How to get fit in half the time

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Every Saturday morning at 9:15 a.m., I meet my personal trainer Vern at a gym in Lincoln Park and leave 45 minutes later pouring in sweat with renewed inspiration to eat well and take care of my body. This weekly appointment keeps me accountable, helps me to make better decisions, and is the only reason I have any muscle tone whatsoever. ("Build lean muscle" was on my 2015 goals list, jotted down in permanent ink after completing thorough research on tactics for maintaining metabolism, managing weight and staying young forever.)

Personal training is hands down the best investment I've made for my health, an expense that reaps long term benefits that is much cheaper than a wasted gym membership or prescription drugs for health ailments. The benefits I've enjoyed from working with Vern once per week for the past 15+ months include those I touched on in the first paragraph, but the best thing I've taken away from my sessions has been a minimalist fitness plan that fits my lifestyle.

Since getting fit with minimal time is what this post is all about, here's exactly how to do it:

#1 Be extremely clear about your goals

This was the exact goal I shared with Vern when we first met: "I want to get a lean, toned body with as minimal time and effort as possible, and keep it up for the long term. And my dress size cannot change because I want to continue to fit into my expensive pants and blazers."

Notice that this goal does not include phrases such as "run my first marathon" or "win a body building contest" or other things like that. Some readers of this blog love fitness and exercise, run marathons, etc. and I wish they could bottle up that motivation so I could sell it to you here via affiliate link and together we'd make millions. 

To my motivated exercise fanatic readers: please continue reading for entertainment purposes, or drop off at this point. 

To everyone else: please humor me for a few minutes, and feel free to leave an angry comment if you disagree along with your step-by-step plan for how to do this in a better way.

#2 Cater your fitness plan to your lifestyle limitations

My fitness plan has to fit my lifestyle and all of its constraints, which include:

  1. Limited time
  2. Almost zero appetite for exercise
  3. A love of red wine and dark chocolate
  4. An extreme distaste for cardio
  5. The upper body strength of a newborn baby

Being honest with my trainer Vern (and myself) about these constraints during our initial goal-setting discussion led to a plan that I could stick to for the long haul because it didn't feel like an enormous sacrifice. (More on that later in this post...) With the exception of #5 on the list, all of those constraints were not going to change.

Vern designed a exercise plan for me that considered all of these constraints, and we have an open dialogue on how diet can impact results (for example, giving up red wine for a month could get me my bikini body faster... still considering that one). Our Saturday morning workouts are very structured and vigorous, and for the rest of the week he gives me weight training workouts that I can do in my hotel gym and short body weight workouts that I can do on the floor of my hotel room.

#3 Be realistically consistent

Fitness is all about the long game. There are literally thousands of ways you can get in shape, but the way to do it with minimal time and maintain it for good is to be consistent in a way that works for your lifestyle. One of the reasons I hate traditional exercise is because the thought of running three miles five times per week sounds about as appealing to me as laying pavement on an Arizona freeway.

There's this belief about exercise that you need lots of time and intensity to get any results. Totally false. Sure, longer, more intense workouts may get you better, faster results, but the belief that you need huge amounts of time and energy to make exercise worth your while leads people to avoid it entirely. Light weight training or body weight exercises (I'm talking 1-2 hours per week, folks) combined with simple diet adjustments can work wonders if you commit to do it consistently every week, forever. (Or for a long period of time, six months being minimum.) I've tested this theory for 15 months, and it works.

My "realistically consistent" fitness regimen is this: a 15-minute body weight exercise every other morning, a hotel gym weight training session if I can fit it in my schedule, and a 45-minute weight training workout on Saturdays. Occasionally I sprinkle in some Bikram yoga, but now mentally categorize it as a recreational activity vs. exercise.

This approach, combined with a diet of vegetables, lean protein (and red wine) with limited processed foods (and recently, no dairy or gluten) has helped me to not only reach my ideal level of fitness, but maintain it over time. (Enter a picture of me and Vern jumping for joy...)

#4 Set up a system to keep yourself accountable

As we've established, a minimalist fitness plan is a long game that requires consistent behavior for it to be effective. A system to keep yourself accountable for those behaviors is absolutely necessary.

For me, having a personal trainer is a built-in accountability mechanism: meeting with Vern on Saturday mornings keeps me on track in terms of the habits that I am responsible for establishing for myself to make this plan work.

Sometimes, I come in excited, brag about my hotel room burpees and miles-long powerwalks in the Nashville heat and Vern tells me that he can see my triceps. Other times, I come in dejected, confess to a night of Mexican and margaritas, and Vern shakes his head woefully as he forces me to drag a 50-lb weight across the gym floor while I sweat it out. This painful memory helps me pass on the enchiladas the next time.

Even if you don't have a personal trainer, there are ways to hold yourself accountable to a diet or exercise plan that works with your lifestyle. Other tactics could include pre-paying for workout classes, purging your house of food that will take you off track, and getting your significant other, roommate or friend to join you or just keep you accountable.

#5 Check in on your goals and progress regularly

I love hard facts, so taking measurements and setting time to check back in on them works wonders, as long as you can keep a healthy mindset about it. I'm not just talking about weight scale measurements: Vern took baseline measurements including things like BMI and circumference of arms, calves, etc. that help us to stay on the same page re: my goals to stay the same dress size per my expensive pants point. 

