The 10 Rules of Successful Exercise

Healthy trail runRegular physical activity is important, and everyone pretty much agrees, but life gets in the way. Most of us end up trying to fit exercise in around a busy schedule rich in sedentary behaviors. We’re sitting all the time. We’re spending countless hours at jobs we may not necessarily love. Responsibilities pile up and time slips away before we notice it was even there. We need to make our exercise count. We need to get it right. So today, I’m going to lay out the ten most important rules for successful exercise. These are the rules I use to form my exercise philosophy. These ten items have helped me get fitter, healthier, and happier than I ever was as a professional athlete, and I think they’ll help you out, too.

You might not need to follow all ten rules. And not all rules apply to all training regimens. That’s fine. But in my experience, both personally and as a coach, the people who get the most out of their workouts adhere to most of these rules.

Do the thing you love.

Some fitness people like to talk tough. They’ll say things like “pain is weakness leaving the body” or “if you’re enjoying yourself, you’re not training.” I get where they’re coming from because hitting the truly elite levels of performance does require enduring pain and sacrifice and unpleasantness and, frankly, momentary bouts of abject misery. But even the triathletes subjecting themselves to crippling pain do so out of love. There’s some hate there, too, but love is the foundation.

The biggest benefit to doing something you love for exercise is that you’ll actually do it. Since the most effective and beneficial exercise is the one you can stick with, this is one way to ensure you obtain the benefits.

There’s not a ton of research on the matter, but what little exists suggests that “forced exercise” isn’t even as helpful as “voluntary exercise.” In mice with colitis, for example, forced treadmill running exacerbates intestinal inflammation enough to kill the mice, while voluntary running attenuates it and keeps them alive. And in a rodent model of Alzheimer’s disease, voluntary exercise was superior to forced exercise at reducing plaque deposition and memory impairment. That’s pretty huge, I’d say.

Do what you love. You’ll actually do it and it’ll probably give you better results.

Get a workout buddy (or buddies).

Besides the workouts themselves, one big reason CrossFit has become so popular and so effective for so many people is the group dynamic it offers. You’re not just toughing it out on your own anymore. And it goes beyond having a spotter. With CrossFit, you have a tribe of likeminded individuals pushing each other, shouting encouragement, suffering and succeeding together. Research confirms the benefits of this kind of camaraderie in the gym:

  • Working out in a group boosts the stress reduction we get from exercise.
  • Just working out in the presence of another person reduces the perceived effort of the exercise.
  • Train with someone who’s stronger/faster/fitter. If you think your workout partner is doing better than you, you’ll work harder.
  • Guys might also want to work out with a lady nearby, as exercising with a member of the opposite sex has been shown to also reduce perceived exertion. I’m not sure if the same applies to women working out near men; I’d expect it might.

You don’t have to join a CrossFit box (though it’s not a bad idea!). Simply gathering a friend or two for regular workouts will do the trick. And hey, social contact is a nice bonus!

Work out outside.

Taking in a sunset snuggled up with your sweetheart is amazing. Going camping for a half week really recharges your body and soul (and resets your circadian rhythms). Simply being in green space has health benefits. But we’re not only meant to passively and calmly experience the great outdoors on a regular (as close to constant) basis. We should be physically engaging with them, propelling our bodies through three dimensional space at high speeds while immersed in fresh air, and unfiltered sunlight.

Exercising outdoors makes exercise more enjoyable. The more enjoyable it is, the more likely we are to do it. There are also psychological benefits, according to a 2011 meta-analysis. Outdoor workouts resulted in greater revitalization, increased energy, and more positive engagement with the activities, along with less depression, anger, confusion, and tension. I mean, the love of exercise in an outdoor setting even smashes the divisions between species and phyla. If a slug will do it, you have no excuses.

Oh, and if you need the boost, the sunlight will increase testosterone levels via vitamin D production. That’s always nice and helpful for workout recovery.

Incorporate play to make the workouts fun.

