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This Is Why You Don't Go to the Gym (theatlantic.com)
218 points by waitwhat on Jan 14, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments

One of the articles the author links to is a lot more helpful and concrete [1]. The meat of it:

"Shaul’s guys out in Wyoming get massively strong and powerful on precisely three gym sessions a week, each lasting an hour and no more. Louie Simmons, the single biggest name in gorilla-style competitive power lifting, will tell you that 45 minutes is the max length of any smart training session.

But you can’t spend the first 15 minutes watching CNN from the treadmill and the last 15 “warming down.” Every second has to count, and it all starts with understanding the four basic muscular aptitudes: strength, power, muscle mass, and muscular endurance. [...]

The whole trick to athletic training — and this is true for everybody from bodybuilders to marathoners to noncompetitive athletes just in it for health, or even vanity — is timing each subsequent workout so it hits the middle of that so-called supercompensation peak, when a muscle has already bounced back even stronger than before but hasn’t yet returned to baseline. [...]

It can be hard to believe a true strength coach the first time he tells you that by pressing and dead-lifting on even days, squatting and doing chin-ups on odd days, avoiding all other exercises, and adding a little to the bar each time, you’ll be stronger than you’ve ever been in only a month’s time. Thanks to the fitness industry, we’re so conditioned to equate sophistication with complexity — and to think we’ve got to “work each body part” — that our gut just says, No way; that can’t work. But it works like magic, and the entire body hardens up in unison.

Finally, keep it simple; understand that variety is overrated. Variety does stave off boredom — it’s fun to mix in new exercises all the time — but a guy who hasn’t trained in a long time, if ever, will get stronger faster on the simplest program of squats, dead lifts, and presses, three times a week."

[1] http://www.mensjournal.com/everything-you-know-about-fitness...

That article was posted here last spring, I believe (forgive me, but I'm on my iPhone at the moment and too lazy to look up a link to the discussion). Reading that article planted the seeds that led me to start barbell lifting three months ago. I've always been scrawny, so it's been amazing to watch my body transform. I've gained 25 pounds and my squat strength has doubled.

I've tried gym memberships in the past, so it's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why I've been able to stay motivated this time around. Having hard, quantifiable gains may be the biggest factor, and perhaps even more than that, having quantifiable losses when I skip a workout. When I missed a week at the beginning of november (I was out of town), I had to knock 10 pounds off my squats in order to get through them. That is not a good feeling. Definitely worse than being charged five dollars.

Edit: ok, I looked it up -- http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2287213

I'd also like to add, reading Rippetoe and Kilgore flipped a switch for me. If you can write 60 pages about how to do a squat, then weightlifting can be a geeky activity.

Good point on geeking out on strength training.

About 5 years ago I set a goal for myself of both understanding as much as I could about strength training, and accomplishing as much as I could. Rippetoe is indeed a true geek of iron. I've managed to hit a 500# deadlift and mid-300s for squat, trying to get both of them up above that, but it's tough to make progress now.

Another great resource for the squat fanatics is Boris "Squat Rx" Bachmann's "Squat Rx" YouTube series: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C03D688F10C4DE1F

If you are serious about it, there's a book by Mark Rippetoe called Starting Strength that explains this in more detail.

And a (somewhat disorganized) wiki about the book, with enough info to learn the lifts and do the program, here: http://startingstrength.wikia.com/wiki/Starting_Strength_Wik...

Using this program and nothing else, between November 1 and December 23 of this year, my squat went from 180 to 270, my deadlift from 180 to 305, and my bench press from 120 to 165.

You do not need to be an expert, or know how to lift to do the program. It is (for me) almost exactly one hour a day, three days a week.

Make working out a habit, not a question of willpower. It needs to "just be", or else you, if you're at all like me, won't do it. That's why I don't care much about variety; I don't need variety in brushing my teeth either.

edit: Also, the /r/fitness FAQ is quite good: http://www.reddit.com/help/faqs/Fitness

Congrats! That's some pretty big gains < 2 months. I have been lifting long enough now that those sorts of gains are a forgotten memory. My deadlift is at 525 now, and I'd like to say that 600 seems reachable, but damn it's just so heavy. It's to the point where I can feel a strength difference between 1-2 lbs of more/less bodyweight. I often wonder if there is a way to figure out my personal potential max in a lift. I love dead lifting, but it would be nice to know if I'm at 50% of my possible strength or 90%.

The hour workout touches on some studies that I have read that going over an hour often doesn't get you much with respect to strength training.

Another good book is "The New Rules of Lifting."

I love deadlifting, if I wasn't in the offseason training for a sport I might be able to get up into your realm :)

There's something so basic and satisfying about picking up something really heavy.

It seems (from my reading) that once you reach weights like yours, progression gets much harder. There's lots of tricky assistance work you need to figure out, you need to eat like a friggin animal, and you need to work just hard enough to not overtrain.

In other words, good luck!

Thanks! Yeah, if I could keep my eating right I could probably get there. I am much stronger with my weight over 200lbs, but life has been so busy I'm down around a lean 185-190 right now. For me finding time for the gym has been the easy part. Figuring out how to eat enough through the day has always been the problem.

And yeah, progression slows and waivers depending on current bodyweight, current emotional state, time of day, etc... It can take months to add another 5lbs onto the bar.

If you haven't been, /r/weightroom has a bunch of guys that are lifting in your ballpark or greater, and might be a useful resource.

It's much more useful for lifters than /r/fitness is. http://www.reddit.com/r/weightroom

Definitely agree that working out should be a habit, must like most other productive (but initially unattractive) activities in our lives. Congrats on your awesome progress!

You are much like myself in that we both seem to have strong lower bodies and relatively weaker upper bodies :P

>You do not need to be an expert, or know how to lift to do the program.

You don't have to be an expert, but it's crucial to have regular form checks on the lifts. Nothing is more depressing than being sidelined for several weeks because of bad squat form leading to an injury!

