When I first moved to Chicago, I was terrified of buses.
I was living in a midsize house in Logan Square with 13 roommates (not an exaggeration). I was unemployed, had never been to Chicago before, knew nothing about the city, and could barely find my house on map.
Google Maps saved me from being completely clueless, but even when it told me which bus to take there were problems. Sure, I could take the 73 along Armitage, but was I supposed to take it east or west? Which direction even is east or west?
The first time I walked up to the intersection I was frantic. There were four bus stops with three different bus numbers. I waited for a few minutes and only saw one bus come through, and in my panic the thought that went through my head was this:
“Maybe I should just take this one.”
I was trying to get to specific place to meet a specific person about a job I desperately needed. I even needed to catch a connecting bus down the line.
How on earth did it make sense to get on the first bus I saw, just because it was there?
Of course, it didn’t. And if I had been just slightly more composed, none of this would have been a problem. I had all the information I needed. I just wasn’t using it.
The bus stops in Chicago are labeled. They tell you the bus number, the direction of travel, the final destination, and the run times. They even have a number you can text to find out how long you need to wait.
Google Maps may not literally say “take the bus east,” but if I had paused for two seconds I would have realized that my college-educated ass knows how to read a map.
Fortunately, I was able to hold out, get on the right bus, and catch my connection. That job didn’t work out, but the advice I got was excellent and I found a different one before too long. I also overcame my fear of buses, and ride one daily for my commute.
But having no idea what to do almost led me to a terrible decision. When you are scared and uncertain, it’s easy to jump at the first course of action––whether it will actually solve your problem or not.
Most decisions don’t have the immediacy of a bus stop. It’s a terrible feeling when you watch your bus pull out just as you’re walking up to the intersection. And it’s hard to be graceful while desperately sprinting to beat the bus to the next stop.
And yet, so many decisions play out like that intersection.
Riding the Bus to Fitness
(How’s that for a cheesy subheading)
When I work with people trying to get fit, there are usually two competing urges.
The first urge is “nope nope nope I don’t know what this gym thing is and I don’t want anything to do with it. Keep it away from me!”
People with this urge don’t really know what to do at the gym. The idea of standing on the gym floor surrounded by equipment. and not knowing how to use any of it, is kind of terrifying.
So people with this urge do a couple things.
Some of these people will start to research. They’ll look up all the popular beginner programs, detailed analyses of whether Stronglifts is better than Ice Cream Fitness, and maybe even dive into some research to figure out whether 3×8 is better than 4×6 for building muscles.
And, of course, they never work out.
Other people with this urge skip the research and go straight to the not working out.
In either situation, the cause is the same. Uncertainty and fear of the gym lead to inaction. I covered this urge in my article I Have 11 Favorite Exercises, But I Won’t Tell You What They Are, but I’ll save you a click: the message is that the specifics of your workout are not that important. You need to pick something and do it consistently.
But there’s a layer of nuance to add to that message. Because if I had picked that first bus, I would have wound up on the south side of Chicago instead of my meeting. The second urge is jumping on the first program that comes into view.
People with the second urge have a different problem. Because although the most important part of fitness is consistency, the exercises you do actually matter at least a little bit.
The second urge is how people wind up hurting themselves with too much weight or working out for a year with zero progress. Before you start working out, you need to know which bus to get on.
And, like with my bus experience, the buses are not that complicated. The information you need is available, and you don’t need to research the activation of different muscle groups or the difference between 3×8 and 4×6.
You just need a simple place to start, based on the fundamentals of a good workout.
I’ve written about what makes a good workout before, and even put together a simple one for your first day at the gym. In summary, do three sets of eight reps (or 3×5, or 4×6, or 1×8, I don’t care) for each type of movement, then move on to the next one:
- Squat – Lunges, Back Squat, Goblet Squat
- Hinge – Deadlift, Romanian Deadlift, Glute Bridge
- Push – Bench Press, Push-up
- Pull – Pull-up, Seated Row, Dumbbell Row
- Core – Plank, Side Plank, Ab Rollouts
That’s it. Simple. Timeless. Effective. At the highest level of athletic development, working out gets complicated. But the fundamentals of a good workout don’t change.
Of course, your goals may not be related to lifting; you may want to run, or play a sport, or just improve your diet to lose a couple of pounds.
In every case, you already have the information you need to choose your bus (or you can get it quickly). Figure out which way is east and go for a ride.