So you want to get in shape and start getting fit, but you’re not sure what the perfect workout is?
Not only that, but you want a workout program that you’ll ACTUALLY do?
Great. This is what we do, and we’re pretty dang good at it.
We create personalized workout programs for our Online Coaching Clients, and this guide walks you through the exact 9 steps we follow to create each program:
This may seem like a lot, but ALL of the steps are important!
In our step-by-step guide to picking the best workout plan and getting fit, we’ll cover:
Let’s jump right into #1!
You’re reading this guide, which means you likely have SOME goals around getting fit.
Those goals will likely fall into one of three categories:
- Feel great and look good naked – You want to lose weight (and/or build muscle) and feel comfortable in your own skin.
- Get Healthy – Your doctor told you that you need to change your ways or you’ll die an early death. Yikes.
- Be Happy – You are on the hunt for an exercise program that you don’t hate.
I like to refer to these three goals as the Triforce of Awesome.
Because I’m a dork, and because you’ll remember it.
Happy, healthy, look good naked.
(There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good naked, by the way. It’s why I started training all those years ago!)
MY goal for you is to have you satisfy all three conditions to become healthy, happy, and look damn good.
It starts by identifying why you’re here in the first place.
Because let’s be honest:
This journey is gonna be tough.
You don’t just want to “lose weight” and “get fit.”
You want to “lose weight” and “get fit” so that you can “start dating again after a messy breakup.”
Or because “your dad passed away from health issues at a young age and you want to be around for many more decades to raise your children.”
The more specific and DEEP you can get with your reasoning, the more likely you’ll be to push through when you’re struggling to stay consistent!
I also want you to be realistic about how much time you think you can dedicate to this journey:
- 3 days a week for 30 minutes?
- 5 days for 15 minutes each day?
- Only on weekends?
That’s cool – just be up-front with yourself.
Here’s how to put it all together:
PART A – IDENTIFY A GOAL THAT YOU’RE FOCUSED ON:
- “I want to lose 50 pounds.”
- “I want to build 30 pounds of muscle.”
- “I want to fit into my favorite dresses I haven’t been able to wear for years.”
PART B – WRITE DOWN WHAT WILL HAPPEN WHEN YOU ACCOMPLISH THESE GOALS:
- What is your “Big Why?” “I’ll lose this weight and I can start dating again!”
- What would getting in shape mean to you? “A better life not full of pain.”
- Who are you doing this for? Your family? Yourself? Your wife?
PART C – BE REALISTIC WITH HOW OFTEN YOU CAN TRAIN:
- “I’m a broke college kid with lots of time. I can train 4 days per week no problem for an hour.” Great!
- “I’m a single mom working two jobs, so I can train once per week at a gym and the rest will have to happen at home.” Amazing!
- “I’m a Robot with unlimited energy and I have been sent to conquer earth.” Ruh-roh. Email me.
Be specific with your answers above.
STEP #1 TAKEAWAY: Pick your goals, pick your “Big Why”
We’re going to pick goals that work for us, and then build on top of that foundation.
Have you written down your goals yet?:
- “My goal is to lose/gain X amount of weight by X date.”
- “My Big Why is I want to start dating again/my wife to look at me like she used to/be an inspiration to my family.”
- “My plan is to train once per week and then find time elsewhere.”
We make EVERY coaching client in our online coaching program pick their Big Why too.
It’s what keeps us on target when life gets too busy and we want to quit!
Now that we have a foundation, we can start to build on top of that. Like Fornite. #UnnecessaryButTopicalNerdReference
You can lose all the weight you need to lose without doing a single minute of “exercise.”
I shit you not.
(What a funny expression by the way, it makes me happy every time I use it.)
If your ONLY goal is weight loss in any way, then exercise is not necessary.
No treadmills. No gym memberships. No bootcamps.
No feeling bad about yourself training in public.
No hating exercise.
“Steve, you sorcerer, what madness is this?” You exclaim!
When it comes to weight loss, how you eat will be responsible for 90+% of your success or failure.
If you are only trying to lose weight, ALL of your effort can go into fixing your nutrition.