One surefire way to make exercise more enjoyable – and thus more sustainable – is to play. Instead of pounding out an hour on the stationary bike, go mountain biking. Instead of doing box jumps, play leap frog with a friend (or do leap frog burpees). Instead of lifting weights, lift oddly shaped objects or oddly shaped people. Instead of running aimlessly, go play sports where you run to get places and catch balls and make baskets (might I recommend Ultimate?).

Or you could overhaul your entire workout program and base the whole thing on play from the ground up. If this sounds interesting, you’ll want to attend a Primal Playout hosted by Darryl Edwards. The guy lives for play and has built up an impressive physique and a lot of strength and power and athleticism simply by having fun. Follow his Twitter and if he’s coming to a town near you, go see him (he’s also a regular presenter at PrimalCon, so check that out too).

By framing your workouts as a “fun activity,” they become their own reward and you’re less likely to reward yourself with junk food afterwards. Oh, and fun is really fun.

Make your workouts meaningful and purpose-driven.

A big problem that prevents people from working out is that it all feels so meaningless. And let’s face it: going to the gym to lift some weights just so you can put them back down or walking on a treadmill for an hour without going anywhere feels pointless on some base level. It wasn’t always this way, though. Humans used to perform physically demanding tasks on a regular basis in order to live, eat, and thrive. It wasn’t “exercise” or a “workout,” but it made us fit, strong, and fast just the same.

Most of us can’t create a life where regular exercise is a prerequisite for survival (nor would we want to), but we can inject meaning and purpose into our movements. Simple things like working with your hands and building useful things, helping friends move, cleaning up a park or nature area, commuting to work on bike or on foot, or doing physical labor can give you a great workout and produce tangible and useful results. Those probably aren’t enough to get you as fit as you’d be lifting barbells or running sprints, but you can do both and still retain the sense of meaning.

Find flow.

Have you ever had a workout that feels effortless until it’s over at which point you collapse under the weight of suddenly realized exertion? That’s flow. When he scored 13 points in 33 seconds, Tracy McGrady was deep in the flow state (or “the zone”). Software developers seek flow to improve their coding. Meditation is stationary flow. That guy wearing shades in the gym, flexing for the mirror in between sets on the pec deck? He’s probably not experiencing flow.

How do you do it?

According to the father of flow research, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we must engage in doable but difficult challenges that tap into our individual curiosities and interests while giving immediate feedback. Luckily, an engaging workout tends to promote the flow state fairly easily as long as you’re looking for it. Try eliminating distractions that pull your attention from the task. Instead of running on a flat track, for example, go running on a trail that forces you to dodge rocks, jump roots, and pay close attention to where your feet go; the time will fly by and you’ll probably go longer than you would have on the track. Jogging with a podcast in your headphones can be nice, but it’s important to lose yourself in the task at hand sometimes.

You can always flex in the mirror after your workout.

Savor how exercise makes you feel.

Exercise is psychedelic. It expands and alters consciousness. It’s an escape from the drudgery of real life, of bills and deadlines and stress and neurotic thought-loops.

It’s a narcotic, literally causing your brain to produce endogenous opioids and cannabinoids that get you high.

Good workouts reveal the extremes of subjective human experience. We get butterflies before a big lift or a particularly grueling sprint and feel the real anxiety of knowing you’re about to push your body to its limit. We know the joy of victory (even if it’s against your last workout’s self) and the crushing dejection of defeat. The ups, the downs, the all-arounds.

A good workout relaxes you. All is right with the world after a heavy lifting session or a hike in the back country. Food tastes better. The sunset’s prettier. Work stress is somehow less pressing.

You’re confident after a workout. “Yeah, I just lifted that.” You feel sexier, too, because you’ve proven to yourself and the world that you know how to use and inhabit your body.

Even the unpleasant aspects of exercise – the sweat sting, the burn of the quad, the intense mental effort required to lift this weight or run that hill – should be savored. Drawing away from the pain is pointless; it’s there. By meeting it head-on, by enjoying it, we co-opt it for our own devices.

Know these feelings. Savor them. They may not be “fun” or “pleasant,” necessarily. That’s not the point. They’re proof that you’re still alive and that these workouts are doing something.

Release your attachment to the outcome.

