The Exercise Category deals mostly with the efficiency and improvement of exercise, with the goal of maximizing personal fitness.

  • Strength training
  • High intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Moderate intensity cardio
  • Low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio
  • Flexibility training
  • Recovery
  • Injury prevention
  • Etc.

Short-term braindump

Cautionary note

Despite me constantly going on about how everything ought to be backed up by methodologically-sound, double-blind, peer-reviewed scientific studies conducted by unbiased researchers, the writing here isn’t yet written with that level of justification cited.

Presently, this writing is basically just my thoughts. I’ve read research on things (at least some), so most of the stuff here isn’t just my opinion, but everything is still a bit loosey-goosey. You have been warned.

Hopefully I can make the writing more rigorous with time.

You should fix your diet in large part before focusing on exercise

You may have heard the phrases “you can’t out-train a bad diet” and “abs are made in the kitchen.” These things are mostly true.

If you made me put a number on it, I’d say getting in good shape is about 70% diet and 30% exercise. The exercise is an absolutely critical component that cannot be skipped, mind you, but there you have it. If you clean up your diet a lot, you can lose a lot of weight without ever exercising. I wouldn’t recommend it (as it’s obviously less ideal than having a good diet and exercising), but you can.

For this reason, I recommend you go look at the Food and Nutrition Category. Once you’ve got a good diet in place (or at least made a good start in terms of such), then come back and get the exercise habits in place.

Why you should listen to me

I practice what I preach

It’s super common in the fitness space for trainers to be in good shape. So am I in good shape?

Earlier this year, I dropped 3 inches off my waist in about 4 to 5 months, and I wasn’t all that out of shape to begin with. I lost 10 pounds while gaining muscle (which weighs more than fat), meaning I lost more fat than that.

With all this being said, I’m not yet really at fitness-model levels of completely shredded. I also didn’t really start working out seriously until this recent push, so don’t have years and years of experience regarding exercise. Make of these things what you will.

I’m not trying to sell anything

People trying to sell either their products or services (personal training, e.g.) have biases and conflicts of interest. I’m just sharing what’s worked well for me.

I’ve put a lot of thought into making things easy to stick with

If you find exercise boring, you’ll never do it. Of course YMMV since your tastes may not be the same as mine, but I “have reasons” why I do what I do. Born of me trying to get myself to stick with exercise over the years.

Consistency is way more important than anything else

The #1 mistake people make with exercise is trying to do too much too fast. If you’ve been a couch potato for years, you’re gonna have a bad time if you try to bench your bodyweight and run a 10k.

Trying to do too much too fast has all sorts of problems:

  • You burn out and then do no exercise at all, which is way worse than doing some exercise that just wasn’t as hardcore as perhaps you had dreamed.
  • You hurt yourself, and then you can’t exercise either.
  • You come to hate exercise, and cement the negative attitude in your mind, which will make things hard for you for years to come.

Don’t do too much too fast. Just get out there and do something every day. (Or rest if it is your designated rest day).

Don’t feel bad about starting slow. I tried to lift way too much too fast in college and ended up not doing it again for years since it traumatized me. When I started again, I resolved to just accept where I was and work up from there. Thus, and I kid you not, I started out benching the bar (45 lbs) for like three weeks. I’m 6’5” and was ~210 lbs at the time, so if I can swallow my pride and spend some time on just the bar, you can too. If you add 5 or 10 pounds every week, every week, you’ll get there in time. Sustainably.

In my N=1 experience, getting a workout buddy is the best way to get consistent

I never could get myself to weightlift consistently before I had a workout buddy. Getting a workout buddy for lifting is literally the #1 exercise tip I can give. I still do cardio on my own (I’ve always had an easier time getting myself to do cardio), but I can’t recommend lifting together with someone else enough. They can watch your form too, which is super important.

Don’t feel any shame about where you are

Gyms tend be full of buff people. It can be discouraging to watch them, and then look at yourself in the mirror. Don’t fall into that trap. They may have been working out for years, while you may be just starting.

