Eight men cranked on the machines at a suicidal pace. Sweat streamed down their tattooed backs. Spurring them on was one of the largest human beings I had ever seen. “What’s causing you to slow down?” he hollered. “Your mind or your body?” The man had the calm confidence of a star athlete and the brick-shithouse physique of someone who fights in a cage for money. Which, I later learned, he used to do in the UFC.
I first heard of Robert “Bobby Maximus” MacDonald while reporting a story for this magazine. In a mass email to some of the best and brightest people I knew in fitness, I’d asked a simple question: Who are the fittest men in the world?
Each respondent named three or four people, most of whom were pro athletes. But the name that popped up most frequently was unfamiliar to me: Bobby Maximus, training director of Gym Jones in Salt Lake City.
This impossibly large Canadian, they said, was not only breaking world records but also helping pro athletes win championships, teaching Special Forces soldiers to attain elite fitness, and turning average guys into superheroes.
So I went to Gym Jones and soon found myself sitting on a rower as Maximus programmed 2,000 meters into its computer. “Try to finish in seven minutes,” he said. “If you don’t want to quit halfway through, you’re not going hard enough. Go!” (This is one of the 7 essential tests Maximus says you must pass before you can be considered truly fit.)
I’ve been covering fitness for a decade. I’ve finished in the top 3 percent of half marathons, completed 24-hour endurance challenges, and trained at the best facilities in the country. But nothing prepared me for this.
In the final 500 meters, with Maximus reminding me that fatigue is more mental than physical, I reached a new level of intensity. This was not a workout. It was a revelation.
I’ve followed his methods ever since, and they’ve changed me both physically and mentally. I no longer make excuses, and I understand my fatigue. As a result, I can detach from the pain and gain an edge.
I’m hardly unique. Maximus has helped countless people shatter their notion of what their “best” could be.
That’s why we wrote the new Men’s Health book Maximus Body together. To give you a taste, I asked him to reveal what’s most important to reach peak fitness. What follows is Maximus’ six-step plan for honing your body, written by him.
People who become supremely fit don’t do secret one-of-a-kind exercises, eat “superfoods,” or take magic supplements. They just work harder. They don’t quit or make excuses or take shortcuts. That kind of discipline comes from the organ between your ears, not the muscles below them. Try these two mind-hardening exercises.
Self-doubt poisons performance; “green-light thoughts” are the antidote. If you catch yourself thinking “I’m too tired” or “I need to slow down,” reverse it by saying, “I’ve got this” or “This is easy” or “I feel great.”
You can take it a step further. When I was in the UFC, my sports psychologist, Brian Cain, had me put little green stickers over the places I frequented the most—my car’s steering wheel, the bathroom mirror, the fridge, the weight rack. Every time I saw a green dot, I told myself one reason I was going to succeed. The very next fight, I won Submission of the Night. You can buy the green dots at an office-supply store. Every time you see one, tell yourself why you’ll reach your goal.
Understand the Maximus 130-Hour Rule
Fitness can seem like a journey with no end in sight. Here’s a different take on it: 130 hours. In my experience, that’s all it takes to get yourself into shape. Train hard for an hour a day, five days a week, and you’re there in six months. If you want to get started right now, I put together a 130-hour training plan in my Men’s Health book Maximus Body. It contains the 100 workouts I’ve used to help everyone from A-list celebs to busy accountants get ripped, laid out in a schedule that makes it easy for you to stay on track.
People often come to me with goals that are far too easy. Their ceiling should actually be their floor—the least they expect to achieve.
For example, if a guy tells me his goal is to do a marathon, I tell him about Terry Fox. In 1977 Fox was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare cancer, and doctors amputated his leg.
Even with one leg, Fox wanted to run. To him, that meant running across Canada from east to west to raise funds for cancer research, a trek he started in 1980. He averaged a marathon’s worth of miles every day (on one real leg and one prosthetic) until the cancer spread and he had to stop after four and a half months and 3,339 miles. Still think a single marathon is a worthwhile goal?
Preston Wood, 45, is 5’6″ and weighs 158 pounds. He works about 60 hours a week and travels at least a week out of every month. He has a wife and family that he puts above all else, and he lives about 45 minutes from our gym, a 90-minute round trip.
Despite all those built-in excuses, Wood can hit all the fitness standards laid out here, a truly incredible achievement for anyone. That’s why I use him as a litmus test for bullshit. When someone tells me he can’t achieve his goals because of some limitation, I can say, “Well, Preston did it. Why can’t you?”
Too many people pursue one aspect of fitness at the expense of all others. Lifters won’t do cardio because it might limit their gains, while runners won’t lift because they fear the extra muscle might slow them down. Those concerns may have some validity, but only at the highest levels of sport. The rest of us can and should achieve high levels of fitness in multiple areas.
Consider Paul Timmons, a 48-year-old gym owner from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Timmons is a prime example of what happens when you vary your training. He looks rather unassuming, and you wouldn’t feel intimidated if you ran into him on the street. In fact, if you had to guess what Timmons does for a living, you might peg him as a high school math teacher or maybe an accountant. That’s why most people are shocked when I mention that Timmons is one of the fittest men to ever train at Gym Jones. He set a Delaware state powerlifting record, finished the Ironman triathlon in Kona in a blindingly fast 11 hours, and was the top-placing American in his age group at the 2,000-meter World Indoor Rowing Championships.
During a challenging workout, your brain holds your body back. To bypass those self-imposed limitations, you need to understand the difference between exercising and training. About a year and a half ago, I met Matt. He was far from a fitness rookie. He had been working out four to five days a week with personal trainers and was in good shape. But Matt was only doing exercise. I showed him how to train.
I worked with him to create a plan with big fitness goals that he thought were unattainable. But he changed his mentality, focusing on performing slightly better each day than the previous day and pushing through pain.
Within just weeks, Matt showed improvement. After months, there was significant physical change. This program allowed him to hit those seemingly impossible performance goals and build more strength than he thought he could.
This incremental approach works for three reasons. First, it forces you to train—that is, to keep specific performance goals in mind. Second, it allows for steady improvement, which builds fitness and psychological resilience. Third, and perhaps most important, it can help you overpower mental roadblocks and teach you the feeling of hard work.
Over time, as the small improvements add up, you understand what hard work feels like, and you find your true limits.