> You don't have to be an expert, but it's crucial to have regular form checks on the lifts. Nothing is more depressing than being sidelined for several weeks because of bad squat form leading to an injury!

I just mean to say that I used to think you couldn't do these sorts of lifts without some sort of trainer that could teach me how to do them, and that since I didn't know one, I couldn't.

Rather, these days, you can read starting strength, watch videos online, film your own lifts and get people to help you pretty easily.

I started there a few years ago, progressed past that to his other book, "Practical Programming for Strength Training", and now I'm all over the place. I went from more of a distance person to competing in strongman. I compete in a lightweight division, but still only doing 4 or 5 exercises consistently I'm at a 550lb deadlift, 450 squat, and 350 bench. I think when I started I was about half at each of those. Do a few exercises, do them right, and do them with extremely high intensity and it'll get you places!

Plus, I solve most of my bugs while lifting!

That's the program I follow as well, and the article conveniently refers to it.

I knew most everything in the article, but I thought it would be an excellent piece to show any of my gym "fuckaround-itis" friends.

my friends and I at the gym say that the guys who do that are on the "barbershop workout" plan. All talk, no work :)

I love the "barbershop workout" analogy!

The original "Fuckarounditis" article on Leangains: http://www.leangains.com/2011/09/fuckarounditis.html

Which is strongly referenced in "Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie".

Which is to say: both the referenced article and Rippetoe's books are excellent references.

That 'supercompensation peak' is pure soft science, but the overall message is dead on: if you're at the gym, act like it. It boggles the mind to see people my age baffled at their inability to lose weight when their cardio involves reading a magazine while on a stationary bike and their weightlifting involves bicep curls.

Can you cite some links that I can look up? "supercompensation peak" appears to be too general a search term.

Great post. It hits on one of the many problems I have with xfit. The workouts are so different every time it's hard to track progress.

If anyone wants to see just how bare-bones Shaul's gym is, he's got a channel on Youtube. This was the guide I used to make my sandbags (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8j6yE8LbQTg).

The fastest way to get started on this kind of program imho, is to look up youtube videos of the exercises, and pick up a smartphone tracker. I use Strength by Airlock Software on Android. (Lite version URI https://market.android.com/details?id=com.airlocksoftware.st... and the creator also recently released an excellent HN reader on Android)

There's no point doing a program like this without keeping logs, and a smartphone is the easiest way to do that. That particular app is also very newbie friendly.

Finally, once your weights increase, please spend more time learning technique. Look up Squat RX, "So you think you can Squat" etc. Videos imho are best, though if you want to really geek out, read Rippetoe, Verstegen, McRobert, Kilgore etc too.

If you haven't heard me say it enough, note that bit about "Given the choice between buying X units one at a time or 2X units all at once for a modest discount, people will often buy 2X units and fail to use them all." That is very important to keep in mind when designing e.g. the packaging options of a SaaS business.

My own utterly unscientific data suggests that this is a form of hyperbolically discounted loss-aversion - the 'loss' of the discount on additional units is felt more acutely than the more real loss of units purchased but never used.

Combining this principle with a time-limited offer can be staggeringly effective, I imagine by enhancing the sense of impending loss. I've seen orders-of-magnitude difference in revenue from such "new customer only" discounts.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to have a bath in acetone to sluice off the shame.

I love the retailers who try to tap in to this with the time-limited offers that never seem to expire!

Dreamhost suckered me that way. A few years ago they offered a limited time special anniversary discount (only 11 days left!!), however, the anniversary sale was still on months later and there were only 11 days left!!

I will never, ever use them again for doing that to me.

Oh come on. They're a hosting company. How was their service? Didn't you know what you were getting for the money? Would you have waited for hosting until a special offer came along?

Customers tend to get pissed off when they realize they've been lied to. I think his anger is justified.

How was their honesty? How was their transparency? How was their respect for their customers?

I've always found that if I just put on my workout clothes, It's really hard to convince myself that I shouldn't be going and take them off. So, to get myself to go, I tell myself that I'm just putting on my clothes, which seems like way less of a commitment when I'm sitting on the couch. By the time I've laced up my shoes, I'm in the workout mindset.

Really, vI know I can trick that part of myself. Trying to swallow a bitter pill whole is difficult and can be counterproductive to positive reinforcement that will get you to go again. Break down that commitment into pieces and the initial energy threshold is a hell of a lot lower. You'll see the positive results more easily and expect them less because you've broken down your "I should be getting in shape" personal investment into smaller pieces, so it seems smaller overall. It stops being a matter of "I better see some results for all my trouble."

Without the self-guilt trip you'll be reinforcing a positive feedback loop, which is the only sustainable way you're going to get in shape--if you enjoy doing it.

"To get myself to go, I tell myself that I'm just putting on my [workout] clothes"

That's a great suggestion. Also, if you exercise at home instead of at a gym, you can tell yourself you're just going to do a 10 minute set. Once you're done with that one, your heartbeat will be up and you'll have enough energy to keep up for a few more.

Bribes/rewards are also good motivators. If you promise yourself a minute of reading HN for every minute you work out, you have something to look forward to. (Make sure you don't let yourself take the reward before you do the work, that's a BIG trap.)

I think those theories are missing the main point. Going to the gym is not fun, because gyms have a crappy user experience.

So let's say you join a gym, but don't know very much about working out. You walk into a room with hundreds of machines, and are expected to know how to structure a work-out, how each machine works, be familiar with all the muscle groups and exercises, and also really care about planning out and recording every exercise you do to track your progress on the gyms website. It's the biggest turn-off.

Why can't a gym hold your hand and treat you like somebody who wants to start working out but doesn't know anything yet? "Express tracks" are a good start, where 10 machines are set up in a row, and if you do 3 sets on each one, you have a good work-out session. That's easy to understand and do. And maybe later, once people have created their habits, they are more likely to learn the finer details. But expecting every new member to care about putting a ton of effort into learning everything about working out is a killer.