As we say here in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, “You can’t outrun your fork.”
It’s because you eat too much food.
I’ve covered nutrition and weight loss EXTENSIVELY here on Nerd Fitness, so read these to help determine the best eating strategies for you:
As we have laid out in our Start Eating Healthy Guide, if you are trying to lose weight it comes down to making slightly better choices, slightly more frequently:
Story time! Nerd Fitness Rebel Tim was told he couldn’t exercise due to an injury. He joined our NF Academy (now a part of Nerd Fitness Prime), and focused on the 3 things he could control:
6 months and 50+ pounds of weight loss later, Tim is a changed man! You can read his whole story by clicking on the image below:
So yes, exercise burns calories and will help you get fit.
(If you’re curious: strength training is the calorie-burning victor when it comes to efficient weight loss.)
Exercise of any kind will also make your heart stronger and you will FEEL better.
But maybe most importantly, exercise reminds us that we’re trying to be healthier.
Which means exercise can also remind us to make better food choices.
Just instead of doing this: “Well I exercised today so I can eat 5000 calories!”
Instead, do this: “Well I exercised today, so I’m going to stick with my eating strategy so I don’t backslide!”
STEP #2 TAKEAWAY: Pick a food strategy you can stick with!
Pick a strategy that speaks your language, and that results in you consuming fewer calories.
Nutrition is the most important thing, so your time is best spent understanding this stuff!
If you are trying to lose more weight or build more muscle FASTER, your nutrition needs to be even MORE dialed in.
Here’s how to start eating healthy:
- Learn how many calories you actually need on a daily basis.
- Start tracking how many calories you eat, education for the win!
- Eat fewer calories than you burn each day.
- Cut back on liquid calories, especially sugary beverages.
- Eat mostly real food: meat, veggies, fruit, nuts.
- Track your progress and see how your body changes.
If you are a noob on nutrition, check out our free 10-level Nutritional System that simplifies the entire process! It’s free when you sign up in the box below:
Download our free weight loss guide
THE NERD FITNESS DIET: 10 Levels to Change Your Life
- Follow our 10-level nutrition system at your own pace
- What you need to know about weight loss and healthy eating
- 3 Simple rules we follow every day to stay on target
If your goal is to look good enough and feel good about yourself, there’s only ONE solution when it comes to the perfect workout program:
Any exercise you actually enjoy and will do regularly.
Exercise is only a 10% piece of the “how to get in shape” formula, which means if your goal is “look pretty good, feel pretty good,” ANY exercise is a bonus.
And that means you might as well ENJOY what you are spending your time on!
Here are some suggestions for fun exercise you can do:
Running, cycling, powerlifting, yoga, parkour, gymnastics, weight training, LARPing, capoeira, jazzercise, swing dancing, Beat Saber, walking, hiking, geocache, Pokémon GO, hashing, ballet, CrossFit, bootcamps, martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Ninja Warrior, Dance Dance Revolution, aerial silks, acro yoga, and anything else you can think of.
This is me giving you permission to attend Jazzercise classes regularly, if you enjoy them.
This is me also giving you permission to never run on a treadmill ever again, unless you actually enjoy running on a treadmill.
Don’t suffer through a particular type of exercise if you hate it.
There are plenty of ways to get your heart racing and your body moving.
Think of it this way: You’re always a work in progress.
You never get to “be done.”
So suffering unnecessarily to reach a goal just so you can lose some weight, and then stopping won’t work.
Here’s another phrase to internalize:
“Temporary changes create temporary results.”
Stop trying to get to the finish line as quickly as possible – that’s why you failed in the past.
STEP #3 TAKEAWAY: Do an activity that you enjoy. Do it frequently.
Write down a list of “exercise” activities you love. Write down a list of “exercise” you hate. And then do things on the first list frequently, and don’t ever do things on the second list!
You don’t need to suffer.
Nutrition is 90% of the battle, so if you want to lose weight, get healthier, and be happier, pick a form of exercise that you actually enjoy.
Don’t worry about how many calories it burns.
Instead, keep the focus on your nutrition and THEN do fun exercise.
