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The 4 Workout Rules I Follow To Look and Feel My Best

My entire approach to working out can be summed up in four rules:

  • choose consistency over intensity
  • remember that ego is the enemy
  • make progress every week
  • do fun stuff

These rules have adapted over time as I’ve gotten more experienced in the gym, and as I’ve grown older and shifted my priorities.

Today I’m happy being less of a “hardcore bro gym-rat” and more “all-around healthy guy who looks like he works out.”

But perhaps most important, I believe these rules will be crucial to my long-term success.

My four rules are specific enough to drive my actions, but flexible enough to deal with the demands of real life (something most of my fellow fitness experts seem to forget their clients actually have).

But perhaps most important, I believe these rules will be crucial to my long-term success.

I don’t know about you, but I want to be strong, muscular, flexible, and fit until the day I die. My worst nightmare is becoming the middle-aged dude with a gut who walks between the bench press station and the water fountain giving unsolicited advice and talking about the glory days.

So my hope is that by sharing these rules, they’ll encourage you to steal them or create your own. That way we can both continue to get stronger, build bodies we’re proud of, and keep it going for many more decades to come.

The 4 Workout Rules, Explained

1. Choose consistency over intensity.

I can’t count how many 25-40 year-old guys I’ve talked with recently who struggle with an “all or nothing” approach to working out. They’re either balls-out, hardcore training four or five times per week…or they’re struggling to get into the gym at all. There is no in-between for them, just blast and burnout, repeated throughout the year.

I’m not talking shit, either. I’ve been there myself. There was a time a few years ago where I didn’t even want to see a dumbbell, let alone pick one up. Years of intense, focused training led me to believe that the only way for me to gain muscle, get stronger, and stay lean was to go to the gym and hit it hard 3-5 times per week. If I couldn’t do that, then what was the point?

Nate Squat
Me back in the day. 425 on the bar and some nice underarm stretch marks.

Turns out I had just built up a story in my head, a story that turned out to be false. The truth is, we don’t need to work out the way we used to. (Another article you may enjoy: I’m A Recovering Fitness Junkie.)

We’re no longer 22-year-olds with unlimited amounts of free time. We have careers, relationships, hobbies, and other aspirations that don’t always involve picking up heavy things and putting them back down (i.e. lifting weights).

Instead, we want to take care of ourselves and build a body we’re proud of—without dedicating our lives to it. I’ve found that the more consistent I am, the better I look and feel.

Nate farmers walk
Me in 2017, trying not to look at the camera.

And by “consistent” I don’t mean going to the gym a certain number of times per week. Instead, for me, consistency means moving my body every single day.

Consistency means getting away from the all or nothing cycle of working out hard…followed by hardly working out.

Nowadays, I still train hard in the gym (which is usually only twice per week). I still lift heavy weights (and pick better exercises and use better form). I still unleash the beast, send some chalk clouds into the air, and reconnect with my hardcore roots. The difference is that I now take a long-term approach.

Instead of following the rigid 8-12 week program mentality, I do something every single day—whether it’s lifting weights, completing a bodyweight circuit at home, or even doing a few stretches and pushups followed by a long walk.

My idea of “working out” has expanded, and that’s what allows me to stay consistent, day after day.

2. Remember that ego is the enemy.

I stole the “ego is the enemy” phrase from Ryan Holiday, but I’ve had this rule in some form or another for the past five years.

Essentially, it means this: No one cares how much weight we lift or what exercises we do or don’t do. Also, we can’t continue to measure the way we are now compared to the way we were then.

Ego

Feeding our ego is how we hurt ourselves, physically and psychologically.

It’s how we end up doing barbell bench presses even though our shoulder hurts. It’s how we decide to do heavy back squats because there’s another dude in the rack doing heavy back squats, and, what the hell, might as well throw some plates on the bar and show him what’s up, right?

Why do we feel so shitty when we think back to what we used to do or how we used to look? Ego.

“I used to be bigger. I used to lift this much weight for 20 reps but now I can only lift it for 10 reps.”

Well, screw used to.

It’s important to understand that who you are now is (hopefully) different than who you were then. It doesn’t make any sense to compare our current selves to our past selves, since they’re two completely different people with completely different goals, priorities, and commitments.

(And who knows? Maybe your body is going to look, feel, and perform better in the next year than it ever has before.)

Ego is the enemy, no matter if you’re in the gym or out in the world, and I’ve learned the more I ignore it, the better I feel. That means passing up the opportunity to show off or impress anyone, myself included.

Instead, I focus my attention on the real reason I’m there: to have fun, get shit done, and feel good.

3. Make progress every week.

It’s a powerful feeling to know that you’re making progress.

I’m not a numbers guy—in fact, I think it’s a mistake to measure every little thing—but I admit it’s important to measure something. Otherwise, how do you know if you’re improving?

Instead of keeping a rigid notebook, calculating 80% of my one-rep max, or weighing my poop to determine my nutrient absorption, I find small ways to progress every week:

  • If I went to the gym once last week, I go twice this week.
  • If I did 3 sets of 8 reps last workout, I do 3 sets of 10 reps this workout.
  • If I lifted 150 pounds last time, I lift 155 pounds this time.

Instead of following some complicated workout program I probably won’t stick to, I instead break down my strength training into two-week cycles. The first week, I set a baseline. The second week, I beat that baseline. Simple.

In other words, I find ways to progress every single week without stressing myself out.

4. Do fun stuff.

From what I can tell, there are two main reasons why people burn out and lose motivation:

  1. They try to stick to a rigid plan, fail, and repeat the cycle. (The “all or nothing” mentality.)
  2. They do the same old shit they’ve always done until they get bored or injured.

In order to make exercising a lifelong habit, it has to be fun and it has to add value to your life. Sure, there will be times when you have to convince yourself to go to the gym or whatever. That’s normal. But working out can’t become a thing you dread doing.

That’s why we have to find new ways to challenge ourselves and have fun.

The best part is that often these new challenge aren’t just psychologically satisfying—they’re also good for our physiques. Because we’re moving and challenging ourselves in new ways, we’ll likely hit different muscle fibers, train new capacities, and generally progress faster than if we were to follow the same ol’ kind of program we’ve always done.

In the past couple years, along with strength training in the gym, I’ve incorporated a few other things like:

  • Short day hikes and long-range, multi-day backpacking (60+ miles).
  • Gymnastic-style training, like using rings and parallettes.
  • Mountain biking
  • Skateboarding
  • Yoga and ground-based movements like crawling and cartwheels.
  • Playing one-on-one pick-up basketball with my little brother.
  • Aggressive multi-hour ping-pong tournaments.

These things have improved my balance, my endurance, my strength, and have even helped me strip some fat and build muscle. And aside from getting my ass whupped in basketball and ping pong, they’re fun.


And that’s it. My whole workout strategy summed up in four rules:

  • choose consistency over intensity
  • remember that ego is the enemy
  • make progress every week
  • do fun stuff

As long as I’m following them, I know I’m on the right track. Even if I don’t really know where I’m headed.