The only person you should be comparing yourself to is the you of last week or last month. I assure you that if you just get in there every week (and take things seriously when you are in there rather than goofing around), you will make progress. Over time you will become the buff person that once intimidated you.

Most places I’ve been, people are super friendly and non-judgmental. After all, everyone’s got to start somewhere. However, if you get unlucky and have a local gym full of judgmental jerks, just put on your headphones and ignore them. You’ve got nothing to be ashamed of.

I don’t do standalone LISS cardio

Among various types of exercise, low intensity steady state (LISS) cardio has the lowest marginal benefit, and is time-inefficient if you do it alone (that is, without multitasking while you do it). The only LISS cardio I do (walking, in my case) is when I am working on the computer while I do it, removing the vast majority of its opportunity cost. You can read more about what I do below.

If you are really overweight, do HIIT in lieu of frequent strength training

To my knowledge, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is by far the most efficient way to lose fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and combat obesity. People trying to lose lots of weight in the most effective way should do more HIIT. When greatly overweight, losing the larger part of the fat ASAP is more important than building muscle, since being greatly overweight and insulin-resistant messes with hunger endocrinology, and basically sets you up to fail. The more overweight you are, the harder it is to stick with good habits since your body is always trying to stab you in the back: carrying lots of fat objectively leads to more hunger (making diet compliance harder), more fatigue and body aches (making exercise compliance harder), and so on. It’s a vicious cycle that you need to kick in the face before worrying about building muscle.

Benefits of exercise

Once you are only 20 pounds overweight (or something like that), I would advocate toning down the HIIT some and starting strength training too, so that you get the full range benefits from all kinds of exercise rather than just the benefits from HIIT. Here’s basically what different kinds of exercise get you:

  • Flexibility training: little inherent benefit, but is super important because it makes it so you don’t hurt yourself doing everything else (particularly weightlifting and HIIT, although you should always stretch before serious exercise). A lot of people also find yoga and such relaxing (stress-reducing).
  • LISS cardio: burns calories, and is good mostly in that it is better than sitting. Does not lead to as many cardiovascular changes as moderate intensity cardio and HIIT.
  • Moderate intensity cardio: way more relaxing that HIIT, which usually drains you. Makes your heart more aerobically efficient. Excellent way to relieve stress.
  • HIIT: excellent way to burn calories. Also helps improve cardiovascular health; many of the benefits overlap with moderate intensity cardio, but you get them in less time. Does that make it strictly better? It’s still a good idea to do both, in my opinion. (For someone else on the idea, see here). Moderate intensity cardio trains you to do somewhat lower intensity for a longer period of time. HIIT trains you to do really high intensity for a shorter period of time. Different activities, some overlapping benefits, but also some non-overlapping benefits. Avoid extremes: do both.
  • Strength training: prevents muscle deterioration as you age, prevents bone fragility as you age, building muscle leads to higher resting metabolic rate making maintenance a breeze if you’re already in shape, and building muscle increases self-esteem and confidence way more than anything else. (Especially for dudes). Getting really shredded is more cardio and diet than lifting though. Everyone has ab muscles… but most people have a layer of fat over them. To see them well-defined, getting rid of the fat is way more effective than making the ab muscles slightly bigger.

All exercise is excellent for health, in that it:

  • Burns calories. Some kinds of exercise burn more calories than other kinds (as above), but all exercise is miles better than sitting around.
  • Reduces stress. Many people in America suffer from chronically elevated cortisol levels, which causes all sorts of health issues. Exercise is a medication-free way to greatly improve mental health.
  • Gives you a fuzzy afterglow – a post-workout high. You may have heard of endorphins. Endorphins are literally our bodies’ self-made opioids (they operate on the brain’s opiate receptors). Only a few things in life give us a natural high, and exercise is high on that list. (Eating and sex are other important ones).
  • Suppresses appetite – while appetite will return in time (and sooner rather than later, depending on the type of exercise), additional time spent in a state of reduced cravings and hunger will inevitably reduce the total number of calories you end up consuming in the long-term.
  • Leads to better sleep. Better sleep has tons of health benefits, so if you count those as indirect benefits of exercise, then that’s a lot of added value.

