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Staying Fit With No Gym in Sight

My Brother Wax Mannequin and I poached multiple playground, hotel, and basement gyms during an extended road trip together – August 2016

If you look around on the street these days, you might get the impression that it is really, really difficult to stay in shape beyond the age of about 30.

Sure, there are a few competitive athletes, movie stars and Navy SEALs around that still manage to keep in strong form, but if you are not willing to devote your entire life to training, you might as well just head straight for the stretch pants, right? Older age strikes and there is nothing you can do about it.

Oddly enough, if you could peer at the financial statements of your fellow citizens, the story might be similar: consumer debt is normal, the bills keep piling up, and only the movie stars and athletes (and corrupt CEOs of big banks, of course) make enough money to actually get ahead.

These opinions are widespread, and often fiercely defended as Truth. This is why I have been happily surprised over the years as I discovered that the prevailing wisdom is completely wrong: it’s not only possible to become wealthy on an average salary, it is just a natural byproduct of living a healthy life. Similarly, you don’t need a crushing workout schedule, a $250 per month gym or a team of professional trainers to be in very good shape. You just need to focus on the basics and avoid the worst pitfalls.

But as the years go on and I talk to more and more people, I realize that very few people even know these basics, and they think some of the pitfalls (for example drinking a big glass of orange juice with breakfast) are actually healthy life choices. So with New Year’s Resolution time approaching, I thought we could dish out some of this old school knowledge right now.

Fig.1: MMM enjoys a brief zero dollar workout on the patio.

Fig.1: MMM enjoys a brief zero dollar workout on the patio.

Let’s use plain old Mr. Money Mustache as an example. I’m an average 42-year-old white nerd who has never played a competitive sport in his life. I made my career in office work and enjoy beer a bit more than I should. And yet I feel great – despite the fact that I keep getting older and live a deprived life without the personal trainer or private chef that every wealthy person really deserves.

Even worse, I don’t even have a gym membership, and the months I spend away from home every year have been compromising my access to even the basic backyard barbell set that comprises my only fitness equipment. I have spent about 2 of the past 5 months away from home, which means a lot of time with no gym in sight.

All of these factors, yet all systems seem to be better than ever. Returning from the latest travel binge, I found roughly the same level of strength and bodyfat while keeping the same overall weight on the scale. How can this be?

Fitness as a Part of Life
 (rather than something you do at the gym)

Far too often in modern life, we cut an artificial line between the ideas of getting in shape and everything else we do. People train for Ironman events, but then drive a car for local errands. They use the stair machine in the gym, but then take the elevator up to the 12th floor in the office building. They claim that getting in shape is important, but then drive their kids to school in the morning in one of the world’s most ridiculous spectacles of Car Clown behavior.

We sit still at work, sit in automobiles, and stand still with rolling luggage on the airport escalator to avoid the strain of the staircase, and hire contractors to take care of our lawns and shovel our driveways. And then we wonder why we get fat, or injure our knees and backs, or get any other less-than-satisfactory performance from our bodies. Only the most dedicated workout junkies (rebranded as CrossFitters these days) seem to get anywhere, and even they often fall off the wagon and become mortals eventually.

I feel that there’s a better way to get good health results, but with much more efficiency than what most people achieve right now. You could boil it down to the philosophy of “use it or lose it”.

Principles of Efficient Physical Fitness

Not everybody likes the act of exercising itself, but everybody likes being in shape. The key to getting the latter without having to commit your life to flawless execution of the former is to understand the concept of exercise efficiency – getting the best results with minimum time and minimum risk of failing due to bad habits.

Principle Zero: Moving is Normal, Sitting Still is Hazardous
Before we even begin, we need to make a change to the most basic paradigm of modern life. Most of us sit or lie down almost constantly: to sleep, eat, work, drive, and even (shudder) to watch TV. Instead, I like to think of sitting as something you do as a short break from your real life. And you should feel just a bit uncomfortable when sitting down, because it really is a hazardous activity.

Whenever you get a chance to move, take it: get up and pace around while you read books. Attend your conference calls with a mobile phone headset while out walking along the river. Cut your own lawn. Walk the 5 miles across town that you would normally drive. Always, always take the stairs. Never, ever use a drive-through. You can even try taping your laptop to the drink platform of a treadmill and working as you pace slowly along at 1 MPH (I have tried this and it is amazing).

If you’re thinking of taking on a job that requires more than a few minutes of car driving per day, consider this equivalent to accepting a job in an Asbestos mine or an old Russian nuclear power plant. You might still do it, but only if the benefits greatly outweigh the obvious costs. Similarly, if you’re considering spending an afternoon on the couch watching football, pretend that you have to wear an inhaler that dispenses just a tiny dose of Cyanide into each breath. With this comparison in mind, you can decide if you still weight the passive entertainment more highly than, say, taking your kids out to play in the park.

On really good days, I might spend 4-10 hours walking or biking  around for various reasons like errands, carpentry, and just plain old strolls, and these really good days result in incredible happiness. On days when I fail to obey this Principle of Constant Movement, I instantly devolve into a more average and grumpy person.

wintersquats-bw

I don’t have room for an indoor home gym at the moment. So instead I keep this squat rack just outside my back door, to eliminate psychological barriers to the most important exercise. Mud, snow, hot, cold – it’s all good for you – just do some damned squats, at least a couple times per week.

Principle #1: Building Muscle is Far More Effective than Cardiovascular Training
I think the most common beginner fitness mistake in the world might be when people decide to start jogging or other aerobic exercises as a method of weight loss. Double Fail Points if you go for a treadmill or a stationary bike while watching TV inside a smelly commercial gym.

So many people slave away at these cardio-related things like aerobics classes and treadmills and still look almost the same several months later. Most of them end up quitting as they lose motivation in the face of the poor results. And then the weight loss industry is right there waiting, saying they must have just bought the wrong diet shakes. Or the “accept yourself as you are” movement tells them that body composition change is impossible, so you should give up.

The real reason for the failure is that cardio training activities (while great for your heart) are very poor at triggering the growth of muscle tissue. You pump the heart and breathe vigorously and burn a few calories during that brief session, but then the session ends and you’re back to your regular self.