To answer your next questions:
“I have always wanted to try (activity) but I’m afraid to try it.” Use 20 Seconds of Courage – it works. I promise 🙂
“Steve I have very specific physique goals and I’m willing to suffer a bit to hit those goals.” Sounds good. You’re going to want to focus on calorie restriction, strength training, and moving more. Keep reading.
Okay, now we’re getting down to the good stuff:
Yup, eating better can help you lose weight.
Yup, any exercise is better than no exercise.
HOWEVER, if you want to keep yourself injury-free, build a physique you’re proud of (aka that “fit toned” look that everybody is after), AND get better at whatever fun activities you picked in Step #3,…
There’s a component that needs to be incorporated into your life:
There are so many benefits to strength training, it’s ridiculous.
100% of people, no matter their age, gender, or size should be doing SOME kind of strength training in some capacity.
And please don’t worry – you will NOT get too bulky – unless that’s what you want.
Here are 4 reasons why strength training makes every part of life better and will help you get in shape:
- Your body is forced to burn extra calories to rebuild muscle. This ‘afterburner’ effect of increased calorie burning lasts for 24-48 hours, which means 30 minutes of strength training will burn significantly more calories than 30 minutes of steady cardio. Efficiency ftw.
- You teach your muscles to become more resilient and “antifragile.” From giving your kids a piggyback ride to playing frisbee to carrying groceries to walking up stairs, strength training makes you safer when doing everything.
- Strength training will make you better at any activity you picked in the above section for fun exercise. Yes, even THAT activity. Let’s just say your significant other wants you to strength train.
- Strength training builds the physique you want. It’s the best way to lose weight, it’s how to build muscle, and how to keep the muscle you have while burning the fat on top of the muscle.
So hopefully at this point, you’re all:
“Steve you sly devil, I am INTRIGUED. But strength training doesn’t seem fun, and gyms intimidate me.”
We cover this extensively in our “Beginner’s guide to strength training,” but I’ll cover it here too:
When I say “strength training,” I simply mean “moving your body in a way that your muscles must respond by getting stronger:”
Your muscles are introduced to outside stimuli (you pick up your kid, you do push-ups, you carry groceries, you do a squat, etc.), and they get “broken down” through use.
Over the next few days, they rebuild themselves stronger to prepare for more stimulus (a greater challenge).
By building up strength over time, it allows you to become more functionally strong and avoid situations like Mr. Potato Head here:
“Strength training” can take place in a gym or at your home, with your body’s weight or with free weights, in a box or with a fox. The ways to strength train are endless.
HATE gyms? You never have to go into one. Ever. Christina lost 50 lbs without a gym.
AFRAID of weight training? You can train with just your body weight!
WANT to learn how to train in a gym? Check out our 6-level gym workout guide.
NOT SURE how to strength train and want guidance? Check out our online coaching program!
This does not need to be overcomplicated!
Start with two basic movements that you can do literally right now, even in your cubicle:
Boom, look at that! You just did strength training.
I promise you: get stronger with push-ups, squats, and learn how to do a pull-up, and you will be in better shape, and look better, than ever before.
So how do you get stronger? Simple: “progressive overload.”
This might sound complicated, but it just means increasing the challenge by a tiny amount with each workout so your body has to work harder and adapt more each time.
And then one day, you’ll look in the mirror and say: “WHOA I HAVE MUSCLES WHEN DID THAT HAPPEN!?”
I have one final person I want to address: “But Steve, you nincompoop, I hate strength training.”
That’s not a nice name to call me, but fair enough!
Consider getting bit by a radioactive spider or finding a super-serum.
Otherwise, these five alternatives might pique your interest:
STEP #4 TAKEAWAY: Start strength training today.
Pick a workout that doesn’t intimidate you and give it a shot! You can start TODAY.
You don’t HAVE to strength train, you GET to strength train.
Every time you work out, do ONE more repetition, one more push-up, or lift ONE pound heavier than last time.
What’s the best way to do more than last time?
Write down what you do! Keep it simple. Write down your sets, reps, and weights. And then do one better next time.
Alright alright, you read the previous section, and you’re thinking:
- “Steve I heard training individual body parts like a bodybuilder is the best for muscle building.”