As a high-level endurance athlete, I was obsessed with the outcome. During events, I’d strap the outcome onto my chest like a baby carrier and he would help me reach the finish line. And when I’d languish in bed trying to avoid the day’s training, it was the outcome tugging at the sheets and bringing me a cup of coffee. If I didn’t have the outcome – the finish line – I couldn’t have faced all the grueling torture required of elite endurance athletes.

But that’s no way to live. Detaching myself from the outcome and focusing on the journey to wherever it is I’m going has proven to be a game changer for my health, my happiness, and ultimately my fitness. When you can immerse yourself in the journey, in the exercise itself as you’re doing it, great stuff happens. You hit the flow state more easily. You find yourself having fun again when you work out. You discover that training can be an end in itself, and your workouts are reinvigorated and more fruitful.

Keep your goals, of course. Just don’t forget to savor the journey and don’t let yourself fall to pieces in despair if the outcome differs from your expectations.

Decide if you’re training or just exercising.

Which is it: training or exercising? Are you interested in being active, moving your body, getting generally fitter and stronger, staying fit, staying strong without adhering to any specific performance goals? Then you’re exercising. You have goals. They’re just more diffuse, like “get healthier.”

Or maybe you have a specific performance goal, like “deadlift 500 pounds” or “compete in Master’s marathon and actually compete.” Then you’re probably going to be training, which means a training program consisting of progression, regimentation, and maybe periodization. Training is stricter.

They’re both great, depending on your goals, but exercising when you should be training or training when all you really need is to exercise can make you miserable and render your workouts ineffective and meandering. So make a decision so you can achieve your goals.

Me? My goal nowadays is to play until I’m old, so I train to maintain my fitness, my muscle mass, the strength of my connective tissue, and my bone mineral density enough that I’m able to go out and have fun every single day.

Try something new.

Humans are novelty seekers. It’s kind of what drove us to walk the entire globe, explore new surroundings, test our limits, and become the apex predators on this planet. That hardwiring affects our relationship with everything- the media we consume, the games we play, the hobbies we spend time on, the relationships we forge, and the exercises we do.

One way trying a new workout or exercise can help is by boosting enthusiasm. If you’re bored with your workout, you’re bored. You’re going through the motions. You’re doing the minimum and getting minimal results. If you’re excited about what you’re doing in the gym, on the track, or on the trail, you’ll be more into it and you’ll get more out of it. Novelty seekers often feel bad about their desire for something new; they shouldn’t. They should indulge it, especially when it comes to movement.

And when it comes to strength training, it might even be more effective to change up the exercises you do than simply increase the intensity (weight, volume, etc). In a recent study, researchers tested the effects of exercise variation in both beginning strength trainees and early advanced trainees. Compared to varying the intensity, varying the exercises yielded significant strength and hypertrophy gains in both groups. In the words of the lead researcher, changing up the exercises you do in the gym “seems to produce a more complete muscle activation hypertrophying all of the heads of multi-pennate muscles.”

As I said earlier, you don’t have to do everything on this list.

But it wouldn’t hurt.

That’s it for today, folks. What other tips do you have for people looking to improve their exercise game?

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About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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62 thoughts on “The 10 Rules of Successful Exercise”

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  1. I can really relate to most of these! Especially doing something you absolutely love, being outside, finding meaning and purpose, and savoring the experience of it over the outcome. If you haven’t found your “thing” yet, remembering what you enjoy, what feels meaningful, and what motivates you is a great start.

  2. I am incorporating that mile run into my gym routine for the challenge! It is the perfect shake up and a great new focus to prevent boredom (that was starting to affect me) I am determined to improve, and it is a great warm-up before my heavy lifting as the cold is starting to creep into the Northeast.

    1. This^ I’ve also been adding the 1 mile run to my HIIT KB routines. It’s a good way to start the exercise for me since I need to take the dog out anyway, so we go for a sprint and when i get back I do 20-30min KB blast and done. It kind of feels effortless at the moment. Just when you’re ready to give up / get bored, you’re onto something else! 🙂

  3. I am a student of Dr. Leonard Schwartz’ various exercise modalities… HeavyHands, “Longstrength” whole body calisthenics, and something he did called “IsoToniMetrics”… weird, eh? I document my findings at

    They all share common traits… they focus on moving all the limbs at the same time or as part of the same exercise movement (like a burpee but usually while standing erect), they all focus on building a combination on strength and endurance.

