Me. At peak fitness in 2020. You should see not-peak fitness.

I will certainly not be the only person who decides that they are going to get fit this year. In fact, as a general rule there are probably more people that think this than don’t. This one’s different.

I’m a 43 (soon to be 44) year old male who is in (kinda) OK shape. I play a bit of sport (amateur american football mainly), lift some weights and do the odd bit of running / cycling. My diet varies between just about OK and much less than OK depending on what kind of mood I’m in — beer, pizza and biscuits are probably my biggest downfall. My job isn’t active so exercise has to come from leisure time and on the whole I probably do ‘enough’ for the average person.

This past year meant a lot of changes for a lot of people. I’m in a fortunate enough position that I wasn’t significantly affected personally. The main thing is that my job turned into a full-time WFH situation. I’ve been at the same place for about 14 years so I’ve built up enough ‘social capital’ so that I don’t feel isolated or anything. I can take advantage of the usual things about being able to wear shorts / joggers for meetings and avoiding the daily commute, but it also means I’ve been around when my daughter gets in from school at 3pm and it feels like I’ve really been a bigger part of her life over this year. So all in all, 2020 actually worked out pretty well for me.

How most people exercised changed a bit over 2020. Gyms were closed for much of it and some (my own included) never opened again. I didn’t have a garage or anywhere indoors that was particularly conducive to training so much of 2020 was based around:

  • Bodyweight exercises
  • Unilateral strength exercises
  • Plyometric exercises
  • Running

All of this was outdoors, and I came up with a load of creative combinations of all of the above and then added some football training drills and music for various ‘family WODs’. Other members of the family showed varying levels of interest but I certainly enjoyed it.

I missed a proper gym for doing squats & deadlifts and the like but came up with alternatives the best I could. An awkwardly shaped plant pot although only weighing 30kg can be quite challenging to front squat with!

All of this probably culminated in in the summer when I came up with a sort of 25 day challenge based on the 25 press-ups for mental health that was going around at the time. I knew I couldn’t do 25 press-ups for 25 days due to really problematic elbows — so I modified it for something different each day — 25 burpees one day, 25 renegade rows, 25 hill sprints, 25km cycling etc. Towards the end I wondered if I could do all of the exercises in a day. So that ended up being:

25 x Burpees
25k Cycle
12.5k Run
25 x Hill sprints
5 x 5 x Shuttle runs
25 x Dumbbell shoulder press
25 x Renegade rows (each arm)
25 x Box (amp) jumps
25 x Jump lunges w/ dumbbells
25 x Pull-ups
25 x Single arm dumbbell press (each arm)
25 x Broad (kit-bag) jump
25 x V-sits
25 x Dumbbell squats
25 x Tricep dips
25 x Plant pot squats
25 Minutes alternating Plank / Skip
25 x Plant pot step-ups
25 x Sit-ups
250 x Jump rope
25 x Dumbbell snatch
25 x Down-up ball drill
25 x Scout Squats*

*Scout is my daughter — she weighs around 50kg

Whole thing took about 7 hours but I did it and felt great. Which made me think that setting a challenge might be a key to achievement & consistency for me.

The running habit I picked up actually began in January. I started because I’d agreed to do a bit of a run / climb / cycle challenge round the lakes with my brothers and I knew running was a weak point — I’d not ran more than about 4 miles in my life before. Over 2020 I ended up running 52 times for 229 miles, including a max distance of 8 miles, which for me at least was pretty good. Again, the idea that there was a challenge coming up was key for me though.

The results of all this were undoubtedly good — to begin with. I got into the Whoop at the end of ’19 so I’ve been able to look back on the data it showed for 2020. Between January and June my RHR went from 47 to 44. My HRV went from 136 to 154. This wasn’t just down to exercise, as the WFH pattern meant I was getting more sleep which I’ve come to realise is pretty crucial for me.

The second 6 months were more of a mixed bag. As the weather got worse, my inclination to train outside decreased. My daughter went back to school so we all had to be up earlier so sleep deteriorated. The NFL season coincided with more beers and less sleep on a Sunday — which kinda knocked my desire to eat well on a Monday. The gym still wasn’t open. By this point, we’d started work on an extension with the aim of building a home gym — but this wouldn’t be finished for a while. Anyway, by the end of 2020 my RHR was at 51 and my HRV was at 93. Worse than I started the year. So I needed to do something different.

