Bite-Sized Fitness: A Simple Way to Start Exercising

Start big.

Walk into a gym. Throw down your plastic, scribble your name on the sheet, and make a commitment—to yourself, and to the smiling, tan face across the table—to get in the absolute best shape of your life. You’re going to huff, puff, and sweat like nobody’s business. You’re going to eat clean. You’re going to do this and that and it is going to work.

Right. Right?

We know how this ends. I’ll spare you the sad ending.

Part of the problem, I think, is in perspective. We have a strange sense of scope when we’re staring down the road to future fitness. To accomplish anything, we think, will require a pretty tremendous amount of effort: miles upon miles on the track, hours in the gym, and sweaty thrusting at the television screen (let that image sink in) to another ninety grueling minutes of P90X.

Notice the pluralization. Notice the pain.

And notice, mostly, what all humans have a tendency to do — take something simple, muck it all up, and then beat ourselves down with the complexity (and the enormity!) of what we’re facing.

Let’s try and shrink things. Let’s try and work in a little bite-sized fitness, as I’ve taken to calling it, to prove a great big point: fitness doesn’t have to consume your life. You can do a whole heck of a lot of good with small, measured changes, I promise, especially if your main form of exercise involves walking through the parking lot to your local gluttony grocery store. If you’ve been toeing the line of starting, too, but felt a little reluctant to dive into steady exercise, don’t fret. These small tweaks will help move you in the right direction.

1. Find something heavy.

A stack of books. A full backpack. A wooden stool. A ten pound sledgehammer. A heavy, preferably inexpensive vase.

Find something that you can lift above your head. Do this as many times until you feel your arms might just fall off, and then take a break and do it again. You’ll spend maybe five to ten minutes working the muscles, which might not sound like much, but don’t forget your perspective. If you’re not doing any kind of strength training at all, even 10 minutes of lifting a stack of books can make a great difference.

2. Incorporate air squats.

If you’ll forgive me for stealing a tweet:

Why not do it right now? Take a step away from your computer, break out 50 air squats, and then come back to this post. Your thighs might threaten mutiny, but a simple routine of 50 air squats several times throughout the day has several advantages: it’s super brief, super effective, and one of maybe two things you won’t feel too weird doing in a bathroom stall.

3. Mix up your jog.

Want to get weird looks? (You get used to it. Eventually.)

The next time you’re out on a jog, try and mix up your run. At random intervals, break out into a sprint before slowing back down to your regular pace. If you run through your neighborhood, as I do, keep an eye out for a small playground that you can momentarily commandeer. The ideal is an empty one, but sometimes you—and the kids clambering all around—aren’t so lucky.

Any high, wide bar will let you bust out some pull ups. Dips are pretty doable too. If you haven’t hit the point where either of those is possible, keep it simple: skip the playground and just take a break every so often in your run to do some squats or knee pushups.

The idea, here, is to add a little strength training to your run. You don’t have to do anything super strenuous, but just keep one question in mind: if you’re already out and about on a run, why not incorporate a little resistance training while you’re at it?

4. Embrace restlessness.

It’s true. I’m one of those people.

I’ve become one of those poor folk who simply can’t sit still. After a big meal, my first inclination is to go take a walk. Whenever I’m lingering in any one spot, I’m eyeing nearby counters to see if I can do some dips or pushups. When sitting in long meetings, I’m taking any chance possible to stand for the duration of the conversation. That might seem strange to anyone else, but it’s the product of one realization: you have a choice.

You can do one of two things:

1. Sit down during long phone calls. Plop down after dinner and barely move a muscle. Use any free minute during your day to be as inactive as possible.

2. Take any and every chance, now, to move.

This is my favorite kind of fitness — a steady, consistent decision to choose motion over inactivity. Will this help me get rippling six-pack abs? I doubt it. But it feeds into the idea that exercise can be well served in small, incremental fashion, and I have a hard time believing that spending all of those ‘mindless’ minutes on my feet won’t add up over the course of the day (and over the week, and over the month, etc.).

Here’s the second half of the equation. You know what to do, but what about when? This might even be a little more uncomfortable than the whole “sweating in public” side of things.

1. Turn off your TV.

Ideally, sure, you’d skip all of those shows that add little value to your life. If you’re not keen on killing the tube, however, you can start with a few simple switches. Pick one show out of your regular lineup that you feel you can easily miss. During that 30/60-minute period, do one (or more!) of the things listed above.

If the weather proves anywhere as beautiful as it has been in Texas this week, why not take a walk? Your body will thank you.

2. Find any excuse to stand.

Try a new rule for your daily routine. Whenever you a) read a book or b) take a phone call, move around for the duration of the activity. That’s a little harder with the former, but anyone prone to long phone calls can find a lot of benefit in making circles around their room for the entire time they’re talking.

You’re essentially getting in an entire walk over the course of the conversation. Funny what a small tweak can do, right?

3. Schedule regular breaks.

I’m guilty of this as much as everyone else. When working (especially if your face is glued to a screen), set reminders for yourself to take a break every 30 to 45 minutes and stoll around your home/backyard/office. Do 50 squats, maybe drop down for twenty plyometric pushups, and generally just keep active. It might not seem like much, but every little bit helps over the course of the day.

You get the idea, right?

You need to stay active.

You need to stay fit.

But if you’re on the verge of beginning exercise, now, and feeling daunted by the sheer size of what lays ahead, try this instead: stop. Breathe. Smile. Exercise doesn’t have to take over your life. Fitness can even be brief.

Sometimes, friends, it’s as simple as finding a ten pound sledgehammer in your garage and inventing a workout routine. Sometimes it’s as simple as choosing to pass on a decent TV show and take a walk instead. Sometimes it’s as simple as realizing that several small, consistent sets of squats throughout the day can be just as—if not more so—effective than that hour-long treadmill session you’ve been dreading since you woke up.

Let’s not make this any harder than it needs to be. Bite-sized fitness: even the littlest of actions can build up to big results.

9 Comments

  1. Joy Daniels (@AuthorJDaniels) says:

    Just finished 40 air squats (working my way up to 50) and moved my laptop to my standing desk set-up. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Lenka says:

    Thanks Matt–this is exactly what I needed to hear today! It’s amazing how small changes like this add up…now off to bust out some kettlebell swings :)

  3. Mohamed Tohami | Midway Simplicity says:

    That’s the power of accumulation. Small things added up can lead to significant results. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Turling says:

    We, actually, purchased a pub table years ago. Recently, it’s become my go to place for eating, reading, checking the mail, etc. Twice the height of a desk, it’s the perfect size. And, I didn’t even buy it for the purpose of getting off my butt. It just worked out that way.

  5. bruce says:

    Thank you for this one. Read it this morning and step away while I was reading. Did my squats and push ups. Printed this and hung it at the office just for a reminder on those days you can’t think of much, other than work.

  6. Brian Gerald says:

    I really appreciate this post. As someone who has an on-again, off-again relationship with exercising I *know* that I feel better when I’m exercising but once I’m in that rut it just FEELS SO HARD to get out of it.

    I can always use a reminder that you get out of the rut one bit-sized bit at at time.

    • Matt Madeiro says:

      My pleasure, man. Don’t ever give up — just start taking small, actionable steps until you get where you need to be. :)