    The one I tend to enjoy most is the last one, the “Isotonometrics” they are like a “moving isometric or dynamic tension exercise”, at least for the upper body and more like a “dance” for the lower body.

    I think the reason I like it the best relates to your point about FLOW… of the three modes of exercise he pioneered, the last one has the ability to FLOW.

    Thanks for helping me think that through!

    As far as the pain goes, the Longstrength Calisthenics are the most pain and pulse oriented workouts for me and the HeavyHands are somewhere in the middle!

  4. I’m SO frustrated as I’m recovering from a vertebral fracture and haven’t been able to do much of anything for 5 months! It’s a challenge to keep my weight down. Soon, I hope to be able to do my walks again.

  5. Great stuff as always Mark– this year has been a breakthrough for me by getting outside for many workouts–and working out with a buddy which keeps us both motivated.

    He said one thing to me– so simple, yet profound: It’s a choice you make.

    Yes..everything is a “choice”..and when I may be feeling like doing nothing instead of a good hill run or boxing–I stop and think baout how I will feel NOT doing it–and how I will feel if I DO IT!

    Pretty simple– but it helps sticking with it and seeing results.

    1. You know, Pastor Dave, I agree that all our actions require choices, and sometimes they can be very hard to make in unexpected ways.

      I have chronic fatigue syndrome, have had it for 25 years. So when you say asking yourself how you will feel if you don’t do something works for you to get out there and exercise, for me it goes the other way. I’m currently having a most unpleasant relapse because I lost sight of this. I love to swim, and find swimming the gentlest on my body. Five weeks ago, I was feeling particularly well, so I pushed up my laps, and failed to ask myself how I would feel if I didn’t do this. Over the next two weeks, I increased my laps from 50 to 75, 4 days a week. Result: crushing fatigue and relentless muscle/joint pain. Getting up and getting dressed are exhausting. Walking the quarter-mile to the streetcar stop leaves me panting, with black spots before the eyes, and a pounding heart Swimming: 2 laps and I start, literally, to sink.. For people with chronic fatigue, the trick is always to stop before you get tired – to stop at the very first twinge. Had I asked myself how I would feel if I didn’t swim the extra laps, if I didn’t push through the twinges, I would have been in good shape now. So, as Mark says, we have to let go of the outcome, or maybe switch the outcome for people like me, who like to accomplish something. I have to look at it as not doing the exercise is accomplishing something: keeping me well. Alas, there are no bragging rights in “I found I was getting tired so I cut the number of laps I was swimming”! I should just enjoy the swimming for its own sake and quit counting my laps.

      1. Oh Boy! Forgive me if my comments hurt you in any way–I was not thinking in terms of such limitations and I certainly understand your response.

        Do what you can– enjoy what you can do–and by all means, don’t push it.

        I probably need to take my own advice– sometimes I push it becuase in my mind I am still 19 years old–it’s the next day my body says, “Hey dummy, you’re only a couple years away from Social Security”!

        Going to put you on my prayer list!

        1. No, my feelings weren’t hurt! I get really frustrated, though, because of what I see as the narrowly blinkered approach when it comes to health and exercise. The irony is that I probably got chronic fatigue from my own personal tunnel vision approach to health; my obsessive focus on diet, my over vigorous, driving well past exhaustion, exercise routines – running, gym aerobics every day, weight circuits three times a week, floor exercises at home. I overrode every single warning signal, scoffed at my doctor’s warnings, wrote off my friends’ concerns as their just being jealous of my superslim, muscled body…

          I’m back in school, working on my Master’s degree. I’m particularly interested in the intersection of genetics, culture, and environment in terms of health and indeed actual physical change. There’s good evidence that we’re still evolving, and I find that fascinating. I suppose I’m really poking at myself here; how could I, with my increasing piles of evidence for high individual variation, with my own personal experience, go and do something so silly for something so pointless? Just to be able to say to myself, “Oh boy, I swam a mile today!” The chronic fatigue is not only physical; I get episodes of brain fog, and that’s really frustrating, because I love my classes, my homework, and my personal research, and to sit staring at my screen for half an hour because I can’t remember how to spell “anthropology” is no fun. It’s even worse when I look at my own handwritten notes and wonder which language they’re in.