What I do: weekly schedule

Cautionary note

Anyone who read earlier versions of this writeup will have noticed that I switched from mountain biking to biking to work for my main cardio. (See below).

Every week. No exceptions (unless I am pretty sick).

  • Every morning: 2+ hours of LISS cardio via walking briskly on a treadmill when working. (See below).
  • Weekday mornings/evenings: biking to/from work. Moderate intensity cardio, mostly, although I’ll cycle in HIIT on off-days with lifting (only on my way back home from work, though – I already arrive sweaty enough just doing moderate intensity cardio!). On lifting days, particularly after squatting or deadlifting, I’ll take it easier on my way back home, and rely on electric assist more to get me up to 28 MPH.
  • Monday: Weightlifting day. Deadlift (specifically trap bar deadlift – see here), sitting overhead press, bicep curls (with curl bar).
  • Wednesday: Weightlifting day. Bench press, dumb bell seal rows, tricep extensions (with curl bar).
  • Friday: Weightlifting day. Squat, pull-ups/chin-ups (with resistance band support so that I can do 3 sets of 8+ reps).
  • Saturday: Rest day. Walking/hiking is fine, but nothing more than that.
  • Sunday: Rest day. Walking/hiking is fine, but nothing more than that.

High volume

The super high exercise volume of five days of cardio a week on top of three days of weightlifting a week (and 2+ hours of LISS cardio walking on the treadmill every morning) only works because I’ve taken great pains to avoid all activities that are high-impact (like running, e.g.) or otherwise put noticeably high repetitive forces on one’s body. Overtraining and repetitive use injuries would be inevitable with this sort of volume otherwise.

It bears repeating that you should take things slow when starting, especially if you are overweight. (Extra bodyweight will inherently cause exercise to place higher forces on your body). Injuring yourself will be much more detrimental to your progress overall than proceeding at a bit more measured pace.

Other miscellaneous notes

When I travel, I mostly do bodyweight exercises for strength training (pushups, pistol squats, and pullups if I can find something to do them with), and jump rope for cardio. I also typically back off from my normal intensity some (essentially, engaging in activities at maintenance levels, but not more), and take a bit of a break to give my body a rest.

Stretch some every day, if you can remember, and definitely stretch relevant muscle groups before every workout. Use foam-rolling, lacrosse balls, and self-massage with your hands to loosen up tight muscles after workouts and the day after. (See self-myofascial release).

You should make an effort to lift only in flat (zero-drop) shoes without heel rise. I am a really big fan of the minimalist ultra-wide-toebox Lems Primal 2’s (I wear these full time – work, exercise, you name it), but they are a bit pricy, so if you already have other flat shoes with a relatively thin sole, those would work too.

Never deadlift and squat on days next to each other. These are the two biggest lifts, and you need to give your body a chance to recover between them, otherwise you risk overtraining or injury.

Try to add 5-10 pounds a week to the big lifts (squat, deadlift), and 5 pounds every couple weeks to the upper body stuff (bench, OHP, rows), until this progression gets too hard (you can’t do your reps with good form). Add weight to bicep curls and tricep extensions once you can comfortably do 12 or so reps for three sets at the weight you are on. When you jump 5 pounds you’ll probably drop down to 8 reps per set or something like that.

Why the activities I choose?

For weightlifting, you don’t have a lot of options. You’ve gotta do the exercises. I prefer free weights (barbell + power rack) to a Smith machine, although if forced to use a Smith machine, I’d much rather deadlift and bench in it than squat. I’ve found that it’s way easier to overstress my ankles when squatting in a Smith machine, as it lets you get away with much worse form (since you don’t have to center and balance the weight).

When you do cardio at a high enough intensity (moderate intensity or greater), multi-tasking (as in typing while you run) doesn’t work so well. Doing stuff while you walk works fine though, and I can highly recommend multi-tasking while you walk (as below). There are two general exceptions:

  • You can listen to music when doing moderate intensity cardio and HIIT. Losing yourself in music when you exercise can be quite enjoyable.
  • You can carry on a conversation on a phone call when doing moderate intensity cardio; you’ll be a bit short of breath, but it will work fine. (If you are religious, praying – carrying on a conversation with God – works too). If you bike commute, you can be knocking out three birds with one stone – cardio, getting to/from work, and having a conversation!