Hmm, with the exception of the tiny mom and pop gyms just about every gym I've been to over the years has pushed an initial free personal trainer session with the hope you sign up for more.

Working out is, well, work. If you're out of shape it's not fun and if you don't have the motivation to get in shape it's not going to work. To be perfectly honest, I think that's what a good (read: effective) trainer does more than anything else - instill motivation. There's plenty of info on how to work out, and barring that, you can quickly observe how people use the equipment and their form. You can watch trainers instructing others. It's really not that hard. I started at 13 years old, years before the world wide web existed, and basically learned everything I needed from a subscription to a couple muscle mags. Aside from that, the only people I learned from initially were other friends my age that were also beginning to work out because we certainly didn't have the $$ for trainers. I went from 90 lbs. to 130 lbs. in that first year. Basically I was just really sick of of being 90 lbs. That's it.

I'd almost equate it with coding, expecting some hand holding will get you only so far. The internal motivation will have to be there sooner or later or it won't stick.

Nowadays I don't do it nearly as much, but I can't take more than 3 or so days off because I begin to feel like crap, and I'm addicted to not feeling like crap.

Working out is, well, work. If you're out of shape it's not fun and if you don't have the motivation to get in shape it's not going to work.

Amen. It has little to do with user experience. Even when I was in shape and going regularly, there were days it was hard to get myself there- you are constantly, slowly adding weight, so it is always hard.

Driving out of a deep squat is always the hardest part for me. I find it just requires so much more willpower than a press or the like.

Driving out of a deep squat is always the hardest part for me. I find it just requires so much more willpower than a press or the like.

It probably also requires recruiting more muscles at the same time and coordinating them all, and more effort to keep your balance (recruiting even more small muscles), which adds to the complexity of the exercise.

There is no reason for the gym to make it fun.

As the article points out, the gym wants you to come once (not have fun) and then not come back - but continue to pay the monthly membership fee.

If the gym was fun, and every member came in regularly, the gym would go out of business. Their goal is to make the gym seem like something you should have a membership for (lots of high-tech looking machines and posters about health and attractive staff), but actually not fun enough for you to come more than a few times a month.

This is why there is a rise in the small group-focused workout clubs (that emphasize fun).

For what it's worth, when I joined my gym they gave a free personal trainer session, and said trainer walked me through some things. (It was obviously an attempt to upsell me, by showing what a personal trainer would keep on doing for me, but it was still a helpful newbie service.)

Also, all the machines have little informative placards on them explaining which muscles they work and how to use them. I think they're also laid out in a way such that by going from one end to the other they'll give you a fairly decent all-over workout.

I've very, very rarely seen an intro session that wasn't an upsell.

The one moderate exception was at a managed on-site gym at a workplace when I first started out. I got a training program that I followed with some success for the next nine months, losing 50# of bodyfat and gaining 12# of muscle in the process (verified by hydrostatic testing).

Today I'd have done a rather different route, but, hey, it worked. That of course is the novice's advantage: virtually any crap program is better than sitting on your ass. The question is: what is going to work best.

For most otherwise healthy people these days I'd say a 5x5 strength program with 2-3x weekly HIIT cardio sessions (Tabata anything after a month or two).

>Why can't a gym hold your hand and treat you like somebody who wants to start working out but doesn't know anything yet?

I don't know about the US, but almost all gyms in the UK do exactly that - as part of your induction, a personal trainer assesses your fitness, discusses your goals and designs a workout program for you.

It's a big business win as it's an excellent opportunity to upsell to a personal coaching program, but it doesn't seem to have any impact on people actually using the gym.

A lot of gyms have classes you can take. Yoga, pilates, martial arts, spinning, kickboxing, various sports, the list goes on and on.

I can never bring myself to just "go to the gym" for the reasons you suggest. But give me something organized, and I'm hooked.

Of the five or so non-college gyms I've been in, my favorite had mandatory sessions with a trainer every six weeks. We worked on a new set of exercises, and the change helps keep things interesting. They also didn't believe in treadmills, cycles, or any exercises which required batteries, nor did they have any upsales. Plus, they played great Motown music. I miss that gym! It was a bit more expensive, but definitely worth it. Carl and Sandra's, in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

I very much agree. Your idea sounds great.

However, I can guess why it isn't common. What you suggest would be labor-intensive, and thus expensive. Some people don't want to pay for the hand-holding. So the gym would have to offer multiple plans: cheap do-it-yourself and expensive hand-holding. My guess is that this has been tried, and the number of customers for the high-end plan is not enough to justify offering it. Alas.

What's changed over, say, 20 years ago, is that there's a wealth of experience available online. Well, 20 years ago, there was a wealth of experience, but it was in books, and you had to do a lot more work to find people to talk to about what did or didn't work.

Why doesn't a gym hold your hand? Because there's no percentage in it for them (or at least that's the naive calculus). There are exceptions, but they're rare and hard to find. A gym wants you to either 1) sign up and not go (free money) or 2) sign up and go and sign up for a bunch of additional services (personal training, massage) and products (supplements), which have rediculous markups.

What they don't want you to do is become knowledgeable yourself on what works to accomplish your goals. But ... you can do this.

For a couple of nutshell basics: Beginners' Health & Fitness Guide: http://liamrosen.com/fitness.html Hierarchy of Fat Loss: http://alwyncosgrove.com/2010/01/hierarchy-of-fat-loss/ Everything You Know About Fitness is a Lie: http://www.mensjournal.com/everything-you-know-about-fitness...

For a great beginner's book, The New Rules of Lifting (Schuler and Cosgrove) distills a lot of good knowledge, and Starting Strength (Rippetoe and Kilgore) has one of the most brutally effective novice strength programs bar none.

