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A Fitness Guide for People With No Free Time (And Who Want a Complete and Total Lifestyle Change)

This installment of The Normal Person’s Workout sees a guy looking to hit middle age in the best shape of his life

Don’t have three hours a day to spend at the gym? Not interested in bulging like a bodybuilder? Unmoved by promises of “fat-blasting, ab-chiseling monster workouts”? This is the column for you, fellow regular human with very little free time.

The Man

Winston, Kingston, Jamaica
Age:
46
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 191 pounds
Goal: To make a complete lifestyle change

His Time Commitment (Or Lack Thereof): “I’m a self-employed IT professional doing some freelancing, with the hopes of converting it into a full-time IT consultancy,” Winston tells us. “I spend a lot of time trying to find projects, so I almost never have personal time and am always stressed out — that’s a whole other problem I need to address. In short, I spread myself very thin (except in the places I want to be thin). I do have some amount of control over my time, though, so with enough motivation I think I can reasonably dedicate 60 to 90 minutes every day to exercise (except Sundays).

“My currently daily routine is to sit around on my laptop all day, either writing proposals or code. At night, I try to catch up on whichever project I’m falling behind on, so I go to bed late (that’s something else I’m working on).”

Exercise He’s Actually Willing to Do: “I do have pain in my knee: The last time I checked it wasn’t arthritis, but it affects me when I try to join a hike or squat heavy weights. I was, however, thinking of doing a hill walk two or three times per week. I don’t know if that’s enough cardio, but outside of a gym membership, I don’t have access to organized classes, and my budget is too tight to join a gym (although I hope to do so later in the year).”

What He Wants: “I want to add muscle mass, lose my gut and strengthen my core. In short, I don’t want to be that elderly guy who needs a walker. I’m also looking to run two or more 5K races next year. Really, overall, I want a complete lifestyle change: I’m not looking for a two- or three-week fix; I’m looking for a way to incorporate better nutrition and consistent exercise into my daily routine.”

The Plan

Take a Hike (Uphill): “I’m glad you’re committed to change your lifestyle to a healthier one,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “The good news is, you don’t even need 90 minutes to work out — a good hourlong workout will be plenty to get you where you want to be. You also don’t need a gym membership to get in shape—you just have to be careful which activities you choose.

“The reason your knee hurts is most likely because of the hikes you do, but it’s not the way up that bothers your body — it’s the way down. If you continue doing the hikes, make sure to place your heel first when coming down the hill, rather than the ball of the foot — it’ll feel like you’re making a half-circle with your foot. This will ease the impact on your knees on the way down.

“I’d also consider a different option, such as walking uphill on a treadmill so you don’t have to come down again. I know this isn’t ideal — I, too, prefer outdoors to indoors — but when you have an injury, you need to learn how to adjust.”

Roll One Up: “When you go downhill, you’re putting plenty of stress on your knees and quad muscles, so you need to relieve that pressure by doing a myofascial release massage with a foam roller, focusing on your quadriceps from the front and the side (your IT band, basically). If it hurts on one side more than the other, that means there’s an imbalance in your body. Keep rolling until the pain decreases.”

Best Foot Forward: “If you find an imbalance in your legs, do unilateral exercises — that is, work one leg at a time. A good exercise for this is a one-leg reach, without any weights at first, then incorporating weights once you gain good balance.

“To start, stand up on your left leg: Once you feel comfortable, reach down and touch the tip of your left toe with your right hand. On the way down, push your hips back and keep your chest out — you’ll feel this on your glutes and hamstrings. This exercise will make your knee stronger from different angles.”

Take a Squat: “Avoid lifting heavy weights on your squats. To get in shape, you need to focus on your form and increase the repetitions. Keep all the weight of your body on your heels, and don’t let your knees go further forward than the tip of your toes (also, avoid your knees moving inwards towards each other). Once you reach the bottom of the squat, pause for one full second and squeeze the glutes to finish the move on the way up.

“Start with 8 to 12 reps and see how your knees feel. Use a light weight at first, then increase the weight slightly once a week, or once every two weeks. Even though your leg muscles will have quick results, you need to take your time and be patient, since you want to get your knees stronger.”

Build Up to a Run: “Focus on strengthening your legs and releasing the pressure on your knees with the foam roller. Once you don’t feel any pain, you can start running small distances and slowly progress to a longer run. When you run, lift your heels up towards your glutes and fire your hamstrings. Some people experience knee pain when they slam their feet on the ground during their run; to avoid this, you want to feel like the ground is being pulled from beneath you, kicking back as if you’re running on a treadmill.”

Make a Plan: “It sounds like you try to work extra-hard but don’t have much of a schedule, so organize yourself by placing the times of each project on your calendar, including your workouts. You can always change things around a bit, but if you have a set time to do each project or activity and try to respect those times, you’ll become more efficient with your day. You’ll soon find yourself more productive and less stressed. Take your schedule seriously for two weeks and discover how it affects your lifestyle in a positive way.”

The Reaction

Are You Still Thinking of Getting a Gym Membership, or Do You Think You Can Do This Workout at Home? “I still think a gym membership is better,” says Winston. “Without a personal trainer, I almost never see the benefits other people write about.”

Will You Be Able to Add This Daily Workout to Your Schedule? “I am having problems incorporating a proper exercise routine into my daily schedule, but now that I have gym and non-gym options, I have the flexibility to choose. So when my schedule gets too busy, there’s still something I can do.”

Do You Think Your Knee Will Hold Up With This Advice? “I’m not sure. I haven’t done a hike in a while! I take the stairs whenever I can and most of the time my knee is fine, but every now and again it buckles. I’m planning to take a short hill walk soon so I can get a better assessment of where I am.”