The Statesman’s Guide to Crafting (and Sticking to) a New Year’s Fitness Resolution

As the New Year races into full swing, all the familiar sights come into view: Pottruck swarming from 3:00-7:00pm, a more crowded salad bar at Commons, and joggers aplenty on Spruce. Yet, while this initial flurry of enthusiasm and gusto is constant year to year, so too is the stark difference between resolutions set out and first followed, and resolutions intact and achieved by year’s end. In this article, I aim to help you craft a quality fitness resolution for 2018; but, more importantly, I aim to help you craft a resolution that you can commit to and stick to.

Big Themes to Keep in Mind When “Resolutioning”

  1. Whatever your plan, make it feasible and executable.

This is the key to the panning out of any resolution. Now, feasibility and executability are extremely dependent on the individual and hinge on countless factors: class schedule, work and extracurricular workload, job commitments, past fitness experience, dining options, sleep pattern—you get the point. Only you can know for certain what you are and are not capable of executing consistently based on your own life.

I can, however, remind you of a few things along the way: for one, if you come out too strong, you will fall into the typical trap of going strong at first, riding initiation energy, but fizzling out once the scale and impracticability of the routine become too much. A resolution that has you going to Pottruck once in the morning for an hour of cardio and once in the afternoon to lift for two hours, six days a week—despite your part-time job, 6-credit schedule, and responsibilities as Treasurer of a club and Vice President of your Greek organization—is destined for failure. Life will get in the way, and any unrealistically thorough routine will fall to the wayside.

The opposite approach works best: give yourself something easy, almost too easy, and scale up if you find you’re crushing it. The former approach is demoralizing, as you watch yourself cut back farther and farther away from what you initially set out for yourself. The latter is energizing and encouraging: if you start at two days a week at the gym, nail that for a couple weeks, and then add a third day, you will be on cloud nine, while naturally finding your peak feasibility threshold for a workout regimen at the same time.

  1. Any physical improvements are a combination of training, eating, and sleeping.

You can’t lose bad weight or gain good weight if you’re not eating right and sleeping right. For example, the only way to lose body fat while minimizing muscle loss is to ensure adequate protein and healthy fat intake, while simultaneously restricting calories to below your daily maintenance[1]; and the only way to gain lean body mass is by eating past your daily maintenance calories, with plenty of carbohydrates to promote insulin production[2] and to replenish muscle glycogen stores after an intense weight-training session. Furthermore, your body releases its highest daily spike of HGH—a vital hormone for fat burning and muscle building, as well as recovery from any physical exercise—while you are asleep.

Getting insufficient or low-quality sleep can lead to a diminished production of HGH, and suboptimal physical results as a result. ATP, your body’s energy currency, is also created largely during sleep; you won’t be able to kill it in the gym (without countless scoops of pre-workout, a dependence no one should build) if you’re half asleep all day.

So, eat clean, train hard, and get plenty of rest.

  1. You don’t have to be perfect to be improving.

One cheat meal doesn’t mean your diet is in shambles. Training and diet are a sum of your collective efforts. Likewise, missing a day at the gym isn’t the end of the world, and doesn’t spell doom for your resolution. What can hinder progress is a cheat meal that discourages you and turns into a cheat day, which turns into a cheat weekend, which turns into a cheat week and a resolution out the window.

So, don’t get down on yourself if you didn’t push the weight you wanted to in the gym, or if you skimped on some cardio—in fact, occasional slip-ups like this are arguably productive, as long as they stay self-contained and don’t snowball into further slip-ups, in that they motivate you to stay on track and will have you seeing results despite living life a little and not being a total robot.

The Resolution

Now, if you think you can internalize and follow the above guidelines, you’re ready to take an actual resolution. What follows are three different workout plans for three different muscle groups –  a routine commonly known to lifters as “push, pull, legs” (or, for gym bros who don’t train legs, “push, pull”, and for the ladies who only train glutes and hamstrings, “legs, legs, legs”). Included also is a sample high-intensity cardio workout. I’ve decided not to lay out a weekly workout regimen, for the exact reasons I’ve stated above.

