Some days it feels like it takes a mountain of energy to get yourself to the gym. Especially if you’re struggling to lose weight, the idea that you could eventually love to exercise seems impossible.
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But if you talk to someone who has lost big weight — 20, 30, 50 or 100 pounds — exercising is definitely something they’ve come to love. “Every journey begins with the first step,” says Greg Abee, a 31-year-old DJ who dropped 20 pounds.
Lots of times it takes lots of first steps, but one of them starts you down the path to loving exercise. “Your body will hurt. Your ego will be tested. But the results are worth it,” Abee says.
“Find something you love doing physically,” says Mike Faiella, a Massachusetts man who lost 35 pounds in four months with his weightlifting program. If you like it, you’ll do it. So keep looking until you find it, and then give it time to become something you don’t just like, but love, Faiella says.
Faiella, Abee and these five others found workouts they love and lost big weight in the process! Here’s how they dropped the pounds and found their favorite workouts. Get inspired to find your own.
1. Sue Komsky Lost 40 Pounds and Swears by Squats
Before Weight: 178
After Weight: 138
Before she started on her weight-loss regimen, Komsky says, “I looked like a fat old woman. When that happened to my mom, I was very disappointed that she didn’t do anything about it, and now I was in the same situation.”
Komsky didn’t want to feel old, and she wanted to do something she hadn’t done in 40 years: squats. So she started training with Mike Wunsch, director of training at Results Fitness in Newhall, California. Now she doesn’t have trouble getting up from the floor and doesn’t feel disappointed when she looks in the mirror.
“I feel energized. I am more flexible and mobile, and I don’t feel old,” she says. Oh, and she gained something else: pride. “I’m proud of myself for tackling the problem and succeeding.”
She’s also doing those squats she’d hoped for. And her favorite workout helps her prep for them.
Her Favorite Workout
It’s simple: Three sets of 10 body-weight box squats on a 14-inch box. HOW TO DO IT: Start by sitting on a 14-inch-high box with your hands crossed in front of your chest or behind your head, your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Maintaining an erect posture with your chest up, press through your heels to forcefully stand up, thrusting your hips forward. Push your hips back to sit back down and repeat.
2. Barry Goldberg Survived a Heart Attack and Dropped 50 Pounds
Before Weight: 220
After Weight: 170
“Do you like living?” That’s the question 78-year-old Virginia man Barry Goldberg says to ask yourself. And he should know: After losing 60 pounds, he put 50 back on before needing triple-bypass surgery. Since the surgery last year, he’s dropped 50 pounds and rediscovered the gym, working with trainer Steven Head at Sport and Health in McLean, Virginia.
But though he had cardiac issues, Goldberg had another problem: He doesn’t like cardio — or at least not the treadmill-walking and bicycle-riding kind most cardiac patients think of as cardio. So while he walks several miles a day since his surgery, the idea of more steady-state training at the gym doesn’t appeal to Goldberg.
His favorite workout with Head gives him the cardio he needs with strength training he craves. It’s a series of weighted stair climbs, farmer walks and sled pulls that get his heart pumping and strengthens his entire body.
His Favorite Workout
1. Kettlebell Stair Climb: Holding a pair of 20-pound kettlebells, Goldberg climbs seven flights of stairs, two steps at a time.
2. Farmer Walks: Holding a 50-pound kettlebell in one hand and a 60-pound kettlebell in the other, Goldberg performs at least two weighted carries of 90 feet.
3. Trap Bar Deadlift: Barry has gotten up to 300 pounds on the bar during a max set. For a routine strength protocol, he performs three to five sets of five reps.
4. Sled Pushes: Using a few hundred pounds, Goldberg does two or more bouts of sled pushing inside the gym.
3. Maria Maknoon Used Spin Class to Help Her Lose 50 Pounds
Before Weight: 192
After Weight: 142
Exercise was never a problem for Maria. “I’ve always been the type of person who worked out,” she says. She’d been going to Spin classes for five years and would spend hours at the gym lifting weights and doing cardio — and she enjoyed it.
Her diet just wasn’t right, and it was affecting her whole outlook. “I was just very down on myself. I didn’t feel like going out, so I always had excuses why I couldn’t go.”