On the other hand, people who lift or move heavy things get triple benefits:

  • The same heart and lung bonus up front as they lift weights and break down existing muscle tissue
  • The massive calorie implosion required to rebuild those muscles to a new, stronger size
  • Then a permanent ongoing burn required to maintain that fine new stronger form

As Tim Ferriss demonstrates in the Four Hour Body, it is possible for a relative beginner to trigger over a pound of muscle growth (3500 calories of body composition change) with just one brief session of barbell squats.

Let me repeat that in different terms: you exceed the calorie burn you’d get from 4-8 hours of riding a stationary bike in the gym, in about 4-8 minutes, by warming up your legs and then performing a few sets of 5 squats, working up to a weight that is fairly difficult for you.

To clarify this after many angry and skeptical comments below: YES, the squats themselves burn only a few dozen calories. But by breaking down the tissues of your largest compound muscle group including quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus, and a plenty of assisting muscles, you force your body to rebuild the entire set bigger and stronger. This is an incredibly calorically-intense process which can take almost a full week to complete. Thus, the total net energy cost ends up being several thousand calories.

Calorie testing on myself over the years confirms these figures are roughly correct – hell hath no appetite like that of a person who has done his or her squats properly. As long as you refuel from this hunger in a strategic manner, you’ll find your fat reserves getting vacuumed away at high speed.

How do we take advantage of this? Start thinking about feats of peak strength rather than the conventional 30-minute periods of sweaty endurance training on a stationary bike.

Principle #2: Every Bodypart, Whenever Possible

These are your muscles. Understand the big groups, then work them regularly.

These are your muscles. Understand the big groups, then work them regularly.

Most people think of exercise as all one big interchangeable thing: “I get plenty of exercise walking my dogs and gardening”, or, “I was able to drop my gym membership because I bike to work now.”

This is the wrong way to think about it.

Sure, mild exercise is still far better than sitting still. But you get much better results if you think about each muscle group and make sure you have overloaded it recently, thus sending it the message to become stronger.

As a start, you could think of your body as having five groups:

  • Legs
  • Back
  • Chest and triceps (your “pushing muscles”)
  • Upper Back and biceps (any time you find yourself “pulling”)
  • Core (all the complex muscles that hold you together at the middle)

Now, how will you overload each group at least a little bit, every day or two?

If you like to go to a gym, and you use the free weight room instead of the inefficient cardio stuff, great. Through my teens and 20s, I was on this plan and it went well. But after getting married, then becoming a father, I found that long stretches of time would pass as I became complacent and made excuses. This is not great – to improve from wherever you are now, you need every muscle group to be blasted down with reasonable exertion (enough to cause at least a tiny bit of soreness) – every week.

To translate the vague concept of muscle groups into practical exercises you can do in many places, here’s a guide of my favorite exercises. You can look these up anywhere to get the basics of how to do each movement safely. For example, Google “How to Do Squats”.

Legs:

  • Squats (with just your own weight when getting started. Then with barbells, or one-legged if no barbells available)
  • Deadlifts
  • Jumping on or off of anything (including boxes like this one)
  • Running up and down stairs
  • Sprinting around anywhere
  • Urban Parkour-style hooliganism with friends when visiting any city
  • Note that my daily cycling doesn’t count as a real leg exercise, since it’s a heart-building rather than muscle-building exercise.

Back:

  • Pullups from any bar or overhanging surface. You can assist yourself with your legs if you’re not yet strong enough to do real pull-ups.
  • Barbell or dumbell rows
  • Pulling any heavy item from the ground to your chest while you’re bent over.
  • Snow shoveling, digging trenches, chopping wood, moving bags of concrete
  • And anything else that feels like hard work is probably good for your back.
  • The Deadlift, mentioned under “Legs”, is also great for your lower back.
    But build this strength up slowly if you’re untrained – we’ve all heard stories about unfit people who “throw out their backs” when lifting something after years of deadly inactivity. The goal here is to make your back unbreakable – for life.

Chest and Triceps:

  • the Clean and Press (lift a barbell from the ground to over your head – my second favorite exercise in the world after squats).
  • bench press
  • dumbbell press
    (these first three are generally only if I’m lucky enough to be at home)
  • dips
  • pushups
  • On the road, the barbells are unavailable so I try to increase to 100 pushups per day, and using any available parallel surface, inside corner of a kitchen countertop, or pair of posts for dips.
  • To increase resistance, you can get a friend or loved one to sit on your back during pushups: 8 insanely hard pushups are better for you than 50 easy ones.

Core: 

The benefit of doing real-world exercise (especially sprinting) instead of lame treadmills at the gym, is that it forces you to flex and stabilize all your abdomen and oblique muscles and make them stronger. But you can still target the core directly with a few of my favorites:

  • Planks (hover your body flat and still with only forearms and toes touching the ground for 60-300 seconds)
  • Leg-raises while hanging from a bar, tree branch, or anything else
  • Twisting or jumping motions of any sort
  • Situps and abdominal crunches

Important note: core and abdominal muscles do not help you lose abdominal fat any faster than any other exercise. The fastest way to lose fat (after fixing your diet) is to accelerate calorie burn, which means triggering muscle growth. So if you want better abs, do squats.

Principle #3: Resisting Heavy Motion Delivers The Results


Consider the following counter-intuitive trick: walking down a flight of stairs delivers much better strength and muscle-building results than walking up that same flight of stairs, even though going down is much easier. I learned this amazing shortcut just a few years ago, but it has allowed me to get better results in less time ever since.

To put it into practice, you can bend your legs more deeply when going down stairs or hills, lower your body more slowly during pushups and pullups and weight exercises, and in general think about fighting loads as the chief source of strength.

For example: riding a bike won’t build much leg strength because it’s all concentric (pushing) with no eccentric (resisting). Adding in a few lunges as part of every day (or deep jumps, or squats of any form) will massively increase the benefits.

Principle #4: Turn The World Into Your Gym

Pull-ups in a public park in Portland this spring.