It helps to understand basic physiological response to stimulus:

- If you eat more food than you need, you'll gain weight. Whether that's fat or muscle depends on:

- If you overload your muscles periodically (more weight or reps than they're used to), and provide sufficient rest/recovery and fuel, you'll build muscle. How you lift (sets, reps, rest) focuses the adaptation (strength, size, endurance) somewhat. What lifts you do affect what muscles get developed (curls do nothing for your glutes).

- Doing cardio of varying modalities (2-bit word for "types") will maintain/increase your abilities here. Tabata intervals, hill sprints, and HIIT training are great for short, intense work. Doing periodic (1-2x weekly) longer-duration stuff will help your endurance system training (mostly making your body more efficient and effective at burning fat for long periods of time). Which is not the same as losing weight.

- If you're interested in skill-specific activities (skiing, gymnastics, juggling, whatever), do that. Training is highly activity-specific in this regard, though cardio in one are translates well to other areas. Your specific motor skills may not.

There are a few other bits: you need rest and recovery. You can't target fat loss. Too much cardio is catabolic (wastes muscle mass), though most weekend warriors don't need to worry about this. Men and women in their 30s onward are losing muscle mass at the rate of about 1/2# per year, unless they're strength training. And benefits of exercise (strength and cardio) accrue throughout life, even to those in their 100s.

It's something you've got to do regularly, 1-2x weekly if you want to maintain, more often (3-5x weekly) if you plan on progressing.

That's it in a nutshell.

> wants to start working out but doesn't know anything yet?

What's there to really know? The average person just looking to be healthy doesn't need a gym or any instruction. Buy a $3 jump rope. Jump over it 4,000 times every couple days. Do some pushups, pullups, and situps on the other days. 20 minutes (at most) and done.

"The Gym" as used by most people is a way to create the illusion of effort. "Hey, I'm spending six hours a week there and using big expensive machines, so I must be getting something done." It's just a waste for most people, who'd be better served by a jump rope in their driveway.

I use a gym because I lift and have no space, but if I had a garage I'd set up my own power-rack. All the machines at "the gym" are idiotic. You only need a barbell, a bench, and a rack.

There's a few points of this I'd disagree with.

The principles are pretty simple, but it's not so much as "get a jump rope and jump 4000x a day".

The basic parameters I'd tell someone:

- Cover the bases. Do strength training. Do cardio. Do flexibility, motor control, and p/rehab (flexibility, soft-tissue work). You can still cover most of this in 20-90 minutes/day (45-60 is preferable, less is OK in a tight spot).

- Do strength first, then cardio. It has to do with glycogen availability and training stimulus, look it up.

- Make sure your strength program is whole-body, whether you do that in 1 day or as a split. Your basic muscle groups are legs, glutes, back, chest, arms, and abs. Your basic movements are squats, lunges, deadlifts, rows & chins (back/biceps), presses (chest/triceps), and twists/bends (core/abs). These can be done with freeweights (preferred), machines, bands, cables, or bodyweight, though you'll get best results with freeweights if available and you can use them.

- Emphasize compound movements over isolation, for strength.

- Understand that intensity matters for cardio. You'll do much better getting an intense 4-minute workout (Google "Tabata intervals") than plodding lazily on a treadmill for 40 minutes. No, Tabatas aren't easy.

If you want to lose weight, eat less. If you want to gain weight, eat more. Eat real, whole, unprocessed foods, not too much, mostly plants. Eliminate harmful noxious stuff (processed carbs, trans fats). Get an appropriate balance of carbs, proteins, and fats (40/30/30 or 30/40/30 are good starting points).

If you're concerned with body weight, toss BMI out the window (it's completely bogus), and understand the basics of BMR and your estimated daily expenditure.

Agree on bar, bench, and rack. Though the bench is optional -- you can press off the floor. I'd add (or ensure the rack had) a chinning bar. And plates might also be useful ;-)

I don't really like going to the gym, but I love running outside. There are a few things that keep me going:

1. I keep in mind that I have never regretted going for a run.

2. A few times a week, I run with friends in a training group. When someone expects to see me there, I am much more likely to go.

3. I keep a training log. I mark completed days with a green dot (even rest days), and missed workouts with a red dot.

4. I read about running. It's inspiring to hear others' stories.

5. I sign up for races. If a race is coming up, I know I can't brush off workouts.

I started running again a couple years ago after about 8 years of not working out. It was difficult and painful for a couple months, but it got easier and more fun. I do have to sacrifice some family time, but I want my son to see me having a fit lifestyle. Sometimes, I'll bring him along in a stoller.

Ditto, except for the group run thing or races. I run twice or thrice a year with my brother in law, but as a true misanthropic geek I simply prefer being on my own as much as possible :)

I started running 5 years ago, and once I've got the habit to put on running clothes every morning, it's really quite easy.

I actually have a lot of trouble running outside. You see, I can't pace myself for sh*t, so I always wind up running at like a 6-minute-mile pace no matter what shape I'm in or how far I'm going. I've discovered treadmills are useful in that regard.

Pacing can be difficult. On a hard workout, I find I can go out way too fast. I wear a Garmin watch that lets me monitor my pace and adjust it. Some of the people I run with are really good at setting a pace, so I'll follow them. Getting a feel for setting the pace just takes some practice.

It may also be worthwhile to go to the track and practice a pace. After you run 100 laps at a certain speed, it's easier to find that speed again.

I use Runkeeper for my iPhone. There's this great belt you can buy that holsters it (Spibelt), can't even feel it there. Coaching on how fast you're going every half mile. You can calibrate pretty quickly.

A little more than a year ago I found a way to get paid to get in shape when I started refereeing soccer. Indeed, the more fit I become, the higher the level of game to which I am likely to be assigned, and consequentially, the more I am paid...it's a fitness hack for someone who doesn't like to exercise, but can buy into the idea of training.

