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How You Can Achieve a Step Change in Your Fitness Before Summer

Mark Suster

Just 21 months ago I couldn’t have jogged 2 miles in under 20 minutes and now I can run 3 miles in 21 minutes or more to the point I can pretty easily run 7.5 miles in an hour.

I’m not super human and while I’m a decent athlete I wasn’t born with super genetics, extra doses of motivation or an unusual ability to tolerate suffering. I was in pretty good athletic shape until 35 but after kids, starting my own companies, travel and age I slowly lost the habit of working out enough to consider myself an athlete.

Starting in 2019 I unlocked the mindset and re-energized my inner-athlete. In fact, since the pandemic began I’ve only missed two days of exercise all year. I only point this out because I want you to understand that if I — of all people — could achieve this I know that you can. I literally weighed 70 pounds more just 21 months ago.

I promised to write about my fitness journey one day to try and help anybody else considering trying to get back into fitness. So here goes …


Every day is a one. Or a zero. You do or you don’t. It’s that simple. There’s really nothing else to it. The secret is how to make more days ones and fewer days zeros.

I know this seems like a fairly sophomoric graph but I draw it for a reason to illustrate a really simple point that I hope will be etched in your mind. The only thing that matters is “going.” You’ll have some good days and some bad days but just GOING is what makes it a habit. And you’ll seldom take the time to get dressed and get your ass going and then suddenly stop. Our brains have a funny way of kicking into gear and saying “well, I took the time to get my shoes on and my workout gear so I might as well finish this.”

Every single day I struggle with “the start.” That’s because the psychological switch of just saying “I don’t feel like it” is so easy to hit and you tap out. I’ve made a mental commitment to myself not to hit that switch. I know that if I can get over the hurdle of just STARTING I’ll be fine. After 21 months I know before I start that once I’m on the road and running or on the Peloton and grooving out to music I’ll not only be fine but I’ll be happy. I just have to start.

For every time I’ve had to roll out of bed and stare at the cold pool by my house and think about jumping into it knowing it’s going to be a shock — I can visualize how good I’ll feel by the fourth lap. I’ll be in “the zone.” This won’t happen in week or or even in ten weeks but it will happen if you make working out a daily habit.

In my next post I’ll share some ideas of how I took the “go every day” mentality and figured out how to “go hard” more days than not but even if I just do a walk one day in stead of running or biking — I still consider that a victory to my steady state of two years ago, which was, “I’m too tired.”

When you see a super fit person — let’s say just a Peloton instructor, a CrossFit enthusiast or perhaps a professional athlete you assume that they have something you don’t. A certain mindset and drive and commitment that you can’t muster. They’re somehow better than you. You’re a procrastinator or too lazy or not motivated enough and they’re just, well, stronger. Physically and mentally.

But it’s not true. At least the mental part.

As I’ve gotten to talk with and hear from super athletes over the past 2 years I’ve learned that they have the same daily struggle as we all do. Mentally convincing yourself to put on running shoes or biking shorts or a swimsuit and go out in the cold morning or the end of day treadmill is drudgery for everybody.

They have two advantages over you. First, they’ve made it a habit so making the micro-commitment to get started is easier for them than for you. It’s like flossing their teeth. Nobody WANTS to do it before they start but they know it’s going to be good for them. And second, they know that once they start it’s not only not as bad as one thinks it’s always going to be but after you develop the basic muscle structure it’s actually an uplifting endorphin rush.

  1. Commit yourself mentally and don’t make excuses
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself and measure progress
  3. Plan your workout routines in advance so you build around them and don’t flake. Prioritize your workouts. Combine them with social activities in stead of meeting for food or alcohol.
  4. Make working out a habit. It doesn’t matter how hard you go as much as it matters the consistency with which you go
  5. Go

Here are the details ….

So if you want to improve and are ready to throw out excuses it gets a whole lot easier.

After 6 months of improving my fitness and losing weight (which is about eating less, not working out more) I was able to start jogging. I started with 20 minutes on my treadmill then moved to 30 minutes on the street and then 45 minutes. Only after a year was I really into distance running on a regular basis.

Start small. Just go. One, not zero. Don’t beat yourself up for any bad day or low effort, congratulate yourself for going. But also be realistic about your needs for improvement. If you reach homeostasis, where your body is accustomed to the same workout all the time you stop improving. So set goals for yourself for modest improvements or occasions “harder days” or adding new routines.

I saw this Tweet after I published and it’s a great illustration of many of my failures in the past:

Because I’m naturally competitive I always tried to go hard every workout. Inevitably two things happened:

a. I would injure myself (hamstrings, shins, calves)

b. I would “burn out” … if every day has to be better than the last day then just going becomes drudgery. if you can get over THIS you’ll unlock the workout habit. every day doesn’t have to be a “personal best” — in fact if you do that you’re not even optimizing how to improve your fitness since your body needs rest and slow days.