Instead, I suggest you take these individual workouts, and rotate through them in a cycle; if you can train three days a week, you’ll do the push-pull legs routine, or maybe do half of each of the push and pull days on one day, the leg day on the second day, and the cardio workout on the third day. If you can train four days a week, you’ll maybe split the pull day into two, and increase the number of sets done per exercise to give two complete pull days. The point is, take these workouts and adapt them based on the plan you’ve laid out for yourself with the help of the tips that came above.

Furthermore, these workouts work perfectly well for both men and women. Ladies, you don’t need to worry about getting “bulky” or anything of the sort, just because you’re on the second floor of Pottruck and you’ve picked up a barbell. Give a good effort, mind your diet and sleep, and you too can reap all the health benefits of resistance training, build aesthetic muscle tone and strength, and improve your overall wellness. Gentlemen, if you feel the workload is insufficient for maximum gains, feel free to increase the number of sets per exercise, or to tack on any accessory exercises.

Last, if you don’t recognize or don’t know how to perform any exercise, YouTube is a phenomenal place to start. Form is crucial—lift hard, but lift safely! Also, if at any point you feel pain or discomfort, make sure you stop immediately and see a professional about it. Longevity is the name of the game when it comes to long-term fitness and health.

Some Sample Workouts

Push Day

  1. Barbell bench press: 5 sets, 5 reps
  2. Chest fly (dumbbells, pec deck, or cables): 3 sets, 8-10 reps
  3. Standing barbell overhead press: 5 sets, 5 reps
  4. Rope triceps extension: 4 sets, 8-10 reps

Accessory exercises: incline dumbbell press, Hammer Strength chest press, dumbbell side raise, dumbbell front raise, dumbbell overhead triceps extension

Pull Day

  1. Pullups: 5 sets, 5 reps (note: use as much weight as makes 5 reps challenging but achievable. This could mean using the assisted pullup machine, your own bodyweight, or even weight added by holding a dumbbell between your feet as you pull yourself up)
  2. Single-arm dumbbell row: 3 sets, 8-10 reps
  3. Reverse flies (bent over with dumbbells, on the pec deck, or with cables): 3 sets, 8-10 reps
  4. Standing dumbbell biceps curl: 4 sets, 8-10 reps

Accessory exercises: wide grip lat pulldown, Hammer Strength row machine, bent-over barbell row, dumbbell hammer curl, cable curl

Leg Day

  1. Barbell back squat: 5 sets, 5 reps
  2. Leg press: 3 sets, 8-10 reps
  3. Lying hamstring curl: 4 sets, 8-10 reps
  4. Standing calf raise: 4 sets, 8-10 reps

Accessory exercises: barbell front squat, leg extension, seated leg curl, seated calf raise, walking lunge

HIIT Cardio and Abs Workout

Using a stationary bike or elliptical will make this easiest, as you won’t have to adjust the settings back and forth between the “on” (high effort, max intensity, high speed) and “off” (relaxed, easy pace) periods.

  1. Warmup: 10 minutes, moderate pace
  2. 30 seconds “on”, 1 minute “off”: 5 cycles (add more cycles or decrease the “off” periods to 30 seconds as your cardiovascular performance improves)
  3. Cool down: 10 minutes, moderate pace
  4. Abdominal plank: 3 sets, 60 seconds
  5. Stiff leg raises: 3 sets, 20 reps

Accessory exercises: captain’s chair, v-ups, hanging leg raises

(Photo by Snehalkanodia/Wikimedia)


[1] “Maintenance calories” is a term used to define the number of calories you need to eat in a day to remain the exact same weight. There are plenty of online calorie calculators that take your age, sex, activity level, and other factors into account to give you a good estimate of this number.

[2] Insulin, along with testosterone, are considered the two most anabolic (muscle-building) hormones in the body.

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