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December 2, 2015

How I Overcame Barriers to Exercise…And You Can Too! Part 1

by alive

When I went through my divorce, it was one of the hardest periods of my Life ever.


Few things could have prepared me for the stresses of divorce. You kinda expect a few things, but nothing quite prepares you for the simultaneous assault on so many fronts. Acrimonious exchanges, lawyers meetings, villainization by spectators who know nothing, bleeding finances. they hit me like a successive tons of bricks. In my case, I also had to constantly move, never with a secure roof over my head, all on top of having to work a full time job while building my business.


If anything could have given me the perfect excuse to stop exercising and start commiserating over tubs of Häagen-Dazs, this would have been it.


But you know what?


As a wise man once said: “Shit happens.”


Shit happens


Everyone has obstacles to living healthy, especially when it comes to exercise.


Often, they have a way of happening when you least expect it, least can afford it, least have the reserves to deal with it. Life’s slings and arrows come at you from every possible angle, and it’s all you can do to keep afloat, let alone swim and exercise!    


It’s not a matter of IF. It’s a matter of WHEN.


When that happens, I want you to be ready with two guiding principles which have helped me – and my clients – out tremendously.


 These principles are:

  1. Be Prepared
  2. Keep the End in Mind

Today we’ll look at the first principle first: Be Prepared.  


Be Prepared

When the shit hits the fan, it’s important to have ready plans you can effect immediately.


Let’s face it. During a crisis, even a mini one, your full mental faculties will be trained on the problem. You’ll be at a creative low. You simply won’t be able to come up with ideas on the spot to keep exercising.

Be prepared crop

That’s why it’s important to plan ahead. Think of the most common problems you might encounter, and plan how you might handle each.


Although I was not prepared for the full nightmare of the divorce, I anticipated what might conspire to ruin my health, and prepared what to do ahead of time. That way, when things started moving fast, I carried out my plans without having to think.


Here’s how I did it.  

Time/ Tiredness (T)

I predicted time would be at a premium, and this turned out to be true. Looking for a roof over my head, worrying about when I might have to move next, keeping a job with growing responsibilities and meeting lawyers and other consultants, I could hardly breathe. I became exhausted.  




Here’s the plan I prepared ahead to fight this time/tiredness obstacle.


T1. Short Exercise Bouts Throughout the Day

Cardio: I didn’t have time to do long bouts of cardio for my heart, so I simply made it a point to walk as briskly as I could, when I could. Recent research shows that sitting for long periods increases risk of heart disease, so I made it a point never to sit for more than an hour without getting up, doing one or two stretches each time.  


Strength: I also split my strength training workouts. Ordinarily, I recommend most people train their whole body in one session. Some advanced clients might do split training, training a few body parts each time. In my case, I even got to the point when I would train ONE body part whenever I had 5, 10, 15 minutes to spare.


Needless to say, you should already have some exercise ideas in mind for each exercise component. I had pre-planned what exercises I would do if I had 5, 10 or 15min. 


T2. Better Time Management

When consulting with clients who tell me they lack time for exercise, I analyse their time management. They are often surprised how much gets wasted due to inefficiency, distractions, and other leaks.


I had planned not just to manage my time better, but also to observe my patterns of behaviour as the crisis unfolded. Thus, I discovered how much time I spent on wasted activity and unproductive thinking. This helped me streamline my workflow for each day, freeing up ‘extra’ time for exercise  or – on days I was too tired – for more sleep so I could wake up earlier next morning to exercise refreshed.  


T3. Incorporate Social/ Relationships

Not all your crises will involve something as major as house hunting, and handling the treacherous terrain of divorce. However, no matter what your stresses, it’s always important to tend to your relationships and keep contact with your support network.  


I planned meetings and outings around physical activity and had work discussions over a run, business/ networking meetings during a skate and so on.



No Space (S)


I’m an old fashioned guy. I prefer free weights, jogging, calisthenics. When I had to move out, I lost my squat rack, my bench, my weights, my chin up bar and my space for functional training and athletic lifting movements in an INSTANT.


It was hard to plan very precisely for this because I could not predict what rental room I would eventually find. I only knew it would be small.


When I did find one, it became my bed room, my office, AND my gym. I had a floor space of 1.6m x 2m for exercise. I simply didn’t have the money to afford a commercial gym. Besides, I hate what goes on in many of them. The hard sell, the solicitation for personal training, the lack of respect for members, etc.


Here’s the strategy I prepared for living and training out of a small room. 


S1. Accept Changes

I accepted early on that things would change.

Not exactly this guy but still…

For example, I was reduced to living in a room 1/6 the size of my old flat. So power training, complex exercises, fight training and the like had to go. My room was so cramped that, even if I could do them, I wouldn’t have had a buffer of space for safety.


I couldn’t risk heavy squats because if I lost my balance and took just one step forward I would break the furniture. No heavy bench presses because with no safety rack, I could kill myself if I lost the barbell. And no fight training because one misplaced kick could shatter my computer and destroy my work and business data.


Also, I’ve never been blessed with large bones, and so always had to struggle to fill out my legs with heavy strength exercises like squats and deadlifts. I had to accept ahead of time that I would be seeing some of my hard earned muscle disappear.  


S2. Flexible Training


Some people feel that if they can’t enough cardio to

lose fat, they would rather not do any other type of exercise such as weights. Others want muscles and if they don’t have the equipment for that, they aren’t interested even in cardio.  


That’s wrong! You have to be flexible! Some exercise is better than no exercise. And for 18 months, I did what I could: pushups, ab training, and other bodyweight exercises. I tried elastic bands (believe me they work!) and I did more stretching than I would like. I even tried some yoga!



Look at it this way: If you aren’t exercising now, and you could do some exercise that would still benefit your heart and your health, why wouldn’t you do that? If you could devote 15 minutes a day to exercise, even if it’s not your preferred mode, why wouldn’t you want to reap whatever benefits you could instead? What would you lose?  


S3. Equipment


Finally, I saved and bought some equipment for a fraction of the price it would cost for a membership at a commercial gym. These two pieces of equipment were specifically designed for space saving.


For resistance exercise, I bought a set of Powerblocks. These are special dumbbells that are great for two reasons. First, they are compact and space saving, and second, they save valuable time changing plates compared to a regular dumbbell. This is all due to the design which I may review in a future article.


The prices in Singapore are exorbitant. But I didn’t have a choice. Exercise is a lifestyle for me. While it couldn’t help me maintain muscle size, it still served to keep me fit and strong.


The other thing I got was a lightweight folding bench. This was compact enough to store in a small corner when I wasn’t exercising.

Together, they allowed me to train with weights even in cramped quarters, although not as heavily as with my regular equipment, still maintain some muscle fitness.


So there you have it. We looked at the first principle for overcoming obstacles to exercise: BE PREPARED.


But that isn’t going to make a whiff of difference if you don’t even want to exercise in times of strife. So, we also need to live the second principle: KEEP THE END IN MIND.  


We’ll look at that next time.  


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