What MacGyver Can Teach Us About Plan B

You are MacGyver.

You’ve been instructed by the Phoenix Foundation to infiltrate some building (probably full of children) without causing a panic, find a bomb buried deep in the basement somewhere, and diffuse that sucker before it has a chance to detonate.

You have everything all planned out down to the tiniest detail and you’re ready to roll.  You get into the building and track down the bomb; gasp! There’s less time remaining than you had anticipated and it has a different wiring system than anything you’ve ever seen before.

Oh well, those kids had a good run, right?  Time to go home.

Eff that.

You’re Angus freakin’ MacGyver (yeah Angus is his first name). You run your hand through your awesome mullet, quickly assess the updated situation, and then immediately move into plan B: you grab a piece of chewing gum, a plastic drinking straw, two rubber bands, three paper clips, and fashion a bomb-diffusing mechanism.  Less time on the clock simply means a slightly smaller margin for error.  Of course, your back-up plan works and the crisis is averted.  Mission success!

Guys like MacGyver, James Bond, Jason Bourne, and Jack Bauer thrive on plan B’s – it’s their success in smoothly switching gears to these other plans that always keeps them one step ahead of death.

Now, if these action heroes always have back-up plans for the most dangerous of situations, why don’t you have one for getting healthy?

Only having a Plan A sucks

I know far too many one-trick ponies when it comes to being healthy. As soon as one thing goes wrong, these people either freak out or use the excuse that “now I can’t do my workout so I’ll just skip it” or “they don’t have any healthy food I like at this restaurant so I’m just going to eat whatever.”  How about this one?  “I used to run every day, but then we had a few days of bad weather where I couldn’t go outside and now I just can’t find the momentum and motivation to get back into it.”

As the Legend of Zelda has taught us, momentum can be a powerful thing – whether it’s working with you or against you. When you have a specific plan to follow for your diet and exercise, you have to anticipate days of bad weather, afternoons where the gym is overcrowded, and nights out with your friends where the meal choices are less than optimal.

Here’s how to MacGyver (yeah it’s a verb) your own Plan B for a few situations that have been known to derail many a success story.

Working Out in A Gym

Working out in a commercial gym can be tough, but for many of us it’s our opportunity to lift weights.

Let’s say you’re headed to your favorite gym, ready to do a full workout of squats, bench presses, pull ups, and planks…using only free weights and your body weight because you’re smart and you know that weight machines are the Devil.

One problem: you get over to the squat rack, and some juicehead is using it to do fourteen sets of bicep curls.  You then try the bench-press, and that’s been taken over by two idiots who spend fifteen minutes talking between sets.  The pull up bar is in use, and the mat where you would normally do your planks has been infested by a crowd of folks doing 500 crunches (who are unfortunately clueless that it’s their diet that’s keeping them from a flat stomach).

In these situations, ask yourself: WWMD? (What would MacGyver Do?)

This is a situation I would often run into whenever working out during the busy hours.  Sure, my Plan B didn’t produce exactly the same results as Plan A for the day, but it would allow me to finish my workout on time, the same muscles would be exercised, and I’d be home in time to watch more episodes of Arrested Development.

Here are the changes I would make:

  • Can’t do squats? Pick up a set of heavy dumbbells and do weighted lunges (brutal).  Can’t even get to the dumbbells?  Do overhead squats, one-legged squats, jump squats, and more.
  • Can’t bench press? Find a flat bench, pick up a set of dumbbells, and use them to do heavy presses that way.  And not wussy “way too easy” presses either.  Grab dumbbells that will be challenging for you to finish a full set.  No dumbbells?  Go with dips.  No room for dips?  How about decline push ups?
  • Can’t do pull ups? How about inverted rows? Bent over dumbbell rows?  Are there other pieces of the equipment in the gym that allow you to do pull ups on them?
  • No room for planks? (Which I doubt).  Do full motion crunches on an exercise ball, or hanging knee tucks.  Or make a point to do your planks when you get home from the gym before you shower.

Every exercise has dozens of alternatives. Rather than waiting around for the perfect equipment in a busy afternoon at the gym, why not make a few adjustments, track your results, and still walk out of that gym on time, drenched in sweat, knowing that your Plan B kicked ass?


