The optimal (and only way) to sustainable fitness

Like Al, you never seem to get going with fitness. Maybe you were in shape previously, but fell off the wagon somehow – as 'life' took hold.

Fitness devotees usually manage to prioritize their goals by finding the required 'workarounds.'

But Al struggles to keep head above water – let alone find time and make the effort to get properly fit. It was similar for me too.

Fitness seems so complicated and time-consuming, such that most of us kind of do it 'haphazardly.'

Although I did train frequently in the distant past, I was never 100% satisfied with my achievements. It was only when I took the time and made the effort to get properly-informed. When I finally stopped 'dabbling', got serious and tried different things – did I establish what 'actually' works.

It's really far simpler than we're made to believe (as you'll see from the program design below).

So yes, there is a practical way to pull off a physical transformation – even if you're short on time. Being committed and organized are essential, and I deal with that throughout this Site. But you also need a doable program that'll help you become a better version of yourself without the need for hours of exercise and a boring restrictive diet.

Since my initial transformation back in 2002, I've used the Sensible Fitness Program as the basis for all my training. It's how I stay in top shape while living a busy and engaging life.

You could say that it's the only real way of fitting fitness 'around' your lifestyle. (The Welcome Page and FAQ have more on this.)

Realistic expectations

An important note before diving in, especially if you're new to fitness: It's wise not to simply follow another person's program – and hope for the exact same results they obtained. 

Even though the Sensible Fitness Program (in standard form) isn't individually customized to you – there's no reason why you can't successfully transform yourself by following it.

You'll get out what you put in.

What's needed from you is a solid effort and consistency over a period of time (ideally 2-3 months) with a goal date. You'll then be in a perfect situation to further adapt the program – and continue making gains. 

Let's go!

Goal of the Sensible Fitness Program

Giving you optimal results from targeted efforts. This way you enjoy a socially connected, rewarding and prosperous lifestyle.

In short, "functional fitness, but not at the cost of the other important parts of your life."

How did I come up with the program design?

I've long since understood and worked on solutions for the predicament, 'needs' and 'wants' faced by the people I like to call 'Al.'

Program Highlights

  • Highly-efficient and sustainable. The perfect solution for people like Al.

  • Brief but effective physical exercise. 5-6 sessions per week totalling less than two hours overall.

  • Enjoyable nutrition, based entirely on real food. No 'dieting' or mandatory supplementation.

nutrition

You can approach the training part of the Sensible Fitness Program with as much rigor and passion as humanly possible – but you will not realize appreciable results without an effective and supportive eating plan.

Of course my definition of good nutrition may differ from the next person's, who could be on a keto, vegan or vegetarian plan. The important thing is to realize that 'what' you eat, and 'how' much – dictates your physical condition more than your workout program does.

Whatever your eating orientation, be responsible with your nutrition, as well as your macro and micronutrients.

Remember, MyFitnessRoad.com, the Sensible Fitness Program and the Sensible Way are all synonymous with the consumption of 'real' food – all of the time. I don't 'exclude' any food types, nor do I consume or any 'special' meals. The focus is on following an eating plan with a ratio of whole unprocessed foods to processed/rich foods of around 80-20 – in line with your own particular calorie and macronutrient requirements – which are derived from your individual total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).

Below is an example of what I eat on a typical day with a 40-25-35 macronutrient ratio (Carb/Protein/Fat).

sample daily meal plan

  • Coffee with whole milk
  • Bowl of cooked oatmeal with whole milk and almonds
  • Grilled chicken breast with cottage cheese and mixed veg
  • Slice of toast & peanut butter, square of dark chocolate and coffee with whole milk
  • Piece of fruit and cup of yoghurt
  • Egg omelet, sweet potato, garden salad with olive oil dressing
  • Cup of dairy ice-cream with optional topping
  • Bowl of cereal and optional protein supplement

Although a nutrition plan will vary from individual-to-individual (depending on eating practices and macronutrient tolerances), the list of meals above shows the type of 'normality' which underlines the program.  
In short, real food.

