A Fitness Epic: Your story of love, health, and self-discovery.


Your name is Megan. Or Paul. Or Peggy. Or Michael.

You’re twentysomething. Or thirtysomething. And you’re tired. Tired of another month of looking in the mirror and being unhappy. Tired of another night where you feel exhausted yet wonder why you couldn’t get more done. Tired of getting burned by another weight loss scheme your friend told you about. It was wraps this time, or weight loss pills, or the ab coaster. It doesn’t matter. None of them have worked, and you’re just freaking tired of it all. You just want to smile and feel good about yourself, and that hasn’t happened since you were younger.

But there’s a teeny tiny part of you that doesn’t want to give up yet.

After all, why keep trying new schemes unless a part of you still believes you have a chance to turn things around? Finally, you let go of the idea that losing weight and feeling good about yourself is found in a pill or bottle, or in five minutes a day on a machine.

So you forget everything you’ve heard, and you just go for a walk.

You figure that if Frodo can walk to Mordor, you can at least walk around the block. You strap on your old sneakers that don’t get much use anymore, zip up your hoodie, and put one foot in front of the other. You make it approximately twenty feet before you start to breathe heavily, and you curse yourself for living at the bottom of a hill. But you make it a whole half mile out, and a half mile back. “That wasn’t the worst thing in the world,” you tell yourself. Maybe you can do it again tomorrow.

And you do.


For the next two weeks, every morning you get yourself to go for a mile walk. Because the changes are small, you don’t notice them. You’re just focusing on the walk that morning – get through it and start your day. Then, on Day 14, you realize that you’re no longer huffing and puffing at the top of the hill.

“Wow, 14 days is the longest I’ve ever stuck with anything,” you think. You don’t notice any physical changes, but you feel like you’ve given yourself the equivalent of a high-five. “My life sucks right now and I hate my job, but I have a boyfriend/girlfriend who loves me, and at least I did something for two weeks straight.”

Feeling victorious and like something’s working, you decide you are going to keep doing that something, at least for now. “What’s the equivalent of a walk in my diet?” you ask yourself. So, you swap out your Coke at lunch for water. Water for sugar – that’s gotta be a step in the right direction… right?

One day when you’re getting dressed, you notice something. You look down and notice your pants fit a little loser. You wonder if that could’ve actually been the soda. You make a note to research soda and negative health effects when you get to work that day. Work still sucks, but that’s okay – it’s supposed to.

You rush home to your significant other – Robert or Susan or Alex or Taylor – to tell them the good news about your clothes fitting better.

They give you a half-hearted “oh, that’s great honey” response, which kind of pisses you off… until you realize that last time (the wraps, shakes, and diet pills) you were also this excited.

Although YOU feel different, they don’t see it that way yet. So you just keep doing what you’re doing, hoping they’ll come around eventually when they see that you’re serious this time. Hoping what you’re doing is actually making a difference to get attention. Hoping that your efforts will matter enough in the real world to be real to to someone else.

frodo nazgul

Another month of walking and water and you have to buy a new pair of pants. While in the mall, you see people in the gym, and hope some day you can look like them. They look the part and act the part – using the equipment and wearing yoga pants. And not because they’re fat pants either, but because they look great in them. You wonder when that stage happens.

In your research about sugar (you bookmarked it and only just now got around to it), you stumble across a workout online. A bodyweight workout that doesn’t seem too bad. One that you can do at home.

So you give it a go that night. Robert/Susan gives you a strange look when you go into the backyard and attempt to do the workout. You get through half of a set before you collapse in a heap. “Holy shit, I’m exhausted. But at least I tried.”

Two days later, you’re so sore that walking down the stairs is a chore. You decide to reward yourself with giant soda for lunch – your brain is overwhelmingly happy after a few weeks without it (“Oh how I have missed you, sweet nectar of the gods,” it says), but something feels slightly off with the rest of your body. “I wonder what that feeling was?” you ask yourself.

At this point you’ve developed a little sense of accomplishment, and you’re in uncharted territory. This is normally the point where you would have given up in the past, but this time you want to keep going. Somehow, you muster up the courage to get back in the backyard for another attempt at that stupid exercise routine, and manage to get through one full set. You go inside with a little pep in your step, and a buzz that you’re unfamiliar with. Progress, even the smallest bit, it turns out, is exciting.

After month of bodyweight exercises, walking, and water, again the pants get a bit looser. You attempt to cook a meal yourself for date night, and it turns out horribly. You and Paul order Chinese food and watch reruns of Firefly. The next morning you groggily step on the scale and see it’s exploded up five pounds… and you’re devastated. Paul tells you to not worry about it, that he loves you just the way you are, and in fact he doesn’t see why you feel the need to fix yourself. You get angry.

