Personal Notes on Fitness

The Backstory

In November 2022 I found myself frustrated and beaten down. Our youngest was in the midst of a month-long health issue (which was thankfully quite minor in the grand scheme of things and did completely resolve) that resulted in my rarely getting more than 4-6 hours of sleep per night -- and sleeping most nights sitting up in a chair in her room. I was exhausted and mentally burned out. I've been through multiple prolonged periods of low sleep before with newborns but this felt worse than those phases. My neck felt constantly cramped up, I was tired all the time, and found it almost a minor struggle to go up a flight of stairs. Most alarming, I just felt defeated and angry.

For the first few weeks I had responded by doing less: ramping down the activity I had been doing (which wasn't much to begin with) to "allow myself to rest and recover" from the lack of sleep. This didn't help and I realized that instead of giving myself more capacity it was making me worse. Finally, in a small act of defiance, I decided to go the other way - lean into the tiredness and fatigue.

My primary form of exercise at the time had been rucking so I committed to getting back at it -- further and faster than I had in the past. In addition, I googled "quick yoga routine for men" (or something like that) and found a 10 minute routine that looked doable. And so I just got after it every day. Do some yoga when it fit. Throw on the weighted backpack and ruck. Try to walk fast. And it really helped. There was no dramatic change - but my neck did start to feel a lot better and I wasn't quite as tired all the time. More importantly, my mindset shifted - the nights weren't as heavy of a burden, but instead seen as an opportunity, or even privilege, to show up as a father.

In time we got back to our usual routines and sleep got a lot better. Coming through that experience as 2022 came to a close and 2023 started, I was thinking a lot about how important it was to get into better physical shape - to not only be prepared to more easily handle challenges like I had just faced in November, but also to be able to handle more in life in general. I didn't want to sit at a desk all day and still get to the evening just dragging my feet through the kids' bedtimes. Now that I'm getting into my mid forties, I have thought a lot lately that how I'll feel and what I'm capable of doing in my 70s and 80s is likely being determined by the habits I'm developing now.


So it was in late January 2023 I saw in an email newsletter from GoRuck a promotion they were doing in partnership with some company called MTNTOUGH. Reading their marketing materials and watching their promotional videos it just all made sense.. Even though they founded the company to provide training for backcountry mountain hunters -- which is not something specifically in my current short or mid term life plans although being in the mountains I would love to do more of -- they clearly were providing solutions to a much broader audience than that. They have a focus on all-around physical and mental health and fitness. From building strength, to increasing cardiovascular endurance, to specifically training mental toughness - it just seemed clear that this paradigm of exercising and training would prepare someone to be all-around healthier and more capable of doing anything you wanted in life, not just hunting in the mountains. Throw in the fact they have a very beginner friendly on-ramp process, supportive community, and extensive programming you can just do from home, I had to give it a try.

Bodyweight On-Ramp

I signed up for the 2 week trial and took a look at this flowchart. Since I was brand new and had very little equipment, the 2 week Bodyweight On-Ramp Program looked like the way to go.

I dove into Week 1 Day 1 of the program.. got through the 30 minute workout.. and was so beat I thought for a minute right afterwards that I might throw up. But crucially, later that afternoon I felt great.. My legs and arms were tired but there was an internal energy present that I recognized as something I both needed and had earned with the work that morning.

The next 2 days of that first week were still quite challenging but not as rough as Day 1.. and by the weekend I was disappointed I had 2 days off and was craving the workouts. A cool moment happened in that 2nd week.. There was a section of one of the workouts that was a repeat from the 1st day. They had asked us to record how many reps we got of a series of exercises in a certain amount of time and compare this 2nd time. I remember thinking while I was doing it a 2nd time that I felt pretty rough and almost discouraged that it didn't feel like much improvement had happened.. When I checked the numbers after though, I had blown away my first week's rep counts. It was a great lesson on not trusting my feelings, but trust the process. After that 2nd week I was sold and signed up for their monthly plan.

30/30 2.0

Since I still had pretty minimal equipment, the next program I dove into was their 30/30 2.0 program.. Needing just a pull-up bar it features 30 days of workouts (5 per week for 6 weeks) for 30 minutes a day. It sounded like a good step-up from On-Ramp and was the recommended next step in their flowchart.

That first workout was so hard I really thought I couldn't finish it.. The push-ups were never-ending.. Luckily mid-way through I read the comments on the post and saw several people mention they had to switch to knee push-ups to finish. Seeing those comments and the encouraging replies gave me permission to adapt and do what it took to just keep moving and I got through it. That was a great lesson that modifying a workout to enable you to continue is not cheating -- but just quitting it is.

In the following days and weeks, my mindset and fitness levels were able to catch up to what the workouts were demanding and I got into the rhythm of the program. Mondays and Wednesdays were "Strength" days, Tuesdays were cardio/HIIT days, Thursdays were plyometric/power days, and Fridays were the running assessment day with the weekends as rest.

Every Friday was the same -- see how far you can get on a 30 minute run maintaining a 75-85% heart rate. They suggested you aim for 3-5 miles. I don't think I'd been on a run in a few years.. At least not any for even 30 minutes. That first Friday I got somewhere around 2.5 miles at a pace of over 12 minutes per mile and finished in pretty miserable shape. I messed up the measurement in the 2nd week, but it was not quite as painful. That third week I was pretty satisfied to see I made it over 2.6. Every week continued the same -- a modest but definite improvement over the prior week. On my 6th and final week, I was thrilled to cross the 3 mile mark for a sub 10 minute pace.

All in all that program was transformative. Where the On-Ramp program got me into a habit of moving and seeing that exercise was going to make me feel better, the 30-30 program really kicked into gear physical changes I could see and feel. More energy, mobility, and muscle mass. More overall physical capacity at the big and little things.. Whether it was putting a heavy item up on a shelf or just running alongside my kids riding their bikes everything was a bit easier. But most importantly, it provided mental training to take these workouts one day at a time and just focus on the next rep.. You can always get through them no matter how daunting they feel at the start.

Minimal Gear

After completing 30/30 2.0, I was pretty excited about continuing to get into better physical shape. I had by this time invested in some gear -- dumbbells, a step-up box, some kettlebells -- so jumped into their 4 week Minimal Gear Foundation program and then afterwards in June transitioned to the Minimal Gear Dailies (or MGDs) -- an ongoing program with a monthly theme where they post one new workout a day which is removed at the end of the day.

It has been great getting into more resistance training with the weights. The workouts have continued to be challenging both physically and mentally. Despite being in my mid 40s, I've felt like I've gained the best overall fitness levels of my life. The regular exercise has also encouraged me to do better in a lot of other areas of my life as well, such as improving my nutrition, reducing alcohol, and improving sleep habits to boost my overall well-being.


Next up is to continue doing the MGDs although I have my eye on their Kettlebell (KB20) and Heavy Pack (HP20) programs. In addition, I have a personal goal now to run a mile at an 8 minute pace. In addition I'm getting back to my pre MTNTOUGH preferred workout of rucking. Trying to incorporate a walk with a heavy pack at least every weekend and fit in more frequently as I can.

I have a long way to go but am proud of these past 6 months. I can see myself continuing to do these workouts or similar ones over the next years and decades and hope to not only keep this up for my own health and longevity, but be an inspiration to my kids by modeling to them a more healthy lifestyle.

If you are feeling inspired to try out MTNTOUGH, we can both get a free month with my referral link: MTNTOUGH