The Plan

I’m not trying to do anything earth shattering here. Essentially I just want to find out what one year of consistent training does to me. I’m not looking to specifically break any records — just to get better, all-round and enjoy how that feels. I see people doing things like run x miles every day for a month or do x push-ups every day for 3 months or whatever. For a bunch of reasons I’m not going to do that (though I admire people who do). I’m going to keep it a bit more open-ended (which has it’s pros and cons as well) but will instead adopt some principles or guidelines based on what I know works, and more importantly what I know works for me.

I’m going to adopt a mix of strength training, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) and LISS (Low Intensity Steady State) exercise. This is a good idea for most people and it’s a good idea for me because I enjoy them all.

Strength training will be mainly barbell work because (a) that’s what I enjoy and (b) I just built a goddam gym.

HIIT training will probably be a combination of bodyweight & crossfit style WODs, veering on the lower weight side of things since I think it’s better to keep strength and HIIT training a bit more separate. Looking forward to resurrecting the family WODs in the summer.

LISS will be running and cycling plus some indoor cycling in the winter. Feel like I over did the running and under did the cycling last year — cycling is a lot better on the knees.

I love beer, pizza and wine. I will continue to have all of these things, just less-so. I will eat (and drink) more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. The most reliable way I have found for me to do this is simply by counting calories. Some people think this is an outdated and unreliable method of getting the right nutrition, and I understand that because it’s entirely possible to have a terrible (but low calorie) diet. For me though, it works. I eat less cakes and biscuits, I drink less alcohol, and I eat better food. Just something about holding yourself accountable for everything you put in your body seems to help. In addition, there’s a carry-over to exercise as those 200 calories you burned on a walk or the bike mean you can have that bowl of granola. So (again, for me) you get a positive reinforcement cycle between exercise and nutrition by this one simple step. I should state at this point that I find calorie counting a massive pain in the ass. But I know what works for me.

One thing I did learn over this year is the importance of sleep. I know everyone says it but having the Whoop allowed me to directly see the effect of sleep (or lack thereof). For me, 7.5 hours is the magic number and I admit I do struggle to achieve this on most days. Part of this year will be working out some better strategies to achieve this.

I’ve been watching the end of Lost in Space over Christmas. Love it, and generally binged on a load of space & Sci-Fi stuff — Midnight Sky, that Challenger documentary and a couple of others. Also some good none-space related stuff: Le Mans 66, the trial of the Chicago 7 and a most of the James Bond films. I’ve ate a lot of mince pies and drunk a lot of red wine also. Anyhow, back to the point — there is a real danger that I don’t succeed here. I think the main risk factors are:

  • Injury. I’m approaching my mid forties, my elbows are pretty much knackered, I’ve had grief from my shoulder since I started playing guitar 20 odd years ago and my broken ankle count is currently at three. Any of these things might set me back. I’m hoping that the variety of training styles I’m planning to include will mean that I still do something even if (when) something does go wrong. This absolutely does not chime with past experience — normally if I get injured, I am liable to stop training at all, and then the diet stuff goes and everything falls like a house of cards. It will be interesting if I can overcome this.
  • Motivation. A year is a long time. Life gets in the way. Can be anything — the weather, a stressful time at work, a global pandemic… It doesn’t have to be bad, sometimes nice stuff (Christmas, a holiday — wow) throws you off your game. It’s going to be interesting to see if I can overcome this one as well — because it will be a first.

But like any intrepid explorer of space, I’ve thought about these things, and have come up with a plan to overcome these things. And it’s a little bit beautiful in it’s simplicity…

That’s it. I’m going to be accountable. To myself. For every fucking day this year. I’m going to make a record of what I do, what I eat, what I don’t do and what I could have done. Which is basically why I’m writing this. I have zero expectations of anyone else reading any of this over the course of the year. But I will read it, and I hope that will be enough. Like I say, I’m not planning on smashing any world records, and I know there are going to be days where I’m hurt, or I eat like crap, or drink too much. The difference, I hope, is going to be what I do the next day.

Next up: 10 Days in