Months go by, and the struggle slowly becomes less of a struggle. But it’s always weeks of success followed by steps backward… often with Paul. Despite your best efforts, he doesn’t want to join you on your morning walks; he wants to order in and watch TV rather than cooking together. He doesn’t mean any harm by it, surely… but it almost feels like he’s sabotaging your efforts to improve. Fights happen more frequently, and you worry about getting derailed after six months of solid progress. You can even make it through three full circuits of body weight exercises. 

In one of your conversations with your friend, you’re told about this concept of using 20 seconds of courage to do things you’ve always been scared to do. So you walk back to your mall, and you sign up for a 1-month gym membership. You don’t do anything on the first day except wander around like a lost puppy, and then hop on the treadmill to walk for a bit.

Self-consciously, you’re embarrassed about being unfit in a room full of fit people, so you stick to the cardio machines in the corners where there aren’t any people. You find yourself at the gym late at night. There are fewer people at the gym late at night.

After a week, you work up the courage to try one of the weight machines… you’re not quite sure what it is, so after a few scary seconds of fumbling around with it, you quickly go back to the treadmill. One Friday night, you’re working out and you realize you’re the only person in the gym other than the guy behind the counter. Using that 20 seconds of courage again, you ask him to show you how to use the equipment. Turns out, the guy isn’t scary at all, and he gladly shows you how to use all of the machines you’re interested in.

You run home and excitedly email your friend about your gym experience. They are fired up for you, which is unusual. Maybe things are starting to come together.

You read an article online about how free weights are better for you than machines, so you make a commitment to yourself that you’ll try ONE free weight exercise every other week. It’s the final day of week 2, so you google “how to squat” and go to the gym to attempt your first real set of squats.

Excitedly, you run home to tell your friends, only to find out that you were squatting in a Smith Machine, instead of true barbell squats. Crap. But hey! It was a start, right? So you commit in two weeks to do REAL squats.

You’re not sure why, but trying a (real) squat – where you drop your butt wayyyy down – is a weird experience. It just feels…right. Your butt and legs feel alive or something. Not only that, but only after you’ve finished that you realize somebody was watching you.

“Wanted to come give you props – most people just squat a few inches and call it squat. You’re doing REAL squats. Well done! I’m Matthew or Ana or Carrie or Tyler, how long have you been working out here?” You sheepishly explain it’s your first official day of strength training, but you read as much as you could about squats and wanted to do it right.

And… holy shit! You met somebody in real life who thought you looked like you belong. You may have even just made a gym buddy! A week goes by in which you go to the gym at the same time every day hoping to run into Matthew or Ana or Carrie or Tyler, but you don’t see him/her. You keep squatting, and start mixing in some push ups and rows into your workouts.

progress hill

You dig in. You read and research.

Things that would have scared you a year ago no longer seem so daunting.

You can’t do a pull up yet, but you set a goal to one day complete one. Weird.The thought of a pull up would have felt like “human flight” to you a few months back. Now it’s seems like something you can actually do with enough work.

The old you feels like a lifetime ago.

You start to do new things. The next weekend you hike to the top of a freaking mountain. Well, it’s more of a big hill, but whatever. You look out below and feel like a freaking rockstar.

You start thinking about your job. You know what? Maybe it isn’t supposed to suck. You think about taking night classes, and start asking to take projects that excite you.

And your boyfriend or girlfriend? They’re starting to come around too. They’ve occasionally ask you for advice, and you’ve seen them make a healthier decisions, too. Or, they don’t. And you’re okay with that too. You have a new strength, and might just need to see where it takes you.

Later that week, you stumble across one of your old friends from high school, who literally doesn’t recognize you at first. “Whoa. You look totally different! What did you do? How did you do it? You look amazing! Was it wraps? Shakes? Let me know, I’ve tried them all and I still got 50 pounds to lose. I’m desperate.”

“I went for a walk.” You say, and he/she gives you a weird look. So you say, “Shoot me an email and I can help you get started.”

You figure if they’re ready to try, he or she will message you. If not, he won’t. Either way, you have a pull-up to work on.



photo source:  Stefan Klocek: Hill, Josh Wedin: Frodo, Pedro Vezini: Gandalf

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    49 thoughts on “A Fitness Epic: Your story of love, health, and self-discovery.

