking into some different programs, P90X3 caught my eye. I partly liked it because the style appealed to me – it wasn’t some gym rat, hyper aerobics mega jam, it was just some real looking people doing some 30 minute workouts. And when I looked into it more, there were some great success stories, like this guy Ed who had lost almost 70 pounds. And I loved the idea of a 30 minute daily commitment, because it felt like something I could stay with long-term. I knew the pitfalls that had derailed me in the past, and 30 minutes daily exercise that worked at home or in a hotel room sounded just right for me.

The First 90 Days

My employer (Microsoft) has a pretty cool program called StayFit that offers reimbursement for fitness expenses. Check it out, your employer might have a program like that, or might consider starting one. I found that P90X3 was available through Beachbody On Demand for $99/year, and I got a subscription.

Side note 1: The name Beachbody On Demand rang the cheeseball alarm for me, but I persevered and am happy I did. Beachbody On Demand is basically a Netflix of exercise programs. You get access to a ton of great exercise programs, and it’s all super tasteful and fitness focused.

Side note 2: P90X3 sounds like a black ops spy program. Here’s the deal: Tony Horton started off with this program called Power 90, a 90 day workout program. Then he came out with an update called P90X (for Power 90 Extreme) in 2005. After that, there was P90X2 (2009), which improved on P90X and brought more intense workouts. All of the above workouts were more in the 60-75 minute range. Then P90X3 came out in 2014, probably competing with other shorter workout programs, and each workout is exactly 30 minutes long. So P90X3 is Power 90 version 3. Oh, and Tony Horton was 55 when P90X3 was filmed!

So I committed to 90 days of daily exercise and cutting out carbs+sugar+alcohol. I dropped most of the 30 pounds I’d hoped to lose, but more importantly:

  • I learned this was not just a “sweat off those pounds” thing. There as comprehensive health focus on balance, flexibility, strength, agility, as well as cardio. I realized that by just focusing on jogging, I was missing out on a lot. More on that later.
  • They made me do yoga, I fell over a lot, my wife said I was laughing harder than she’d ever heard me laugh, and eventually my balance and flexibility got a lot better.
  • I started feeling different throughout the day. When I had to run to catch a flight, I actually like it! I was disappointed when I hit the gate, I wanted to run more. When I was playing with my 11yo daughter at the beach and she wanted to race, I was a little shocked when I shot out way ahead of her and had to pretend to fall over to let her win. So I learned that being in better shape has effects all day, every day – not just when I’m officially exercising.

90 Days And Beyond

So I hit 90 days, lost the weight, and felt great. Here was the challenge: What to do next? Give myself a high five and drop the exercise until the weight crept back on? That didn’t sound right. Plus, I’d realized something – the 30 minutes of exercise was actually something I looked forward to every day! I felt great levelling up on the workouts, and feeling of accomplishment I had when I finished the daily workout was often the highlight of that day. So I kept at it – another 90 days, through the end of the year, etc. And so I’ve hit 2 years now because stopping isn’t appealing at all. And if for some reason I have to miss a day, I think I’ll probably start right back up the next day and try to beat this record.

After finishing 90 days of P90X3, I decided that it was amazing, but I couldn’t handle the repetition and hearing the same jokes again for another 90 days. Fortunately, Beachbody On Demand had a bunch of other programs. Here are some I’ve liked:

  • Core De Force: Kickboxing + Ab shaping workouts. These are a ton of fun, and are all in the 30-45 minute range. I loved the P90X3 MMX workout, so I was really happy to find a whole program that focused on mixed martial arts. Joel and Jericho are a lot of fun, too.
  • LIIFT4: After finishing Core De Force, I tried out Joel (from CDF)’s newer program, LIIFT4. It’s a mix of weight lifting and HIIT (high intensity interval training) plus an ab workout at the end. I hadn’t done a directed weight lifting program like this before, and I really liked it. I’ve repeated this program 3 times over the past 2 years, and it’s fun to progress each time. This is an 8 week program, and it was great to work though the full program as Joel pushes the cast and viewers to up their weights every week. I hadn’t lifted weights for years, and never with any real direction. I dig this one.
  • 21 Day Fix Extreme: Autumn Calabrese totally sneaks up on you – she seems low key, but at the end of a 30 minute workout I’m stumbling and gasping for breath and she seems completely unfazed. They’ve recently reshot this in a realtime format, so instead of just 7 routines that you repeat over and over, there are 21 separate recording.
  • Insanity Max:30: When I first tried this, the choreographed aerobics style bugged me. I gave it another shot later, and liked it a lot more. Shaun T pushes you really hard – the entire 30 minutes felt like I was at my maximum intensity. But, I also started to hit some knee pain, and had to back off a bit (ominous foreshadowing music in the background).

Generally for all the programs, I’ve worked through the program a few times, then incorporated them into my grab bag for periods when I’m not following a specific program.

I’ve started with one other program lately that’s not on Beachbody on Demand – Tony Horton’s The Next Level. It’s actually a little hard to find, although it’s now available through Amazon Prime Video if you’re in the US and also get an additional subscription $6.99/month subscription to this Gaiam TV thing. I really like these routines, and the format includes three levels of intensity for each exercise, which is a nice idea, especially if you’d like to do this with a friend, family member, etc. The one tradeoff is that they’re all an hour long, and I’ve really been spoiled with the 30 minute workouts. I’ve been working them in a few days a week lately.

Exercise Equipment

Core De Force and Insanity Max 30 can be done with no extra equipment.

P90X3 and 21 Day Fix Extreme can be done with just a resistance band set, although for some of the routines it’s better to have some dumbells.

LIIFT is a weight lifting focused, so I got two adjustable weight dumbells (20-50 pounds each in 10 pound increments) that are okay. I’m planning to get some better ones with smaller increments and more range for this year.