- “What about Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength or CrossFit?”
- “I hear I should ONLY do free weights, and machines are the devil!”
My thoughts: I don’t care HOW you strength train when you get started, or which beginning strength training program you pick:
If you want to follow a bodybuilder routine that uses lots of machines and isolation exercises, great!
If you want to train your left bicep and right butt muscle on Tuesdays and right tricep and left shoulder on Wednesdays and so on, go for it!
If you want to follow a workout DVD or follow bootcamp style stuff on YouTube, great.
Whatever gets you manipulating your body and learning the fundamentals of strength training, I’m for it.
As long as you’re enjoying it and getting results, keep doing what you’re doing.
And if you want a Beginner Strength Routine to follow, that’s cool too.
Here are the foundational philosophies we teach our online coaching clients:
#1 You’ll be healthier and see more well-rounded results training with free weights and bodyweight exercises compared to machines.
Machines can be used when you’re rehabbing an injury or there’s no other options (you’re at a hotel gym, for example).
If you only want to train with machines? You do you. Here’s how to switch from machines to weights.
#2 Full compound movements will help you get strong and healthy in the most efficient manner:
Your body is a complex machine that uses all of your muscles in unison when you do physical activity.
Thus, it’s safer and more efficient to train with compound movements instead of isolated movements.
Here are 15 Circuit Training Routines that use these exercises.
But like, into a better version of you, not a robot:
#5 If you have more fun with a bodybuilder style workout, or you like boot camp classes instead of weight training, that’s great!
If you’re healthy and happy and getting results, stick with it.
#6 Muscle confusion is totally not a thing.
STEP #5 TAKEAWAY: Pick A Strength Training Program!
Here’s how to level up your strength training:
- Read our Strength 101 series, and learn to do squats, deadlifts, and presses.
- Afraid to train in a gym? Read this gym guide and follow the beginner gym workouts (or here’s how to build your own).
- Pick a program: Learn about the best strength training routines and exercises.
- Want form checks, guidance, and a custom workout each morning? Get a coach!
What’s that? You want to BUILD your own workout program?
If you want us to do the heavy lifting for you (HEYO), we have a killer online coaching program where we build the exact workout for you, including nutritional guidance, support, and accountability.
Okay, now we’re getting down to the secret sauce that has transformed thousands upon thousands of lives at Nerd Fitness.
Don’t worry our secret sauce is low calorie, low carb, and keto-friendly.
Here’s the scenario: you have a goal of losing 50 pounds, and after eating better and moving more…you actually start to lose some weight!
I’m so proud of you.
In fact, I just called your mom to tell her what a swell person you are. Nice lady.
Anyways, things are going well until you start to approach your goal weight (woo!) and encounter a divergent path:
- Path A: “I’m about to reach my goal weight! I can be done soon!”
- Path B: “I’m approaching my goal weight. What is my new body capable of?”
People who pick Path A always backslide and usually put the weight back on over the next few months and years. This is why most people are doomed to fail at losing weight permanently:
Temporary action = temporary results.
Now let’s talk about Path B? It’s the reason our coaching clients keep the weight off and continue to transform.
Consistent effort + progressive challenge = permanent improvement.
People on Path B ask themselves, “Now that I’ve lost this weight, what am I capable of? Let’s train for that!”
This is a distinct mental shift.
Exercise is no longer a means to an end.
There is no end.
Just like there is no spoon.
We encourage our Rebels to shift from weight loss goals to physical challenges (Like Double Dare, but with less Gak):
- “I’ve always wanted to do a handstand, let’s start training to get better at those.”
- “I’ve always want to do train with gymnastic rings! Let’s try that!”
- “I’ve always wanted to run a 5k, I will adjust my routine to become a stronger runner.”
- “I want to try Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I will sign up for a class!”
- “I’m gonna sign up for Swing Dancing so I can crush the dance floor at the next wedding I attend.”
WHY THIS WORKS: By training to get better at a particular activity, you are triggering the same processes in your brain that makes us hooked on progressing in video games:
It’s why we say, “just one more level!” or “I bet I can do one more rep!” or “I can climb this new path that’s tougher than any path I’ve attempted before!”