I found a link to the Harvard graduates’ Gym Pact program: http://www.gym-pact.com/. It’s an iPhone app, and it purports to actually pay you the money paid by those who didn’t go to the gym if you really do go to the gym. Another similar program is the free online service Beeminder at https://www.beeminder.com/. It lets you track anything numeric, such as visits to the gym, and if you fall below the goal you set for yourself a week ago, you get charged money.

Thanks for the Beeminder plug! (I'm a co-founder.) As I just replied to another comment here about StickK, we think of ourselves as StickK.com for data nerds. We think we're drastically better than StickK for data-oriented goals (like weight loss, or anything you can make a graph of).

I workout from home, I started a couple of months ago with cardio to loose some fat, and now I'm starting p90x.

The reason I don't go to the gym isn't because I gave up, it's just I don't like that "all" gym environment, plus the fact that I have to drive there, wait for people to let me use a specific machine etc...

with the money I'd spent on a gym, I'm building my own little private gym.

I can't recommend enough for all of us geeks to workout. I used to drink sugar drinks, eat fat food, all that crap. Even though I wasn't fat I was starting to gain weight and man, I was embarrassed of how out of shape I was.

Look it as hacking your own body ;) make it better, each week you will se improvements, get in shape. Just because we are geeks doesn't mean we can't have a great body for ladies ;P

P90X is an ok program, but it's ridiculously inefficient. If you learn basic barbell training, I guarantee that you won't have to wait much, if at all, at the gym. Most folks shy away from barbells and that's an advantage to the person who knows what they're doing.

The most waiting you'll have to do is when someone is curling in the squat rack.

Ugh, don't get me started. I have a t-shirt I wear on squat days and it reads in nice big letters:

"Don't curl in the squat rack!"

This is silly, is it really that hard to go to the gym?

I mean, you just go the first time. Then when it is "tomorrow". You just go again. Then the next day ... again. It's not that difficult a concept, the only thing you must take care of is that you don't break the cycle.

When I was still going to a gym I was there two hours every evening, at the same time, no matter what. When I suddenly couldn't afford it anymore it was horrible ... all that free time and nothing to do with it. Sure, eventually new habits formed, but it was hard as hell.[1]

Really the only thing it takes is a bit of stubbornness, all these silly tricks into making yourself more stubborn are just that ... silly. You don't need them.

There's nothing easier in the world than making the same default decision every day. Doesn't even require much thought.

[1] this was a few years ago, got into boxing when I had the money again, then became broke and am finally getting back to boxing this week ... money's a bitch like that, luxury-ish expenses are the first to go

edit: why all the downvotes? Picking a habit and making sure you don't break it is one of the most effective ways of sticking to something ... http://theclosetentrepreneur.com/seinfelds-secret-motivation...

two hours every evening

Bodybuilders don't work out that much, you know.

Sure they do. All the serious bodybuilders at my gym were there about the time I got there and left about the time I left.

Except they also put in another hour in the morning.

Doing enough repetitions with the proper rest in between takes time. Out of the two hours you're there you probably spend less than 90 minutes actively exercising. Especially taking into account the gym being packed and having to wait for stuff.

Two hours a day is a lot of family time to lose for many parents, and more than an old bum knee may take.

So don't spend two hours. Exercise isn't an all or nothing game. There's a TED talk out there somewhere (google it) which explains that you get exponentially more out of exercise from about the 15 minute mark, and it hits a peak around half an hour. The study showed that the single best thing you can do for your health (the closest thing there is to a silver bullet, if you will); and this applied to both average sized people and the obese, smokers and non-smokers, etc, was to get 30 mins daily exercise. But even if you can't get that much, 15 minutes isn't wasting your time.

Furthermore, exercise doesn't take up your time, it actually increases it. Not just in the years in your life and how much less time you spend in those years being sick; that's obvious. But every single day.

Tim Ferriss tells this story about how Richard Branson was once asked the single biggest thing most people could do to increase productivity. Due to the fact that he's one of the busiest men on the planet, every single person in the audience leaned forward with bated breath. His answer? Exercise daily. It improves the quality of your sleep, so you need less. It makes you more emotionally stable, so you're more motivated. And most importantly, it increases mental clarity, so you're more focused through-out the day. Branson said that it gives him multiple hours more productivity every day. It's bull to say you don't have enough time every day to exercise; if you're that busy then in fact you don't have enough time to NOT exercise.

Finally, just thought it was worth mentioning that half hour of exercise doesn't even have to be strenuous. In the study I mentioned before they recommended walking, because it's the best overall for your body (too many people run on concrete these days). Swimming is also very good. Neither of these have to be exhausting. Hence why I take the 30-35 minute walk to work every day. My other exercise is a bonus.

I'm not arguing that 30 minutes of exercise isn't healthy - the parent post to which my comment responded was two hours a day. I'd be dead in a week if I tried that because my spouse would kill me.

So much exercise advice is disingenuous: 30 minutes exercise != 30 minutes out of one's day

Change cloths, warm up, exercise, cool down, shower, change clothes: there's significant overhead even if one doesn't have to travel to the gym.

I do convict conditioning for 4 months now. It takes me approx. 30 min every other day although I switched to more like 20min 6 times a week now. The results are spectacular. The important thing in exercising is not to overresearch, eg. you can find all kinds of people on the internets telling you that convict conditioning sucks and you should rather do X. Lots of these people have a point but usually it only holds under specific conditions like "I want to maximize my expected strength gain." but ignores time, financial or risk adversity to injury. TLDR: Just pick something that fits your constraints and stick with it. The results compared to doing nothing will blow you away.

I do this also. I have no idea why people go to the gym. You naturally increase your strength by moving your body around. No excuses for not having time to go to the gym because you can fit it in any time. Also, the important thing Convict Conditioning emphasizes is that it is a way of life and not just a quick get strong program. You can't just get strong in a few months and expect to stay that way forever. If you progressively work your way up from simple exercises with the mindset that you'll be doing this forever, regardless of moving or changing gyms or spending more time at the office or whatever, you will get strong.