Here’s the short version of why I do what I do, with lengthier explanations following:

  • I combine LISS cardio with work (by walking on a treadmill when working) for time-efficiency’s sake.
  • I combine cycling with my commute (by biking to work) for time-efficiency’s sake. It also lets me replace my car, and thereby save a lot of money.
  • I do HIIT jump rope workouts when traveling, since I find jumping rope to be a lot of fun, and jump ropes are very portable.

Why multi-task while you walk for LISS exercise?

Burning calories by multi-tasking when walking is great as it essentially removes all opportunity cost for fitting this kind of exercise (LISS cardio) into your day. This makes it way easier to sustain a calorie deficit long-term. When you combine this practice with a well-thought-out diet and consistency in strength training and more intense cardio, everything that you need for accelerated fat loss is there. All you have to do is stick with it.

You could also hypothetically multi-task while operating an indoor cycling trainer, but I much prefer to do the weight-bearing activity of walking on a treadmill. You engage many more muscle groups.

Working on the computer on a treadmill

I own the LifeSpan TR1200-DT3 under-desk treadmill that I got off Amazon for like $600. When I bought it, it was the one that all the reputable review sites I could find recommended as the best bang for your buck (best balance of functionality, durability, and cost). I haven’t revisited this question since I bought it though, so you should probably do your own research.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to use it much since I have downstairs neighbors in my apartment complex, and it is too loud. I have instead been taking my tablet to the apartment gym where there are treadmills, and working there.


If I could use my treadmill at home, I’d combine it with something to hold my keyboard and mouse (a full standing desk is probably overkill – all you need a small platform), and then use a 4k low-input lag projector, like this one.

Using an enormous projected image (and then walking on a treadmill far back from the image) minimizes the impact of the head-bobbing that walking causes. Recall that I choose walking rather than seated cycling (which wouldn’t have as much of an issue with head-bobbing) since it is a weight-bearing activity, and a much more balanced workout overall.

Having a huge image like this also gives you the option of watching movies and such at cinema levels of awesome, pulling double duty as the best sort of TV viewing experience money can buy.

I am planning on using this setup in the near future – once my own house finishes construction and I don’t have to worry about bugging apartment neighbors with treadmill noise. I’ll report back at that time.

I do a couple things to further enhance the free-calorie-burning idea:

  • I wear a backpack that weighs ~45 pounds to increase the calories I burn, and further strengthen my back, core, and leg muscles. Here’s the gear I use:
    • Aarn pack: Allows for excellent freedom of movement, while distributing most of the weight on my waist. This is important, as 45 pounds on just your shoulders will get uncomfortable real fast. I love this pack.
    • Chest padding: I have a padded shirt to take some of the pressure from the backpack straps (shoulders, chest) off of me directly, and I also wrap the biggest strap pressure points (by the sternum strap) with strap pads.
    • Weight plates in a weight vest: go inside the backpack. Sticking the plates in a weight vest keeps them from clanking, and also allows you to use the weight vest for pushups and pullups (the full backpack would get in the way). I personally use two 20 lb weight plates, but I am a big person (6’5”, >200 lbs), and smaller people would likely be better served by using somewhat lighter plates. Shoot for 15-20% of your bodyweight, or thereabouts. I would also check out the Rogue plate carrier as an option to compare the 5.11 vest against. It didn’t exist when I bought my setup, but it’s cheaper and might work about as well.
    • Big towels: I wrap the weight vest that goes in the backpack in two doubled-up towels (i.e., two towels that have been folded in half lengthwise – folded in half on the longer axis), and this helps increase padding and comfort.
  • I walk at a fairly significant incline. This greatly increases the number of calories burned without me having to walk faster. The benefit of burning more calories without having to walk faster is that your head bobs less, and thus it is simpler to keep your eyes trained on something (making reading easier).
    • When I’m on a gym treadmill, I can just set the incline on the treadmill interface. Using an under-desk treadmill at home, you can create an incline by stacking some rubber pads under the front feet of the treadmill, which elevates the front of the treadmill.