I try to eye my calendar at the start of a week and make a plan. Here’s an example from my week this week:

  • Monday’s are full days for me so mornings are usually out. I had a construction guy coming to my house at 5:30pm and I figured he’d stay for an hour maximum. It’s spring and the sun is out in LA until 7:30pm so I knew I had time to run. I made sure I had my gear already on when he came and my earphones were charged. He left around 6:40pm and soon after I was out the door on a 5.2 mile run. Home by 7:45pm in time to make the boys dinner and eat a sweaty meal with them and Jerry Seinfeld.
  • Tuesday I had hoped to work out in the morning but an LP from the Middle East asked for a call and given time zones 7:30am was the best time so once he asked I mentally switched gears and told myself I would run later in the day. My son had a soccer game early evening and he’s a senior in high school so I wanted to see his first home game if I could. So I made sure I was in my running gear when my last Zoom call ended and I raced to get a 30-minute treadmill run in, put on a hat, sweats and a mask(and deodorant!) and raced to the car to catch the game.
  • Wednesday and Thursday were the only days in the week I knew I could swim and in the Covid world you have to pre-book way in advance so I booked 7am Wed (this morning!) and 8am Thursday. I pack my swimming backpack the night before so that I can race out the door. I’m not gonna lie — it was earlier than I wanted to go but this was the only open slot this morning. In a pre-Covid world I used to have to go at 6am so I knew that mentally I could make it work. Honestly, I shouldn’t be blogging right now — I should be in bed so I get a good night’s sleep but I’ve put this off long enough. But I WILL NOT flake on going tomorrow morning. My Strava community knows that!
  • Friday I’m booked all morning so it’s going to have to be afternoon. I still don’t know what I’ll do but I’ll have a plan by tomorrow afternoon.
  • Saturday I pre-booked a hike for 7.30am with a friend who has super young toddlers. I usually prefer 8.30am on the weekends but sometimes you gotta be flexible for others! I love combining weekend hikes with social occasions and/or people with whom I work. My family sleeps in any ways so be planning early I get it out of the way.
  • Saturday and Sunday afternoons I always play tennis with my teenage boys. I don’t actually count this as my “workout” — I still will hold myself accountable for a Sunday jog, Peloton or hike. But if I feel more tired or fatigued I know that an hour of tennis is truly a good cardio routine on its own if I want.

I tell you all this to show you that literally every week is like this for me. I eye the week, I make a tentative plan and I do my best to stick to the plan.

I decided late last year that I wanted to massively increase my French skills. So I committed to a daily habit on DuoLingo. You wake up 5 minutes later and suddenly you’re at 125 straight days! When I started it seemed like a mountain. I’m now more than 4 months in of not missing a single day. I now have committed to 3 days / week of video discussions on italki with native French speakers. It’s super fucking intimidating but after 6 weeks I’m feeling more comfortable every time. Small. Daily. Habits. With consistency.

Consistency > Duration of workout > Effort fo workout.

Ones, not zeros.

Don’t believe me? Here’s my March Strava totals.

And then there are my Peloton streaks. I once told myself I wanted to do 60 straight days of biking on Peloton so I set a goal and off I went. I knew I didn’t care if that streak continued because I like going outside but it was fun to have a goal and hold myself to it. I helped me to avoid excuses. And I’m religiously protecting my weekly streak on Peloton (I’m now at 75) and I want to hit 2 years (104 weeks).

Now, I know people will be thinking “you’re supposed to rest one day / week.” True, true. But if you feel that way then just at least walk on your off day. For me? Cross training is enough that I can go 360+ days / year and not get injured.

If you’re intrinsically motivated then just keep a log of your workouts and hold yourself accountable to a plan. Write down your workouts. The best way is on Strava but there are a bunch of other products or tools — heck you can even keep track of it on Google Sheets (which is how I track my pushup challenges).

But most of us are not intrinsically motivated we’re extrinsically motivated meaning we find more motivation in not letting others down or having others hold us accountable. That’s the beauty of things like Strava or Peloton. You can share your workouts with a community. Sometimes I’ll send a screen grab of a hard effort to my brothers so that I know that somebody else is watching! It’s all just a form of accountability.

  1. Commit yourself mentally and don’t make excuses
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself and measure progress
  3. Plan your workout routines in advance so you build around them and don’t flake. Prioritize your workouts. Combine them with social activities in stead of meeting for food or alcohol.
  4. Make working out a habit. It doesn’t matter how hard you go as much as it matters the consistency with which you go
  5. Go

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