This is part two of a conversation I had with John Fawkes. You can check out part one here.
The fitness industry as a whole focuses on brutal, grueling workouts, fleeting “inspiration,” and (somehow) quick and “easy” results.
That’s not the way I think. And I’m not the only one.
Today I want to bring you a conversation I had with fitness blogger John Fawkes.
John Fawkes helps busy people lose fat, get strong, and build better habits. He writes about weightlifting, sleep, and goal-setting at JohnFawkes.com, when he’s not busy playing video games or enjoying a cheat day. Download his habit change cheat sheet and learn five ways to change any habit.
We sat down to chat about habit building and the biggest mistakes people make when they try to get fit. This is part two of our interview (you can check out part one here).
Benyamin: There’s a story from Warren Buffett. He was coaching a young guy and asked him to write down a list of his top 20 priorities and then narrow it down to five. And he says, “Great, you have your top five priorities for the year. What about the other 15?”
And the young guy goes “oh well, every so often I’ll do a little bit with one of those.”
Buffett says no. “You have your priorities. Focus on those.”
John: I would even break that down more. The other 15, shelve those and think about them next year. But for the five, make two of those your focus. Maybe think about what you want to do with the other three, do a little planning. But finish two before moving on.
Even five is too much to be thinking about doing at once. You can probably only really work on two.
Benyamin: And I think that really ties into the idea of that gradual build up that we talked about earlier. If something is your fourth priority, you don’t need to go on four day fast and start a keto diet, but you can do a few push-ups. You can do a small action to build up before something becomes an immediate priority.
John: Speaking of push-ups, so many people are totally in denial that bodyweight training is even an option. I get so many emails where people say “I can’t make it to the gym, so I can’t work out.”
I’m shocked that I even have to explain this to people. Push-ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups, these exercises are totally useful. If you’re having trouble being consistent, I highly recommend getting a little bit of equipment to keep at home––some adjustable dumbbells, resistance bands, or maybe a jump rope.
Having that home equipment makes it a lot easier to find the time to do 20 minutes of exercise at home, instead of needing to spend that 20 minutes traveling to and from the gym.
Benyamin: Especially because a lot of bodyweight fitness is super fun! You can do so much skill work, and learn some stuff that looks and feels really impressive.
John: Absolutely. I’ve only recently gotten big on it, but you can do so much more than push-ups and squats. There’s a lot of cool stuff. Handstands, cartwheels, some of that stuff is just fun.
It becomes less about the effect it has on your physique and more about exploring your limits.
Even with that limited equipment, there’s a lot you can do to get a good workout. You know what a mechanical advantage drop set is?
Benyamin: Sure sure.
John: A mechanical advantage drop set is where you string together several exercises with the same weight and that all target the same muscle.
The trick is that you start with an exercise that you can use very little weight with, then move on to exercises that (because of the mechanics of the exercise) let you lift more weight.
For example, if you do lateral raises with 10 or 15 pounds, you can progress to dumbbell shoulder press with the same weight and have it be challenging because you’ve pre-exhausted the muscle. So that’s a great way to get a ton of mileage out of a pair of really light dumbbells.
You don’t necessarily need to invest in a whole home gym.
Benyamin: For sure. I find that I often recommend the gym over bodyweight fitness, just because the act of actually going to the gym makes it easier to establish the habit (it’s so easy to just lie around at home otherwise).
But for some specific people I’ll say “oh yeah, maybe this bodyweight fitness makes more sense for you specifically.” In which situations would you recommend one over the other?
John: It depends partly on people’s goals. If you want to get really strong, in terms of maximal strength, there’s only so much you can do with bodyweight training. It’s hard to get around the fact that you’ll eventually need some heavy barbells.
Even if strength isn’t your goal, if you find getting stronger and really seeing those numbers go up motivating, that’s a great reason to choose the gym because you’ll be more consistent. A lot of people get a psychological benefit from going to the gym.