Why biking to work for cardio?

Cardio of longer duration can get boring really easily. One way I’ve found to combat this is to be “going places” when I do cardio: running, cycling, etc. from point A to point B. You get the wind in your hair, the sun on your face, variety from different scenery, and a good dose of fun from the sensation of speed (especially noticeable for anything with wheels, vs. running). By way of contrast, running on a treadmill while looking at a wall or swimming back and forth in a pool gets boring to me real fast.


I have no experience with Zwift or other similar ideas, but they might be an alternative to my going-places-outside line of reasoning.

Now, mountain biking on single-track trails probably takes this form of fun to its maximum. For a long time, I was quite enamored with the idea of mountain biking. To this day I think it’s an excellent activity – see here. However, I have ultimately decided to bike to work instead of getting my cardio from mountain biking. I spent a lot (and I mean a lot) of time thinking this one through, and decided that biking to work is generally more advantageous, if you do some planning to make it work effectively.

I took great pains to map out commute routes when looking at houses, and made it one of the primary factors by which I evaluated possible places to live. Many and perhaps even most people will not have nearly as nice a bike commute as I do (in terms of scenery and safety, among other factors), in other words, and then the decision becomes a bit less clear-cut. (On the other hand, other may people may be further than 10 minutes away from mountain biking trails too). The two activities break down in the following way, as it seems to me:

Biking to work:

  • Generally safe if you only allow yourself to ride on roads conducive to cycling (i.e., roads with low traffic, few intersections, etc. – think twisty country roads). (Note: if you aren’t careful in picking where you live, you may not have any completely safe commute paths to your place of employment!)
  • Very minimal time opportunity cost. (If your commute is primarily on ~40 MPH roads, and the kind of electric bike you get is a speed pedelec that can maintain 28 MPH, you don’t really lose all that much time biking to work, but gain a lot in terms of free exercise, as well as enjoyment).
  • If you have nice scenery on your commute (vs. urban sprawl and intersections), biking to work can be very enjoyable. If you are taking pains to avoid traffic, enjoyment here is less of the adrenaline-filled variety (although there is a bit of that), and more the wind-in-your hair/sun-on-your-face, cruising through pretty scenery variety (cf. convertible cars).
  • If you can very occasionally access a car proper if you really need to (e.g., you are married and your spouse still has a car, or you have a roommate that is willing to give you a lift from time to time), many people can probably completely replace a car with an electric bike. Aside from being a cheaper purchase upfront, you save thousands of dollars a year (you don’t have to pay for gas, oil changes/tire rotations, vehicle registration, and car insurance, which is the biggie). The fact that electric bicycles are mind-blowingly efficient energy-wise (especially if you pedal hard!), along with the fact that you don’t have to register them and insure them, means that you save a lot of money if you can get away using one full-time. Pulling this off successfully does take some planning.

Mountain biking:

  • Generally safe if you use your brain (i.e., don’t ride on sketchy trails right next to cliffs, or ride on any trails that are very much above your present skill level).
  • I think it is fair to say that mountain biking is the more fun activity overall. You certainly get more adrenaline thrills from mountain biking.
  • However, despite being the more fun activity overall, mountain biking has two practical disadvantages:
    • While the net time opportunity cost of biking to work for cardio is fairly minimal, the time opportunity cost of mountain biking for cardio is much more severe. If your car commute is 18 minutes, bike commute is 25 minutes, and distance to mountain biking trails 10 minutes by car (these are my rough numbers), then assuming two mountain biking trips a week (three would be even worse, not better), to get equivalent amounts of cardio (25 * 2 * 5 = 250 minutes/week), the two options have the following net time opportunity costs:
      • Biking to work: (25 * 2 * 5) - (18 * 2 * 5) = 70 minutes.
      • Mountain biking: (10 * 2 * 2) + (250) = 290 minutes. (It’s 310 minutes if the cardio time is split over three MTB trips a week = have to drive to/from trails three times, not two).
    • Quite simply, if you bike to work, you can replace your car (if you plan effectively), while you still need a car in the mountain-biking case. Because of higher upfront purchase costs, higher operating costs (gas, oil, tires), plus yearly registration and insurance, there is thousands of dollars of monetary opportunity cost in not being able to forgo another car.

