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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  • haha I love the creativity here. Even though you’re not a fan of running (and I run[ha!] a running website), there are SO many parallels with running. In addition to your section on running, there are a ton of other cardio alternatives to running that are specific to the exercise: cycling on a trainer or in the gym, pool running, and if you’re in a real pinch, you can always hit the elliptical – but that’s a worst case scenario. Some high schools have an indoor track where you can do a workout or there’s always the treadmill. Runners just need to think outside the realm of outdoor running. There are other ways to increase your endurance! Hope you’re having a blast in Sydney Steve!

  • Always have peanut butter in my car/backpack – lasts forever and goes with just about everything

  • Always have peanut butter in my car/backpack when traveling- it’s been the only thing I could eat when hitch hiking for a day

  • Xiaphas

    Nice Post. I don’t really have any plan B stories, but I recently MacGuyver’d a set up for hanging push ups at home using 25 feet of clothesline rope, a couple of arched pieces of PVC pipe, and the doorframe pull up bar I already had. From now on I’m going to try to do my fitness shopping at home depot, lol.

  • This post literally had me laughing out loud. As I was laughing I realized I was starting to relax. I can feel myself tense up when I start thinking about working out, and eating right all the time… this little bit of laughter relaxed me just enough to let the message in. I’m feeling a little more motivated to eat better today and start creating a plan A and B for getting my workouts back on track. Thanks!

  • MSwank

    Hi Steve! So inspiring as always. I’d love to hear more about the types of food you are eating on the road. My husband and I are planning to take a year off of work soon to travel, and we’re trying to figure out some healthy meals/snacks. I also love having some assorted nuts, and my go-to travel snack has always been apples + nut butter.

  • Rosen

    “What Have you MacGuyver’d lately?”

    I was stuck in traffic, damn traffic jams !
    So I went to my trunk pulled 2 boxes I had in it. I broke the cardboard with my head (Bruce-Lee style) duck taped it to the side doors and I transformed my car into a plane ! I jumped into my new plane i roared the engine, stepped on the pedal and started yelling at the other drivers : HAVE FUN IN THE JAM ! ANGUS OUT !

  • Vikki

    I read this and I was like “why haven’t I ever thought of a plan B?!?” I think maybe I’ve been so focused on plan A and figuring that one out that plan B wasn’t even on the radar! Why are the most obvious things the ones you don’t think of sometimes? Fabulous Steve!

  • When I am stuck without food, I just make an apple tree from two Q-tips, twine, and elbow grease. Voila! Apples!

    I used to always have trouble when Plan A got hosed. While I’m a big fan of exercising cheap and minimalist, my problems were mostly solved by a little bit of cash towards some extra gear. My goal was to prepare just enough to give myself no excuses. I turned my gym bag into a “gym in a bag”. I bought some resistance bands and yoga mat for my portable strength training. My Vibrams are so small compared to normal running shoes that they fit much better in a normal gym bag. I bought some cold weather running gear (which cost the most money) so that I can run comfortably when it is cold outside. I also picked up a pair of Yak Trax so I could run on ice, but I haven’t even had to use them yet. They are just ready for action if I need them. I keep all of this stuff in my car, so no matter where I go, I have everything I need to get a decent workout. In all, I would say I spent around $250 (including the shoes) on the equipment. That may seem like a lot, but it isn’t as much as cholesterol lowering medicine for the rest of my life 🙂

    Great post Steve! Looking forward to the travel posts.

  • Nick

    “What Have you MacGuyver’d lately?”

    This is from last winter but I wanted a way to add some weight to squats – no gym access and wanted to try more than just bodyweight – so I bear-hugged a 50lb bag of rock salt and went with that. Worked great! I also put it on my back for push-ups…which were brutal.

  • I always have a granola bar in my pack. Last night I worked a gig where everyone else was eating incredible looking food — and I was working 6-9 (not including the3.5 hours it took to get there….)… I had a lapse at a gas station where I bought a snickers ice cream bar — but that did tide me over until nearly 9pm. That where the granola bar came in. It gave me the energy I need to finish the gig gracefully and face the 2-1/2 hour drive home

  • Should I expect a line of WWMD bracelets as a NF spin-off product?