STEP #6 TAKEAWAY: Shift from weight loss goals to physical challenges.
As you start to get in shape, updating your mindset can be a HUGE game-changer.
You spent all this work building a new body – take it out for a test drive and find out what you’re capable of!
Counterintuitively, the less you worry about your weight and the more you worry about your performance, the more likely you’ll be to build a body you’re proud of, that’s functional, and that you can keep, permanently.
As they say, “Appearance is a consequence of fitness.”
If you want to dig more into skills and advanced physique stuff, read our post here: “The ultimate guide to building any physique.”
Pick a skill, pick somebody farther along (more fit) than you to model yourself after, and adjust your training and nutrition to get better at that skill.
When you get better and better at these physical skills, your physique will start to improve as a side effect.
As we’re talking about physique and physical goals, I want to address something that is a major challenge for many people:
“Steve, I want to lose some weight, build some muscle, and also build up more endurance. I want to get strong and run a marathon but also look like a model.
Oh and get a six-pack. But I don’t want to be too bulky.
Can I do this in 6 weeks please?”
Here’s the truth: your body can only do so many things at once, and the three goals above will pull your body in three completely separate directions.
If you’re not sure what are realistic goals, I have answers for you on BOTH questions (click each to learn more):
Are those numbers in line with your expectations? Do you wish you could get in shape faster?
Of course you do. So do I!
For example, it took me 7 months of focused effort to lose 22 pounds safely and sustainably.
Surprisingly, by changing our timeline to be more realistic, we can make better progress than at any point in the past:
KEY TAKEAWAY #7: Have realistic expectations!
Have the right expectations, and put your focus on the process.
You’ll get there when you get there – so just focus on what you can do today.
If you’re not sure if you should build muscle first or lose weight first, here’s my humble advice:
- Eat a SLIGHT caloric deficit. Strength train and move a lot.
- Eat enough protein and train heavy to lose fat and keep your muscle.
- Do this until you get down to a low enough body fat percentage (10-11% for men, 17-18% for women).
- Now, increase your caloric intake slightly. Build strength and muscle until you’re at your desired size.
- Decide now if you want to reintroduce cardio, cut more fat, or keep getting bigger.
I love sharing stories on Nerd Fitness of REAL people, with real struggles, that found the perfect program that fit THEIR lifestyle, like Christina above.
These are not people with superior genetics. They’re not on steroids, nor are they choking down supplements (Most supplements are a waste of money).
The success stories in our community work full-time jobs, have kids, friends, and nerdy hobbies.
Some are single moms.
But they found a workout program that works for their life situation:
Some of them are powerlifters.
Some of them train at home with no equipment.
Some of them run 5ks.
As you are starting to get yourself into better shape, who you associate with is almost as important as how you train.
Sounds ludicrous (did I just make you yell, “Luda!”?), but it can be the difference between long term success and long term floundering. And not the cute kind.
They say you are an average of the 5 people you associate most with.
Think about your roommates, significant other, friends, and coworkers:
Are they people who have succeeded in the way you want to succeed, support you on your journey, can answer questions you might have, and make you want to continue being better?
Or are they people who ask you to skip your workouts, make fun of you for waking up early to train on a Saturday morning, and enable you rather than support you?
The more time you can spend with Group A people, the more likely you’ll be to stay on target and make progress.
As you are getting better at a skill, do whatever you can to hang out with people who are good at that skill!
- Like running and want to get better at running? Join or start a running group!
- Want to take powerlifting more seriously? Hire a personal trainer or join a powerlifting club.
- Want to be better at handstands? Try joining an adult gymnast class!
- Want to look like CrossFit athletes? Great! Join the cult! I kid, CFers, you’re good in my book 🙂
If you don’t have people in your life that are making you better, consider hiring a coach or instructor or joining a class to help you push yourself even farther and stay accountable!
And I’m not telling you to fire your friends, but you might need to make sacrifices like Katniss until you’re better equipped to stand up for your new healthy lifestyle when they want you to come back to the dark side!
Nerd Fitness helps people with workouts and eating better, sure.
