Why You Need to Be Selfish and Put Fitness FIRST

weight lego

Imagine what you could accomplish if your fitness came first?

Like famous actors and actresses that get in INCREDIBLE shape for their movie roles, pretend you only had to focus on eating healthy foods, sleeping plenty of hours, and exercising in order to get in peak physical condition.

Would you look like King Leonidas leading the mighty 300?

Or Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games?

Would people confuse you for Chris Evans in Captain America?

It’s fun to think about “what if” – what would we be capable of if we put our training and nutrition over everything else?

Most people would answer the question above with something like “I would end up in the BEST shape of my life…except that’s not possible. You see, I have…”

  • A wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/OS
  • Kids/dragons/pets
  • A job
  • No money
  • Friends/obligations/etc.

Ask anybody, and they’ll provide you with any and every reason why fitness can’t come first. I get it! Heck, I RUN A FITNESS SITE, and I spent five years not putting fitness first; I would find a way to make some small progress here and there, but ultimately I found myself treading water due to “life getting busy.”

Today marks my 13th straight month of putting fitness first, and I am a changed man. Despite putting fitness before every other aspect of my life, I was able to accomplish more outside of fitness than I’ve ever been able to accomplish.

I feel like my mind has been opened when it comes to what I’m able to accomplish in a day – like Neo cracking the code of The Matrix.

Shall we?

The fitness first philosophy

Yoda and Danbo Fitness Skeptics

Today, I’m going to challenge you to spend the next month putting fitness first.

That’s right, you get to be as selfish as you need to be in order to accomplish three goals:

  • You do NOT miss a workout. No matter what.
  • You consume healthy calories that allow you to reach your goal.
  • You can say no to any obligation that would keep you from getting enough sleep or working out.

When you are trying to build healthy habits, especially if you are going all in, it’s often quite difficult to give yourself permission to “be selfish” when society and your duties tell you “fitness isn’t a priority.”

We all say “I’d love to exercise more,” but the reality is this: it’s not what we say is a priority, but rather what we DO that’s the real priority. This is me giving you permission to give yourself permission to be selfish for a month while you’re getting the ball rolling. Because it’s going to be a challenge to bust through bad habits and societal pressures, this might be what you need to finally build that habit.

Don’t think you can actually put fitness first? Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Work Out

WORKOUTS: You schedule your workout in your calendar each week, and there is NOTHING short of a zombie apocalypse that will keep you from going to that workout (and we even got you covered there). You let your coworkers, friends, and your loved ones know that your workouts come first. At least for this month.

If you are at work and a meeting runs late, or you’re stuck at work because you had an unproductive day, you get up and leave when needed in order to complete your entire workout.

What you think will happen: Your wife will divorce you, you’ll get fired from your job, or your kids will start to ask “where’s Dad?” After all, there’s NO way you’ll find time to do all of the things you do currently AND workout and still be a kickass parent, right?

What actually happens: After a week of leaving work on time without everything completed, you learn to stop sucking at time management. You are FULL of energy from your workouts (much to the delight of your loved one), and you still manage to take care of your family. Your kids are inspired and want to become “strong like mom/dad.” People learn to respect your gym time and don’t bother you during it.

Eat Well

EAT WELL: You need to hit your target calories for the day, and you need to consume plenty of vegetables and protein. If you’re traveling, you have permission to eat at more expensive restaurants that have vegetables on the menu instead settling for fast food. Cooking at home? Take your time and do it right, including your kids in the process and having them help you!

What you think will happen: You’ll go broke in three days, you’ll spend ALL of your time cooking, your friends and family will disown you for your unusual eating patterns, and your favorite fast food employees will forget your name.

What actually happens: You spend a bit more money temporarily on eating out, and you spend more time on cooking, forcing you to learn to use systems to manage your time more efficiently so you’re not always going out to expensive healthy fast food. That money can now no longer be spent on shit you don’t need. After explaining to your friends and family your goals, they start supporting you. Your favorite fast food employees WILL forget your name.