If you’ve been reading this site for more than a week, you know that I am not the biggest fan of running; HOWEVER, I know for many people starting to get in shape that straight cardio is almost always the first step taken: they start walking/jogging and after a week of success they’re feeling great!  However, there’s always some event that comes along and quickly derails that optimism: bad weather is usually the biggest culprit, followed by “I don’t have enough time to run as far as I would like so I’ll just not do it,” and other reasons like “work was too tiring” and “meh.”

Once that one day is missed, it makes skipping the second day much easier, and before you know it, a whole month has gone by and you “just can’t back into it.”

Here’s the scenario: the weather is crappy but you’re scheduled for a 5k run outside this morning.  If you’ve been part of Snowpocalypse in the US lately then you know what it’s like to be stranded inside with no chance of going for a run.  Damn!  Oh well, better wait until the snow melts right?  After all, it’s just a few months until Spring anyways.


Well, MacGyver would fashion snow shoes out of tree bark, Twizzlers, shoe strings, and empty soda cans, but he’s pretty hardcore. Fortunately you don’t need to be as hardcore as him – you just need to recognize that skipping your run is the first step down a slippery slope.  Here are your options:

  • Do you work in an office building? How many flights of stairs are in it?  Why not bring your running gear to work and spend 15 minutes running steps before heading home!
  • Can’t get out of your house? How about jumping rope?  TRUST ME when I say 10 minutes will be more than enough to wear you out completely.
  • Can’t jump rope or run stairs? Why not do a strength building workout?  You can do it in the comfort of your own home, and be done with it in under 30 minutes.  Don’t even have that much time?  That’s okay!

The important thing to remember here: Do something. Anything. If you’re one of those people who needs to exercise every day or you quickly fall off the wagon, then you need to do everything in your power to get some sort of work out in even when all hope seems lost.

Eating On the Road

You’re a smart guy/girl/robot: you understand that your diet is 80% of your success or failure when it comes to getting in shape.  Whenever you’re at home, you eat like a saint – 90% of your meals are Paleo, you’ve gotten the junk food and soda out of your house, and you bring your lunch to work every day because that way you know exactly what you’re eating.

However, you’re also a person that either:

  • Travels a lot for work
  • Goes out to dinner with friends quite a bit
  • Has lots of parties/holidays/barbecues to attend.

And in each of these situations, your diet goes to absolute Hell (don’t beat yourself up too much, it happens to all of us).  You eat like crap on the road, feel like crap coming home, and then slowly get back on track until the next business trip rolls around.  Hmmmmmm…


Well, MacGyver would MacGyver himself a healthy meal out of previously unhealthy meals.  Here’s my plan (and plan B) when it comes to travel:

  • Pack your own snack. I always bring a bag of almonds (generally $5 for a big bag at your local grocery store) whenever I fly, in case I’m hungry and don’t feel like eating a 2000-calorie meal from the airport Chili’s.
  • Don’t walk into an ambush – If you’re off to a party, inquire as to what kind of food will be there – volunteer to bring something, and make it something healthy so you know there’s at least one good thing to eat there.
  • Do your research – Going out to dinner at a restaurant with friends?  Take three minutes to look at the menu online beforehand, and lock your meal in.  Make sure you pick a meal B and meal C in case meal A isn’t available.  Substitute fresh veggies in for your side, ask for grilled over fried, and do the best you can.
  • Prepare – If you’re stuck, and you know you’re going to eat poorly, then you need to plan accordingly – eat incredibly healthy for the few days before and after, and understand that one meal won’t throw you off as long as you don’t let it.

Put enough effort into your diet contingency plan, and no last-minute change, week-long trip, or 35,000 adventure will cause any problems.

What Have you MacGyver’d lately?

I want to hear about YOUR plan B.

How do you eat well on the road?

What do you do on a busy day in the gym?

How did you exercise while you were snowed in your house?

Share your stories and advice in the comments.  MacGuyver would appreciate it.


Quick travel update: I made it safely to Sydney, I’m having an absolute blast, and I’ll be doing a special travel post on Saturday with pictures and updates.  As long as I can stick with it, I’ll be doing an extra post each weekend that’s travel-specific.



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