          It’s a very human tendency; to extrapolate from the particular to the general, and particularly from self to everyone else. You know the kind of thing, “I got well doing X, therefore everybody in the whole world should immediately start doing X, and nobody will ever get fat, sick, or old again. If you say you tried it and it didn’t work, you just weren’t doing it right/weren’t committed/were detoxing and you should have powered through the pain!”

          So, what I’m really getting at, is that it’s very hard to escape the pull of egocentrism. I think it’s really important for people to share their personal experiences and insights, because we do fall into broad clusters as humans, and my personal experience may well be helpful to somebody with a similar biogenetic profile or psychological makeup. At the same time, it’s important to realize that what works for me could be very harmful to somebody else – per the Apostle Paul, one man’s food is another man’s poison, and to present that experience as just that: this is what worked for me.

          I’m not directing this at you, Pastor Dave; thinking as I go…

          I wish you the very best in your training programme and on your life path.

      2. I’ve busted it hard out, but crahed like a cripple in my life. I hear ya. Mark did one on walking recently. Walking is good. Fits many of the categories. Do your own research, dabble and don’t binge or crux it, but I have found some light on and off Prenenolone supplementation helps. Just think, there may be an evolutionary advantage to the way you feel. Cortisol. It is a big part of it all I believe. Read what you can on it. Good luck, and I see you didn’t put migranes, could be worse (as I sit nervously awaiting a reply that you do).

        1. Thanks, Kit, for your support. Yes, I do have migraine. I was diagnosed when I was 6 years old. My family seems to produce chronic migraineurs: my maternal grandfather, my mother, one uncle, me, both sisters, my son, two nephews (different sibs), one niece. It’s fascinating and frustrating that we’re mostly triggered by different things and find different things helpful. I can’t stand ice on my head – it’ll have me howling with pain, while one of my sisters swears by her ice pack. I have a rice bag that, if I can get it microwaved, will take the edge of the least severe headaches while the bag is hot. Now that I’m in my mid-fifties and through the worst of perimenopause, my headaches have reduced to about 75 pain days/year, with average intensity around 6/10. This is great, because in 2006, 2007, and 2008, I was having 180-200 pain days/year, average intensity 10/10. My triggers include legumes, nuts, red-fleshed fruits with red skins, large quantities of gluten or sugar, sudden changes in barometric pressure, high altitudes, flashing lights, and loud noise. Exhaustion will bring on migraines, too – pulling an all-nighter on an assignment or getting physically exhausted will do it. I can control some of these factors. My mother said she now (at 77 years old) gets about 8 headaches a year, so there’s definitely hope for the future!

      3. Thanks for the long and thoughtful reply SuzU– get that degree and keep studying–as to my life path–it includes eternal life for when I have run the last race! God bless.

        1. Thanks, Dave. I’ll keep chugging away here!

          My current field of research is body shapes and sizes of women from the Upper Palaeolithic to today. I argue that we may well owe our success, as the only hominin species still extant, to the fat of our females, and that this anomalous fat-storage capacity evolved between 70,000 and 65,000 years ago. I’m using several different lines of enquiry. Currently, I’m comparing the body shapes and waist-to-hip ratios of Upper Palaeolithic representations of women with those of hunter-gatherer or smallscale farming groups and modern westernized women. So far it looks as if there are no significant differences! I’m about to start some rigorous statistical testing, using SPSS software. I look forward to seeing the results, and getting my professor’s critique of the stats work.

  6. Does uncorking wine count as exercise? I like to do that, its better with a buddy, I enjoy outside, it makes the preparation of a purpose driven meal more fun. The preparation flows into feeling great about the meal. I try not to over indulge so there is no adverse outcome. I enjoy it more the flavor than the effects. Tonight I think I’ll try that new Pinot Noir I found at Trader Joes paired with Blue Cod Romesco over a bed of arugula. When I get home from the gym of course.

