Four steps to stay committed to 2017 fitness resolutions from athlete trainer Jay Cardiello

No matter if you're an NBA player, 50 Cent or the average athlete, strength coach Jay Cardiello says the secret to sustained success in fitness is based on four elements—and exercise is last on the list.
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Those resolved to get in shape in 2017 will likely race to the gym during the first week of January, clogging up the treadmills and hoarding the weight machines. But if you want to be the last man standing when the over-full gym becomes a ghost town come February, physical fitness should be the lowest priority on your New Year’s resolutions list.

Confused by how you're supposed to get fit without prioritizing fitness? Let strength coach and health strategist Jay Cardiello explain.

In his work with athletes such as Kevin Love and Tyson Chandler, as well as with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cincinnati Reds, Cardiello has found that the secret to sustained success starts with making slight lifestyle changes in the 23 hours spent outside the gym.

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“It’s not how many jumping jacks and burpees you can do. If you want sustainable outcome you have to start thinking about behavior,” Cardiello says. “That's the only way you’re going to have any outcome in any realm is through behavioral change and habitual change. So fitness and exercise and food are critical, but are really not [the priority] in terms of sustainable weight loss.”

When making these behavioral changes, Cardiello suggests starting out simple and small because “complexity is the enemy of execution.” Put your sneakers next to your bed so they’re easily accessible in the morning. Pack your lunch the night before. Don’t set a goal of drinking a gallon of water a day if your liquid intake is currently dominated by soda. Instead, commit to drinking one cup of water a day for a week.

“That’s very feasible,” Cardiello says. “That’s very simple. People can do that. And then the next week you introduce a new behavior. Less is actually more in this situation.”

In your quest to establish new, healthy behaviors this new year, there are four elements Cardiello uses as the outline for helping any of his clients get fit, whether it’s an NBA player, 50 Cent or the average person hoping to give their health a boost.

Focusing on improving sleep, nutrition, mental health and fitness—in that order—are the keys to creating your best self this year.

Step 1: SLEEP

“Sleep is not sexy, but it’s the most imperative thing for sustainable outcome on both the professional level or the layman level,” Cardiello says. “You don't sleep, you don't come to me. We don’t work out.”

He urges his clients to get eight to nine hours of sleep per night, which falls in line with the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendation of seven to nine hours a night for adults.

The benefits of getting sufficient sleep are reciprocal with the benefits of working out. A 2011 Stanford study found that basketball players’ performance improved across the board when they got an additional one to four hours of sleep per night. And according to a 2013 study by the Sleep Foundation, the more vigorously you are able to exercise, the better your quality of sleep will be.


The second area of focus on Cardiello’s list is nutrition, which includes not only what you eat but also what you drink.

He advises drinking half your weight in ounces of water every day, even on days athletes don’t play or clients don’t work out.

In terms of food selection, Cardiello’s nutrition guide, The No Diet Plan, encourages people to focus on adding healthier foods to their diets rather than eliminating food groups. It also suggests approaching shopping for food the same way you approach shopping for clothes—with a discerning eye, judging color, price and placement—to aid in making healthier selections.

“That doesn't mean you can't have chicken wings,” Cardiello says.  “But you really need to focus on getting in foods that make sense.”

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Strength of mind is one of Cardiello’s biggest focuses as a strength coach, and he offers the story of Roger Bannister, the first man to run a mile in under four minutes, as proof of why mental fitness is paramount.

“What made Roger Bannister run the four minute mile? He didn't train harder, he saw himself do it,” Cardiello says. “Mindset is so imperative, not only to the athlete but to anybody in anything they want to do.”

He encourages his clients to use incantations—think repeated, motivating phrases—and meditation to envision themselves reaching their objective, and to establish a sense of purpose for why they want to achieve it, rather than simply setting a goal.

“We set these huge goals, but I don't believe in goal setting I believe in purpose setting,” Cardiello says. “You have to figure out what’s your why factor.”

“You have to be pulled toward something. That purpose that you're going after has to be pulling. Goals are pushing. ‘I want to lose 25 pounds,’ a guy says. That’s boring. That’s going to push you away, but if you say, ‘Listen, I want to get rid of my man boobs, I want to avoid getting diabetes, I want to walk my daughter down the aisle—that’s a pulling purpose. We don’t do that. We don't. And we set ourselves up for failure.”

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“Now you're saying, ‘Jay, what about fitness?’ Fitness is actually the smallest part of this,” Cardiello says. “If [athletes] are getting the sleep, if they're getting the food in, and their mind is strong, they're going to make smart decisions to create sustainability and longevity in their career.”

But when it comes time to round out the fourth step of the outline, Cardiello runs his clients through an assessment that judges the symmetry of the body, namely with the hips and shoulders, to ensure they don’t develop problems with their knees, ankles, lower back or hamstrings. In order to achieve symmetry, he advises stretching as much as possible to increase flexibility and mobility in each joint and performing workouts that encourage the body to become balanced.

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Cardiello also warns people not to get frightened away from exercise by thinking they need to spend hours in the gym on intimidating-looking machines.

“Your body is your best gym,” Cardiello says. “You can go for a walk. ...Walking is considered one of the best exercises.”

To turn your New Year’s resolution into action, Cardiello recommends starting with 12-minute workouts such as his quick, no-excuse full body workout. Quick workouts like this one work well for people of any fitness level because you are able to work at your own pace without a rep count, no equipment is necessary, they can be performed in a 4x4 space in a short amount of time, and they train unilaterally, increasing core strength, hip symmetry and balance.

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The workout

Perform each of the following moves for 30-seconds, and take a 30-second rest between each exercise. Go through the round of seven moves twice. If you have extra time and want to kick it into high gear, do three rounds.


Stand with feet shoulder width apart and feet pointed out with a slight bend in the knees and core tight. Extend arms overhead and interlock fingers. In one quick motion, drop hips to floor and swing arms down until your hands rest just above floor. Return back to starting position and perform as quickly as possible.

• Keep chin parallel to floor at all times.

• Rest majority of weight on heels

• To know if you are performing a proper squat, you should be able to wiggle your toes.

• Shins are kept vertical

Leaning Tower of Pisa: Left foot on floor

Stand tall on your left leg with your right knee raised even with your navel. Next, extend both arms to the side. Then, slowly rotate your hip and right hand down towards your left toe. Retract and repeat as many times as possible.

• Keep arms fully extended at all times

• Aim to keep weight on heel of stabilizing leg


Stabilizing Rows: Left foot on floor

With your leg still planted on the ground, extend your right leg back and lean forward until your upper body is a parallel to the ground, so your body forms a T. With your arms hanging down, simulate rowing with dumbbells, pulling your arms up with your elbows close to your body. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and release.

• Perform rows slowly

• Pinch shoulder blades together to initiate arm movement

Lunge to Glute Kick: Left foot in front
Begin in a standard lunge position with your left foot forward and right foot behind the hip. Quickly lower hips down into a lunge. Come back up to standing and kick your right foot back toward your glutes. As soon as your right heel hits your glutes, drop back into a lunge position and repeat as many times as possible.

• Keep chin parallel to floor at all times
• Keep weight on heel of front foot.
• Front shin remains vertical at all times.