Maria embarked on a regimented eating plan that limited carbs and sugar with a trainer for Lakeview Athletic Club in Pittsburgh. She lost 50 pounds and regained her confidence.
“If I had a fancy black-tie event with my husband, I would go before, but I hated every minute of it,” she says. “Now I like to be out. I like to shop for the fancy dress. I just feel better about myself.
Her Favorite Workout
The Spin classes Maria did before losing weight have become her favorite. “I like that you’re biking along to the music. You’re up and down,” she says. And Maria says she can zone out without worrying about mowing down pedestrians. With her newfound confidence and lighter frame, “I’m able to go faster now and can do more than before.”
4. Kris Dornan Took Off 120 Pounds and Became an Ironman
Before Weight: 320 pounds
After Weight: 201 pounds
Dornan was an offensive lineman at college football powerhouse Pittsburg State University in Kansas, and he was “as strong as an ox,” he says.
“I hated the way my body looked,” he says, but it wasn’t until family tragedy struck that he made a change. Dornan’s father died at 57 when Kris was 27. He still didn’t like seeing himself looking “sloppy” in the mirror, but “then it turned into just wanting to be here for my kids longer than [their 27th birthdays].”
He became a workout fanatic, lifting and training and ultimately finishing an Ironman triathlon — with 120 fewer pounds on his frame. He’s gained some back, but he’s still doing incredible things with his body.
“I’m giving both my 3- and 6-year-olds piggyback rides up three flights of stairs at the same time. I can hop on my mountain bike and ride for hours through the woods, get completely lost and be OK enough to find my way home.”
But one of his favorite workouts doesn’t require kids to heft any equipment at all — and he can do it without leaving home. It’s the “deck of cards” workout game, and you can do it with any set of playing cards.
His Favorite Workout
Shuffle the deck of cards (including jokers). Each suit represents an exercise, and the card’s number represents the number of reps you’ll do. So if you draw a 10 of hearts (and you’ve assigned hearts to be push-ups, as Dornan does), you’ll do 10 push-ups, then move to the next card.
Try to get through as much of the deck as you can. If you can finish the whole deck, try timing it. “I’d take a screenshot of the stopwatch on my phone and try to beat my time the next time.”
Here’s how Dornan assigns the suits as exercises:
-Hearts are push-ups, “because pushups help pecs, which are close to your heart.”
-Spades are burpees, “because this exercise kills everything!”
-Diamonds are V-ups.
-Clubs are body-weight squats with hands behind the head.
-For each joker, Dornan performs a 30-second forearm plank and one 15-second side plank on each side.
5. Brent Sheftz Is Down 22 Pounds and Ready to Compete in Powerlifting
Before Weight: 247 pounds
After Weight: 225 pounds
At 247 pounds last February, Brent Sheftz felt “like a stuffed sausage,” he says. When his new driver’s license arrived in the mail, “I was like, ‘That can’t be me.’ But it sure was.”
“I lacked motivation and energy and seemed to be tired a lot, even when getting seven hours of sleep,” he says. It’s no wonder, then, that his favorite workout is “The Ramp,” a motivating warm-up circuit that changes every month at Results Fitness in Newhall, California.
“It gets your mind right. It relieves your stress and gets you into it mentally and physically,” he says. When it’s over, “I’m ready to put in a good workout.”
Those workouts have been getting better too. Since losing the weight, his bench press has gone from 135 pounds to 265, his deadlifts come in 300-pound sets of five and he squats 245 pounds for sets of three.
In fact, he loves the lifts so much he plans to compete in his first powerlifting competition in April, where he’ll shoot for 1,000 pounds combined between the three exercises.