If you're consistent and attentive regarding your eating, you will become accustomed to your body's nutritional needs over time. The Sensible Fitness Program advocates a nutrition plan which supports your goals and is enjoyable.

REDUCING BODY FAT

There are a number of different ways to do this – and I would end up with a thick book if I went into detail here.

The main consideration however, is to initially use a consistent calorie-deficit (which you can calculate on the BMR-TDEE page), gradually adjusting this – as you progress – to settle at a maintenance level.

'How much' of a deficit depends on how much weight you need to lose and how much time you want to give yourself to do that. I wouldn't recommend being too aggressive – since that could be detrimental to your health. (This topic is best discussed with a medical practitioner if you're significantly overweight.)

If you're someone who's inclined to feel that "you've tried everything to lose weight and nothing seems to work", then aside from just looking at calories in vs calorie out, you may be overlooking some other underlying factor/s. The main ones being genetics, metabolism or thyroid-function. You may be deficient, resistant or intolerant in some way.

If you find it a struggle to lose weight with the conventional reduced calories on moderate carb/protein and low-fat – consider experimenting with different methods. I've worked with certain people who finally managed to lose body fat by alternating their approaches. For example, by using the ketogenic style of eating. After years of stubbornly trying low-fat – and feeling miserable – there was success.

Now we're not simply talking lower calories. It's also worthwhile trying to gauge your own tolerance and/or resistance to certain foods or styles – and using what works for you. Although most of the time I stick to 40-25-35 (carb/protein/fat), there are some days where I vary these ratios quite considerably.

I'm fortunately able to tolerate different ratios and, I love the versatility.

By now, you're probably eager to pop this question...

Can I stay in excellent shape without obsessing about portions, or counting calories?

Yes! But not at first – especially if this fitness 'stuff' is all new to you.

I highly recommend that you track your portions/calories and macronutrients if you're just starting your fitness journey.

Doing this will enable you to understand your individual metabolic set-point and exactly what you need to eat to lose, gain or maintain for the future. After you've made it through the first 4-6 weeks (a vital period of familiarization), there should only be a limited or occasional need to track your nutrition – if at all.

You could take one of two possible routes during the familiarization process:

  1. Work out a daily meal plan that you can replicate (if you're not too bothered about eating the same types of meals routinely) or,
  2. Go with the approach of track-as-you-eat, for more variability (using one of the many available nutrition tracking apps like FatSecret or MyFitnessPal).

Even though I recommend ultimately graduating beyond calorie-tracking (which is far more complex than portioning meals), I would recommend it for people following a 'cutting' cycle or program, or if you're doing periodic check. But certainly not after successful completion of a transformation, or over the long-term.

Why?

Who wants to be burdened with measuring and weighing foods and ingredients more than absolutely necessary? Imagine the stress and awkwardness of doing this while your family and friends look on in shock and horror.

Besides, you'll already be familiar with your body and its physiology. At that point, you're in full control, able to better judge portions and meal profiles – and know 'how' to eat in different situations. This brings up an interesting but desirable means of approaching food:

instinctive eating

Is such a thing possible? Are we talking 'winging' it, and still being able to stay strong and lean?

Yes!

It means that you've 'graduated' to a level of understanding about your own body's needs, and the profile of foods and meals, to 'eyeball' accurately – if you previously did your homework in monitoring and tracking your nutrition.

That will serve you well when you're eating out. By now you know what your home-cooked meals constitute, how to mix and match your meals, and limit the damage when dining with friends and family.

Exercise

How 'hard' do you need to train?

As I mentioned, your reward is going to be consistent with your effort. That doesn't mean full-speed all the way. There are times when it's opportune to push and times when you need to back off a little, to allow for adequate recovery. The further you progress with the program, the more intensity-variation can be brought into play.