So spend half an hour exercising every day. It's still a lot more than nothing and well worth it when "family time" involves saving someone from a burning building or some other sort of emergency and you have the physical strength to actually do it.

Bodybuilding takes a particularly long time because you need super high reps to encourage muscular hypertrophy.

Just getting strong or fit can be done in much less time, though it may leave you without the beach muscles, if that's what you're after.

All the literature I've read for bodybuilding says your reps should be in the 8 to 12 range, and higher reps leads to more muscle endurance without much muscle growth.

Yes, 4 sets of 8 to 12 reps. Takes, say, 1.5min to do the reps. 1 minute of pause in between. Four exercises per muscle group. Two muscle groups per training session.

So you're looking at (4x1.5+4x1)x4x2 = 80 minutes == 1 hour 20 minutes minimum. Without counting the time to move from one exercise to another, without changing your clothes, without falling into a conversation with a fellow gym member, without waiting for anyone to free up a machine/weight-set/whatever.

Face it, if you're bodybuilding you're spending 2 hours a day at the gym.

Where do you get 90 seconds per set from? 4 seconds per rep would be 32-48 seconds.

I'm about to leave soon, so I'll make it quick:

In a previous post I already lauded the book "The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work"[1].

The book is based on scientific results.

In the chapter "The 20 second rule" the author talks about the "activation energy" required to start a task and recommends reducing it as much as possible. Every 20 seconds (hence the title of the chapter) removed between you sitting on the couch and starting what you wanted to start makes a difference.

I have a nice pullup bar hanging from the wall that's staring at me and every other day I follow the simplefit[2] program. Have been following it for weeks now. "Activition energy" being so low... even when I dread doing sport (yes, there are such days) I tell myself it's at most 20 minutes and I can start right away so the pullup bar is looking at me with a face and I shrug and do it. My energy and endurance has increased noticably.

Gotta run now (not to the gym hyuk hyuk), I'll be happy to answer any questions tomorrow.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Happiness-Advantage-Principles-Psychol... [2] http://simplefit.org

I bought a weight set. It also stares at me every day. And I work out almost every day. I don't have serious motivational problems.

I could go to a gym in theory, but it's at least 20 minutes away, there would be a whole ritual to dress up, go there, workout, cool off, come back. It would take an extra hour and I imagine many gym goers are paying extra in time to work out. It wears on your motivation.

I know I'd skip many more days, the results would be even less apparent which would undermine my motivation.

Most important exercises can be done with a barbell and 2-300 lbs of plates. At home, without a rack, you could safely squat 150 after getting there with powercleans and overhead prss. Then you could go to a gym once a week for its racks, leg press, etc.

The only thing I regret is buying standard plates, barbells and dumbbells instead of olympics. Standard barbells can't handle more than 230 lbs safely. It would be nice to deadlift and bench 300 lbs at home. Pain in the ass to sell the old set. So if you go this route, I'd recommend spending more and getting olympics. And don't worry about sucky olympic dumbbells, do Starting Strength, it's fine without them.

>Standard barbells can't handle more than 230 lbs safely.

Did you get a hollow bar or something? I regularly deadlift 350# on my 6 foot standard bar with no problems. And I haven't seen any claims about safety issues elsewhere. If you actually look at the bars, the central section when the maximum loading is is the same diameter on standard and Olympic bars.

I don't know if it's hollow. It's ~10 lbs, 5ft, came with a cheap 110 lb weight set.

I googled up standard barbell weight capacity and most responses on forums and articles say that standards are only rated for ~230 lbs. This one says 300 http://www.building-muscle101.com/weight-lifting-equipment.h... this guy says ~200 http://forum.bodybuilding.com/showthread.php?t=945996&pa...

Here it says 200 for 5ft http://www.bigfitness.com/noname8.html and 250 for 6ft http://www.bigfitness.com/weigbarbr6st1.html

It's a nightmare trying to find out the specs. I prefer a 5ft bar. Say I get more plates and this bar can't handle them, then I have to try other bars. I wish I could sell this weight set and get olympics. No worries about capacities there.

> Recently, a couple of Harvard graduates launched a program called Gym Pact based on the simple principle that if skipping the gym is a broken contract with ourselves, we ought to pay a penalty for slacking.

Hmm, this site does this for many years already: http://www.stickk.com/

Tried it once with some friends and it worked perfect, even without a financial penalty.

http://www.stickk.com/ is a great site. I think learned about it a while ago here on HN. I use it to motivate myself to go out running in the mornings. If I don't go running at least four days a week, $10 goes to a climate change denial charity (this was chosen by me, not a reflection of the sites politics).

It certainly works - there has been many a cold, rainy morning this winter that it's been the deciding factor in getting me out the door...

Three cheers for StickK! Also would love to convince you to check out my startup -- http://beeminder.com -- which combines goal tracking with StickK-like commitment devices. Keep all your data points on a "yellow brick road" to your goal. Ie, it's StickK.com for data nerds.

I'm actually pretty good about going to the gym, but I'm overweight anyway. The reason is that I'm good at doing what I should do, but bad about not doing what I shouldn't do.

A hard workout takes a while, but then you're done, and you feel great. Not eating the donut takes a while, but an hour later, you aren't done not eating the donut. Oh no, not at all. It still beckons.

Hiring a personal trainer (who is used by an early facebook engineering director, friend, and investor of mine) is probably the best health related decision i have made in a long time. One or two times a week, plus tracking diet with her help, and advice tracking and motivation for on my own gym sessions, total bargain.

It basically turns fitness from a long feedback cycle to basically daily. I would probably cover up to 1k per month in employee fitness related costs; it is a huge boost to health, motivation, and productivity.