SLEEP: Like Tom Brady, you have a bed time you stick to. You have to tell your friends you can’t play League of Legends ’til 3AM. You shut down your computer and TV long before you need to get to sleep so you don’t struggle falling asleep. You stop falling asleep to your favorite tv show. You get 7+ hours of sleep every night.

What you think will happen: You’ll miss all of your favorite TV shows, your friends will hate you, and you won’t have time to play video games. You won’t be able to sleep without the TV; you’re going to miss out on SO much.

What actually happens: You realize that 95% of the garbage you watch on TV is useless, and after a week you don’t miss it. You stop needing a gallon of coffee to get through every morning. You make incredible gains in the gym, better than you ever have before. The circles under your eyes disappear. You start to throw a football like Tom Brady (I’m a diehard Pats fan, if you couldn’t tell). You still have plenty of time to play the truly awesome video games – the ones that aren’t just time-killers.

But there’s no way!

changed priorities sign

I can already see you reading this with MASSIVE eyes and shaking your head and screaming NO like Michael Scott. “Steve, that is freaking ridiculous – there’s no way I can make those things a priority without losing my job and my friends and pissing off my family.”

I get it, and I’m not asking you to abandon your loved ones and become a terrible person – that’s not an option. What I learned that once I mentally said “I’m not missing a workout” then the rest of the unimportant went away so that I could also still do the other important things. I’m reminded of the following story, heavily paraphrased:

A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed it was full.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They chuckled and agreed it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

When you put exercise and your health first before everything else, after a week or two in which you have to scramble to get everything done, I guarantee you will still find the time you need to get everything else done in your life.

  • Yes, it requires a shitload of discipline.
  • Yes, you’ll probably need to give up a few crappy TV shows.
  • Yes, you’ll need to work on the systems that govern your day.
  • Yes, you’ll need to be more productive at work.
  • Yes, you’ll need to build a batcave.
  • Yes, you’ll need to get your friends and family on board.
  • Yes, you’ll need to let your coworkers know that you need to leave at a specific time.

Yes, holy crap it is worth it. I stand (well, sit) before you a changed man.

Finally, remember – the purpose is to be selfish and put fitness first for a month. Be selfish while you build those healthy habits, so later on, like brushing your teeth, you can live a healthy life effortlessly.

Steve tries “Fitness First”

Steve Fitness Skeptic Goggles

In January of 2014, I was tired of treading water.

Although I was “in shape” – and heard from many people that I was “in better shape than most people, be happy!” – I wasn’t content. I challenged myself to put fitness first and see how it would affect my life.

Since then, I have put fitness first: it has been consistently 3-4 workouts a week, every week, for the past 13 months. I do what I can to get in bed early every night except for the occasional weekend night or epic vacation. I’ve also made eating a major priority (often resorting to a potion for my boss battle). I even stretch after my workouts!

And I’m now in the best shape of my life. Not only that, but (good news/bad news) after working with my friend Baron, I’m starting to hulk out of all the clothes I purchased at the beginning of the year! I stepped on the scale the other day at a weight heavier than I’ve ever seen. As a skinny dude who has struggled to build muscle consistently for my entire life, I’m healthier, happier, stronger, and bigger than I have ever been. The transformation isn’t drastic, but I’m beyond happy with the direction I’m headed.

Here are my photos and a few stats relating to before and after:

Steve Before After

Stats on December 31, 2013:

  • Weight: 179 lbs.
  • Bodyfat: 14-15%
  • Deadlift Max: 265 lbs. – and terrified for my spine.
  • Overhead Press Max: 8×95 lbs.
  • Pull ups: 3 sets of 10 reps

Stats on January 19, 2015:

  • Weight:187 lbs.
  • Bodyfat: 12-13%
  • Deadlift Max: 340 lbs.
  • Overhead Press Max: 3x4x140 lbs.
  • Pull ups: 3 sets of 5 reps with 50 extra lbs.
  • Plus, I can do cool stuff like this with rings
  • And these pistol squats 🙂
  • And this!