Pull-ups in a public park in Portland this spring.

With these basics covered, we can move to the real world to find ways to apply them. You will never miss a workout again, because from now on the entirety of every day you live will be a workout. With your eye on potential ways to overload your muscles, opportunities will come out of the woodwork. So let’s make all this work in Real Life:

Walk and Run for Transportation-  and Borrow Bikes when you Travel
Sidewalks and roads. Curbs and airport and hotel staircases. These are all amazing fitness machines, disguised as boring urban infrastructure. By seeking them out during travel, opportunities to stay fit magically materialize.

For example, when visiting people I make a point of borrowing one of their spare bikes if available. You can also install the Spinlister* app on your phone, and rent bikes from locals – instead of cars from bland international rental car chains – whenever you’re on a trip.

As a result, I have enjoyed bike tours of dozens of US cities and even a good number of international spots that were often the highlight of the entire trip. If you seek to maximize your effort, the benefits come quickly.

Lunge Whenever Nobody’s Looking
You can transform the mild benefits of walking into a shockingly fast muscle builder you can do anywhere, just by learning how to lunge. The effectiveness comes from the fact that you’re causing peak muscle overload in a mostly-eccentric (downward) motion. I recently did one lap of deep lunges around a soccer field (which took all of about 90 seconds), and it was enough to give me pleasantly sore legs for two days.

Even better, you can explain that paragraph above to your friends, and challenge them to lunge a block together on as part of an evening outing – for example on your way out to happy hour. You’ll love the fun of doing this ridiculous thing together in public, and the reactions you’ll get from the strangers, almost as much as you love your new <arnold voice> sculpted and bulging quadriceps and buttocks muscles </arnold>. Pain equals gain!

Sprint Whenever you Can
Performing just a single 10-second sprint across a park or a parking lot can change your body for the better.  But you can also apply this principle on the bike, or during a set of pushups, or even when shoveling a driveway of snow. Any time you want to become better, challenge yourself to max out for the next ten seconds!

Whenever you go to peak exertion, you are telling your body it is time to grow. If you stay within your comfort zone, the body decides it is fine as it is. Sprinting will send your body this change signal, in almost every situation.

100 Pushups per Day
Or even 10 pushups if you’re new to the pastime. I love this exercise because it is so efficient: If I move as quickly as possible, I find it takes only 15 seconds to do 25 pushups. Since it is such a small commitment, it’s easy to keep to it four times throughout the day, resulting in a reasonable strengthening of the chest and associated muscles with a total time investment of one minute.

Pro Tip: I make myself drop for 25 or 50 pushups every time I am going to indulge in something questionable like a beer or a high-carb snack, to help compensate for the negative effects before they happen.

Playgrounds and Gym Poaching

Saving the best for last: although your own fancy gym may be far off in another country when you’re traveling, there is almost always a public park with a play structure that can provide many of the basics for free. You can sprint and do pullups, dips, jump off of high things and land dramatically in the sand, do situps, chase kids around, and generally get a surprisingly good workout.

Bonus Principle: Sugar is the Devil, Fat is your Friend

The tips above will make a huge difference in any life that is currently too sedentary. But your body will fight to keep its fat reserves, and it will win this fight, if you obey its requests for constant sugar and carbohydrates.

For details I will refer you to Mark Sissson’s primal blueprint, or Tim’s Slow Carb Diet. But for me the basics are really simple: I avoid bread, pasta, and any desserts or sugary drinks including fruit juice. And the idea of buying soda for home consumption or even ordering one at a restaurant is as horrifying to me as drinking drain cleaner. If your goal is fat loss, Do Not Drink Calories!

Instead I eat mostly vegetables, nuts, eggs,  oils (mostly olive but with no rules against butter and coconut oil!) and an average amount of minimally processed meats and dairy. It’s your basic low-carb diet, and I’ve found a 100% correlation between bending the rules of this diet (occasional pizza and beer), and the rapid softening of my waistline. If you haven’t tried this way of eating yet, you might be pleasantly surprised with how easy it is.

Related Article: The Amazing Waist-Slimming, Wallet-Fattening Nutrient

That’s it. Sure, there is much more to fitness than these five principles, but they are big ones, and enough go get started. This is infinitely better than not getting started, so let’s go.

Further Reading:

The New York Times, on why exercise should be a rewarding part of your daily life, not just a chore you treat like a health prescription. 

Gary Taubes writes and rants about how our high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet is the source of most of our problems. I saw some of his articles in the NYTimes, then moved on to read his book “Why We Get Fat.” I’m torn on this, because there is still scientific debate on the ideal diet and some reputable doctor friends disagree with me. But my own results and a recent rigorous blood test are good enough to keep me very enthusiastically on the high fat, high-vegetable, low-carb diet.

Klaus Obermeyer, now 96, inspires you by refusing to age, citing benefits of keeping active as the decades pass.

*Spinlister is a pretty cool invention and I want them to succeed. If you’re visiting Longmont (for example to do a DIY bike-powered version of the brewery tour), you can rent bikes from the impressive fleet of one of my friends – his are all the bikes you see on the East Side. You can use my referral code for a $5 credit if desired.

 

  • R December 24, 2016, 11:15 am

    MMM – do you eat any sweet stuff like honey or sweet potatoes?

    Reply
  • C Gar December 25, 2016, 12:20 pm

    I totally agree with the concept of progressive overload of compound exercises for strength training and the efficiencies they provide for overall health. I do have concerns about the safety of the footing in the squat picture. I’m guessing you know this and posted the pic for levity. But for those that are new to these exercises; Squats and deadlift should be done on a firm, no snowy, ;) surface with hard soled shoes. Squatting/deadlifting in running shoes is not advisable.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 26, 2016, 2:27 pm

      I usually do squats in bare feet on bare dirt – the shoes were my concession to the snow that day :-)

      But I agree – it’s a potentially dangerous exercise until you get used to it. Start with no weight at all, and gradually build your experience. I first learned the exercise around age 16, so it has been a while now.

      No weight-training injuries in my entire life so far, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for this trend to continue.

