A Spartan’s guide to crushing your 2019 fitness goals

Joe De Sena, endurance athlete and founder and CEO of the grueling Spartan obstacle races.
(Larry Radloff / Spartan)

If anyone can teach you how to keep going when the going gets tough, it’s Joe De Sena, endurance athlete and founder and chief executive of the grueling Spartan obstacle races.

De Sena has built a career on challenging people to do the things they think they can’t, whether it’s racing up and down a muddy hill carrying a bucket filled with 60 pounds of gravel or long-jumping over a pit of flames.

In his most recent book, “The Spartan Way: Eat Better, Train Better, Think Better, Be Better,” De Sena distills his principles for whipping yourself into the best shape of your life, with lessons borrowed in part from the ancient society of Greek warriors.

Here are his tips for staying on track with those resolutions well past January:


1. Make your health the top priority.

Sure, family and career are incredibly important. But having a mission around your health, your “true north,” carries over into these other areas, making you a nicer parent to be around and more productive at work.

“It’s like taking oxygen on the plane first,” De Sena said. With every decision you make each day, you should be asking yourself: Does this fit my mission?

2. Don’t sweat the mistakes.

Missing a workout or overindulging at a restaurant can lead to a negative spiral where people feel like a failure and quit. But, De Sena said, if you trick your brain into feeling like a 70% to 80% success rate is fine, you’ll probably surprise yourself with how close you edge to 100.

Joe De Sena's most recent book, “The Spartan Way: Eat Better, Train Better, Think Better, Be Better.”
(St. Martin’s Press)

3. Manufacture adversity to level up.

In this age of smart tech, De Sena says we have become too comfortable. Creating more challenges in everyday life makes people “tougher to kill” and helps them coast more easily through everyday frustrations and temptations. Try taking more cold showers, climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator, walking rather than rolling your heavy bags of groceries to the car or waking up at 5 a.m. to exercise.


4. Learn to delay gratification.

“The ability to delay gratification is a huge contributor to success,” De Sena said. Clean out all the cookies and processed junk from your pantry so you have more distance from them. When you’re tempted to have a third cocktail or overindulge in another way, “make it ugly.” Visualize how hungover you were the last time you drank too much tequila or how disgusted you felt after eating that sleeve of chocolate chip cookies. Set a goal for how long you can go before having dessert. Is it three days or five?

5. Engage in “if-then” planning.

If you think about having a cookie, set up a resulting action, such as drinking a big glass of water or tea. If you wind up having the cookie, crank out a round of burpees. Have a plan for dealing with your biggest temptations.


6. Don’t go it alone.

Find a tribe of similarly health-conscious people who will motivate you and hold you accountable for your goal — the kind of tough-love friends who you can’t bear to disappoint. Give them $100 and let them keep it if you don’t meet your goal.

“Make sure,” De Sena said, “you are hanging with friends who pull you up in life.”