Here’s what I do
Every day: 10k steps, meditation, archery practice, floor routine
Monday: Strength training (squats, pushups, pullups)
Tuesday: High-intensity rowing intervals
Wednesday: Longer walking and mobility; beginning jiu-jitsu
Thursday: Strength training (shoulder presses, deadlifts, grip)
Saturday: Strength training (neck, calf, rows) and jiu-jitsu private lesson
This busy list covers my health and fitness goals and includes prehabilitation work for my return to grappling and higher poundage archery. It’s been built with input from Steve Maxwell and Jerry Wetzel, Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts and trainers in their 40s and 60s, and Christian Williams, a PT specializing in archery rehabilitation, after years of testing and modification.
Here’s how to assemble your own exercise program, that meets YOUR needs.
Start with the 3 cores
Answering the 3 core questions from the last post will clarify what components your exercise program must have. The more specific the answers, the more obvious the particular exercises become:
- Are you training for life (health), or are you training for an activity (fitness)?
- What are your must-have outcomes?
- How much are you willing to dial-in a supportive lifestyle?
Core #1: Health first
My program has — and I’d argue yours should have — a health rather than a fitness/sports focus. There is crossover, but a health focus carries a lower risk of injury since there is less emphasis on preparing for high-intensity competition.
That’s why my daily archery practice consists of just 20 shots in my garage, why the jiu-jitsu private lesson is only once per week (focusing on careful mobility akin to yoga), and why the first beginning jiu-jitsu class is coming up this week, after about 8 months of preparation. About 10% of my training time is grappling or archery-specific (fitness) prehab — unrushed and careful. Everything else promotes lifelong health goals.
A health-first program yields benefits from day one, rather than months or years down the road. Not everyone needs to become an Olympic athlete, but we all need to maintain our health: curbed risks of major illness plus the vitality and ability to live our lives to the fullest.
Many high-level athletes are finished by the time they’re in their 30s. A health focused program starts there and should be doable forever. Whatever your level of couch potato-hood, a health focused program starts with where you are and advances you incrementally. And unlike a fitness program that prepares you for an external challenge, it should never expose you to risking significant injury: being sidelined for 6 months per injury from training is an unacceptable outcome.
This is why walking is on my daily list, having gradually advanced from 2,000 to around 10,000 steps. A locomotion-based exercise has a lot going for it; for most this will be walking but depending on the arthritis in your hip and knee joints, it may be cycling, jogging, hiking, or trail running. Damaged joints may require modifications, such as rowing (zero impact), kettlebell swings (very slight bending of knees required), or another activity altogether.
But if you can walk and are only limited by your conditioning level, walk. It carries over to nearly every meaningful definition of staying active by yourself or with close friends and family: going out to dinner, spending a day at an event, exploring while traveling, watching over children or grandchildren. All of which is hard to do if you can’t walk by their side.
Core #2: Must-have outcomes
It’s critical to define your health goals — the desired ends — so you can plan how to attain them. Start with the desired end result and walk it back to your current position, to get a step-by-step map on getting from Here to There.
Core question #2 is about defining your must-have outcomes, and rather than a particular size waistline or one-rep maximum deadlift, health goals tend to be about illness avoidance. If you live long enough, the odds are excellent that you will experience problems in the following areas:
- Cardiovascular fitness (re: heart disease, stroke)
- Active muscle mass (re: muscle wasting of aging, diabesity)
- Brain health (re: Alzheimer’s dementia, neurodegenerative diseases)
- Stress (re: well, everything)
- Activities of Daily Living (re: fall prevention, staying energetic and mobile, osteoporosis prevention)
[And there’s compelling evidence you can add cancer prevention to exercise’s list of benefits, insofar as improved gut transit, decreased insulin resistance, and deterring smoking and other carcinogenic lifestyle choices reduces cancer risk. – pbk]
My must-haves were all 5 of the above list, and for my temperament, physiology, and experience, those led to the following:
- Cardiovascular fitness = daily walking, long once weekly walk, once weekly run, once weekly interval sprints
- Active muscle mass = 3 days a week strength training, brief but intense
- Brain health = all of the above
- Stress relief = all of the above plus daily meditation, plus the archery and jiu-jitsu
- Activities of Daily Living = all the above, plus floor routines
Or to summarize: a variety of cardio plus occasionally intense strength work; meditation; getting around and off the floor; and playing nicely with others while sweating.
Core #3: Other lifestyle support
The third core question determines how concentrated a pellet of pain your exercise sessions need to be.
If lifestyle is the totality of external influences on your health and wellness — what is referred to in functional medicine as the exposome — the basic variables look something like this: nutrition, exercise, sleep, inner work, relationships with others, outdoor circadian rhythm resetting. The more your other lifestyle factors align with your health goals, the less you will need to correct using exercise.
My job is essentially sedentary: I listen, speak, and my brain burns calories like crazy, but my large muscle groups get little use, and my work step count is a little over 2,000.
It’s also several buckets full of stress, playing doctor, medical director, and participating in various committees and advisory boards.
I have meaningful daily interactions with patients, staff, and family, but zero outdoor activities exposing me to the circadian rhythms of the sun.
Netflix willing, I sleep about 5 hours per night. And without my nutritionally educated wife, my diet would still look like macho combo burritos from Del Taco mixed with Tommy’s Burgers.
In the plus column, then, are my relationships with my fellow humanoids, clean nutrition, and meditation.
In the minus column: no circadian outdoor time, beaucoup stress, sedentary work, and about 40% too little sleep. 4 negatives.
A proper exercise regimen can counteract 2 of the 4. No number of pushups can generate sunlight, and you can’t convert exercise into REM sleep cycles. But I’ll take the 2, and since I have interests in archery and grappling, I fold prehabilitating those activities into the mix. Sleep and time outdoors in the sun I address separately.
My days are long and nights longer, with serial meetings, often on short notice. That shapes the exercise session duration and intensity: they are brief to be fitted between commitments, moderately intense because they must be brief, and frequent to make up for the brevity while still meeting all the requirements.
If your needs are fewer and your training bandwidth wider, you can make do with fewer, longer, and simpler workouts.