      Reply
  • John Richardson December 26, 2016, 7:32 am

    Great article, MMM. Ten years ago I did the Body for Life program and lost 26 pounds in twelve weeks. Weight training really works. Building muscle kept the weight off for years. I used a low cost weight bench at home, which made it real convenient to work out three days a week. Unfortunately, when we moved to a smaller house, the weight bench got sold. Now I have a Planet Fitness membership ($10/month) which is great, but it’s far enough that I have to drive to get there. I like your home based alternatives to the gym and I’m really interested in the high fat diet approach. As a personal development blogger, I’m a big fan of creating doable habits that can be replicated easily. Having to get in a car and drive to a gym to workout has always seemed counter-productive. Like Tim Ferris, I’m always testing new ideas. Finding low cost ways to work out different muscle groups at home is the challenge. You’ve given me some great ideas. Will start testing. . .

    Reply
  • Rebekah December 26, 2016, 9:07 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. This is the first time I’ve commented on your site. I am feeling a little silly now because I’ve joined a gym that is opening this week. I have 60 pounds to lose. I’ve already lost 81 just by changing my eating habits, but the weight loss has really slowed since August, and I feel like I need to add in exercise to help me hit my goal. The gym I’ve joined is cardio focused, and I’ve decided that I’m committed to keep my membership for 8 weeks in an attempt to win the weight loss challenge (if I win it will more than pay for the two months membership fee). HOWEVER – my question for you is: I am a female. I want to keep looking like a female. Will your approach to muscle building make me look less feminine? Or will it just keep the extra fat burned on my body? Does your wife follow the same exercise regimen as you do? I want to try your suggestions, and am trying to determine if I should try your suggestions at the same time as doing the cardio, or wait until the 8 weeks is up… After 23 YEARS of being super overweight (morbidly obese!!), 2016 is the year I started turning around the boat and recharting my course (new way of eating started on December 15, 2015 to be precise). I want to continue on this path, and meet my goal in the first half of 2017. Totally doable. I really enjoy your posts.

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache December 27, 2016, 3:31 pm

      Hi Rebekah, major congratulations on your outstanding life changes!

      In your situation, I feel that every added amount movement will be good for your health – regardless of fat loss potential. So be easy on yourself and celebrate every day of it.

      In the long run, building muscle is definitely a faster way to re-shape the body and there is zero risk of becoming too masculine – women pack on muscle in a very womanly way and look all the better for it.

      And although I’m totally unqualified to offer medical advice, I will still re-iterate my thoughts on the biggest win: avoid sugars, desserts, breads, and drinking calories including soda and juice – a huge start to the carb overload that causes most obesity.

      Reply
      • Mr. Bare Face December 30, 2016, 9:55 am

        Bingo! I knew a woman who was a ballet dancer and instructor. At age 50.

        No one would ever think she looked too masculine — she actually looked quite petite — but she sure was STRONG! Stronger than most men I know.

        Reply
    • Anny December 27, 2016, 8:15 pm

      Rebekah,

      To meet the form of muscular like male, one female may need to work in some extreme hard core level with heavy lifting. For your purpose in losing weight and reshaping body, I think it is unlikely you will be in that form if you don’t go to that extreme path. I think it’s one of the misconception too when some female think lifting a few lbs a day everyday will make their arm look extremely muscular. I am not a personal trainer but I do train with weights from 5-10 lbs for years, I have tone arms but it never looks anything like male.

      Body weight training is also a good way to keep your body in shape without going too excessive. And MMM did list some of the exercises using body weight such as push up, dips, lunges, pull-up, core exercises, etc…. I think the whole point is to push where your body can handle and at a point you think you can stop pushing but maintaining then do so. Youtube has a great source of several weight training exercises for female too.

      Reply
  • JC Olsthoorn December 27, 2016, 5:55 am

    Great article. Confirms other things I’ve read. For me weight loss (from 225 to 190 lbs over several years) was achieved mostly by watching what I ate (and drank). The incremental weight loss over time was essential as I created and adapted to new habits and behaviours that have last to now – no more yo-yo loss and gain. Yes, I did exercise but not to lose weight per se. Exercise was to feel good, better actually, mentally and physically.

    Comprehensive research points to the fact that exercise for weight loss is a myth. check it out here:
    http://www.vox.com/2016/4/28/11518804/weight-loss-exercise-myth-burn-calories

    Cheers.

    Reply
  • Edith December 28, 2016, 6:18 am

    Judging by the pictures in this article. Mrs. Money Mustache sure is one lucky lady.

    Reply
  • Cody A. Ray December 28, 2016, 9:10 am

    Its funny how much of this boils down to “play”. As adults we forget how to play. Too much serious business, not enough time acting like children.

    Reply
  • Kerry December 28, 2016, 5:49 pm

    Thank you MMM! I love this post and it’s a great time to read it with New Year’s Day coming up. I’m going to use this info to rev up my routine. Here are some great resources I’ve used in the past to establish good behaviors and maintain health and fitness…

    Reinhard Engels: “No S Diet” eating plan, “Shovelglove” 14 minute work out with a sledgehammer(or free weights), the “Glass Ceiling” max drink limit, and “Urban Ranger” for daily movement. (nosdiet.com)

    Joan Pagano’s “at work desk stretches” video along with googling other stretches for office workers. I’ve designed my own routine.

    Women’s Health Big Book of Exercises. (There’s a Men’s too!) Huge variety of weight exercises(gym, free weights, body weight) for all muscle groups and there is also a section about weight, reps, sets, how often per week to work out etc.

    Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint is amazing. But, check out his book Primal Connection too! Sunshine, darkness, touch, nature, music… human needs that,in my opinion, are probably being replaced by crappy food for most people.

    Mirielle Giuliano-French Women Don’t Get Fat… 3 bite rule. Having French Fries? Or maybe desert? go ahead but serve it properly, sit down and you absolutely must savor the first 3 bites! Simple but effective.

    Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think(book by Brian Wansink)

    Small Move Big Change: Using Microresolutions to Transform Your Life Permanently (book by Caroline Arnold)

    Happy New Year to all!

