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A Fitness Guide for People With No Free Time (And Who Want to Lose the Dad Bod)

This installment of The Normal Person’s Workout sees a guy with a bum knee and a love of late-night eating try to get his act together

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

Mick, Ilford, England
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 185 pounds
Goal: To not be embarrassed by his dad bod anymore

His Time Commitment (or Lack Thereof): “I have two kids under the age of two and a full-time job, although I’m lucky in that current my commute is very short. I’d like to be able to say I can hit the gym for an hour most evenings after I’ve put the kids to bed, but the battle of getting them both off to sleep usually has me passing out right after them (especially since I’m being woken up at 5 or earlier most days).

“I eat healthy most of the time — I make almost everything from scratch, I don’t eat much red meat or sweet stuff, I don’t drink soda — but I kind of veer between extremes with what I eat and when. I eat very little during the day (I never eat breakfast, I just can’t force myself to eat before lunchtime) but then in the evening, especially if I’ve been drinking, I eat like a ravenous sea beast. I know this is the worst thing for weight loss, but that’s just when I feel like eating.”

Exercise He’s Actually Willing to Do: “I’m happy to go to the gym. I enjoy lifting weights — not in a bodybuilder way, but doing, say, three sets of 15–20 reps with moderate weights in different permutations. That said, I recently had a painful pinched nerve in my neck that kept me out of the gym for a year, so I’m sort of terrified of aggravating it.

“The main thing I need help with is cardio so I can burn off some flab. I have a tight IT band in my right leg and even after having had physical therapy, jogging a mile will leave me limping for days. I’ve tried things like the crosstrainer to take the impact off my knees, but to no avail. The only workable option I’ve found for cardio is the stationary bike. I’d love, however, some other options that don’t involve sitting so I feel like I’m actually getting some real cardio in. Either that or a more involved bike routine than just sitting and pedaling away.”

What He Wants: “To feel fitter, have more stamina and, yeah, to look better — lose 10 or 20 pounds in a healthy way, or just replace the flab with muscle. I guess I look all right with my clothes on, but sitting by the pool or whatever I feel like a half-squished lump of raw chicken, all pink and boneless and unappetizing. I’d settle for at least looking more like a slightly firmer grilled pork chop.”

The Plan

Understand How Your Scales Work: “Your situation is reasonably simple to tackle,” says personal trainer Lalo Fuentes. “First, at 6’2” and 185 pounds, you aren’t overweight, even though it might look like you are — you’re just out of shape. I wouldn’t focus on your weight, but on the way your body feels and looks, because once you start working out, most likely you’ll weigh more, but in a healthy way — your clothes will fit better and you might even lose a size or two. There’s more density on muscles than on fat, so don’t get frustrated when the scales don’t move.”

Use Your Mornings Wisely: “You mentioned that you get woken up early in the mornings, and by the time you put your kids to bed, you’re drained. Have you considered hitting the gym early in the morning instead of at night? Exercising first thing in the morning is an excellent way to start your day full of energy. Keep in mind that you don’t need to hit the gym for an hour or two — 30 to 45 minutes every day will give you the results you’re looking for.”

Get Used to the Idea of Eating Breakfast: “I understand how you feel about eating breakfast — sometimes it’s because people think of heavy breakfast food. But your body needs fuel in the morning to function properly and to speed up your metabolism, so if you start hitting the gym in the mornings, try to eat something light right afterward. You can even prepare yourself a smoothie by blending the following together:

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1 tablespoon maca powder
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1 serving of protein powder
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • Unsweetened almond milk (two fingers above the mix)

“If this is still too heavy, try cut fruits mixed with Greek yogurt, or any other yogurt that your body accepts. Working out in the morning will make you want to have breakfast, a good portion of lunch and a lighter dinner. Avoid alcohol at night — it puts you to sleep, but it doesn’t give you a good night’s sleep. Leave it for the weekend.”

Watch Your Neck: “Before your start working out again, you have to find out what caused the pinched nerve in your neck. Movement is the key, but I’m talking about smart movement, not just ignoring the pain. All the athletes I train sometimes get injured during games, and we don’t make them rest, we just work around their injuries and apply movement to the area. This makes new blood flow into the area and speeds up the healing process.

“When you get back to the gym, start slow and listen to your body. If your neck hurts by doing overhead presses, stay away from that move and find another one that doesn’t aggravate the area. Never work through the pain. With weights, 15 to 20 repetitions is good. I would stick to a weight that lets you do 15 repetitions, since reaching 20 reps may cause extra burn in the muscles and cause that pinched nerve to react. I want you to use only a weight that will make you finish the three sets of 15 without overexerting your body.”

Mix It Up: “Try full-body workouts at the gym three times a week, doing three sets for each body part with a 30-second rest in between. For example, if you do flat bench press on Monday, try an incline bench press on Wednesday and a decline bench press on Friday. That way, you’re hitting the muscle three times per week but focusing on different areas. The same goes for all body parts: Hit them differently every time; it’s more fun that way anyway. That should put you out the gym door in 45 minutes. Don’t have that much time? Do two sets for each body part for a 30-minute workout.”

Keep On Rolling: “Your IT band problem is easy to solve. Get a foam roller (black foam, largest size). Lie face down on top of the foam roller and start rolling your quads (from above the kneecap to the hip area), then open your legs as much as possible so your feet are pointing outwards, and keep rolling — this will hit your inner legs.

“Next, lie on the foam roller sideways to hit your IT band (this is the most painful part). Roll from your hip area all the way to the top of your knee. See if both legs hurt the same way — if one hurts more than the other, we might have found an imbalance in your body. If that’s the case, roll more and start doing exercises that use your limbs separately.

“Those are the basic rolling moves. After you’re used to this, you can roll your glutes, upper back, etc. Never roll your lower back or neck, though, as they’re the weak areas of our bodies.”

Climb Every Mountain: “I want you to do cardio three times per week, 20 to 30 minutes each time, but instead of jogging, you’re going to walk uphill. Place the treadmill at an 8 percent incline to start with, and a speed of 3.3 because of your height. Walk uphill making long strides, putting all the pressure on your heels and keeping your abs tight. You should feel this in your glutes, hamstrings and obliques — if you start to feel this on your calf muscles, that means you’re using the tip of your toes for traction, so change it back to your heels. Make sure to move your arms, so your abs get a workout as well. Once you feel comfortable with this cardio exercise, you can increase the incline and then the speed while keeping a good posture.

“If you start exercising every morning, you’ll feel that by week two, your energy levels will be through the roof all day, you’ll sleep much better, and you will start to look great. Good luck!”

The Reaction

How Do You Feel About Working Out in the Morning, Instead of Before Bed? “I’d actually prefer to, but I can’t,” says Mick. “From around 5 a.m. is when I look after the kids to give my wife a chance to catch up on sleep for a couple of hours if she’s been up half the night breastfeeding our youngest. So mornings are out for now. I’ll just have to drag myself out when they’ve gone to bed.”

What Do You Think About the Foam Roller? Will You Give It A Shot? “I already have one! I do use it if I know I’m going to be doing any running or hiking, but it only helps so much — it makes it possible to run a little farther without pain, but it’s not a cure.”

Do You Like the Idea of Walking Uphill? “I do! I hadn’t considered that as an option, but I’m excited to get off that damn bike.”

Any Chance You’ll Try a Breakfast Smoothie? “Can I give a somewhat optimistic ‘maybe?’ I’m not adding the cinnamon, though. It makes everything taste like the mall at Christmas.”