      1. Tom, I like to have wine with a meal after an afternoon at the gym. In the spirit of the article it is a reward for productive physical activity. I don’t drink on days I don’t train.

        1. Yeah, I missed on the joke which intended to extend your analogy of exercise to drinking: are you just “exercising” (the occasional glass of wine) or “training” (drinking with a goal in mind, like, professional drinking, um, marathon drinking…).

          On a side note, I have been a great (and regular) lover of red wine with dinner, but am taking a week off to see how it affects my sleep…kind of sad to say that I do a lot better without it…

  7. Thank you again for the updates. Its great to have reminders on how to program and push my self and others

  8. Great article Mark!

    I love doing playground workouts. Exercising under the sun makes me feel super amazing!

    I think knowing who you are, exercise-wise, is really important. I think developing an exercise identity is what makes people stick to their thing.

  9. Thank you, Mark. I love the mental clarity I get from an intense workout. Refreshing to my whole being.

  10. The section “Savor how exercise makes you feel” describes what I’ve heard of as second order fun. First order fun is where you are doing something and it feels fun in the moment. Second order fun is where you are doing something that isn’t fun at all but later on you say, “Wow, that was the most fun ever!” Hiking the John Muir Trail in June in a high snow year would be 2nd order fun. Scary, physically and mentally exhausting and not much fun while you are doing it, but when it’s over you feel like you’ve just done the most amazing thing ever. You have fond memories you’ll never forget and great stories to tell. Those feelings of deprivation, terror, exhaustion and pain are what it feels like to be Alive.

    I have taken up “pointless picking up weight just to put it back down again”. I enjoy it because it has elements of 2nd order fun. Scary and hard while you are doing it, but later on you just feel so happy you did it it almost feels like it was fun. The other thing I like about it is that when I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail I wrote my daily miles every night in my journal. I loved the feeling of accomplishment when I broke a new personal mileage record. Lifting weights is like hiking a trail that never ends, there’s always another personal record on the horizon. Hopefully I can keep the feeling of accomplishment going for a long, long time.

  11. Dance! The desire to dance is a fundamental – primal – part of being human. Whenever my dance troupe performs, the kids in the audience start wiggling and bouncing in their seats, or they jump out of their seats and dance, trying to imitate the moves. While the music is playing they are “in the zone”, seemingly oblivious to everything and everyone around them. Most of the adults look like they would love to join in, but they’re too self-conscious.

    1. Hey I grok this comment on dance 🙂

      Incredible both physically and mentally
      You can count is as play
      -I just came out from one of the zumba classes at work one hour ago 🙂

      1. Yes! I just got home from our last outdoor Hoop Jam of the year. Hoop dance has done more for me to make exercise fun than anything else I’ve ever tried. We hoopers & spinners partner with a drum circle, & it’s amazing how intense it gets when the beat gets fast, yet you don’t really feel it until it stops. Talk about flow!

        1. wow thanks just looked some hoops videos, amazing, very inspiring

      2. There’s a link on my blog to a Stanford U. article on how dancing makes you smarter.

        Hint: Cycling, swimming and golf don’t.

        1. As I hinted above, learning hoop tricks & transitions is as challenging to me as a cryptic crossword puzzle, & equally addictive! There is ALWAYS something new to learn, which is what makes it so endlessly fascinating for me.

    2. I do English Country dancing every week and its great fun. Last week the caller had us do more energetic dances and I was even a bit out of breath once or twice. It also engages the brain and its social. That’s the ideal exercise.
      Also walking with a group is great- I do that once a week and we always have some hills to get us a bit out of breath. We are mainly over 60.

  12. Uffda. Completely needed this! I’ve been in a workout rut (aka. I haven’t been working out). I’ll get in some body weight squats or a set of push ups here and there, but my first “workout” over the last couple months was playing in a volleyball tournament on Sunday. Completely out of breath in the second game, that little light bulb went on: oh yeah! THIS is why I work out, so I can be decent at the sport that I love. Think I’ll get back in the swing of things, today!