    Reply
  • Monica December 29, 2016, 8:47 am

    FitnessBlender.com is a great resource for those who need motivation and variation but wish not to spend money on exercise. I get together with friends and neighbors in the early morning in one of our basements and do one of their free 500 exercise videos. I can’t recommend it enough!

    Reply
  • Jay December 29, 2016, 11:35 am

    Mr M.

    I am a long time reader of the blog, and this is my first comment ever! I would first like to say that I agree with the article. The only thing I would like to say is that the gym memberships can really widely vary depending on where you live. I, for instance, belong to a gym that costs $10.00 per month. It is huge and has a ton of fun equipment and things I would not buy / fit into my house. Not only that, but once a month we get free pizza (which doesn’t sound like a big deal but it is from a really expensive place and it is so so so good).

    For $10.00 per month, it is worth it to me. I rarely say that about spending money, but for people with special conditions, it can be really beneficial to have machines to use that put less strain on certain parts of your body (especially one’s back).

    I did the math out, and it would take me at least two years to hit the equivalent amount I would spend on equipment if I went to the gym.

    Just a thought!

    Jay

    Reply
  • Mr. Bare Face December 30, 2016, 9:52 am

    This is a great blog post. Before I even heard of this site, I had dropped my fancy gym membership and switched to biking to work and for most local errands. Not only did I save myself big $$ from the gym membership, my auto-related expenses are also minimal. At a certain point I realized it was pretty stupid to drive the 5 miles to work. I wound up losing 30 pounds just by that simple change. Bonus points for getting an endorphin high before work!

    Reply
  • Kara December 30, 2016, 7:51 pm

    Be you a beginner or a workout junkie, you should look up FitnessBlender. Husband and wife team Daniel and Kellie offer over 400 workout videos of various lengths covering a wide variety of training types, like strength, HIIT, low impact cardio and such. While they do offer themed bundled workouts for sale very cheaply (like 30 day abs or such), you may enjoy their hundreds of videos on YouTube for free. Top notch, realistic, refreshingly gimmick-free and encouraging to folks of all fitness levels. They are also big proponents of eating reasonably clean and measuring your health and progress in ways besides the scale. With them, I have gone from despising working out to looking forward to my ‘me’ time. As for fitness equipment, let the mistakes of others be your joy. We have a treadmill, a fabulous powerblock weight set, and a bench/squat rack, all purchased from craigslist for a fraction of their original price. Oh, I can’t forget our vitamix for smoothies we snagged for about $60 a few years back that still runs like a dream.

    Reply
  • gizmonte December 31, 2016, 10:55 am

    That image of you MMM, squatting what appears to be 245 lbs REALLY inspired me. Consistent with your advice, I never buy gym memberships but use a combination of REAL LIFE and a small home gym setup to get my workouts done. But being frugal as I am, I never bought the barbell I always wanted, claiming that my current home gym configuration was adequate to work all the muscle groups properly.

    Well, after reflecting on your barbell squat image, yesterday I combed through my local Craigslist ads and picked up an Olympic barbell and plates on the cheap….justifying the purchase by calling it my only Xmas gift this year. I hate accumulating “stuff” and am quite the minimalist, but this extra “stuff” is certainly going to be an investment in my legs. Squatting with dumbells (which is what I WAS doing) just isn’t the same, not even close.

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Reply
  • Curran Bishop January 2, 2017, 9:13 am

    I’ve almost completely replaced motorized transit with walking and biking, but was falling into the trap of figuring that was enough, particularly given things have been rough at work the past six months (taking a lot more of my time, so I haven’t been wanting to spend family time working out); but this article gave me the idea to start using the kids as weights: doing pushups with the six year old on my back, holding a three year old twin in each arm while doing lunges, adding the five year old on my back for squats… I’ve also started incorporating sprints at the park, etc. They love it, and I’m getting workout time back in the schedule without losing family time!

    Part of the article’s value is just the legitimacy it lends to impromptu workouts. I’ve been trying to sneak in a ten minute cross fit travel workout a few times a week, but that seams so puny, and when you take putting on workout clothes, deciding on a workout, recording it, etc., It’s almost half an hour: dropping and burning out 25 pushups in 15 seconds through the day is way more doable. Not saying what I’m doing is comparable to a cross fit regime, but while going through a time crunch phase in life, this keeps fitness on the table.

    Reply
    • Sarah January 3, 2017, 12:24 am

      My husband does a ‘deck of cards’ workout on weekends. Red cards are situps, black pushups, and the number corresponds to how many you do. The kids flip the cards, do situps and pushups alongside Dad, or lie on his back for resistance. It is a fantastic way for him to model healthy behavior and get family time, too.

      Reply
      • Curran Bishop January 14, 2017, 6:54 pm

        Love the idea Sarah! I’m going to try it–maybe go by suite with lunges, crunches, pushups and sit ups…

        Reply
  • Max Thunder January 3, 2017, 11:51 am

    It’s great to see a reasonable post like yours. Nothing really new to me, but I’m glad people like you are disseminating this kind of facts about training and diet.

    What I’ve found to be the hardest lately is motivation. My PhD really sucked a lot of my energy and I’m still recovering. It took me a long time finishing (due to lack of motivation but also due to external factors slowing down the process), then (and before the end of the PhD) it took me a long time finding a job, and now that I’m working full-time, I find that I’m always in a routine with not much time left for myself. The time is flying faster than ever.

    I discovered the benefits for myself of low-carb diets 14 years ago. I’ve went years without a hint of junk food. Even years avoiding all grain products. My abs used to be visible, and I didn’t train that much nor did I find it difficult to avoid carbs. However, as I am perpetually in a tired state these last few years, I find sweets and grains extremely tempting, despite knowing full well that the cravings disappear once you let go of these foods for a while. The good news however is that I’m saving a lot of money and getting closer to FI every paycheque; money is easier to manage than my weight (which remains reasonable, my bodyfat being about 20% while being muscular).

