The Mario Kart Guide to Momentum

I have a confession to make.

In the past month, I’ve missed a lot of workouts.  Yup, the guy running a fitness website hasn’t made exercise a priority.  Since leaving Portland less than a month ago, I’ve been on 10 different airplanes, changed time zones six times, played in a Charity Golf Tournament (humble brag!), spent time in six different states with various friends, and laid to rest one of my heroes.

Now, I won’t complain that I don’t have time to work out, because we all know that is a fake excuse.  Instead, I’ll say that for the past month I’ve chosen not to make consistent strength training a priority.  However, I have no doubt that once things settle down, I’ll be able to complete my first real workout with conviction, having lost very little momentum despite taking time off recently.

We’ve all been there:  We spend a month or two hitting every workout, eating right, and getting things done, and then life gets in the way.  We travel, run into family emergencies, work gets absolutely crazy, and we completely fall off the wagon!

Today, Mario Kart will teach you how to maintain all of the momentum you’ve built up, even when you run over a few banana peels.  

Understand the power of momentum

bowser mario kart

Imagine you are Bowser in Mario Kart.

(I freaking love that I get to type that sentence as part of my job).  

Due to your gigantic size, you have a very fast top speed, but really poor acceleration.  When you step on the gas pedal, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to get your cart to move even an inch (you’re Bowser, remember?).  However, if you continue to hammer on that pedal, your kart will start to move faster and faster until you reach top speed.  At this point, even a slight touch of the gas will allow your kart to continue moving forward, due to inertia and momentum (thank you, science!).

However, if you run over a few banana peels, get clobbered by a red shell, or mistime a jump and end up in the ocean, your kart will eventually come to a stop and you have to start ALLLLL over again!   Had you taken things more slowly, eased off the gas, and then powered through when the roadway was clear, you would have hit top speed much quicker.

When you build healthy habits for a month or two, you have obtained top speed.  When life gets in the way (damn those banana peels), do WHATEVER you can to safely navigate without having to come to a complete stop.

Every workout counts.  Every decision to eat a healthy meal counts.    

  • If you can only work out ONCE a week, it’s FAR better than not working out all.
  • If you can only eat ONE healthy meal a day (or a few a week), it’s WAY better than NO healthy meals!
  • If you can only manage to do 10 push ups a few times a day, it’s MUCH better than sitting on your ass doing nothing.

Your goal is to fire on all cylinders when you have a clear path, and minimize momentum loss when you encounter obstacles.  So let’s make that happen!

Collect those coins

mario coins

What you eat will account for 80-90 percent of your success or failure when it comes to weight loss or muscle gain.

A great diet combined with a so-so workout plan will almost ALWAYS beat out a so-so diet and HOURS of exercise.  If you’re old enough and cool enough to have played Super Mario Kart for SNES, you understand the importance of collecting coins.  Each coin adds to your overall top speed, which makes them so vitally important.  Yeah, you could race well without them, but you’d be a fool not to collect as many coins as possible to make yourself faster.

Eating a healthy diet is like collecting the maximum number of coins: the more coins you have, the easier everything else becomes! If you are caught in a time period where you can’t make working out a priority, don’t compound the problem by ALSO eating like crap.

I can ALMOST accept the “I was SO busy I didn’t have time to exercise” excuse, because that at least requires you to make a decision to exercise over doing something else. But eating better doesn’t require MORE time, it just means you need to make healthier decisions!

So start collecting those coins!  Every eating decision you make is a chance to collect another coin (or give one away).  If you have to eat fast food, leave off the bun, substitute fruit or veggies for the fries, or drink water instead of getting a 32 oz. Coke.  I don’t care if you’ve eaten like crap for two weeks, your NEXT meal has become the most important one – why not start now?

Driving cross-country? You can still eat healthy!

On a tight budget?  You can still eat healthy!

Don’t have time to prepare a meal?  Yes, you do.

Dodge the obstacles, collect the power ups

mario kart key chains

Life has this funky habit of throwing green shells, banana peels, and bob-ombs at us:  

  • a sick family member or pet
  • a cross-country move
  • a newborn baby
  • a hectic product launch at work

If we’re not careful, these obstacles can send us spinning over the edge into the ocean or lava.  Your goal is to minimize these complete-stop moments and maximize the results of any effort used towards stepping on that gas pedal moving forward.