His Favorite Workout
“The Ramp” changes regularly at Results, but here’s the warm-up circuit Brent is currently using to get motivated and physically prepped to lift:
1. Cat Cow: 5 breaths
2. Hip-Flexor Stretch: 3 breaths on each hip
3. Marching Glute Bridge: 8 reps per side, two seconds for each rep
4. Half-Kneeling Forward Windmills: 6 reps per side
5. Spiderman Lunge With T Reach: 5 reps per side
6. Body-Weight Squat: 8 reps
7. Forearm Wall Slides: 10 reps
8. Walking Reverse Lunge: 10 reps
9. Pivoting Lateral Lunge: 5 reps on each side
10. Power Skip: 2 lengths of the gym
11. Backward Power Skip: 2 lengths of the gym
12. Carioca: 2 lengths of the gym
13. Bear Crawl: 1 length of the gym
Read more: 9 Essential Strength Benchmarks for Men
6. Greg Abee Lost 20 Pounds and Reengaged His Competitive Side
Before Weight: 218
After Weight: 198
Like many guys at the gym, Greg Abee wanted abs he could show off, but his standard workouts weren’t working. Doing “the staple workouts” with some cardio tacked on wasn’t taking off the pounds, and “I felt like I was putting in a lot of work and going nowhere,” he says.
Make no mistake: Abee, a DJ who’s nicknamed “Diesel,” was already strong, with “big shoulders, a big back” and a 250-pound bench press. But his diet was holding him back, and he missed the camaraderie of team workouts from his high-school baseball days.
He began working at the High Performance Gym in Greenville, South Carolina, a gym that has trained Matt Damon and others. The CrossFit-like small-group, high-intensity workouts suited him and helped him reach goals when paired with clean eating.
“I love being pushed. My body hurt in a new, fun way every day,” he says. “I was putting my body though paces I had never put it through.”
One new thing he was doing was sled days, in which participants pushed a sled loaded down with 75 pounds around the gym’s parking lot after sets of squats and deadlifts. This type of regimen has become his favorite. “When you finish, everything hurts,” he says. It feels “terrible. But in a good way.”
His Favorite Workout
Abee says the sled workouts are different each time, but one of his favorites would look like this: After an active warm-up, participants would perform squats or deadlifts in a rep scheme of 8, 5, 5, 5, 3, 1 (and maybe one more one-rep-max set), with 45 to 90 seconds of rest between sets.
Afterward, participants push the sled (loaded with 75 pounds) down and back across the full length of the gym’s parking lot — about 50 yards. This section of the workout is for time, so it’s an all-out sprint.
7. Mike Faiella Dropped 35 Pounds and Became a Happier Father
Before Weight: 241 pounds
After Weight: 206 pounds
Coaching soccer made Faiella want to lose weight because he needed more breaks than his 6-year-old players. “I was embarrassed at how many water breaks I was giving the kids because I needed to catch my breath,” he says. “I felt like I was becoming that fat old man, and that scared me more than anything.”
What Faiella really wanted to be like was his own dad, a bodybuilder who could “always keep up with me when we ran around and could toss me around,” he says. With that motivation, he started lifting at Skill of Strength in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where coach Mike Perry put his expertise in mobility and strength to work on the 36-year-old.
“I took a mobility test on day one at SOS, and even though it wasn’t pass or fail, I knew what I was,” he says. But he kept going back and lost 35 pounds in four months. “I can’t believe I look the way I do. I feel like I am in great shape in such a short period of time. I still have a lot of areas where I can improve, but I honestly feel like it is more of a ‘when’ than an ‘if’ now.”
One area he’s improved — and come to love — is squats, part of his favorite workout days. And his attitude about the ultimate exercise mirrors his own dedication to get fit. “You put yourself in a situation you have to get out of,” he says. “You got down there. Now you have to stand back up.”
And as for being more like his own father? “When I see my son and daughter flex and say they want to be strong like dada, it is honestly the best reward I can get for going to the gym.”
His Favorite Workout
It’s called “squats and sleds.”
1. Back Squats: 4 sets of 3 reps
2. Kettlebell Goblet Squat Holds: 30 second hold, supersetted with 30-second side-plank holds for three rounds
3. Heavy Sled Pushes (or Airdyne bike sprints): 15 seconds on the bike or 20-yard pushes for four to five rounds, with 45 seconds of rest in between
Read more: 12 Essential Squat Variations to Try
What Do YOU Think?
Have you lost a significant amount of weight? What workouts did you rely on? What are some of your favorite ways to sweat it out? Even if your goal isn’t weight loss, have you recently learned to love exercise? What flipped the switch for you? What’s your go-to workout when you just don’t feel like working out?
Read more: 10 No-Excuses Winter Workout Ideas