    I find your post motivating due to how easy it can be to get some exercise in. I used to weight lift religiously and while I’ve majorly neglected exercising for the last 2 years, I still feel the benefits in that I’ve maintained most of my muscle mass, and I don’t tire easily shoveling my driveway or hiking a trail. So I’d like to add that the benefits of muscular exercise can last.

    I’m mostly rambling, but my point is that I feel like we’ve (as a society) reached a point where a lack of motivation is just as important as ignorance to explain people’s behavior. That is true for exercise, diet, and probably also for finance. We are in an age of instant gratification, which releases its little dose of dopamine every time, and lose motivation in the process (we are not as sensitive to the dopamine we get from exercise and other things that require more devotion). The solution? I do not know.

    Reply
  • ZJ Thorne January 4, 2017, 7:29 am

    I see the difference in speed down the hallway at work between folks like me who take public transportation and walking everywhere and my coworkers who drive in for over an hour every day. They just can’t keep up even when you aren’t rushing.

    I should use more stairs at work since I’m on the 10th floor, but I’ve worried about sweating in my professional wear. Walking down the stairs is a good first step. My physical therapist gave me slow step exercises to do anyway.

    Reply
    • gizmonte January 4, 2017, 9:32 am

      I notice this too with my coworkers. I cannot walk and talk down the hallways or up the stairs with them. I huge gap in our pace quickly emerges as they begin huffing and puffing unable to keep up a conversation due to the labored breathing.

      Reply
  • Will Quigley January 4, 2017, 9:02 pm

    Here’s a picture of my Mustachian desk: my bike on a trainer with $3 of duct tape and pvc tube (white duct tape to make it look fancy).
    https://1drv.ms/i/s!Am96Jn2aXSWxgaEAwL1K_TWlilRVZA
    Yes, riding indoors is lame, but the bike comes off in 30 seconds for outdoor rides, and in the meantime I can pedal while I’m working. Next step: connect the bike trainer to a generator so I can recharge my Leaf while pedaling.

    Reply
  • Brian January 5, 2017, 8:03 pm

    I’ve used a TheraBand for quick workouts when I backpacked around the globe in my younger days. Great for resistance training, and improving range of motion, and flexibility. Another secret I’ve discovered for keeping the weight off is 12-13 hour intermittent fasting each night. No snacks after dinner and breakfast right before I bike or walk to work.

    Reply
  • Kelley January 8, 2017, 4:06 pm

    You lose weight by doing fork putdowns and table pushaways. Ie you only lose weight by consuming less calories than you burn. Use MyFitnessPal for free to track this. Read their forums to learn the science of CICO. It doesn’t matter WHAT you eat, it’s how much. See the Twinkie diet.

    You can increase CO w exercise, but you must master the basics of CICO because there will be periods of your life when you cannot exercise (say, do to injury, etc.) Learn how to regulate your weight w CICO, not exercise.

    But for health:

    To preserve muscle and reduce its loss while in a caloric deficit consume enough protein (.8g for LB BW) and strength train.

    Do cardio for your heart health. Do a strength program designed by a professional for bone and body health.

    To gain muscle, it HAS to be a progressive strength program, however. (See Stronglifts or Strong Curves, for etc. Or You Are Your Own Gym. All are avail online for free. But find a professional program that’s already designed and is progressive for the most efficiency. )

    Read up on newbie gains, caloric surpluses and recomps to learn more on muscle gain.

    lastly. Get someone knowledgeable to show you how to do the compound lifts because you can seriously hurt yourself w improper form. Esp deadlifts. Two words: shear force. It’s so irresponsible to suggest you can just learn these compound lifts online. Talk about dangerous.

    Reply
    • Kelley January 8, 2017, 4:09 pm

      And before anyone goes on about not being able to eat what you want to lose weight, Yes, IT DOES NOT MATTER FOR WEIGHT LOSS. CICO is all that matters. What you eat, or macros & micros matter for health. In some medical circumstances, certain macros may aid weight loss and health. But for the majority, which is most everyone, you can theorectically eat anything you want and lose weight if you consume less calories than you burn.

      Reply
    • Stephane January 9, 2017, 9:40 am

      Saying you only lose weight by burning more than what you eat is grossly oversimplifying the problem.
      If you consume sugar, you’re far more likely to gain weight. I found adding a can of pop did that, it’s a mere 150 calories or so, but if I add 150 calories of longer carbs or protein, I don’t. If you eat sugar, the same calories will be processed very rapidly and leave you hungry.
      You can actually consume more calories in protein than you need and you won’t get fat. This is because the pathway to convert protein to fat in the body is seldom used (and there is research that proves it). The body prefers to build stuff with protein.
      And finally, eating stuff that makes you feel full but has little calories (like vegetables, some soups) is like gold – if you’re trying to lose weight you need some of them in your diet for sure (Though you can’t only eat those or you’ll probably feel starved for energy, and that is the worst case scenario – the body goes into starvation mode and eventually it will force you to eat the missing calories and then some, or it will slow your metabolism to make up for it – see the biggest losers show study).

      Reply
  • Eric January 10, 2017, 10:11 am

    Loved the article. Don’t forget to do yoga as well! I wanted to point out that while minimally processed meats are undeniably delicious and contain a decent amount of nutritional properties – meat is an ecological disaster. Some worse than others of course, but if you watch time lapse of the rain forest being decimated so they can grow more livestock feed crops you will want to throw up in your mouth. The meat industry is also highly subsidized (through grains and also farm insurance programs) with our tax dollars. it’s massively wasteful and trades shared resources for incredible profits for a few.

    Reply
  • Mike January 14, 2017, 8:17 pm

    I love the idea that financial freedom and physical health are complimentary traits.
    I’ve been a competitive powerlifter for a number of years and I find that more than anything else it cultivates discipline. Discipline when it comes to financial sense is critical- I only wish I had learned that lesson earlier in life!

    I travel a lot for my job so I’ve had to learn to adapt to bodyweight exercises a lot of the time, but I still think that a gym is a great investment if you’re committed to using it!

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned though, it’s that it doesn’t matter how much money you have in the bank if you don’t have your health. Money is important and financial freedom is great, but if I had to pick between the two I would choose a healthy life every time.