Sure, none of these stats are mindblowing if you’ve been training for a while or you’re a professional athlete, but there’s one stat I’m more proud of than anything else:

Days off to recover from injury, pulled muscles, or overtraining: ZERO

For my entire career in training, I’ve only managed to get a few weeks or months into a workout before I get overaggressive or do something incorrectly and injure myself, losing all of my momentum and having to start over. I’m currently making sure every workout is tracked (and I’m answering questions about them) over on the NF Academy message boards, but I’m also in the current 6 week challenge where you can see some workouts, too:

Recent lower body day

Recent upper body day

Because Fitness HAD to come first, the only option was to become more productive and efficient with my time. And I did.

Looking back, I was actually able to accomplish more in 2014 than I had ever accomplished in any previous year: I learned a new instrument (though I still suck!), traveled to Europe and all over the US, and volunteered every Thursday. Plus, I’m dangerously close to completing a secret project for NF! In addition to everything else that happens here at NF HQ.

Fitness came first, with very few exceptions.

The Lessons I learned

Steve Front Lever

Fitness should be thought of in terms of months and years, not days and weeks. I learned this from Anthony Mychal, my online ‘coach,’ and I haven’t forgotten it. Most fitness plans exist to get you ripped in 90 days, or slim in 30 days. I stopped thinking about fitness in short time frames and started thinking long term. Now, it’s part of my day, and I know I’ll be in better shape at the end of 2015, 2016, etc…and it’s completely sustainable.

Slow and steady wins. Getting injured is a huge setback. I spent 10 years taking three steps forward and three steps back when it came to fitness. I would always push myself too hard or not stretch enough, and it would result in me needing to take a month off and losing everything I had just gained. When you are looking to improve each week, it’s much more preferable to have 50 straight weeks of tiny incremental improvement than a few weeks of rapid growth followed by failure or injury. GO SLOW. Check your ego at the door. Remember, you’re at the gym to build strength, not display it!

Put your faith in the process. I stopped worrying about where I was going to be in a few months or how my body would change, and instead just put faith in the process… how to place the next brick. I knew if I slept well, ate enough, and was a bit stronger in my workouts each time, then the pieces would fall into place. As I learned from Mark Twight, “appearance is a consequence of fitness” – I stopped worrying about the scale and just put all my effort into the workout and recovery.

Not all progress happens on the outside. My transformation is nothing like Joe’s. Or Anthony’s. Or Staci’s. However, just as they have transformed physically and mentally, so have I.

  • I used to feel fragile, on the verge of breaking. Now I feel like freaking Wolverine.
  • I used to say “I don’t have time.” Now I realize that’s a bullshit excuse.
  • I used to wish I was capable of certain things. Now I just DO those things.
  • I use to think it was either fitness or life. Now I know fitness improves every aspect of my life.

I have never been more excited to get to my next workout than I am now, and I want the same for you.

Starting today, I challenge you to spend a few weeks building your life around your body, not trying to squeeze in your personal well being around your life.

Can you put fitness first for the month and see what happens?

  • Work Out – For me it was heavy strength training and bodyweight work. But I didn’t miss workouts, even when I traveled.
  • Eat right – Fuel your body properly, as it’s 80-90% of the battle. Get enough protein, carbs, and fats for the results YOU are looking for.
  • Sleep – Stop making excuses, turn off the TV, close the laptop, and get to bed on time!

What sort of challenges are you trying to overcome?

Any questions about how my past year?

And what’s one step you’re going to take today to get started?


PS – Congratulations to Lindsay G., Sydney B., and Joshua E., the winners from the t-shirt giveaway earlier this month! Can’t wait to see what superpowers your new gear brings you!


photo source: mendhak: Yoda

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