  13. I actually love the pain during and after sprinting because I know how great I’ll feel the rest of the day. A mellow, natural high. Light buzz. Lighter on my feet. A little hop to my step. Confident.

  14. Do something you love is what finally got me off the couch. I despise ‘exercise’. I’ve done spinning, step aerobics, zumba, blah, blah and eventually got bored with all of them.

    But at 53 I’ve discovered pickleball. I play for an hour before work and up to 3 hours every night and I play at least 5 days a week. It’s not pounding on your body so this pace is sustainable but it’s gotten me moving and from my heart rate monitor I know I’m squarely in my fat burning zone. If I don’t get to play for some reason I’m not a happy camper!

    I feel like a kid again and am so glad I’ve found a fun game that I love.

  15. +1 to playing and staying ahead of the pack, and thanks, for a thoughtful and well written article.

  16. I have definitely started doing more workouts I enjoy in the past few years and it has been great for my health!

  17. Mark I am amazed they way you come up with thoughtful articles that speak to me every day. Thank you!!

  18. You must find that soulmate workout that you love to do, just like you said! I think that is one of the most important tips of all.

  19. Mark,

    Once again I don’t know how you do it each day. You’re relentless my friend! I love what you said about being purpose driven. Going through the motions (though easy and many people do it) doesn’t get you real results. I’ve stopped counting reps after my upper limit max and that has helped a lot! 🙂

  20. It’s funny how much paleo I agree with and I have always said that pushing yourself like your a generic machine to exercise hard for results never brought me health and happiness. I used to run and put pressure and feel guilty for being busy and feeling like a failure if I moaned about my aches. How can I be so week. But since I started paleo I’ve been confronting a lot of conventional ideals and have chosen to just be happy in all aspects of my life.

    Now when I run I put on Irish riverdance music and joyfully skip through the woods and clear my mind. I run faster up the big rocks and hop down and jog to the next pile. If a tree has fallen over I skip over it playfully and sometimes i stop just to take a picture of a toad or pick a blueberry. Sometimes I take the dog and race her the best I can until I can’t breath. I feel very mindful when I run now and some days I feel crap and start out running but end up walking but I have a good mental attitude afterwards from being out and I think it does wonders for my health .

    I’m the fittest I’ve ever been and I used to train like a machine and it was always forced. So go figure I have less injury and am more consistent now. 🙂

  21. You forgot one!!! Do not get injured due to stupid mistakes while exercising or training!!!
    I’ll tell it kills off any fun in doing something!!!

  22. At 64, I find myself pioneering a new form of exercise. It’s all about gently bouncing on my mini-tramp almost constantly.

    I watch TV and listen to music bounding. Most times my feed don’t even leave the mat. It’s just a feeling I love, it’s gentle and is more fun than sitting and being still.

    I used to do the mini tramp as a long, sweaty workout but that became too hard and I began to dread it. Also, based on your endorsement yesterday, I purchased a pair of ‘rings’ which I will get Friday. I can’t wait. I was a gymnast in high school and competed on the rings, as well as rope. I hope to start working up to doing pull ups and lots of other exercises on the rings.

  23. These rules, along with the whole PFB, already brought me a long way toward the whole LGN package – thanks, Mark 🙂
    A question for the primally knowledgeable folks around here: my favorite form of play is Tennis. I’ve played it for a long time now and like everything about it, with one exception: since I started going barefoot/minimalist putting on the shoes is a bit unpleasant. Does anyone here have experience with minimalist Tennis shoes that work on red clay courts? (The only courts we have around here.)

    1. I’ve had the same experience! New Balance minimus shoes for everything except tennis snd now my tennis shoes feel like lead weights. Tried playing a match in my minimus cross-training shoes and paid the price. Please let me know if you find minimus shoes that are actually designed for tennis courts….especially hard courts which are the only ones we have nearby.