    Reply
  • Jackie Christianson January 17, 2017, 2:31 pm

    In defense of the gym… Many gyms have one glorious benefit: child care! We joined our gym for two principle reasons: free child care for up to 2 1/2 hours per day, and a well-maintained swimming pool, current pool (for walking or swimming in the water against a current), and hot tub. It’s pretty fancy, almost $70 per month, but the child care is awesome because it gives us some adult time. We only use child care for about an hour and a half at a time, about 4 times per week, but at $70/mo that’s child care for less than $3 an hour with free pool access for mom and dad.

    Also: the husband hates exercise, so bringing him to an institution at least gets him moving a couple of times a week. It’s like pulling teeth to get him to take a walk around the block on a nice day, much less in January in Wisconsin. I don’t mind biking to work or going for a run outside in this weather, but he’s no badass.

    That said, we did switch to Google Fi and have loved it. Can’t beat $25/mo service with international service when we travel. Our cell phone savings pay for our gym membership almost twice over, much less the other suggestions we’ve taken from this blog. :)

    Reply
  • Michelle January 17, 2017, 3:12 pm

    New reader here – I LOVE this article and completely agree with you. I consider myself fortunate to live in a very Mustachian-esque (or common-sense-esque perhaps) corner of the UK where walking your dis to school is completely normal. I’m pleased to be returning to normal duties post-Caesarian section…..the food shop was done on foot today, baby on my front, food in my back-pack, toddler in the pushchair, massive hilly walk home done. I’m so glad I live somewhere this is considered normal! Thanks for a great read :-)

    Reply
  • dave January 17, 2017, 6:48 pm

    I love doing the lunge walks now

    Reply
  • Marcus January 18, 2017, 11:30 pm

    I started the slow-carb diet and lifting more (was always more of a hiker/cyclist) after reading this post, and I’ve already lost 8 lbs! This came just before my 34th birthday, and it was the kick in the nads I needed, so thanks MMM!

    Reply
  • Imran Chaudhry January 21, 2017, 10:40 am

    I’ve been an MMM lurker for a while and his articles are always informative and well-written.

    This one is no exception but I feel the need to make some remarks :) I hope MM takes this as constructive criticism and not a personal attack.

    I’m someone who has improved my fitness and appearance in the last few years and learned a lot during that time.

    The first thing I’d say is that from reading the article it’s easy to feel bad about your current lifestyle and fitness regime. MMM writes very confidently, forcefully and uses some strong words. The thing is that unlike him, us normal folks with day-jobs sometimes like to sit-down and relax in front of a TV, book or videogame. It’s of course not good if it’s that is done for many hours. In which case instead of berating such mere mortals, we should encourage them to move while doing those things by suggesting they cycle on an exercise bike while watching TV/tablet – or maybe try a dance mat videogame. There is a thing called real-life that gets in the way despite your best intentions :)

    The second thing is to take it easy in the beginning, it’s easy to get confused by fitness articles and routines coming at you from all sides (read below on for solution). Realise that it takes years to get into good shape (assuming a normal routine 3 days a week) – and to break long-term habits (too much sugar, junk foods etc). The most important thing is to be consistent – make your motto “embrace resistance” and always try to do your workout even if it’s “half-assed”. After a while you will start going to the gym on auto-pilot and you will miss it on rest days (rest days are VERY important).

    Thirdly, if you are already injured or have some concerns then visit a GP/physician. If any concerns about the workouts then hire a Personal Trainer to go through things with you. It’s worth the money and they can put your mind at ease and give valuables tips on correct form.

    Fourthly (is that a word?) – respect the nutrition aspect. Losing weight is about 80% diet and 20% exercise. Just resolve to eat reasonably (see PN infographic below). If building muscle is your goal then increase protein (see PN infographic again). You will see gains after several months without having to go crazy with protein shakes and necking BCAAs cocktails. It’s possible to go crazy with food and read that “it’s all about calories” – if you follow this advice then you can get into the grey zone with type 2 diabetes. Just make gradual changes to your diet – maybe change one meal and keep to it for 2 weeks, then change another meal etc.

    Lastly, simplify things – I think the Reddit r/bodyweightfitness community and app are an excellent place to start in order to build muscle and start looking and feeling better.

    I would also refer folks to the articles and blog posts of Precision Nutrition, as they have their heads screwed on. There are many quacks in the fitness world but these guys have the right approach in acknowledging that most of us are normal everyday people. They use behavior-based techniques to bring a change in habits and it’s backed up by good quality science and research.

    Just keep it simple – it’s easy to confuse yourself by over-Googling things. about fitness and nutrition. A really good start is the r/bodyweightfitness routine and FAQ (https://www.reddit.com/r/bodyweightfitness/wiki/kb/recommended_routine) …and for nutrition, check this infographic http://www.precisionnutrition.com/calorie-control-guide-infographic

    Don’t feel bad if you cannot do everything recommended by MMM – his is just an ideal which most of us cannot really do (lunges around the block..? :) Just “do what works” in your particular scenario and aspire to do “a little more, a little better” each time. Reward yourself with a cheat meal (or cheat day) but don’t go overboard.

    Look, MMM actually has most of the stuff right but don’t think that it’s an all-or-nothing thing. All of this is within reach without a massive change in habits – it’s just takes a first step.

    Reply
  • Nicolas T January 25, 2017, 10:17 am

    Very interesting article!

    I think you should also check out Ross Enamait at http://www.rosstraining.com. He embraces the “the world is your gym” and “low-tech / high effect” training philosophies. In fact, most of his gym equipment is DIY. I think his overall approach to fitness is highly correlated to yours and the values conveyed on this site.

    Cheers!

    Reply
  • Dustin February 1, 2017, 6:00 am

    MMM, I’m curious about your approach to putting on muscle, diet-wise. I see your general diet message in the article. What approach do you follow to build muscle, generally (if anything different than what you mentioned in the article)? Whey Protein post-workout? Hitting your macros of 1g protein/lb of body weight? Intermittent fasting/condensed eating window of 16h fast/8 eating window?