Good food decisions will increase your top speed, making EVERY other decision you take more efficient.

However, do NOT underestimate the importance of working out either – ANY physical activity puts your brain into healthy thinking mode: “I am exercising because I am becoming healthier.  Therefore, I should continue to make better choices throughout the day.”

Think of physical activity like the power ups scattered throughout the course: each one gives you a chance to catch up and dominate the speedway.

Here’s how to make sure you have the best chance to collect more power ups:

  • Schedule workout time on your phone’s calendar.  Even if it’s 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there.  You’d be surprised how much more likely you’ll be to exercise when your workout, no matter how quick, is actually scheduled in your calendar.
  • Want to GUARANTEE a workout? Schedule and build the habit of working out or exercising for 15 minutes FIRST thing in the morning.  It’s amazing what you can accomplish before you have a chance to check email, pick up your phone, or check Nerd Fitness on Twitter.
  • Set a timer on your phone to go off every hour.  While at work, every time that timer goes off, do 20 squats and 10 push up in your cubicle.  Do a lap around the office, throwing banana peels behind you to trip up the competition.  Well…maybe hold off on the banana peel thing.
  • Make a 20 minute walk part of your day, no excuses.  We all know how important walking is. Frodo wouldn’t have made it to Mordor without walking, right?  If you have time for nothing else, make sure you get a 20-minute brisk walk in each day.  If you have to go for a walk WHILE eating your lunch or take a meeting on the go, do it.

Mushrooms and star power


When it comes to a heated Mario Kart race, effective use of powerups can be the difference between victory and defeat.  

Two power-ups in particular can help you quickly regain the lead: mushrooms and star power-ups.  

Sprinting and intervals are your mushrooms.

Strength training is your Star Power.

When done properly, an intense strength workout just once a week can help you maintain strength, muscle, speed up your metabolism for a significant amount of time, and make you feel like Super Mario.

The most efficient workout routines will have you heavy lifting for a few key compound exercises (or intense body weight exercises), so that your ENTIRE body gets worked out in a matter of minutes.

Here are two Star Power workouts you can complete whenever you only have ONE day to workout.

STAR POWER WORKOUT (weight training):

  • Warm up
  • 4 sets of 5 reps of barbell squats
  • 4 sets of 5 reps of overhead presses (or push presses)
  • 4 sets of maximum reps of chin ups (or rows)
  • Cool down

If you have easy access to a gym but can’t find a full thirty minutes, complete each of the above exercises on separate days.

STAR POWER WORKOUT (Bodyweight Only)

  • Warm up
  • 3 sets of 8 box jumps (stepping down after)
  • 3 sets of the most difficult type of push up you can complete (wall push ups all the way up to handstand push ups)
  • 3 sets of 10 reps of the most difficult squat you can complete (body squats up to pistol squats)
  • 3 sets of max repetitions of pull ups or chin ups
  • Cool down

[If you’re looking for more quick workouts (both gym and bodyweight only), with video demonstrations check out the Rebel Strength Guide]

If all else fails – nothing beats simple push ups.  Remember, the goal is to maintain strength and momentum until you can jam on that gas pedal!

Powerslide to victory

mario bowser peach luigi

Here’s how to keep the kart moving forward, even during times of complete chaos:

  • Put 90% of your effort towards healthy eating – an unhealthy diet can derail your momentum faster than a banana peel on Rainbow Road.
  • Put “WORK OUT!” in your calendar – Schedule the time, place, and what the workout is.
  • Go for a walk every day – This will keep you healthy and thinking healthy.
  • Find SOME way to strength train – Pick one of the workouts above, even if it’s just once a week.

What other ways have you been able to maintain momentum while going through a tough month?


PS – Who’s your favorite Mario Kart character?


Photo: super mario kart, bowser, mario coins, mario kart key chains, yoshi, mario bowser peach luigi

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  • Shelley Allen

    This is just what I needed to read today as work is hectic I was about to give up my lunch hour walk/run to stay and work. My favorite Mario charachter has always been Mario.

  • Boosh

    An exercise article that speaks my language and with my firstborn due in 8 weeks, well timed – like a red shell on the home stretch with Donkey Kong in the lead.

    Koopa Troopa domination – all day long.