    1. This is absolutely great. I have been playing sports my whole life but taking away stigmas that will allow people to be healthy is extremely important. Everyone is different and should work hard in all that they do! That said everyone starts somewhere and shouldn’t be negatively judged for it. Education trumps belittlement every time!

    2. This made me smile ear to ear. So much of this has been true for me. My crazy idea to run a half-marathon a few years ago led to discovering StrengthRunning, which led to discovering Nerdfitness, which led to getting into strength training, eating right, and becoming an overall happier person. As I gained more confidence in myself, I started being more confident and comfortable around other people, trying more new things, and taking more ownership of my own life. Right now I’m currently searching for a new job that doesn’t suck and planning out my own course for the future.

      No matter where you’re starting from, you can take small steps in the direction you want to go. Eventually those small steps will take you someplace awesome.

    3. I have been vacillating on whether or not to sign up with the Nerd Fitness Academy. Keep getting the emails but never really committed to anything. I read this today and went and signed up. I’m so excited for this journey.

    4. I’m 48 years old. I’ve managed to do some damage (a sprain on one and a fracture on the other) to both of my ankles in the last two years. I’m afraid of doing any more damage but am also tired of getting older / fatter / more inflexible as the days go by. I’ve been reading the Nerd Fitness blog for a little over six months, and for a while there was making some honest to goodness headway with diet and exercise. Then vacation in September and all my forward momentum came to a screeching halt. I read today’s post and now just want to cry. Why is it so freakin’ difficult for me to do this? Why do such little things send me right back to square one? I want to fight through the pain and discomfort – I bought Nerd Fitness Yoga for goodness sake but have yet to do it consistently. Steve, for real, what is wrong in my head that I don’t seem to get past that first set back?

      Love the post, love what you do here on Nerd Fitness…that’s why I keep coming back. Keep up the good work. I’ve got to get it sooner or later, eh?

    5. I love this, and needed it today. Off to the gym to try MY first squat with the olympic bar after months of body-weight practice : )

    6. Woah this hit me in the emotions… I am back at that point again where I am just getting up and going for a walk in the mornings, making those healthier decisions in small steps again. Recognizing my patterns and taking those small steps to try and change it all. And becoming less scared of falling off the path and more concerned with the fall/slip not becoming the excuse to stop.
      Forward march

    7. Great article! While I’ve never totally lost my fitness, I did go through a period of relative unhealthiness, but my life story has been one of overcoming some handicaps.

      As a kid, I was uncoordinated and had no strength, and while even back then, a part of me wanted to be good at sport, I couldn’t see how that was possible. I couldn’t throw, catch a ball, or even run properly – coming last in races at Little Athletics meets.

      Over the next 40 years, that would change gradually, firstly, largely by accident, but aided by some good decisions on my part that I understood intuitively (to participate in specific sports), and in more recent years, through the application of knowledge, research, experience and determination.

      The result is that I gradually changed from an uncoordinated nerd to being competent in selected sports against my peers and physically well suited to hard work in general, by the time I was in my late teens. More recently, I have taken that, added a more focused approach and better understanding, and have levelled up a few times. I’m now working on unleashing my full potential (The Flash will be proud 😉 ) with the help of coaching. I’m already about as fast as I was in my mid-late teens (being a nerd, I used to time myself over 100m back then 🙂 ), and only just scratching the surface of what I can do – there’s a lot more work to do.

      A side effect is people do look at me and notice my physical condition, and are often blown away when they find out my age (47).

      In addition to my own sporting goals, I try to encourage others to make those small, incremental changes that can put them on a similar path. Of particular interest are people on the autism spectrum, like myself, for who the benefits of a healthy active lifestyle can make a massive change to their lives – people for whom sport might have seemed out of reach. I’m living proof that it need not be. I believe in giving people a help up to make their own improvements – a gentle word of encouragement or some hard won knowledge that might change their life.:

      Here is a more detailed account of my story.


    8. You’re not wrong about where those small steps can take you! Walking to Mordor is only the beginning. 🙂

    9. It feels so much like my story and so much of it I owe to what I learned here. Thank you so much! 🙂

    10. I am a young ‘un myself, but having seen some older folks at Camp Nerd Fitness this year, I’d say you’re never too old to improve your life. You may not perform the same feats as someone younger, but you can still move in a better direction and do things you never thought possible.

    11. I have to say I loved this article! I have been walking for a couple years now. I love it. Everyone always asks how I lost my weight, and usually look shocked when I say by walking and watching what I eat.
      I have progressed to hiking more than walking now, and I have to say, I love it. The burn is great, and then there is the view up on top of whatever hill/mountain I climb. Talk about a payoff.
      Thanks Steve and Nerd Fitness. I don’t think I could have gotten this far without you.

