10 min read

Fitness Autonomy (Four Things)

When you see someone develop fitness autonomy it's a glorious thing. Here are the four things you need to consider to grow towards it. Task. Time. Technique. Team.
Fitness Autonomy (Four Things)

Last week I started a series on motivation. I wanted to give others some insights into what may really be motivating them to live a healthier lifestyle, regardless even, of the method.

That’s right, I’m saying that you can achieve some kind of success on any diet plan, doing mostly any kind of exercise, but ideally a combination of both.

I’ve had my observations about what works most effectively that I’ll be sharing in the coming months and years, but for the most part mindset is the missing link in more than 90% of your average fitness program.

Upon sitting down to expand upon this idea, I was reminded of the Steven Covey model for progression from dependence to interdependence.

Essentially we start in this world as dependent on others, until we reach our teens when we firmly assert our independence to our parents and others.

Ideally in personal or professional development we all realize a state of interdependence; A state of well-being where we are independent but also trust and embrace the assistance of others to make things easier on ourselves.

Some never make this leap up the ladder rungs, which is why you know people who assert their independence still and perhaps you have family or a friend who are still entirely dependent on others.

Autonomy is not to be confused with independence. To achieve autonomy we will always need to rely on others to some degree. Just to clarify, I am not suggesting in the rest of this post, that you go it alone and do everything yourself when it comes to fitness.

Autonomy is really about taking ownership over the process of weight loss and interdependence is the key ingredient in autonomy.


Before I begin, though, let me ask you a couple of questions:

  • How would you personally go about transforming how your body looks and feels, were you willing to fully commit to that course of action at this moment in time?
  • If you presently had the body you enjoy, how would you go about maintaining that look and feel?

Autonomy starts by asking the right questions at the right moment. Most people are already equipped with the tools and the information they need to succeed; The application and execution is what needs some development and some individual experience in the process.

You could realistically ask these two questions and over the course of 2 hours, create a plan of action that could help you achieve some level of success over the long-term.

If you missed the autonomous step of assuming responsibility, you probably have experience with a yo-yo cycle of weight loss and subsequent weight gain.

The people that I work with that still struggle the most with their body composition, are generally the ones that have yet to fully accept the responsibility of managing their physical well-being. They are more than willing to leave their fate in my hands and praise me for their successes or blame on me for failures.

Really I had nothing to do with it. As the old coaching saying goes, “I can’t do it for you, I can only show you the way.”

It often becomes my objective, to take the responsibility they place on me and eventually pass over as much of it to them as I can.

Honestly, I can only coach nutrition or observe your workouts a maximum of once a day and even then generally only for about an hour.

This generally gets referred to as the “23 to 1 rule. “ I have one hour with you, and you have the other 23 hours of the day to completely revert the work we did. You have to be responsible for those 23 hours.

Gradual behavior modification — though not easy — is an absolute necessity, for achieving long-term physical change, and autonomy, is something you should prepare to adopt at some point over the course of that change.

As such, the acceptance of autonomy is a major step towards achieving unlimited intrinsic motivation, in fitness and nutrition.

This may also explain why 30 day diet plans tend to fail over the long-term, as there is no eventual self-reliance built-in, and never a maintenance plan.

Sure you may lose a few inches, but true long-term success in this realm, requires a growth mindset, that builds in more and more self-governance.

From there one needs to develop a step-by-step plan to gradually take more and more control.

As always, I highly recommend the use of a coach to sit down and plan a road-map for autonomy — not just mastery which is often what fitness professionals will tend to focus on.

#1 – The Task

The workouts and your meals make up the bulk of the approach, but also mindset training.*

Can you do all of these at the same time, maybe, but I almost always recommend focusing on one thing at a time, maximum 3.

A good coach will help you identify your most limiting factor(s); Then utilizing the 1 to 3 things that are creating the biggest barriers to your success, we’ll create a plan.

This plan is designed around the skills you should be aiming to develop on a daily or weekly basis that will make the biggest impact.

