How A Players Stay in Shape

This article is sort of a “silver bullet,” with advice that has enabled hundreds of busy, high-performing A Players to exercise, get in shape, and then stay in shape … following this counter-intuitive dictum: NO PAIN, YOU GAIN!  And with all the hype about “easy” ways to get in shape and lose weight, you are skeptical.  Good.  Then please read this again: NO PAIN, YOU GAIN means that you never, ever push yourself beyond what is comfortable for you to do today.

I know many of you already focus on wellness with a great exercise regime. But if you don’t have a good plan already, or want to reenergize your program, these tips offer some advice. This article does not touch on nutrition, just exercise.  I’ll assume you know about proper diet and the zillion benefits of exercising. Here are six keys to this, which I’ll list, but let me tell you how I became an exercise advisor.


Many years ago, my wife Mary and I were at a party and a buddy asked, “Brad, do you exercise regularly?” I responded, “Oh, sure!” Another buddy asked, “Oh, really, how many times did you work out this week?”  Feeling awkward, I said, “Well, I traveled all this week, so I didn’t work out.” Smelling blood, another friend pounced with, “Uh, huh, how about last week? You didn’t travel last week!” Sheepishly, I said quietly, “Um, I guess I haven’t exercised for a couple weeks.”

Busted! I’d been BS-ing myself, convinced I exercised regularly when I didn’t. So I looked inside my damaged soul and concluded I hated exercise.  Oh sure, I like tennis, but I don’t like the aerobic versions of running, swimming, bike riding, or crawling on crushed glass because all of these hurt. Some joggers experience beta endorphins that are like a narcotic, so they are literally on a running “high” as they pound the pavement. I’m not one of them, are you? I like the feeling of exhaustion and feeling of satisfaction AFTER working out.


So, I decided to ask candidates I interviewed: Do you exercise regularly? Do you love exercising? What exactly do you do to stay in shape? I ignored the executives who “love” the exercise itself. I was interested in executives who, like me, hated it, but unlike me really do exercise regularly. In the next few years, I studied thousands of executives who hated exercise, but did it, and I was amazed to find that the vast majority followed many of the same principles.


1.  Remember the key: No pain, you gain. A lot of executives make New Year’s Resolutions to work out three times per week. They hire a buff, young trainer who snickers, “Chris, you are in sorry shape, but give me one hour three times a week and I’ll get your sorry body in shape!”

The executive is diligent for one month and then has a business trip and … well, never quite gets back to the intense workouts.  Why? Because the workouts were too painful, that’s why. High performers have enough pain just living and working, and don’t need torture three times per week.

By the way, the executives in my sample all got regular physical exams, and the smart thing before embarking on any exercise program is to get the okay from your doc.

2.  Start SLOOOWLY and progress SLOOOWLY, doing SOMETHING three times per week.  Most of the 3,000 executives exercised comfortably, starting slowly and easily, and progressing so slowly and easily, that even with jet lag or a cold they’d include a work out. What does “starting slowly” mean? If you’re in pretty bad shape it might mean literally just walking for 10 minutes, three times per week … if that’s all you can do comfortably. The point is to make a lifelong commitment to regular exercise, and when “way down deep” you know that your exercise session will NOT be painful, it’s easy to stay with the program.

Even if your effort is not aerobic to begin with, it eventually will be as you EASILY add time (eventually 20 minutes, 3 times per week) and intensity (how fast you peddle, walk, run, or whatever). As you get in better and better shape, you’ll add time and intensity with no pain.

I started, decades ago, riding a Schwinn AirDyne, a bike you can use just as a bike or use the bars for arm exercise, or both, and the “wheel” has baffles that blow air to cool you off. I started slowly and over the years gradually added the speed/intensity and time, but NEVER made it so difficult it would be painful. And if I have a cold or jet lag, I just do a bit less or do it easier … but I do it.  With strep throat, I skip it!

3.  Mix up the aerobic exercise. Most executives get bored doing the same aerobic exercise all the time.  In the winter I use the AirDyne, because I can watch news on TV at the same time. But when the weather is good I sometimes play tennis, ride a bike, walk the golf course, swim laps, or wind surf (if you’re lousy at it, as I am, believe me, it’s aerobic to fall off, get on, etc.).

4.  Exercise mostly at home, to save time. Only about 1/3 of the executives in my study got in the car, drove to the health club, undressed, worked out, showered, got dressed, and drove back to work. Simply to save time, 2/3 of execs in my study walk all the way down to the basement, because it’s convenient and saves time. But the other1/3 love their health club and visit it regularly, mostly in the early morning.

5.  Add (light) muscle building. The vast majority in my sample eventually added light weight training a couple of days per week. Why? You’ve heard – without trying to build bulk, regular weight training builds muscle tone and bone density, and as a bonus, those muscles chomp up calories 24/7. I do 2 reps of 30 exercises twice per week for 45 minutes, moving quickly from one piece of equipment to the next quickly so that my heart is almost beating at an aerobic rate. The first rep is warm up and the second adds enough weight that the very last rep is hard, but not too stressful. Almost all in my sample stretch for about 10 minutes to have excellent flexibility. Feels great!  And remember – that entire hour was comfortable and quite easy.

6.  Keep a chart. Remember how I kidded myself into thinking I worked out regularly? To be SURE you really are working out aerobically 12 times per month, just tape a 3″ x 5″ card somewhere, draw lines showing each week, and add one chit mark every time you work out. Is it the end of the month and you have only 10, not 12, chit marks? Then next month do 14. Let it creep into your brain that you WILL work out aerobically 3 times per week, 12 times per month, 144 times per year — no excuses! And when you add 2 weight workouts per week, chart those too.


Yes! Most in my sample work out 5 or 6 times per week and consider it effortless. And many said in summary, “Brad, I find that any day I don’t do some sort of exercise, I feel lousy!”  They say, “Working out isn’t painful and NOT working out becomes painful, so I do something almost every day.”

Published March 18, 2014

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