  • Charlotte Jarrett Nauert

    Easily one of my favorite NF posts of all time. Such an apt analogy and full of the parlance of my childhood. Love it. And you know what else I love? Yoshi!

  • AJ Hanson

    Great Article! Wario every time!

  • Krista Stryker

    I LOVE Mario Kart. And I love this analogy.

    Momentum is incredibly important whenever you’re trying to become fitter, healthier, and happier. It’s hard to keep the workouts and good eating habits up, especially when life constantly throws shells and banana peels at you—but it’s so worth it in the long run!

    PS. Love the Star Power bodyweight workout. Not having weights is no excuse to not work out!

    PPS. My favorite Mario Kart character is Yoshi! Also, I’ve always had a soft spot for Toad.

  • Level 1 Cave Man

    I really appreciated the “Angry Birds” work out. I love being able to pound out a workout in a few minutes, record, rinse, and repeat. I loved Mario Kart back on SNES (Team DK) and this is definitley being added to the repertoire so I can boost to the finish.

  • physiquerescue

    Rainbow Road, Powerslides, Starpower! Steve the only thing missing is Battle Mode!!!

  • Fryinbox

    Gotta be Mario. He’s my homeboy!
    Diggin this site man. Way to appeal to the overlooked gaming community in the workout spectrum. This is just what gets me going in the morning.

  • Guest

    holy crap, Steve. as always, writing an article about a topic relevant to my current situation.

  • James Parker

    holy crap, Steve. as always, writing an article about a topic relevant to my current situation. thanks a ton!

    I was always a Toad kid. and I loved the N64 game. no exaggeration when I say I got to the point of playing that game with my toes. O_o’ I was a little too obsessed.

  • Jonathan Paul

    A little plug for a friend but I find Breaktaker works better than phone reminders throughout the day:


  • Rosita

    Luigi is my favorite.

    I travel all the time and maintain momentum by always packing workout clothes and by asking myself the following question whenever my inner child starts to whine at me:

    “Is going to kill you? Is it going to ruin your day even? Oh no? Then get in there and keep going.”

  • grzars

    Great post! My weight loss plateau has felt like a blue shell/lightning bolt combo. But at least the path is clear now! Dry Bones in the tank can still take this thing all the way to first place!

  • Carolyn

    I can’t even tell you how excited I am that you wrote about Mario Kart…it’s my favorite game of all time!!!! Although, my favorite character for Mario Kart is always Luigi!!!!

  • dnoble

    This is just yet another awesome article. Thank you for the continued insight, and for keeping it lighthearted and fun!

  • Bri Hansen

    I just love you. You made a real difference today. Not with getting someone off the couch to stop being lazy and try…. but to someone who’s been going hard for 5 years already and just needed a wink and a nod and some help just for a minute. Just once. Thank you so much.

  • rtalencar

    I was with you up until the question about favorite mario kart character, man. There’s only ONE right answer to that: Toad. So it’s not even really a question =)

  • Hayley DeBolt

    This is exactly what I needed! I haven’t been doing so hot either (college classes and moving into my dorm) but today was my new beginning and this totally complimented that!

  • cassandra stacey

    This is exactly what I needed to read today as I struggle with life/work stress and making excuses. Thanks for being awesome and sharing great analogies with us!

  • Amy Piekkala-Fletcher

    I love this blog, I love this post, I love Mario Kart and I LOVE PRINCESS PEACH!

  • Joia

    Toad! He started out as the default choice because the big sibs always took Yoshi and Princess Peach and he was the only one left in that weight class. But then I started beating them regularly. There’s nothing more satisfying than jumping up and down yelling “I’m the best!” 😉

  • Jess

    This article further emphasises why I love NF so much. Steve you are truly a legend. Keep up the great work.
    Oh, and the answer is Peach. Hands down

  • Jezika Steves

    Nice article. My 11 year old son read this article too. He is a mario fan too.

  • Todd Dosenberry

    I’m Toad… For realz. It’s my nickname and I prefer it over Toad. I was always Toad for this reason.

    This makes me want to create something epic that involves Mario kart, fitness and my walk through all 50 states of America!

