• New Year’s Resolutions Gone Bad: Motivation

    By Jay Diamond

    Vitamin J It’s February and my New Year’s Resolutions are already in the toilet.

    The first resolution was to be slightly less Fergalicious in 2015, but there are some things you just can’t help.  I fail at this every year.



    My big skeptical resolution was to not assume, despite overwhelming, undeniable evidence, that all Americans are Taylor Swift fans. I mean she’s sold about as many songs as there are Americans buying records, so there’s pretty much irrefutable proof, but still I know there are a few outliers (but not after you watch this). I’ve already failed on this one. I know… haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate…


    At some point I’ll do an entire blog on Taylor Swift Denial, but that’s not for today.

    My third and final resolution was to blog here bi-weekly, but a new job and lots of travel has cratered this one as well.

    THREE STRIKES. I’ve failed, and not in the good way.

    Poor excuses, I know, but it highlights the very poor record of people making clear New Year’s Resolutions. Some will tell you that those who make New Year’s Resolutions are 10 times more likely to meet them – and that’s true. It’s also true that those who predict the future by rolling chicken bones are 26 times more likely to accurately predict the future than those who don’t. (See Footnote 1)

    A common resolution is to get fit… so I thought I’d address that one. It’s so easy to get busy and push off your fitness goals… and resolutions are fragile. Motivation is key, and so I present my top 5 motivating exercises. Several of these are my own term, generated to motivate me… and you should create your own terms to that end.

    Each of these was completely, unimaginably unobtainable when I started. I seriously didn’t think I’d ever get to the level I’m at today and it happened over months and months with an intense goal to conquer them. Don’t rush these.

    I routinely have people ask me about or watch me do these exercises, primarily due to the risk factors (see “freak-out factor” and “reason it’s cool” below).

    Skull Crushers

    • Common Name: Skull Crushers / Tricep Isolation
    • Muscle Group: Arms / Triceps
    • Freak-out Factor: 6/10
    • Reason it’s cool: Risk of slamming a big heavy weight on your face.
    • Comments: I just love the name and telling people that I do “skull crushers”. I do it with a dumbbell (which adds to the perception of skull crushing) on a declined bench, but there are lots of variations.
    • Getting there: Start with low weight and work your way up.

    Suicide Vest

    • Common Name: Weighted pull-ups
    • Muscle Group:  Upper body (esp. back, arms)- will give you “wings”.
    • Freak-out Factor: 7/10
    • Reason it’s cool: A lot of people aspire to do pull-ups well, and those who struggle will really appreciate good form with weight.
    • Comments:  It doesn’t take much weight to really feel the burn – 20 lbs. will crush you. If you have good form and can complete 3 sets of 10 pull-ups (or more), this is my favorite step-up exercise. Rather than buying a vest or belt, you can bring an empty backpack to the gym, put in a plate of your choosing, and do your pull-ups (cheap & adjustable).
    • Getting there: Many gyms have pull-up “assists” machines if you can’t complete a full pull-up (they effectively reduce the full weight of your body). Build this until you can do a full set of normal pull-ups, then consider adding weight. You could also put a plate/dumbbell between your legs, but then you don’t get the cool exercise name.

     Back Extension

    • Common Name: Back Extension
    • Muscle Group: Lower Back (you’ll walk with perfect posture for a few days if done right) & core
    • Freak-out Factor: 8/10
    • Reason it’s cool: Looks preposterous with big weight
    • Comments: Start with no weight and work your way up.
    • Getting there: Start with no weight on the back extension machine (available in most gyms) and work your way up. When you get to 90 lbs. (2 big plates), you need to switch to deadlifts to continue improvements… which are awesome but have a lower freak-out factor and require perfect form to avoid injury. Back extensions are a little more forgiving due to the isolation of the back extension machine.

    Captain Kirk Chairs

    • Common Name: Captain’s Chair / High leg lift
    • Muscle Group: Abdominals/core
    • Freak-out Factor: 9/10
    • Reason it’s cool: Anyone who’s tried the Captain’s Chair knows that it’s tough… really tough. But doing high leg lifts takes it to a whole new level that dramatically raises the freak-out factor. Will illicit double-takes.
    • Comments: If you master these, you can step it up even more to hanging leg lifts. A key is not to sway… to be in total control on every rep.
    • Getting there: Start by raising your knees-only to get in a tuck-position (this is already a GREAT ab exercise and exhausting if you’ve never done it). Once that’s mastered go for straight-leg lifts to a horizontal position. Next is raising your legs over your head. Note – this could take MONTHS to achieve.

    Mission Impossibles

    • Common Name: Double TRX Chest Fly’s
    • Muscle Group: Chest / Core
    • Freak-out Factor: 10/10
    • Reason it’s cool: Very high chance of face plant
    • Comments:  Without question, the most comments I get at the gym around my Mission Impossibles, and I routinely get people interrupting me to ask about these. If you’ve seen the original Mission Impossible movie, you know the scene. I like to do a press (suspended push-up) followed by a fly (spread-eagle). Three sets of 8 and you’re jello…
    • Getting there: Start with single TRX pushups – near-vertical if necessary. These aren’t easy, since they require lots of stabilization muscles  not required by standard push-ups. Slowly lower yourself until horizontal. When you can do 3 sets of 10, start doing flys. Finally, jump to the double TRX (leg suspension). This requires still-more stabilization, but if you can do the presses and flys, it’s not a huge jump to the double TRX.

    Do you have great motivational exercises with high freak-out factors?

    Footnote 1) Source: Statistic completely made-up, but it doesn’t matter since people that make claims are much more likely to have their claims be both accurate and inaccurate. Which is like saying that people who make claims are more likely to make claims. It’s completely meaningless.


    JD Portrait 1Jay Diamond writes the VitaminJ blog on evidence-based fitness & bodybuilding. Jay is the founder of Reason4Reason – a skeptical activist group based in the San Francisco bay area. He holds dual masters degrees in engineering and business and has managed both startup companies and hundred-million-dollar programs for Fortune 50 companies. Growing up in Canada, he performed magic, studied science, and became aware of the skeptical movement. Jay has lectured around the world on science & technology, business, and skepticism. 

    Category: FitnessJay DiamondSkepticism


  • Article by: Jay Diamond