I've found that classes are best for me. A few years ago I started going to an aerobics class that emphasized strength. Then I did a boot camp. In 2010 I started doing Crossfit and hope to do it the rest of my life. They push me well out of my comfort zone, and the group aspect makes it both competitive and collegial.

Last year I decided two times a week was good enough for me and it's worked. I'm in fantastic shape.

I started doing crossfit about 3 months ago and absolutely love it.

Being a global and pretty standardised thing there are gyms all around the world you can attend. Despite the language barrier you still know what to do. For instance I am in Tokyo currently and about to go here: http://chikaracrossfit.com/ If I were in Denmark then I’d love to drop in here: http://butcherslab.dk/

Just as being a developer allows you to network globally, crossfit does too.

I see these articles more and more lately. They aren't really saying anything new: people don't like putting effort into long term goals. This is just a corollary of the concept of instant gratification.

People go to college and invest years in an education that they grind out day in and day out because they feel (not think! it's not a logical process) there is value in the long term effort. When the same people don't exercise and eat right over a long term period, they are demonstrating that they don't value their health. Sure they might think and say they do, but obviously they aren't taking the appropriate steps. They just don't care.

> People go to college and invest years in an education that they grind out day in and day out because they feel ... there is value in the long term effort.

Many go to college simply because their lives will not feel complete until they can study certain subjects at the hands of masters. Much like how entrepreneurs feel their life will not be complete until they try to build that product; even knowing the odds are against them seeing it become a success.

I would argue that the rest go because they've been pressured to do so, not because they see a real long-term benefit in their actions. There is a lot of negativity towards those who do not have degrees. Getting a degree is needed to fit in and not become a social outcast.

People who make poor lifestyle choices do have their own fair share of pressure and negativity, but, unlike those without degrees, we generally accept them in our society.

Nobody is going to pass up the world's best programmer because he has a few extra pounds on his person. Lots of people would pass over the world's best programmer because he doesn't have a degree.

According to the theory of decision fatigue, the simple act of making any decision depletes us of a limited store of willpower.

I'm a bit worried about this theory becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ever since first reading about it, my thoughts sometimes go along these lines:

- I should do X now.

- But wait, I've already done A, B, and D. Man, I feel like I have depleted my willpower on those three tasks! So, I'm leaving it till tomorrow.

And so I'm confused because I suspect I would be better off if I never found out about the theory, but there's no way to 'unread' it and make myself a control for checking the limits of my own willpower.

One trick that seems to have made it easier for me is changing the question from "Do/Should/Can I go to the gym today?" (which is just an opportunity to come up with excuses) to "How do I go to the gym today?".

It seems to tie into the decision fatigue theory. Instead trying to figure out if I can based on meetings/workload/other things in my schedule, I've already made my decision to go on certain days (in my case, every other day) and I just need to make sure my schedule works.

As a hacker what gets me to the gym is that I realized its all just a numbers game. I weigh x. It will take x amount of days eating x amount of calories. I do x amount of reps time the number of sets per each workout. When I go to the gym I record everything. Every rep and half rep. I wrote a program to learn python and to track my gym progress. Realizing its all just a numbers game really helped me sorta do the math on taking care of myself for the long term.

Exactly. The biggest mistake most people make when starting a gym program is not tracking progress.

I'm going to disagree. The biggest mistake most people make is not showing up.

I've arranged things so that when my kids have swim lessons, I go to the gym. It doesn't matter if I track progress or not, because I'm not looking to "make progress". I want to be in better shape. Going regularly is the key. Just as a photographer will tell you that the best camera is the one you have with you, the best workout is the one you actually do.

As a side effect, I lift 150% - 250% of the weight that I did when I started, and I can do many, many more reps. I no longer get backaches, and I can't remember the last time I was out of breath from a normal activity.

Showing up obviously is key, but the underlying issue is maintaining long term motivation. I found most people need to feel they are accomplishing something in order to stay motivated. Measuring allows that.

Another thing that trips many people up is they are unsure what to do. Having a written plan when they show up removes that hurdle. Much like having a TODO list helps many people complete them, having a written TODO list of exercises helps people to show up.

It doesn't matter if I track progress or not, because I'm not looking to "make progress". I want to be in better shape.

BTW, be in better shape is called progress. Although be in better shape isn't a very good SMART goal. While it is measurable it's not specific enough or time bound.

This is one of the fastest ways to get fit, and doesn't require more than 15 minutes (even giving 5 for farting around) or any equipment.

1 Round is 2-3 minutes

* Burpees(pushup variation) x 30 seconds

* Shadow box x 30 seconds -- This isn't rest. Treat it like a fight. Add kicks, knees, elbows, etc.

* Rest 1 minute between rounds.

Make rounds longer, try to beat your reps, or add a weighted vest if you really want to challenge yourself.

I am one of those people that doesn't have a reason to go to the gym so I never promise myself to go. And since I look at my money situation before spending it, I know it is too expensive due to the risk of ending up not going but still paying. People with money to spend easily spend it on things they don't need. Too bad not everyone is really conscious about their ways so they think they can promise themselves something but in reality there is a super high probability they won't keep the promise to themselves.

You can tell people a hundred times they won't keep their promise and the reason and whatever, they will still think they can keep it because their motivation is still high because they haven't done anything yet.

Gyms here have trials.

We can boil it down to incentives. Are the incentives (we recognize) strong enough to get us to pay for a membership and go to the gym? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Maybe maybe. The "maybe Maybe" wins the day in most cases. It's no surprise that the gyms are winning out here. Their goal is sales not necessarily our fitness. If they make good coin and facilitate people getting fit then good show. If they make good coin and the customers fail well such is life. Free will is after all free will.

So what can we say for the minority that pay the 30(+) silver pieces and actually make it happen? I say good show! To those who pay and drop off I say keep on; don't give up, go back and try again! Tomorrow is another day. Don't Judas yourself.

what about the fact that most people fuck around in the gym and see no results?