    12. Great post Steve! In our fitness journeys it’s easy to overlook the small victories that lead us to our overall goals. My book, Release The Beast: Conquer Mental, Physical & Diet Challenges To Unleash The Champion Inside!(http://www.micvinny.com/releasethebeastproducts) has several chapters discussing those small steps. It’s not the quick changes that lead to long term results, but rather those non-exciting consistent actions that changes people’s lives forever!

    13. Thanks for this, Dana! I just got back from ankle surgery and it’s a slow road that we’re both on — I’ve had lots of stationary bike time to do something low-impact for my ankles. You’re not going right back to square one each time, though. You’re already much further along with more knowledge and experience. I bet you could already name three things that do and don’t work for you that you’ve learned these past six months. Good luck with the next tiny little change!

    14. It started off really interesting and then it turned into another “I’m so much better than you and you’re going to die alone” post. Fuck you, Steve. Fuck you.

    15. And thank you for the encouragement. Your comment made me stop and think…yes, if nothing else, because I know more about what to do, and the fact that for seven months I was putting in the work and seeing some change, I’ve got the faith that it can be done again; I know what the next level is. So, thank you for the reminder to look at how far I’ve come instead of sit here and whine about how far I’ve still to go. Meanwhile, sending you healing vibes and wishes for a full recovery. The Rebellion (and I) could use your success story as motivation :-).

    16. This is an inside joke of some sort, right? I see no way a reasonable person could possibly construe this article as “I’m better than you and you’re going to die alone”.

    17. A year ago I started Nerd Fitness, right after I started doing Body Pump weight training. The two have been a great combination. I’d been training to be a fitness instructor, something I couldn’t imagine myself doing. Then in Oct. broke my shoulder. It’s a setback. A BIG one. But I can still do modified exercises, am already in physical therapy 8 weeks after the break, third week of PT. I still go for walks, do my home workout, have gotten my Fitness instructor test moved to August 2016. It took me 10 months to work up to it before and starting in January, I’ll have 9 months to get back to where I was before. My shoulder should be completely healed by Dec. 30 and I’ll start weight training PT after Dec. 15. It’s a long road, but it’s one step at a time. And could I imagine being a fitness instructor before I started Nerd Fitness and Body Pump? Never! I also roasted a ton a veggies last night, and am keeping relatively paleo. It’s a little depressing with a big setback, but the sky is still blue and I could’ve cracked more than a proximal humerus! And the fact that I was so fit when I fell has been a huge plus. Even without six weeks of exercise, I wasn’t restarting in the negatives, like folks who haven’t done anything in years. I’m looking forward to being an ace trainer and passing my test by August!

    18. Holy Horsepucky! You just described my life perfectly. Seriously. PERFECTLY. (Kind of scary. )

    19. Excellent article , it took awhile to get out of shape we’re not going to get in shape over night . We should notice and be proud of the little accomplishments . I have just started to workout and eat right after a long time of letting work and life keep me from it .
      Thanks Again , I keep
      Coming back to see your articles and get inspired .

    20. OMG – I nearly started crying reading this – thank you so much Steve for all your wonderful articles – especially this one!

    21. Thanks to this article I got up the (20 seconds of) courage to join my local gym and go last night. AND I did REAL squats. Rock on! Thank you for the continued motivation. I am so greatful that I found this website!

    22. “The old you feels like a lifetime ago.”

      This is me. This was also me a year ago, after a year of starting to lift and eat smarter.

      This is who I will be in a year as well. I don’t know when it ends. I know my entire life, everything, is changing. And my environment hasn’t yet, but it will, soon. And when that happens…

      My old life will have been a lifetime ago.

    23. I just read this and started to cry at the end. I want this for myself. Maybe this will be the time I can do it. I’m going to go for a walk tonight.

    24. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle are for anyone, regardless of age! 🙂 And just because you’re almost 50 (join the club! 😉 ), doesn’t mean you can’t do awesome things. You just have to work gradually towards that, like everyone else, and make those incremental and long lasting changes in your life habits that Steve keeps talking about.

    25. I LOVE this! It’s so easy to feel like I have to do EVERYTHING at once. And that just leads to me being overwhelmed and quitting before I ever start. Thank you for the reminder that I can ease into change and self-improvement with one little, consistent tweak to my day.

    26. This post is wonderful! You have the gift of writing, Steve. Thank you! Would you give me permission to translate into Portuguese? (with credits, of course)

    27. Between calls at work and teared up reading this! QA is gonna wonder why my voice is hoarse!

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