Running is one of those things that seems both extremely simple yet unfathomably difficult at the same time- especially when you’re not in shape. On the one hand, the movement is intuitive. We all move our legs all the time. Running is just that, but more so. It’s a skill that evolved in us before we were human, shared with a plethora of the animal kingdom.
Cheetas, Monkeys, Deer, Lizards, Ostriches, and god-knows-how-many other animals are born knowing how to pick up the pace and skedaddle out of danger. So if running is so innate, so foundational within our biology, then why the heck is it so damn difficult?
The long and short of it is our modern, sedentary lifestyle. Food is abundant and cheap. Covid has proven that a lot of us don’t even need to leave our houses for the most part to get a lot of the essentials. Gone are the days of hard work in fields, of being levied into the military by the local lord, or being chased by mountain lions (for the most part). We sit at the top of the food chain, on padded thrones in air conditioned palaces, playing idle games on Fair Go Casino and whatnot.
However, our bodies are machines made not of cogs and wheels but of flesh and blood. They require maintenance and training to be functional. Otherwise, like a car, we’ll just rust away until we fall apart. This is the modern obesity crisis- in the United States certainly, but also everywhere else in the world as food scarcity declines.
This is a danger we face as a society- not the collapse of civilization through external means, like nuclear war or climate change or whatever, but from turning into blobs of doughy goo from slovenliness.
So the bottom line is… get off your bottom, and get your act together.
Getting into shape is ultimately a simple principle that’s hard to act on: Your output of calories needs to be greater than your input of calories. The common agreement from medical professionals seems to be that a single pound of body fat is equivalent to about 3500 calories. A caloric deficiency of around 500 calories a day will result in burning off a single pound per week, which is considered safe.
So, where should you get started? By throwing out all of your sugar foods? Buying a gym membership? Buying a home gym? A treadmill? 100 push ups, 100 situps, 100 squats, and a ten kilometer run every day? No, no, no, and no.
Jumping into the deep end will not help you in the slightest. Blowing loads of money on expensive equipment will just make your feel guilty when you don’t use it, burning a hole in both your psyche and your wallet. And while Saitama’s workout routine could be a goal to aspire towards, it’s far from a recommended regime.
The first thing you need to develop, before muscles, before anything else, is discipline. It doesn’t matter if you can do fifty diamond push ups or just a single knee push up. You need to get yourself into a routine and make it a habit. Getting into shape is about changing your entire lifestyle.
Now, this doesn’t have to be drastic. Don’t quit your desk job to work on a farm just yet (although I wouldn’t discourage it either, I suppose). Start by getting yourself off the couch or out of bed and doing something physical. I found that the best introductory exercise for habit building is walking.
If you’re in a city or suburb, walk around the block. Walk around a park, if there’s one nearby. You don’t need to power walk. You just need to cover some distance. Pick a time of day you can devote to these walks, and go out regularly. If you’ve got the time for it, you can try walking 10,000 steps (keep track with a pedometer on your phone), which will burn 500 calories, depending on your weight. So long as you eat less than 3000 calories a day, you’ll already be on the way to losing weight!
If you don’t have the time to devote to two-to-three hour walks, no problem. The more important thing is to ingrain the discipline into yourself where you regularly go out and exercise. It doesn’t matter that you aren’t burning much- just that you’re doing it. If the allotted time period arrives, and you don’t feel up to it, get yourself to your exercise zone anyway.
You don’t have to push yourself, but doing something is greater than doing nothing. I’ve often found that simply getting myself out the front door is half the battle to getting myself to exercise. And it is a battle- a battle against your mind and body.
Once you’ve got a thing going, then you can step up the intensity. You should approach this from multiple angles too. Cardio and strength training require different kinds of workouts. Strength training requires working on your various muscle groups.
Pushing a single set of muscles too hard can be dangerous in the long term. Outside of this, you can go for resistance training (using bands or weights) or calisthenics (without any equipment). Both are valid, but I lack the latter because a) I personally like it more and b) it’s completely free. Calisthenics also allows for a lot of variation by changing up the physical movements you perform. Take push ups, for example. I do two sets of twenty-five every other morning.
If I’m not up to it, I can lower the challenge by doing them on my knees or by doing them against a wall. If I want to increase the challenge or even change the muscles I want to focus on, I can do wide push ups, inclined push ups, or even diamond push ups.
By changing up the variation you do, you can get to a certain rep count, even as a beginner. I highly recommend checking out Hybrid Calisthenics, over on his site and on YouTube. He got a whole bunch of stuff that’s perfect for someone who knows nothing.
Cardio, on the other hand, is the real bastard. It’s a lot of damn work for what doesn’t feel like much payoff. When starting out, you feel like you’re dying, and when it’s over, you just want to crawl into the nearest hole and fall asleep.
However, this feeling DOES go away. If you take up running as your cardio of choice (and it doesn’t have to be!), after the first run, you’ll feel like crap. After the second, you’ll want nothing more than to die. But after the third, you’ll feel awesome. There’s this mental and physical inertia you have to overcome, but once you do, the exercise stops feeling like a chore you have to do and instead something you want to do.
Exercise, in general, has been shown to boost confidence and self-esteem. It releases dopamines that make you feel good throughout the rest of the day too. You may have eaten your way into depression, but you sure as hell jog your way out of it.
One of the fears I had when I began working out, was that I wasn’t doing it “right”. I wasn’t using the correct weights or doing the push ups right, or doing the right number of squats or whatever. So let’s clear that up: As a beginner, the numbers don’t matter.
Exercising is more important than worrying about whether or not you are exercising “right”. Yes, the technique is important, and you can hurt yourself if you’re drastically off (or using equipment you’re not ready to handle), but you’re not going to build your muscles wrong or anything like that.
The second half of the battle is as difficult, if not more so than the first. While exercise is all about increasing how many calories you output, your diet is how you can manage what you input. Most people vastly underestimate just how many calories they consume per day, so you should start, before you change anything, simply tracking your caloric intake.
There are apps that can help make this process easier, and you can take photos of your food so that you can work out the numbers at a more convenient time (who wants to do math when you are about to dig into a plate of food?).
Unfortunately, in my experience, there are no cheats or shortcuts to make calorie reduction any easier. There are all sorts of fad diets that claim to cheat your way into weight loss (by tricking your body into “starvation mode”). Some people swear by them. None of these have ever clicked for me. However, you might find some of these work for you:
- Intermittent fasting – Instead of restricting WHAT you eat, you restrict WHEN you eat
- Keto – Cut carbs entirely. The idea is that your body will burn fat when it normally pulls carbs as fuel first.
- The Mediterranian diet – Based on foods found in nations that surround the Mediterranean sea
Ultimately, however, there are no tricks to make the weight loss process faster without seriously harming yourself. It’s going to take a long time. If it helps, think of it like this: You spent X amount of years getting your body into the state that it’s in. Did you think you were going to undo all of that overnight?