  • Bekka Hohenboken

    I can hear the music already… Princess Peach was always my favorite, but Daisy was (after the initial shock of seeing another girl) fine too. Wait, what if they led a WiiFit strength training program? Breaking gender norms say whaaaat

    As for managing the worst of times, one of the toughest yet simplest things for me to do during struggle times is to take a look at what’s being offered – whether it’s a food menu, workout options, a potential sleep schedule, or hobbies to try out – step back, and decide – is this [item x] that I’m considering what my mind wants, what my body wants, or what I really need? Sometimes that makes the difference between a cracked-out frappuccino emotional bandaid, a black iced coffee with cinnamon, or just powering through a workout without letting “but I’m sleepy!” be an excuse. Blue shells happen – I can’t just go “well I guess that’s that then” and power down every time I get hit. Thank you Steve for yet another inspiring, funny article!

  • Charlayna

    Toad was always the best, although, for any other game I was Yoshi! What can I say? I like reptiles, and he was a dinosaur!

    Awesome post–I love N64!

  • Red1263

    Steve, You’re freaking awesome to Remember SNES Mario Kart! I was laughing and Smiling while I was reading your article. You Rock, good Sir!

    P.S. I always picked Yoshi, no idea why.

  • Flora

    Hey great article, i love this you write in very nice way and one more thing that Mario Kart is my Favorite.

  • Flora Johns

    Hey great article, i love this you write in very nice way and one more thing that Mario Kart is my Favorite.

  • Stephen P

    Great article and very timely for me. I have been feeling burnt out and I didn’t workout once last week or ride my bike. I was right back at it today however. I feel great again for having worked out at 5:30am as soon as I woke up.

  • Jonathan Murray

    I’ma WARRIO! I’ma gonna win! EH HEHEHEHE!

  • Marike Roggen

    Thanks i totally needed this, been losing my momentum and with that motivation lately.

    you are a legend

  • Kyle Craig

    Fantastic post. Everyday at lunch I try to hit the gym for some strength training. When time gets in the way though I make sure to hit the stairs and add in push ups and squats at the tops and bottoms of the stairs.

  • Suzanne Stonefield

    Once again, you are READING MY MIIIND!!! This is exactly what I needed to read. Back on the path!!!:)

  • Di Hickman

    Love this! But really I just wanted to say – Bob-omb keyfob!!!! WANT!!!! Awesome now I have to go hunt one down!!!

  • Kyle Williams

    A banana peel on rainbow road is bad news lol! I struggle with keeping momentum for ex

  • D_Chelyst

    Koopa Troopa, absolutely! He was the best one in the SNES version.

  • Vickie Cannoles

    I absolutely love this article and definitely needed a reminder that even if I can’t do everything I can do something! I am determined to break my all or nothing mentality!

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  • Nikki

    Ahhhh Thanks Steve! I’ve been feeling pretty grumpy at myself for not finding time to workout btwn all the hecticness life has been throwing my way, almost to the point of “throwing in the towel and becoming a lazy ass” again. Thanks for the boost!

  • Richard Nelson

    Another great read! I have been practising my robot to stop with the diet soda and worked great, 2 weeks free. The food thing is harder, I see my Wife and Daughter eating there chips and ice cream and I end up joining in. I decided to go on afternoons at work for a few months. House to my self during the day and there in bed when I get home. I also have to run 1.6 miles every night to catch the bus or I have a 8 mile walk home (makes great incentive to run). Just need to be strong 2 days a week when I am on days off. I love you man….go bears!

  • Scott

    Toad all the way

  • James

    Haha really well put!

    You didn’t mentioned using the feather to shortcut your way to the finish! Probably because it doesn’t exist in real life…

    More motivation

  • Craig

    My favorite was always toad, quick acceleration and good control. I’m not sure what that says about my lifestyle choices, but I am ADD so a good control and fast response seems to describe my coping mechanisms for ADD as well.

  • Mushroom Retainer

    Toad is my favorite character. Super fast, tight turns, quick acceleration. I sometimes enjoy falling off course so that I can hear him scream like a little girl.

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  • Baenlynn

    Thanks for this, Steve. After realising the height of the mountain I’ve given myself to climb over the coming months your article reminded me of how when I was in a hurry to make it to the train station today I reached for my bicycle because thanks to the Nerdfitness challenge I knew I could make it in time.

  • Amanda

    This was great, thank you! : ) Walking helps me keep momentum, and I’m working on moderation when I’m having difficulty not giving in to cravings.
    …and I’m a Yoshi girl.

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