Editor's Note: To ensure our 21 Days to Total-Body Fitness plan was effective — and could actually better your health, performance, and body metrics within three weeks — we recruited 47-year-old Men’s Journal contributor Andrew Cotto to test drive it. He was instructed to follow the rules to the letter, but also not to hold back on what worked or didn’t. Here, he gives it to you straight.
I’m 47 years old, and I’ve worked out on a regular to fairly regular basis for some 30 years. It’s never really been my thing, but I’ve kept it up for various reasons; a mix of athletic obligation as a younger man, then a desire to remain healthy as I’ve grown older (and informed all the while by the timeless factor of vanity). Throughout this saga, I’ve never committed to any particular workout, taken on a personal trainer, or even had a workout partner. As a result, I’ve pretty much had the same physique (factoring in the wear and tear of aging). So, when Men’s Journal asked if I wanted to test their 21-day challenge, it seemed like a good opportunity to find out if better results were readily available after all these years of same-old, same-old.
Here’s what happened:
- I dropped six pounds (176 to 170).
- My BMI went from 25.1 to 23.7.
- My body fat (which I measured with a Taylor Smart Scale) decreased from 19.5 percent to 18.3 percent.
- My resting heart rate went from 78 beats per minute to 66.
- My strength and endurance improved noticeably.
How I did it:
- I geared up for the 21 days physically. I test-ran the strength-day sessions before starting. This helped me get familiar with the routines and understand how much weight I should begin with. (I could easily see myself come firing out of the gates in week 1, using too much weight, and getting hurt.) I even wrote down the weight amounts to have with me, because the last thing I need when working out is to think.
- I geared up mentally. I committed to 21 days — no excuses, no skips, no shortcuts. I told my wife and kids and some close friends to add some extra incentive for sticking it out when the going got tough. I also bought myself a pair of supercushy high-end running shoes as a reward, knowing if I quit, their presence would be a nagging reminder (more so than my children) of my wimping out.
- I planned in advance for every workout. There would be no winging the when and where; I scheduled each session well ahead of time. This kept the commitment from interfering with other obligations or getting sacrificed due to logistics.
- I ate well. My diet has always been good; I use an adapted Mediterranean diet that I prepare, and doesn’t include any packaged or processed foods or any sugary drinks. What I did differently was include some of the recommended foods of the program, especially sweet potatoes, which I roasted in bunches and ate with dinner.
- I drank less. Part of my Mediterranean ethos is wine with dinner, and I didn’t want to cut this out — so I didn’t. What I did eliminate, though, was hard liquor. That was a sacrifice. I love my martinis after dinner, or maybe something aged and brown before bed. I attribute this adjustment to some of my weight loss, and it probably would have been three or four more pounds had I cut the wine as well (but I wasn’t doing that).
- I pushed myself. Whether it was a strength or cardio day, I went hard. This was particularly beneficial for cardio. I’ve been a same-pace jogger forever, and having to increase my lung capacity to make it through sprints was immediately evident, and informed my other workouts dramatically. Having extra room for the intake of oxygen is without a doubt my biggest takeaway and, I think, contributor to my results. It not only burns calories, it also boosts strength and recovery time.
What I liked about the plan:
- The warm-ups really help. This is something I’d often rushed through. Now I realize how beneficial taking some time to increase blood flow, flexibility, and breathing before beginning a workout can be.
- The workouts feel quick. I never felt fatigued or noticeably sore the whole time. Instead, I felt invigorated from the daily movement. A sense of burgeoning strength was evident, too. I was also never famished, which is common when I hit the weights for too long (and leads to some bad choices in the quality and quantity of food I eat afterward). Besides, being sore kinda sucks, even if it is earned.
- Stretching Day. Yeah, it was nice to have an easy day tucked in there, but it also really helped me maintain mobility and a sense of wellness.
- The variety of exercises kept me focused. This was important to help me avoid one of the major pitfalls of regular workouts. The un-routine of this routine kept me on point without allowing boredom to whisper in my ear that it was okay to quit early (and go have a martini).
What I didn’t like:
- Trying to do sprints on a treadmill is arduous and ineffective because you’re constantly trying to raise or lower your speed. I highly recommend doing the Day 3 workout outside.
- The Day 1 strength routine is tough, and it makes it a tough way to start. Be especially careful with your form and the weight you choose, particularly on the renegade rows.
- Did I mention the no drinking?
So, would I do this 21-day challenge again? Yeah, I might try it every March. It could be like my Lent.