For example, do you struggle with eating out at less than optimal restaurants, supplying less than optimal food choices?

If you did, we would aim to address this as much as possible, above and beyond perhaps, any emphasis on exercise. A simple skill may be choosing more lean protein and vegetable options, even if that means ordering off the menu.

If you struggled with productive training protocols to follow, or your mobility was limiting you in your performance of beneficial exercises; Then we may focus on addressing those issues first by developing skills.

Generally speaking you will have to start prioritizing and taking control over exercise and nutrition tasks eventually. It is a sliding scale of easy to more difficult.

The easiest thing to do right now, if you don’t have a coach, is try to identify the one thing that is really holding you back and find an alternate solution.

With respect to exercise, check out this post. With respect to Nutrition, check out this one. You’ll lose weight, feel great and the idea is to focus on one, incredibly simple task, to maintain 80% of the time, for the rest of your life. The other 20% is up to you, enjoy it! Naturally you’ll actually come to enjoy the 80% too; Passion follow skills. All of the skills in those articles are maintainable.

*I believe educating your mind, controlling your emotions and calming your spirit lay a big foundation for diet and exercise, yet few people practice mindset training.

Most people I think would agree with me that the mind is intricately related to the body and therefore a big part of the equation.

However, it does appear to generally be a bit imperceptible, when not mentioned outright.

#2 The Time

There is much debate over optimal time of day for exercise. Time is the the single biggest excuse I encounter on a daily basis. We all have the same amount of time in a day, but some of us manage to use what we have better than others.

Needless to say, after some careful analysis of a person’s use of time, it is usually easy to find 3-5 hours they can use for exercise and 1/2 – 1 hour a day to cook.

There just needs to be some reorganization of personal management and again priorities. Again, this is why autonomy is so important for success with weight-loss.

I’ve heard a few different numbers over the years as to what amount of time people should dedicate daily, weekly, monthly to physical activity.

There was a sociological study done a few years back that seemed to indicate that the people most happy/satisfied with their bodies, spend about 5 hours a week exercising. I’d say there is a little wiggle room on that number (maybe an hour in either direction); Of course the more skills you have, the less you can probably be content with.

However, since it’s a known fact, that most people over-report just how much exercise they are getting. I would say that it is possible to get, and achieve the body you want, with as little as 3 hours of dedicated time*.

For now, forget what you’ve read about in the ‘research’ and think about what’s in your scheduler right now.

If you can find even 10 minutes this week? Maybe you can find one hour a week broken up into 10 minute chunks for 6 days? Could you get one hour long weigh training session in starting next week? Something will always be better than nothing.

A big hangup for people is they think they have to do a lot more than they probably have to. Research suggests we can see really positive health outcome with much less than we think though, especially if we’re currently sedentary.

In a 2016 study, researchers compared 45 minutes of continuous cycling to a 2 minute warm up, followed by three sets of 20 second ‘all-out’ cycling, with 2 minutes of low-intensity recovery between bouts and finished up with a 3 minute light cool down (10 minutes cumulative). The researchers found that the 1o minute interval protocol was:

“as effective as 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity continuous training for increasing insulin sensitivity, cardiorespiratory fitness and skeletal muscle mitochondrial content in previously inactive men.”

Note it didn’t say fat loss, or muscle gain, but health markers are dramatically improved as compared to exercising for much longer. If you’re inactive now, then this could be a decent starting point. You’re not going to be a beast in the gym on 10 minutes a day, but you’ll get a result, and a considerable one over doing nothing.

You need to find practical times for exercise and you should aim to work up to 3 hours per week over time, maybe eventually 5, but everyone is different. Doing something will still be better than nothing.

Start out every week by scheduling in your exercise training sessions in time slots you can manage, find a routine that matches the time you have available and book exercise just like you would book a doctors appointment or a meeting at work.

Talk to your boss, they may be more flexible than you think about letting you take a longer lunch a few times a week, or letting you do some of your work from home.

