On Monday, I told you why you should eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) jogging and weightlifting from your exercise routine. I explained that for years I was a die-hard runner and weightlifter, but I found it put an unnatural strain on my joints and tendons. By the time I was 40, I had all the symptoms of this kind of bodily abuse: chronic back pain, sore knees, “trick” shoulders, etc. I pushed through my pain, hoping that doing more of what had been bad for me might heal me. It didn’t.
By the time I turned 52, three years ago, my shoulders were so bad that I couldn’t do a single push-up or hang from a bar, and my hips were so locked up that I couldn’t walk more than five minutes without having to sit down to reduce my lower-back pain.
That was the old me. The new me has no back pain, no knee pain, no shoulder pain … no pain of any sort. I wrestle with guys 30 years younger than me every day. And I can do 14 pull-ups and 60 push-ups, strict.
Today, I want to tell you how I fixed myself and got myself into the best shape of my life. The program I adhere to now is the result of stuff I learned from Al Sears, John Mahoney, and Matt Furey. It’s a program that should work for you too – especially if you are over 30.
I believe that the secret to maximum fitness, flexibility, and practical strength is to follow a program of intense, short-duration sprinting, stretching, and calisthenics. One that I recommend strongly is Dr. Al Sears’ PACE program.
Or, if you want to, you can try to keep up with me. My workout program (which I developed with my personal trainer, John Mahoney) takes 45 minutes, including stretching.
Perhaps the most important characteristic of a good exercise program is that it should feel like fun. If it feels like work (or, worse, torture), you are not going to look forward to it. And if you don’t look forward to your exercise routine, you will eventually stop doing it.
Everybody is different in terms of what makes exercise fun. For me, it has to do with time and intensity.
Because of how busy I am, I don’t like to spend more than 45 minutes exercising. That 45 minutes includes about 10 to 15 minutes of stretching, which means the exercise portion of my workout has to be completed in 30 minutes. Thirty minutes a day is plenty of time to develop strength, speed, and muscular endurance. (You can probably do it in even less time. Dr. Sears tells me he thinks it’s possible to reduce that part of your program to 10 or 15 minutes a day.)
To make my routine even easier and more fun, I break the 30 minutes into three 10-minute segments. To me, 10 minutes seems like a short span. Even if the exercise I’m doing is very intense, I don’t feel overwhelmed because I know it will soon be over.
To be clear: My exercise routine consists of three 10-minute sets of somewhat intense exercise with two-minute rest periods in between, followed by a 10- to 15-minute stretch.
An Enjoyable, Intense, and Pain-Free Routine
This program is based on three proven principles and several very effective techniques. The principles are the following:
1. Short-duration, high-intensity exercise is generally more effective than long-duration, low-intensity exercise.
2. Natural strength exercises (using your body weight) are generally better than unnatural exercises (using weights, pulley systems, etc.).
3. Interval training is better than static training.
Here’s a crash course in my weekly workout program …
Every Morning: Warm Up
Ten minutes of stretching or yoga. Be sure to stretch in every direction – forward, back, and to both sides.
Monday and Thursday: Upper-Body and Sprinting
Ten minutes alternating between chin-ups, push-ups (I alternate between conventional and Hindu push-ups), pull-ups, dips, and sit-ups. Start with 2 chin-ups, 4 push-ups, 2 pull-ups, 4 dips, and 4 sit-ups. Immediately go to 4 chin-ups, 8 push-ups, 4 pull-ups, 8 dips, and 8 sit-ups. Immediately go to 6 chin-ups, 12 push-ups, 6 pull-ups, 12 dips, and 12 sit-ups. Then go to 8 chin-ups, 16 push-ups, 8 pull-ups, 16 dips, and 16 sit-ups. Take a two-minute break (just 120 seconds) and then reverse the pyramid, starting with a set of 8s and 16s and working back down to 2s. This entire upper-body workout will take about 20 minutes and will leave you totally pumped. Take another two-minute break and then do 10 minutes of interval running. Alternate between sprinting and jogging for 10 sets. When your running is done, do 10 minutes of intense stretching. Once again, make sure you stretch in every direction.
Tuesday and Friday: Lower Body and Climbing
My trainer calls my lower-body routine the “12 days of Christmas.” This is a sequential program, done without weights.
Here, you do a series of leg exercises (squat thrusts, Hindu squats, lunges, calf raises, etc.), starting with a single-set repetition and going up to 12. What I mean by that is you do one repetition of your first exercise, then do two of your next exercise, then three of the next, until you’ve reached 12 repetitions of your final exercise.
As in the Christmas song, with each new set you also do all the other sets. For example, after the twelfth set of, say, squat thrusts, you would do 11 of something else (maybe lunges), then 10 of something else (Hindu squats), then nine of something else (maybe star jumpers), etc. – all the way down to the single rep of your first exercise.
Doing the 12 days of Christmas means a total of 78 exercises. The trick is to do them all in 22 minutes. Again, I work intensely for two minutes take a two-minute break, and go at it again for another 10 minutes.
You won’t be able to do this at first, but you’ll make great improvements fast.
Wednesday and Saturday: Medium-Intensity Workout
These are the only days when I exercise for longer than 45 minutes. On Wednesday and Saturday, I do one or two medium-intensity workouts. I vary them to keep my interest level up. Some days, I do Pilates … some days, yoga … and others, aerobic dancing.
Then, there’s Sunday …
For my Sunday “workout,” I walk to Luna Rosa and eat breakfast with Peter, walk back to my house and smoke a cigar while doing the Times crossword, then walk across the street to the beach and wade in the ocean. And I try not to eat too much …
If you try a routine like mine, it will blow you away. In four to six weeks, you will be much stronger than you are now, you’ll have much better wind, you will be leaner and more muscular and – if you stretch intensely – you’ll be more limber too.[Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]