How to make your fitness shortlist

At Muscle That Matters, our mission is to help ordinary men lose bodyfat, build muscle, and learn to take control of their bodies.

While most fitness “gurus” obsess over the minutia, we’re all about simplicity.

The key to physique transformation for the normal, busy, dad-with-a-hundred-things-going-on is developing consistency and good habits. Build momentum with that and only get “fancier” as needed.

A lot of guys I know and hear from are struggling to adapt from the care-free life of the early 20’s to the next stage in life when you start facing higher stress jobs and kids and family and other priorities.

The things that used to work don’t work anymore. You’re stressed to the max and what you do in the gym just leaves you feeling more worn down, instead of stronger and more energized like it should.

You hit a plateau, the scale isn’t moving down and the weight you’re lifting isn’t going up.

The stronger, leaner body you once had (or thought you could have) is a distant memory. Because at some point along the way, LIFE happened.

And now, Doing what you’ve always done or what the mainstream “live-in-the-gym” approach says is required isn’t gonna cut it.

When you get here, there’s a crucial distinction you must make if you want to take control of your health and fitness and continue (or kick-start) the pursuit of a leaner, stronger, healthier body.

Here’s the thing you have to recognize – something that 99% of the industry is missing. And something most guys never realize, making the whole fitness thing a whole lot more difficult…

Most of the fitness information is churned out for the “ideal” crowd. And there’s a massive difference between “ideal” and “doable within the context of a real life.” 

Put simply: there’s a big difference between what is the universal “best” approach to build muscle and lose fat if you have all the time in the world to focus just on your fitness, and the approach that is actually sustainable and possible within the context of all the stuff you have going on in your life.

When you realize that, it becomes clear that just any ol’ approach won’t do.

You need a plan – both for workouts and nutrition – that actually acknowledges all of the responsibilities and priorities and stressors you have going on during the 95% of your life when you’re not in the gym or thinking about your “diet.” 

You need a plan that recognizes the difference between “ideal” and “doable.” Because if you keep chasing ideal, you’re doomed.

You WANT to eat 4 or 5 balanced meals a day, but you’re constantly bombarded with kids’ birthday parties, family suppers, and other events where you have little control of the food options.

You WANT to hit the gym 4 or 5 times a week, but finding the energy and time to get there even once or twice is a battle.

Before you know it, you’re thinking, “What’s the point of even trying if I can’t even stick to my diet or hit the gym regularly?”

That type of thinking will RUIN YOU. It leads nowhere good. Soon, you’ll find yourself 20-pounds heavier, spouting of some nonsense like “My wife likes my dadbod…” (Yeah, right).

When you’re struggling to stay consistent in the gym or stick to your nutrition plan, most in the fitness crowd would tell you to “man up and be more disciplined”… to “try harder”… and that “if you really wanted it you’d be willing to sacrifice more.”

But that’s nonsense. The kinda thing you’ll hear from guys who have no idea what it’s like to build an awesome body AND have a family and other responsibilities and priorities.

I have a solution for you that requires NONE of that…


It happens to the best of us. Work gets busy. Kids get sick. Unforeseen stuff comes up and knocks you off track right when things were starting to go good.

THAT’S real life.

For many, this is a very stressful place to be. Heck, for alotta guys I know, this is when you check out and write off your hopes of building a strong, great-looking, capable body.

Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be that way. To combat “real life”, you need to determine your Minimum Effective Fitness ‘Short List.’ 

In plain speak, this is just the absolute minimum required to make a  bit of progress, or at least NOT move backward.

Using myself as an example, I normally like to eat 3 meals and one snack per day consisting of lean protein, lots of veggies, some fruit, starch after my workouts, and plenty of water.

I also lift weights 3-4 times per week and work in some other fun, active “hobby” like activities (playing basketball, running, etc.) that help with staying shape and improving conditioning.

That’s my IDEAL.

But that’s not always how it goes. So if life or work is crazy and I’m feeling worn out and beat up, my Fitness Short List would be:

  1. Lift weights 2-3 times per week, usually lasting no more than 30-40 minutes MAX (there is room for “play” here… my workouts often look more simple during busy times so that I can do them wherever is most convenient – my garage, basement, etc. with minimal equipment).
  2. Try to do something active a few days per week, but nothing structured or planned (playing with kids, hobbies, etc. that require physical activity as opposed to planned “cardio”).
  3. Three meals a day, focusing on lean protein, veggies, and fruit… but ultimately doing the “best I can” with what’s thrown my way by focusing on keeping portions in check and making sure I’m not stuffing myself with empty calories.
  4. Find a way to chill out for 10+ minutes per day. Meditation, watching a funny TV show with my wife, playing with the kids at the park, etc. This can be a lot of different things, but they key is I cut myself a “break” and intentionally step away from the stressful stuff.

That’s it.

Is there much, much more that I could/should do? Sure, but that’s not the point.

The short list above is the MINIMUM that I need to do to keep inching along in the right direction.

So when life gets crazy (and it always does) I can end each day knowing I still made a little progress towards my fitness goals. Sometimes this is just for a week or two, sometimes this limited approach lasts for months at a time.

As someone with a family and a job (or jobs), there’s no predictable pattern of “easy” and “difficult” times in life.

The key here is this: instead of becoming obsessed with trying to make the “ideal” work… and ultimately chucking it all to the curb and sitting on my couch eating takeout for 3 months, the Fitness Short List keeps me moving in right direction by doing just what’s doable during that season of life.

Is it perfect? Probably not.

But it’s enough for now. That’s the goal.

Finding your Fitness Short List is a crucial part of making your fitness journey a true lifestyle.

Because it’s not IF life starts kicking your butt…

It’s when.

– Eric

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