*Based off personal coaching experience, 2 hours per week also seems to be enough to maintain when time crunched. It is very difficult to make gains with so little time per week — unless your nutrition is very dialled in — but it is generally enough to maintain your physique.

#3 The Technique

Again, people often argue over the technique to use for losing weight.

Should you walk, jog, bike, do calisthenics or lift weights to lose weight?

Should you eat meat, not eat meat, try South Beach diet or just follow the Food Guide?

Well it really should be up to you. I mean, sure I have some idea as to what is most effective but that effectiveness is completely null and void if you won’t enjoy it over the long-term. The ‘ineffective’ exercise you will do right now will trump the ‘super effective’ exercise you’re never going to do, every single time.

Ask yourself, “What do I enjoy doing?”

That is first and foremost, and please, don’t give me the whole, ‘I’m not really athletic spiel,” because that’s not an excuse. You do not need to be very athletic to kayak, ski, snowboard, hike, walk a golf course or lift weights.

And it needn’t cost you very much money, as walking, jogging or hiking is essentially free.

I can tell you this without a doubt, that there is something active out there, that you can do on a regular basis, that you will eventually enjoy for many years.

That love may change; It may only bring you to a certain level of results but there is always something active you can do that will make an active lifestyle difference.

Experiment with many different ways of eating. The foundation is simply eating more whole foods and less refined foods, but the way of doing it can be varied to suit ethical, cultural or physical needs. Bread could have a place, rice could have a place, some chocolate here or there could have a place, so long as it takes you towards your objective.

Some people can’t tolerate gluten or lactose or yeast, but until you play with your diet and explore the options, you may never know what diet suits you best.

The only rule I’ll give you is that you should pick something that is sustainable over the long-term, severely restricted ‘caloric diets‘ don’t have much of a place in a long-term eating strategy.

Once you’ve found that activity or diet*, work on mastering the technique of it. There is nothing more satisfying than developing skill in something you enjoy doing.

Don’t settle on just doing it, aim to do it well.

Work on your running technique, read hiking books, work on your lifting technique, and focus on eating a little bit better at most meals according to the diet that best works for you.

Focus on learning and educating yourself in movement, cooking and nutrition. Don’t just read, do.

*Diet is really just in reference to the foods you eat on a regular basis. I am not implying that our traditional view of ‘dieting’ works very well, quite often in contributes to unsustainable weight loss and gain cycles, instead of a long-term plan.

#4 The Team

Though the objective here is autonomy, we cannot forget that relationships are of vital importance. They are extremely important in the process of physical change.

This often means you need to have a heart to heart talk eventually, with your coach, your workout partner, your mentor, or your involved friends and family.

In the book “Connected,” by Dr. Nicholas Christakis, we see some hard data, that the likelihood of experiencing obesity is directly related to those in your social circle.

The closer degree of friends you have that are overweight or obese, the more likely you are to share the same body type.

It goes so far down the chain apparently that even as much as 4 degrees of separation can increase the likelihood of being overweight.

Provided that you cannot always remove yourself from some relationship situations, — family for instance — you can inspire them by making friends with fit people, hiring a coach, or finding a mentor.

I would generally advise, that rather than go about trying to ‘un-friend’ individuals you feel may be holding you back, aim to focus on befriending those that will help lift you up. Make friends at the gym or in a run club or a hiking club.

The rest generally takes care of itself in this manner, or you inspire others to join you in your quest.

The support network you develop is absolutely crucial to success and will ultimately be a big factor in your success with autonomy.


*Like always, I propose you address one of these at a time for best results, don’t feel the need to rush to all of them at once.

This is a process, one develops autonomy over an extended period of time. With an ultimate goal of becoming mostly self-sustaining, take aim for instance, at addressing the time for a month.

First aim to establish consistency, before establishing intensity or specificity. Then once a workout and nutrition schedule is built, work towards what tasks will make it better.

Tweak it to meet your objectives with an emphasis on the technique.