Well right now I don't go because the parking lot has been completely full the past 2 weeks. But I expect that will resolve itself soon :)

i can imagine that some online services are doing the same thing, or at least hoping for the same effect: users who pay a subscription fee but don't use it. of course, when they do, if they didn't expect it and can't afford to scale they go under.

anyone know how big the parallels are between the economic models used by gyms and many online services?

>90% of sites on the web pay a shared hosting company that offers unlimited disk space and bandwidth.

Every Netflix subscriber that has a red envelope sitting on a table somewhere for weeks at a time.

Comcast internet service comes with 1GB of storage for a personal website. They don't have 22,000 terabytes in hard drives allocated to that, I'm sure.

I don't think most of the online services work to make you use their site less.

Paying for a gym membership is a goal in itself in that you can say 'I go to the gym'. Having a paid account at $SERVICE doesn't have the same meaning since you can always switch and there is social pressure.

But certainly no hosting company actually has thousands of GB laying around.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned the website NerdFitness (http://nerdfitness.com/blog/) yet. Steve runs a really great blog for those looking to get started doing fitness. The forum there is a good place to ask basic fitness questions too.

I have heard about them, but they seem kinda cultish to me -- once you are in, you are in for life, we don't know diet soda is bad for you, but it is not natural, so it properly is, etc, etc.

But hey, if it works for you.


Congress doesn't have the proper incentives to reduce the deficit. People do have good incentives to go to the gym. (Coincidentally, I just got back from the gym. It feels really good.)

I wonder if it worked to offer customers a monthly fee of $100 and give them $5 back each time they come to the gym. Going seven times a month would make it cheaper than a $70 monthly flat fee, yet very few people would probably still get there more than ten times a month.

I usually just throw on my workout clothes and take a pre-workout product, then I'm ready to work out. I don't know if pre-workout drinks work all that well but they certainly add a placebo effect that makes me feel ready to workout...caffeine can help too.

I used to drink a Speed Stacks when I could buy them cheaply from a distributor friend. They were pretty strong so I would drink 1/2 and then switch to water. Then I would use the other 1/2 for the next workout.

Now that I don't have the hookup, Red Bull on sale seems to work pretty well for a low cost energy drink.

Each person is different and needs to find that balance to just enough energy to go 110%, but not so much that you lose focus.

Caffeine, at least, is not a placebo, there is ample evidence showing that it improves workout performance.


Pre-workouts usually ships with a lot of caffeine (more than a redbull, IIRC), so you will get agitated.

article contradicts itself.. they say that majority will buy monthly pass for $70 instead of paying $10 per visit and do just 4 visit, effectively loosing money.

And then they tell that people are more likely to do gym workouts if they will be taxed. But isn't subscribing to plan already form of financial incentive?

I have quite different idea of gyms. Gyms are for people who build their body, not for someone who need to fix health. For someone who need to fix health - they need to change their routine to introduce physical work somewhere. This is more complicated than buying membership, I agree. But this is what will not use your willpower and give you long term results.

No, the $70 a month, once paid, is a sunk cost. You can't get that back if you decide to skip today.

But, if you get taxed if you don't go, then your choice of being lazy right now will cost you money.

The psychological difference is that 70/month is an expected expense each month whereas the $5 tax is not.

You can't always argue logic with the way our brains work.

I think the reality is that most people just don't care much about going to the gym. There is a real societal pressure to feel obligated to 'get fit,' but that's not enough to create behavioral change, and it shouldn't be.

how about tying your gym visits to your health insurance premiums?

The local hospital did that for employees at the health club they developed. People signed in and then hung out drinking free coffee and socializng in the juice bar.

That seems filled with a ton of problems though:

It fails to take into account what you eat. That is properly also a big part of it.

Just the number of times you go doesn't necessarily matter - it is also about how hard you work out, etc, etc.

I just rode my bike back from the gym, and have been going regularly for about twenty years. It's the only time I have to catch up on podcasts.

I've found that paid classes or personal training beat 'the gym' as the instructors are highly motivated to keep you coming back...

My god, the least interesting post in years... When will we have a How to loose weight by eating three burgers a day?

brilliant startup idea: a gym that's also a strip club :p

I cannot contemplate the kind of mind that can make that connection but you will properly be a valuable member around here.

Anyway you should properly find some other way to make it nice to be there since otherwise you will lose the female part of the equation.

There seems to be an elephant in the room: gym is boring, pointless and offers too few bang for the trouble.

It's inherently boring. Walking is fun. Hiking is fun. Chopping lumber is fun. Swimming in rivers and lakes is fun (pools - less so). You see new things and move yourself around.

In gym, nothing really changes, you just do some repetitive things in a big room without windows. Sitting in cubicle is probably more fun because you've got web access at least.

I don't know if the problem is inherently solvable or not.

What worked for me as I became more serious about refereeing was reframing exercise as training. My initial goal was not to collapse running up and down the field with the players. They have progressed from there.

Reframing is a useful strategy in general, increasing physical activity and improving nutrition don't carry all the baggage of exercise and diet carry for many people.

Find a gym that isn't boring. They exist. Flip tires, pull a sled, climb a rope, throw a heavy ball...

Doing a bodybuilding routine is incredibly boring, but finding something you like at the gym can be very rewarding. Like anything else though, you have to work a bit to find out the good stuff amongst the crap.

Yea, you can always trade off some optimality for interesting if you need. Weight lifting isn't the only way to get in shape, it's just the most methodical & straight-forward.

Podcasts. I also read my Kindle on the stationary bike in my 30min warmup cardio session. Once you develop the coordination and cadence, you don't need much active thinking to spin a stationary bike. Once you're familiar with weight training motions, you only really need significant mental energy in the last couple of reps.

Personally, most of my gym time is spent mentally engaged in what's coming into my ears. A year in, I'm making fairly consistent gains, so it's working.

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