  24. What an appropriate article for me to read! I really love the bit on “flow”, and I thought it was interesting to point out the difference between “exercise” and “training”. I realized that I don’t LIKE “exercise”–it feels like just another chore to do, and I don’t follow through with it. But I play roller derby, and recently decided there was a physical, measurable goal I wanted to set for myself, and have begun “training” towards that goal. Now, I have no problem getting up in the mornings and working out in my garage! I feel so much more motivated with that end-goal in sight (I’m a blocker and now I want to jam too, which means losing weight and increasing my explosive power).

  25. When people exercise for internal reasons, such as to feel better or to be able to play with their kids, they are more likely to stick to it than if they are doing it solely for external reasons, such as have a six pack.

  26. Really good list here. My tip I would add in here: Do at least what you did the workout before.

    You’ll then be focused on progression, adaptation and therefore better results.

  27. I love walking and hiking outdoors. I try to keep my exercise as natural as possible (i.e. far away from an indoor gym the best I can). But now that the dark evenings of winter are upon us, I am unable to walk after work at night at my beloved Pacifica ocean beach which is manna for my soul, and health inducing all around. A bone doctor told me that the only worthwhile exercise for women to do with respect to bone density is walking/hiking/ and/or treadmill if one is in the gym. (of course we know lifting heavy objects is crucial too). Bike won’t do it; elliptical won’t do. The foot must come down and off the ground. the doctor’s advice only affirms my natural and intuitive tendency to prefer walking, i.e. power walking for me! If there are hills, all the better! Adding to that, I also practice yoga each week, and do some free weight lifting. And yes, I golf here and there and swim when I can. Things I really enjoy! I am happiest when I am outdoors, listening to the sounds all around me, noticing the colors, feeling the wind, watching a sunset. It is indeed a spiritual exercise for me. I suppose during the winter I will be forced now to do the dreaded treadmill at the gym, but I’ve got to keep the walking up during the winter, in order to attain the goal that the bone doctor set for me so I can go from a low normal to a high normal range in bone density for my age (60). Vitamin D (5000 iu 5X a week) has also changed my life and helped my sleep and mood. I can’t say enough good things about Vit. D. I engage in quiet contemplation every day away from modern technologies, and am also involved in a 12 Step recovery group for the friends and family of those who have addiction issues. This work has been life saving in not only do I have the benefit of a community support system and a spiritual outlet, but it’s healing me from the inside out. I have eschewed alcohol intake in my life because I feel so much better without it, and it’s been a genetic thorn for my family. There’s a goal I have in mind for my life, and fresh air, natural light, walking outdoors, yoga, meditation, 12 step work, abstinence, are helping me to become the human being I hope to become. We can’t overstate the importance of finding something meaningful in life and striving to like and love ourselves. A healthy mind, spirit and body serves us best. We are not only physical beings, but spiritual beings as well. And the interpretation or expression of that is up to each human being.

    So, don’t forget the inner exercise!

    It always seems that Mark Sisson hits the nail on the head each and every time and proves to me that in simply following my own heart, I have been on the right track.

  28. Hi everyone,

    I have recently ( 5 weeks ago) started jogging/running. I am training for a charity run on the 30th which is a 10km run.

    I find it very difficult to get up and go especially when I feel like I am not improving, the only thing that keeps me going is knowing that I have that race at the end of the month but after that I am not sure how I will keep training on the cold winter nights.

    What do you all do to keep yourself motivated?

    Would be so grateful for some advice!

  29. Great column. I am addicted to running and recently purchased an ElliptiGo bike which has allowed me to get the same intensity as running but change it up. I am 60 years old and tend to be injury prone ie: every 2 years. The worse part is having to stop any cardio training and I guess that’s why part of being addicted to exercising really hit home.

    By the way, would you please share with us the location of that wonderful picture?


  30. I think you must find that soulmate workout that you love to do, like you said! That’s one of the most important tips of all.

  31. I have found that, ever since having retired from my MMA career, I needed something new and challenging to “find myself” over again. High Intensity Interval Training is that thing. The challenging nature of the workouts and, even though exhausting agony of them, make the workouts much more desirable! I really enjoy your articles and sharing them with others! Have a great day!

  32. Why do you assume that everyone can find an exercise they “love”?

  33. I like doing exercise, thanks for your rules, very useful for me, I always ride Exercise Bike at home.