    Reply
  • Matt February 6, 2017, 6:21 am

    Hey Mr. Money,

    I was wondering if you have any thoughts on the Brazilian Jui Jitsu craze that is sweeping the world which has people paying upwards of $150/month for classes, not including gear + tournament fees.

    Perhaps you could do a post about that one!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache February 6, 2017, 4:30 pm

      Organized training like martial arts, crossfit, etc. are great if they work well with your personality type and you have plenty of money to pay for them. But for those of us with non-infinite money, at least give the personal discipline approach a shot, or get motivation through training partners and a long-standing, non-negotiable gym date at a normal weight room (memberships usually under $25/month).

      Reply
  • James C February 18, 2017, 4:49 pm

    Really love this article MMM, I’ve been trying to cut away from the revolving gym memberships and still stay in shape.
    The 100 pushups a day is a good one I keep neglecting. I’ve been throwing in some burpees (theyre awful) as much as I can despite my hatred for them!

    Reply
  • Genae March 22, 2017, 9:53 am

    Great recommendations. I’m curious about Ms Money Mustache’s workout routine. Does she also use the back patio gym? Does she follow the same general workout plan as you or does she make some modifications?

    Reply
  • RB March 30, 2017, 7:34 am

    I wanted to come back and add a comment because this article and the initial comments led me to introduce strength training into my life. Specifically, I ended up joining Nerd Fitness, which has been a perfect fit for my needs. In the past 3 months since I got started, I did my first-ever push-up with proper form, I’m halfway to a pull-up, and I’ve learned how to squat properly. Now I do squats and push-ups to warm up when I’m feeling chilly or just to pass the time. This article provided just the no-excuses kick-in-the-pants I needed. Thanks, MMM!

    Reply
  • dave April 10, 2017, 6:04 pm

    I have always been a fan of your blog and forum.

    I like it more now that I know you do barbell squats outside.

    That is truly bad ass.

    Love it.

    Reply
  • Mrs D May 16, 2017, 2:28 pm

    My husband would love to own a squat rack. We’ve been looking for a good deal on Craigslist with no luck. Most of the used ones locally cost as much or more as the new ones. We’ve looked up building our own but there are pictures of self built ones that have cracked under use and I don’t think we’re willing to sacrifice on safety. Any ideas on how we can score a great deal? How did you come by yours? Thanks! Love your site!

    Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache May 19, 2017, 5:31 pm

      I’d say go ahead and make one using some good online instructions. It is pretty easy to make a wood/steel structure that can support the weight of a barbell.

      Reply
  • Joe January 4, 2018, 6:15 pm

    Here’s my own “P90x3 like” workout creation using the 30 minutes time limit.
    Every bit as effective as Tony’s stuff.
    Full body strength workout 2 days,
    1 day 30 minutes of stretching exercises, 1 day of heavy bag work 10-3 minute rounds and during the 1 minute rest do burpees, jump jacks, jump squats in place of mmx.
    1 day of bodyweight pushups and pullups 20 minutes just like the x3 challenge workout.

    Reply
  • Jay McConnell July 7, 2018, 5:28 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I have a 70 inch flat screen TV on my wall. It broke about 4 months ago when my boys hit it with a football. Somehow we haven’t missed it yet.

    Reply
  • Maria November 1, 2018, 8:32 am

    I’m just starting to read your blog. My husband are already debt-free including mortgage, so your blog popped up in a recent WSJ article.

    Anyhoo….

    I would add that strength training is great, but you need body control and flexibility to round out the whole thing. As someone who has recently done some strength training from a shoulder surgery, it’s great. But I also do yoga, aerial yoga and aerial dance. These activities build strength via bodyweight and demand some flexibility and body control as well.

    I’m including a link to some additional fitness guidance. I like these guys because their focus is all about physical autonomy which I believe is the most important thing we need for our bodies in whatever situations come our way in life. All three of these guys are martial artists, but one of them is a physical therapist and another has a gymnastics background. Here’s their take on physical autonomy. https://gmb.io/physical-autonomy/
    I’ve purchased their basic programs and they are good, but it’s not a requirement to purchase anything. The articles alone are helpful and can be insightful.

    BTW, I enjoy improving my cardiovascular system and I love to do spinning. ;) The music makes it fun.

    Reply
  • MagniFIMoney September 15, 2019, 6:49 am

    I 100% agree with most of this. The idea that you have to go to a gym to get in shape is Ludacris! As a long-time calisthenic workout junkie, I must say that few things will give you the functional strength like using your own body to perform exercises.

    There’s an awesome book that is very “mustachesque” if you will, called “Convict Conditioning.” Outstanding bible for calisthenics and progressive strength training for a lifestyle of fitness. It is right in the Mr. Money Mustache realm of all free, all effort required, and no BS on the results.

    I’ve used it with some solid results and this article reminded me of some of its concepts.

    BONUS: He’s not afraid to swear and call out the non-believers with science.

    Reply
  • Mariah September 16, 2019, 4:21 pm

    My husband and I just ditched our combined $60(AUD) A WEEK memberships. Now it seems CRAZY that we ever paid that much!

    My husband is a Personal Trainer and for a long time, he had a mentality of ‘any gym is better than no gym at all’. Our gym was 800M down the road and had all the equipment we needed. However, before and after the birth of my now 9-month-old son, I just wasn’t using it with any regularity. Hubby didn’t like the energy of the gym and one day we cancelled our credit card because we thought we lost it (it was actually misplaced but turned out to be a great way to stop the cycle of accruing debt each month). Since we’ve decided to skip the gym I’ve started biking to work (14kms each way) and to university (7kms EW), training at an outdoor park provided by the council (yay freebies) and upping the number of walks I do with my son each day. We have some basic kettlebells, a battle rope and resistance bands and truthfully, we don’t need much more. It is so possible to get started and I’ve realised it comes down to courage. I wanted to bike for ages but hadn’t worked up the courage. Now, being courageous every day is a surefire way for me to fill fulfilled and to keep my head down on the grindstone and work towards my goals.

    Reply

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