Like me, even though it good to 'follow' a workout program, you'll also eventually be in tune with your body so that you can train instinctively.


By being attentive to my own particular response and recovery to exercise, I was able to adapt my activity and drastically reduce overall training-time. This is reflected in the simple but effective design of the Sensible Fitness Program as it stands to day.

WEIGHT TRAINING

Given the holistic approach of the sensible way, weight training needs to allow Al:

  • Improved functional and health-related fitness – to be able to do things without risking injury or cardiac arrest, and
  • To look good physically, thereby boosting confidence and sense of self-worth.

With the above, all-round wellness is guaranteed – and life only gets better.

As you may know, I train the same way most of the time – and it's dead simple.

With the exception of the occasional specialization phase (1-2 times a year), this is what it looks like:

PROGRAM LAYOUT

I use a weekly 4-way resistance (weight) training split, covering the entire body (including abs and core) using varied workout intensities and rep-ranges. I do cardio 2-3 times a week.

It typically looks like this:

Monday:

Tuesday:

Wednesday: 

Thursday: 

Friday:

Saturday:

Sunday:

Upper body (push/pull)

Cardio (low or medium-intensity)

Legs / lower back

Cardio (high-intensity) (optional)

Upper body (push/pull)

Rest (optional core-specific work)

Cardio (low and medium-intensity)

WORKOUT DURATION

Average resistance workouts last a mere 15 minutes.  Too short? Performed correctly – the program will deliver.

Shorter training-times fit best with that all-too-common busy lifestyle – to provide efficacy and efficiency. We're talking 'sensible' at its best.

VOLUME AND INTENSITY

In keeping with the sensible way, exercise protocols are short, but highly-effective.

And to achieve significant strength and hypertrophy (building muscle for tone/size) as efficiently as possible, the program varies volume and intensity on alternate weeks:

Do I really need to do cardio?

That depends on you, your goals and your individual constitution. Your somatotype and current body fat levels will also dictate your needs to a large degree.

Some people have a fast metabolism and can get away with less cardio than others, with some not having to perform any at all! You won't really know if you're new to fitness. However, within a month of consistent training, you will understand more about yourself than you ever did before. At that stage, you'll be able to make an educated decision on your future needs.

I personally don't do as much cardio as I used to, although I have never eliminated it from my program altogether because of its health benefits. My weekly average is 2-3 sessions, whereas I used to do 3-4 a week in the past. My reasons are simple: I have continued to refine my workouts over the years to just the required levels of cardio training – and no more. 

If you pay proper attention to your physiology, you'll also manage to find what works best for you.

That said, starting out with three sessions per week will work just fine in most cases – and provide an excellent platform from which to work from.

DIFFERENT CARDIO INTENSITY LEVELS

I alternate between low, moderate and high-intensity interval cardio training.

My low/moderate steady-state sessions last for 25-30 minutes, while my high-intensity interval workout is 17 minutes long.

Different cardio intensities all have their places in a good program, which is why I have them here. By using all variants, you get: fat-burning, heart-lung conditioning, removal of lactic waste/toxins and enhanced metabolic endurance.

(See this page for more on the benefits of cardiovascular training.)

THE CARDIO WORKOUTS

Weekly Split

Exercise Type %MHR Day Duration
Low-intensity steady state (LISS) 55-70 Tuesday 30 mins
Moderate-intensity steady state (MISS) 70-85 Thursday (optional) 25 mins
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) 85-100 Saturday 17 mins

Recording your workouts and progress

Planning, recording and monitoring your progress are the most effective ways to realize your fitness goals. Find out more about the importance of doing that here.

Over to you!

You should just about have what you need to get started in terms of information. Remember to drop me a line if you have any doubts or queries – I'm always happy to help.

References

Jonas, S., Phillips Edward M.; ACSM's Exercise is Medicine (TM): A Clinician's Guide to Exercise Prescription, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; February 25, 2010. Chapter 8, The Exercise Prescription; p. 103.