BMI calculators and measuring tape are not subject to the types of variables that impact weight, so they give a more honest picture. (They are also extremely cheap on Amazon Prime...)

There have been several times where I started to slip off course, skipping my hotel workouts and making poor choices when it came to what I was eating. A dose of cold hard facts helped me to quickly recognize the problem and get back on track.

Anyway, this minimal fitness approach helped to resolve something I struggled with for a long time: my mindset! I'm forever grateful to Vern for helping me to realize that none of my excuses (constraints #1-5 above) would prevent me from getting into shape and staying fit if I was in it for the long game.

For those who read all the way to the end: if you'd like a printable version of the no-equipment-required hotel room workout that Vern made for me, please join my email list and I'll send it out later this week! (On my honor, I will never send you more than 30 emails per day. Just kidding, of course. I've never used my email list, but if someday I do, I promise you'll be glad you signed up ...and that you won't hear from me often.)

Also, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and any minimal fitness ideas you have in the comments!

P.S. Do you want to get to your ideal shape even faster? Click here to subscribe and download a free copy of my secret (and very controversial...) shortcuts to fast-track weight loss.

(Special thanks to Vern for his willingness to take these jumping pictures with me. If you're Chicago-based and would like to hire Vern, shoot me an email and I'd be happy to connect you!)

9 comments on "How to get fit in half the time"
  1. Hi Colleen! Great to read about your exercise routine and the great advises! I really admire that you dedicate your Saturday mornings to exercises. I am not a morning person so I really detest getting up early, ESPECIALLY on weekend, since I've suffered all week I need to sleep late on weekends, it's my right, haha....

    I've been running regularly for 4 years now, this August I am going to run my first full marathon. My goal is to finish in a reasonable time( 4 1/2 hours). I usually run in the afternoon after work and run on weekend, and I also do some weight training and cardio training at home,, but mostly I use my own exercise tapes. My favorite is Shaun T, his "insanity"workouts are so intense and I love cardio workout. My life is pretty calm and ordinary, no business travel, no working on weekend or even working late, so I really have no excuse Not to work out. But I totally agree with what you said, we need to know ourselves, set realistic goals and know what works for ourselves. The occasional laziness is OK and acceptable long as we don't make it a habit. And also I would say, find a type of exercise that you really do like and enjoy(well, some might ask: who enjoys ANY type of exercise/!), for me, I do love running, so it's easy for me to go out and run, but I don't overdo it, if I am tired or just not into it, I don't do it or do less. I believe in listening to your own body.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences here dear, it's really very encouraging!

    1. Hey Echo! Your commitment to running a marathon is really inspiring, I mean it when I say that I wish you could send some of that my way :) One of my friends swears by the Insanity workout tapes, but I have never tried it. That is a good idea that I need to add to my list for future hotel workouts!

      In terms of weekend workouts: I think I am becoming a Saturday morning person out of necessity, wanting to make the most of my days off since I'm gone all week. Someday when I don't have this travel schedule I might start jogging and will need your tips for getting started!

    2. funny thing is, before I started running, I hated it, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing you could do! why would you run!? and now I love it, it's part of my life! I guess you just never know,and never say never :)

  2. Signed up for the newsletter! I'm also a frequent work traveler (3 weeks per month) and its far too easy to crash into a Marriott hotel bed with a glass of pinot noir every night, and then survive on think thin bars, caprese salads, and chocoate chip cookies each day. I'm trying my hardest to make better decisions while on the road- thank goodness for whole foods salad bars some nights! xox

    1. Hey there! Thanks so much for reading - are you also in consulting? You are just like me re: Marriott hotel bed with glass of Pinot Noir (the Nashville Marriott has Meiomi - have you tried? It's my FAVORITE and have been buying in bulk...) Think Thin bars are also a former addiction, lately have been force feeding myself with fish and chicken with vegetables. Which makes me sad even to type that. Ah, that is the life, right?!

      Anyway, I appreciate your thoughts on this! Just sent out the workout today, please let me know if for some reason you did not get it. (My mistrust of Google Feedburner runs deep...)

  3. I forgot to add- one of my favorite on-the-road (or at home) routines is ROMWOD- it's usually a 10 or 20 minute stretching/breathing routine that can be done on a hotel room floor or on a yoga mat. By practicing the archer pose, I've gotten to avoid having to ask the hotel front desk to zip up my dress- that was the most mortifying moment!

    1. Aaaaaand I just Googled ROMWOD and have officially added to OneNote for next week. Could also use the Archer pose, your dress zipping conundrum made me laugh out loud. Have been there too, hahaha! Also reminded me of asking the Starbucks girl to fasten my bracelet back when I still carried funky jewelry on work trips...

  4. I'd love the Vern approved no equipment workout! I've gotten in the habit of doing 30-40 minute workouts 3x a week as opposed to 90 minute "death marches" and swear I've seen better results. Any extensive cardio just makes me eat more cals than I burn. Love this!

    1. Right!? I swear that cardio just stimulates my appetite. There is this book on anti-aging called Younger by a dermatologists to the celebrities, and he swears that anything beyond brisk walking, yoga, Pilates and light weight training will break down collagen and prematurely age you. Although I self-select information that supports my distaste of cardio, that one was a breakthrough!!! Will avoid running in order to stave off wrinkles any day...