I also used an exercise watch to help motivate myself. I went through a few Fitbit Iconic watches – I really loved the watch, but they kept breaking (black screen of death). This year I upgraded to a Garmin Forerunner 945. Both the Fitbit and Garmin watches have great battery life – over a week. I’m not an iPhone person, so I didn’t look at Apple watches, but I hear good things about them outside of the battery life.

Protip: Many employers have fitness stipends. I mentioned Microsoft’s StayFit program earlier, and it’s paid for my fitness watches, weights, running shoes, my Beachbody on Demand subscription, etc. It doesn’t hurt to ask if you’re not sure. Gym memberships are expensive, so fitness equipment that lasts for years is a pretty good investment by comparison.

Exercise While Travelling

Beachbody On Demand includes online video streaming, so it works great on my laptop on hotel Wi-Fi. They’ve also got a mobile app, so I’ve got a few videos downloaded on my phone for offline use just in case.

Travelling is often really tough on schedules, including really early flights, long flights, and red eye flights that make daily workouts challenging. So here are some things that work for me:

  • Always do a workout before leaving on a trip, just in case, so I don’t miss the day if there’s a travel delay.
  • Do a yoga workout before and after travel – it works out the travel kinks really well!
  • Have some hotel room favorite workouts planned – fortunately, most of P90X3 works surprisingly well in a hotel room, without any weights or equipment (especially MMX, Yoga, Isometrics, Dynamix, CVX, and Accelerator). Also the entire Core De Force lineup is great for travel.

Getting Stronger

One really fun part of getting in better shape was seeing how it formed a virtuous cycle. As I felt stronger, I could work out harder. As my cardiovascular system improved, I could push longer. As a long time runner, it was fun to see my course times starting to get a lot faster, despite de-emphasizing running, because I had a lot more strength and cardiovascular base. Even things I’d written off as just “not my thing” like yoga got easier, since the strength, balance, and flexibility I’d picked up in other routines made it possible for me to push a little further every time.

Time Management

Committing to a 30 minute workout every day has also had an unexpected positive impact on my time management and daily planning. It’s forced me to think about my day in more detail the day before – not just for travel, but there’s other stuff like you can’t really do a hard cardio workout right after a big meal.

As a remote employee, I struggle with taking time for myself. It’s easy to get sucked into working all the time, and feeling guilty if I’m not. But I can always take 30 minutes for myself, and often it gives me a burst of energy to be more productive at work.

Dealing with Injury

It’s important to watch out for injuries that could derail the daily workout thing.

As both my endurance and strength increased, I started pushing harder, and started having to deal with some minor injuries. The first was a pulled calf muscle from a switch roundhouse kick in summer 2018, and this year I started getting runners knee when I tried to work in daily treadmill intervals combined with too much HIIT training. In both cases, the answer was to pay attention to notice it early, then change my exercise focus to heal – more yoga and stretching, upper body focus with weight lifting, cut back on running for a while.

I started exercising barefoot when I did the Core De Force MMA routines, then started exercising barefoot for all the programs. It’s worked great, and cut down on knee pain. Recently, I’ve had a few people recommend Vibram Five Fingers shoes for running, so I’ve got a pair on order.

Diet and Weight Loss

Early on, I mentioned that weight loss was an important reason for starting on this, yet I haven’t mentioned diet until now. That’s because, in the past, I’d focused on diet and dropped a few pounds, then put them back on when I couldn’t keep to the rigid diet (due to travel, family events, whatever). So for this fitness regimen, I’ve really focused on the exercise side. Here’s how I generally try to eat:

  • Mostly keto: meat, healthy fats, vegetables
  • No sugar (including alcohol)
  • No non-vegetable carbs (bread, flours, grains, etc.)

After keeping the 25-30 pounds off for 2 years, I’ve learned more about what I can get away with and how to balance things a bit. I love good food, and always have local food when I travel. I avoid processed carbs and sugars, but have some from time to time. I generally avoid alcohol, both due to the dietary impact and the difficulty in exercising hard the day after drinking, but I make allowances for special occasions (e.g. the entire month of December).

The Social Network

There are a few social network things I’ve found to help keep me motivated.

Strava is a social fitness network. It works with workout trackers to upload runs, bike rides, and other workouts and shares your stats with your friends. I mostly started using it when I moved from Fitbit to Garmin as a way to track my workouts that was vendor agnostic, but it’s fun to get and give kudos to friends and get the feeling that you’re surrounded by workout friends. That’s especially nice as a remote worker. I think I’m mostly using it wrong, since most of my friends are sharing cool bike rides and half marathons and stuff while I’m just checking in every day with a 30-45 minute stationary cardio workout, but they haven’t unfriended me yet.

Fun fact: One of my friends on Strava is Tim Heuer, and he’s always sharing cool bike rides. Back when I was kind of new to P90X3, I was googling for some info and came across a blog post he wrote back in 2014: I lost 55lbs using these two amazing simple steps - you can too!

I’ve also joined some Facebook groups from other P90X and LIIFT folks. Again, it’s good to have the feeling that you’re surrounded by people who are working out regularly to keep encouraged. Fun side effect: I’ve started following other Facebook groups that make me happy, including a home coffee roaster group and a sous vide cooking group, and unfollowing (not unfriending, just unfollowing) real life friends that mostly use Facebook to argue. Now my Facebook feed is wonderful!

I’ve used Twitter a bit, but try to do it pretty sparingly because I don’t want to be annoying. I’ve been checking in a few times a year, for two main reasons. First, I wanted to publicly commit to put some extra pressure on myself to stay with it. Second, I wanted to share what’s worked for me to encourage other people and start conversations if they had questions. And with that – feel free to ping me on Twitter at @jongalloway if you’ve got questions!

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