It depends on the relative convenience of the two also.
Bodyweight training is best for people who are extremely busy and don’t have time to travel to the gym. It can also be a good option for people who are too intimidated to go to the gym, but at some point you will have to get over that. And it doesn’t get easier until you actually do it.
What I have almost everyone do is a mix of both. I give people a few gym workouts and one bodyweight workout. I’ll also tell them that they can use the bodyweight workout as a fill-in if they really need to miss a gym workout.
For most people that’s a good middle ground. Some people want to do all bodyweight, or they want to do mostly bodyweight, but do a few gym workouts to get around the equipment restrictions.
And then I also see some people who don’t want to do anything bodyweight or anything at home and really love actually going to the gym, and they find it easier to go to the gym six days a week than just four.
So it’s partly about people’s fitness goals, but it’s also about their lifestyle and what’s the most motivating for them.
Benyamin: Absolutely. I know for me personally, those home workout were so hard when I was just starting out. Because yeah, my home had those adjustable dumbbells, and mine even went up to 40 pounds.
But it also has my computer. It has my bed. It has the Internet. There are so many distractions. I was eventually able to start doing stuff at home, but it was only after I started going to the gym.
But I think that differs a lot from person to person.
John: I’m always looking for ways to give people short term results in performance. Because the body composition results, those changes are more long-term, and that makes them a bad source of motivation.
Even if that’s your high level goal, you need something day-to-day you can feel good about. So I try to use exercises where people can see progress. And then after a while we’ll switch up a couple of exercises to keep seeing that progress – not change everything up and just be programming hopping, but change up just enough to give a sense of variety and progression.
It’s so important to get those short-term wins that you can feel good about. And also impressing on people that you need to let yourself feel good about that.
It’s easy to get sucked into those body goals and ignore everything else, but when you see success with a program, celebrate it. Allow yourself to treat that as a win and you’ll be much more consistent.
Benyamin: I used to play a variety of sports, and I played on one team that had just the worst mentality about winning and losing. When we lost, it was like “UHHHG. We should have won that game! That was terrible.” But when we won, we said “Well that’s what we expected to happen anyway.”
And it’s kind of that same idea. You need to let yourself experience the wins, even if they aren’t always for your primary goals, in order to keep yourself going.
John: There are kind of these stages of development about what motivates you too. The first time you decide to start working out it’s all about your appearance, or maybe your health.
So usually when you’re starting off, you need to just do what you enjoy even if it isn’t the “right” workout. Go to the gym and try out the machines that seem fun, or play a sport and don’t go to the gym, or bring a magazine to the gym and read it between sets.
Early on, when you’re struggling with motivation, have fun.
Once you’ve build the habit, you can start focusing more on the right workout. You can focus more on things like strength and body composition.
Then eventually you reach diminishing returns and need to switch your motivation again. Work on trying new things and expanding the repertoire of what you can do.
Benyamin: That stages of motivation idea is really great. In the interest of not losing that in the rest of this discussion, let’s end on one last question.
What’s the most important thing you want people to take away from this conversation?
John: Oh man that’s tough. Let me think.
In the end, it’s not that much about the program you are or doing the right workout. It’s about your ability and commitment to follow it consistently. That means you should prioritize doing what you can do consistently.
If that means doing something that’s a little less effective but more convenient? Do it. If that means modifying a workout to make it more fun? Do it.
Do whatever it takes to make it something you’ll still to and find enjoyment in.
Once your consistency is completely automatic, then you can escalate your commitment. But enjoy it at first.
Benyamin: Thanks much to John for sitting down for this talk. Remember, you can check out the first interview here.
Make sure you check out John’s site: https://johnfawkes.com/
For more information related to what we talked about here, check out these posts:
- Why Does Everyone Hate Exercise and Love Fitness?
- The Complete Psychology of Habits
- What it Feels Like to Be Fit