Have you passed the Fitness Test?

Have you Passed the Fitness Test?

By David Lim, Chief Motivation Officer

This month, as I go through the final preparations for my own little expedition to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania in August, I thought it would be timely to address a pressing issue that faces all CFOs – I mean Chief Fitness Officers. When you look at it from one perspective, you, the successful CFO at the workplace, have no one other than yourself to play the role the Chief Fitness Officer in your life.

For nearly two decades, people have often asked me how I keep up an ‘off-season’ fitness plan, as well as an ‘on season’ fitness regime – meaning, how have I kept my weight more or less the same as it was in 1991 to the present? Certainly, I have left my peak mountaineering days behind me, but every expedition I undertake  still demands a high level of fitness and strength. So this month, it would be apt to share some of the secrets and simplest ways to fight flab, and stay fit for your work and family.

There’s an old joke that’s done the rounds about someone complaining about putting on weight despite joining a gym. His friend says,” So, how often do you go there for a workout?”. “Me?,” the other responds. “ You mean I have to go there to lose weight?”

The upshot of it is that no amount of abandoned home gym equipment, or a gym membership will help you, so here’s the best way for busy leaders to lose the flab.

1) Decide that you will be fitter; and choose a target

In this instance, I am not referring to already fit executives who are aiming to gain muscle mass, but for almost all the other Indian executives I meet. Getting “fitter” is a poor goal. Set yourself a realistic weight loss goal that your physician would approve of is much better. And I would definitely recommend those over 35 years of age to seek some medical advice before starting a wellness programme. A safe estimate is losing a kilo of fat a week by a combination of modified eating behaviours and exercise.

2) Your body is inefficient; take advantage of it

This means, that propelling your body is the most time-effective way to burn fat. So people who run a kilometer in seven minutes are not burning much more calories than someone who does in in 10. Similarly, it will take longer to burn the same number of calories while riding a bicycle, than running. As a result, I highly recommend a regime which includes cardio vascular work like brisk walking (not strolling) or jogging, that raises your maximal heartrate to between 60 – 80% of its maximal. You calculate the maximal by using 220 beats per minute (an old, but still good benchmark for maximal heartbeats per minute for most adults) and deduct your age from that. The resulting figure is your unique maximal heartrate. If you can’t sustain a jog or run for 30 minutes at that range, slow down until you do, but keep moving

3) Train holistically

To avoid injury from repetitive exercise injuries, ensure you do a variety of work. Unless you are training specifically for a  sports event, I guarantee that very few overweight Indian executives need to run 50 km a week. Mix it up for fun, company and variety. And remember, fat doesn’t burn fat, only muscle burns fat. So when in  the gym for example, pick a routine which hits all the large muscle (read: energy burning) groups. Squats with a barbell behind your neck for example could be used for both endurance as well as strength training.

Don’t listen to the myth that muscle turns into fat if you don’t use it. Muscle tissue is completely different from fat tissue. What happens to many serious body -builders heavy on muscle mass is that in the ‘off-season”, they eat too much and put on  a layer of fat. But when they hit the gym seriously, the fat melts away quickly as the underlying mass of muscle they have acts like an engine, burning carbs and fat. Running alone, wont give you as much all-round benefit in fat loss as a programme which maximizes how your whole body is working out.

4) No trainer can tell you what NOT to put in your mouth

Even the best of us who have personal trainers in a gym, have to exert self-control as to what goes in their mouth. The beauty of my regime is that I don’t deprive myself of many things, but eat judiciously based on a mental reward scheme. So, if breakfast was a no-sugar or salt added muesli, with skimmed milk, I may indulge myself in the evening with a small scoop of ice-cream. But best of all, as I tell my coaching clients, good habits are formed by repeating specific actions and decisions. So if you are used to a potato masala dosai for breakfast, start giving it up gradually. So here are some interesting food ‘decisions’ you can make. It’s not exhaustive, but an idea that the healthier choices we make, the more they become good eating habits. It’s your choice:

Healthier Choice

Less Healthy Choice



Reduced portions

Eat-what-I-want portion

Brown or plain boiled rice

Biryani rice

Whole wheat roll

Fried Puri

Plate of mixed fresh fruits

Gulab Jamun

Low fat cereal

Prata with gravy

Less sauce/gravy

Drown it with gravy

Water based curries

Milk/fat based curries

Whole wheat sandwich or fruit

Deep fried snacks

Baked nuts /trail mix

Fried snacks

Raw or steamed vegetables

Veggies overcooked in curries

5) Commit to training when travelling

Getting 30 minutes of exercise even when on the road for meetings helps clear my mind, makes my sleep sounder, and burns off all those corporate lunches and buffet dinners. Here’s how you can do it. First, plan to take a pair of athletic shoes in your carry-on baggage together with a set of exercise clothes. Next, plan to reward yourself with a half hour workout either early in the morning or in the evening. Mornings usually work better for the busy person. If you are in a tall hotel, you could climb the stairs for a half hour, or stay in your hotel room and do a series of body-weight resistance exercise such as push-ups and sit ups.

A good routine is do one type of exercise continuously for 20 seconds, rest for 5 and then switch to another for the same duration. If you can recall and plan for at least four exercises that work all parts of your body, you will be done in 2 minutes, Rest 30 seconds and repeat for 10 circuits. You can do this while having the radio, music or the cable TV news on if you prefer. I guarantee it will leave you in a nice sweat at the end of it. And the beauty of short, intense workouts is that your body will continue to burn fat at an elevated rate for a couple of hours even after you have stopped.

Ultimately, it’s up to you whether you want to commit to losing weight, looking better, and living a longer, healthier life for yourself and your family. Choose wisely.

( originally published in CFO Magazine (India) – July 2011