Due to these two lines of practical reasoning, while mountain biking still has my heart, biking to work is what I have actually settled on.

Why jumping rope when traveling?

If I can’t be doing my preferred activity of biking outside, then that means that I’m traveling. I still want to get cardio when I travel, but I’m probably more likely to want to spend as little time as possible exercising when traveling, since I can exercise any time, but it’s not often that I travel (and have the opportunity to see new places on so on). This makes HIIT quite attractive.

There are many possible HIIT activities that one can engage in. Here’s a reasonably representative list:

  • Jumping rope (mid-weight) (example gear)
  • Jumping rope (heavy) (example gear)
  • Battle ropes (example gear)
  • Kettlebells (example gear – pick one company from this review, and then two weights appropriate for you. I would be at 20kg and 24kg bells at the moment, but I’m a large human at 6’5” and >200 pounds)
  • Burpees, pushups, core exercises (leg raises, flutter kicks) – these activities require no gear.

Sprint training is good for HIIT and requires no equipment, but it is high-impact. All of the above activities are relatively low impact, including jumping rope (at least if you do it right and minimize jump height).

How then to decide what activity (or activities plural) to do? Here’s some variables:

  1. Which activity burns the most calories?
  2. Which activity is a relatively full-body exercise?
  3. Which activity lets you have the most variety, novelty, and fun (variety and novelty are essential for fun)?
  4. Which activity requires minimal bulky/heavy gear, such that it does not practically complicate traveling?

In my opinion, jumping rope is the best pick:

  1. Jumping rope burns an insane number of calories.
  2. If you do it with weighted ropes (either mid or especially heavy weight ropes, as linked above), it is a full-body exercise.
  3. Jumping rope lets you have lots and lots of variety and have a lot of fun, once you get good at it: you can mix in different jumping patterns (boxer step, running in place, etc.), side-swipes, cross-overs (both ways), and double-unders. All this means that I never get bored of it at all.
  4. Jump ropes are quite portable when traveling. Battle ropes are less portable, and kettlebells are downright un-portable.

Crossrope is a well-known weighted jump rope brand. They make good stuff – I’ve tested it myself, having bought ropes personally with my own money.

I don’t recommend Crossrope gear though. The Amazon ropes I linked above are barely different functionally, but are way cheaper.

Jumping rope takes some skill and some development time before it gets really fun

Until the activity “clicks” and you build some coordination, jumping rope is not so great in terms of enjoyment. Constantly having the rope get tangled and mistiming jumps is frustrating, not fun.

Further, a lot of what makes jumping rope fun to me involves the more advanced stuff that you can’t do from day one: side-swipes, cross-overs and double-unders, for example.

What I’m getting at in all this is that it may take a while for the benefits of jumping rope to manifest. Like most good things in life, you have to work for it.

You don’t have to pick just one HIIT exercise

Personally, I do mostly stick with jumping rope. I just find it to be way more fun than any of the other options. But if you wish, you can add in more variety by doing some of the other HIIT options alongside jumping rope. Battle ropes and kettlebells also both allow for extreme variety in workouts, making them also very good choices. It’s in traveling that jump ropes clearly shine, in my opinion.

More free exercise: When talking on the phone or talking to someone in person

If I’m talking to someone and it doesn’t have to be in a specific place, I’m doing one of three things:

  • Driving (talking while driving is a good way to multitask to make the activity more productive)
  • Walking outside (if the weather is nice, I always prioritize this)
  • Walking inside on the treadmill (if the weather is not nice)

I’m always walking with the backpack setup (including outside), and if I’m inside on the treadmill, then I’ll be walking at an incline, as described above.

Walking while you talk is lots of extra calories burnt for free.

List of pages relating to exercise