  • Get Idea with the ‘gym in a bag’. I should build my own when my VFF’s come in next week. 🙂

  • For the caloric assault at restaurants: I regularly bring my own mini liquor bottles of salad dressing (usually where salads deviate from healthy, along with croutons and candied things) when I know I’m going somewhere that basically has two options: fried things and a chicken Caesar/spinach salad. I also recently brought a Ziploc bag of cooked chicken sausage links with me to a pub that was serving breakfast during an NFL playoff game. Vodka soda with a lime in the liquor department. Relatively low in calories and the soda water keeps your 1:1 alcohol:glass of water ratio inherently intact.

    At the gym: It’s not so much losing access to the things I normally do as it is losing the motivation to keep doing the things I normally do over and over. My advice there is to do a search for local workouts and shop hop through town. Most boot camp, yoga, martial arts, niche-type fitness businesses offer the first class or classes for free or a reduced rate. It’s a good way to add variety, and my motto is, ‘If you don’t know what’s coming, you can’t dread what’s coming.’

    Huge fan of body weight exercises as well. And for the ladies like me who can’t just drop and do 50 pushups at the sound of a whistle, rather than relegating yourself to your knees, try building strength eccentrically with negative pushups.


  • Liz

    If you’re snowed in, shoveling yourself out is a GREAT workout. The repetitive motion is not exactly balanced, but it works every major group and burns a buttload of calories (which is why people hate doing it, it’s a lot of work and leaves you sore).

    A good defense for parties or bar-hopping is eating a meal, or at least a solid snack, before you even go. Bringing food with you is a pain, but if you’re full or partly full when you get there, you’ll graze a lot less. Also, drinking on an empty stomach is a terrible idea.

  • Tom Walter

    Stuck in the house? I’ve been doing the Spartacus Workout and you need little more than a few sets of dumbbells at home. It’s a butt kicker.


  • I think being aware of the slippery slope is the biggest part of the equation. Not letting 1 day off turn into 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 is HUGE.

  • Like the jumping rope as a back up plan for the runners. Don’t have a jump rope? Burpees for the win!

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been waiting for a MacGyver post forever, I love it! Fact: all of life’s lessons can be learned from Richard Dean Anderson.

    When I was on a road trip with my wife out west, we stopped at a tiny cabin place on the US 1 out in the woods somewhere. Of course there was no weight room of any kind, so I went outside and found a tree. Did some pullups on a low hanging branch and then threw my legs over it and did some upside-down crunches 🙂 Felt like Rambo!

  • Diallo

    This is great, because i recently had to really think about this. I keep a small cooler lunch box with snacks and bars in my car as well as a set of resistance straps, in case I’m at work for too long or traveling overnight.

  • Yep, it’s too easy to make excuses, and now my New Year’s “get in shape” plan has been on hold for almost three weeks. Thanks for the kick in the butt I need to get back on the horse.

  • And Richard Dean Anderson continues to show that you really need a Plan B:

    Col. Reynolds: Not much faith in Plan A?
    Col. O’Neill: Since when has Plan A ever worked?
    — SG1, “Evolution, Part 1”

    Col. O’Neill: It’s time for Plan B.
    Maj. Carter: We have a Plan B?
    Col. O’Neill: No, but it’s time for one.
    —SG1, “Orpheus”

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  • Guest

    Lovely article. =) I’d make a small comment though, that his name is spelled “MacGyver”

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  • “WWMD?” Hehe, hilarious!! 

  • Artinum

    I don’t recommend diffusing bombs. They tend to do that anyway when they explode. But defusing them…

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  • Mat

    “How do you eat well on the road?”
    Being on foot for several years, I’ve spent many days walking long-ish distances (50-100M or so). On these walks, if I don’t have anything with me when setting out, and do not find a place to purchase something, good old nature is more than happy to provide all kinds of things, from dandelions to pine needles to carpenter ants to grasshoppers. Those choices may sound strange to most, but given my military background, I’ve grown accustomed to the not-quite-ripe-raspberry flavor and texture of those ants as well as the liquid-butter-filled-hardened-chicken-chunk flavor of grasshoppers, not to mention the fact that dandelions are commonly found decorating salads in some of France’s top eateries, and pine needles (green from the tree, brown on the ground are useless, rain “tea”-ed them lol) taste much more like lemons or grapefruit than I think most would suspect. I get loads of protein and iron to keep going, as well as greens in this way, all without having to flag down strangers for their chips and candy (and without so much as a single buck spent!).

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