But I believe we get permanent results for people because we do our best to foster the most supportive community on the internet.
And others? They read the free articles on Nerd Fitness and helped themselves stay on target!
It comes down to learning from and interacting people who are just like you, or who are people that you want to be like when you “grow up” (get in shape)!
Click on each image to learn their full story:
STACI THE POWERLIFTER:
ANTHONY THE IT PROFESSIONAL:
JOE THE IT DEVELOPER WHO TRAVELS 2 WEEKS PER MONTH:
SAINT THE APP DEVELOPER WHO LOST 60 POUNDS AND GAINED 6 PACK ABS:
And me? I started with karate as a kid. Then cross country running in high school. Then bodybuilder style training in college. Then it was bodyweight training.
STEP #8 TAKEAWAY: Surround yourself with people that push you to be better.
You need people in your life that are pushing you to be better.
If you don’t have those people already, consider joining a club or class in your community. You might just make new lifelong friends!
We’d love to have you be part of OUR online community!
“Thanks Steve, but that was a lot. What do I do now?”
Let me recap Steps #1-#8:
- Step #1: What Are Your Workout Goals?
- Step #2: What Workout Is Best for Weight Loss?
- Step #3: Finding a Workout Routine You Enjoy
- Step #4: What Is the Best Workout Routine? (An Introduction to Strength Training)
- Step #5: Creating a Strength Training Workout Plan
- Step #6: Focus Your Workout Plan on Specific Goals
- Step #7: Have Healthy Expectations for Your Workout Plan
- Step #8: How Do I Pick a Sustainable Workout Routine? (Exercise with Others)
Depending on where you’re at in life, and how much weight you need to lose, you might be satisfied with just Steps 1, 2, and 3 for the next few years.
And if you’re ready to do more than that, we’re here for ya too.
If you’re looking for me to actually tell you what to do, I would suggest the following:
Here’s a strategy optimized for effortless awesomeness, happiness, and look-good nakedness:
- Strength train twice per week: squats, pushups, and pull-ups.
- Do fun activity 1-2x per week.
- Walk when you can.
- Focus on your nutrition.
I would start there, and then do two things after 30 days:
#1) Track your compliance to see if you actually did the workouts!
Did you go for walks, strength train twice per week, and do a fun activity? You can track this on your calendar or in a notebook.
- Yes? Great! Move on to question 2.
- No? Great! You learned you tried to do too much. Do less and repeat for another 30 days.
#2) Measure if you got closer to your goal weight/skills/physique?
Are you healthier, happier, and more confident?
- Yes? Great! Keep doing what you’re doing!
- No? Great! That strategy didn’t work. Track your food intake, adjust your diet. Repeat.
“Steve that’s still not specific enough. I want you to tell me, for my exact situation, what to do every single day to reach my goals. Oh and hold me accountable. K thanks.”
I’m not clairvoyant or omniscient (…yet), so in the meantime, you can check out our really fun 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program.
Your Coach (a member of Team NF we’ll match you with based on your needs) will get to know you, your goals, and your challenges, and develop a workout plan that’s specific to not only your body type, but also to your schedule and life.
Click the image below to schedule a free call to see if we’re a good fit for each other!
I don’t care whatever path you pick, be it our coaching, NF Prime, or if you just read the free stuff on Nerd Fitness and never buy anything!
I just want to help you get results, feel better about yourself, and stop struggling to make exercise a consistent:
So let’s hear it. Where are you on your path to finding your perfect workout program!?
Tell me what your goals are. I’d love to hear about what you’re working on.
Which step are you on? Stuck on Level 3? What are the activities you LOVE/HATE?
What program are you following? Do you have a question on what to pick?
What have you found works for you, and what DIDN’T work for you?
Leave a comment and share your story with your fellow rebels!
photo sources: Reiterlied Biking on the Lake, Reiterlied To The Lofoten Islands and Back Again 8/16 – Hooray for the blue sea!, clement127 Amazing playground: bicycles and football, clement127 Eurobasket 2015, Legozilla treadmill, themofoit: Stormtrooper Pushups, beach, road split, egg, runner