Greg Presto postponed our interview because he “needed to go run 55 miles.”
Clearly, his new book, The Workout Bucket List: Over 300 Life-Changing Races, Epic Challenges, and Incredible Hikes, Bikes, Lifts, and Runs around the World, in Your Gym, or Right in Your Living Room, is based on personal experience. To say this former Men’s Health editor and USA Today sports video reporter is a fitness enthusiast is an understatement. He takes a completely different approach to the rigid consistency many of us may associate with working out. The key to exercise, which is the purpose of his book, can be summed up in one word: fun. Here’s what Presto shared about workout fatigue, regaining motivation, and what exactly the “Titanic workout” entails.
Sunday Edit: As the title suggests, The Workout Bucket List is full of cool ways to exercise. What are some of your favorite workouts in the book?
Greg Pesto: It’s hard to pick. The first two that I like are because of the people involved. Keira D’Amato is a realtor in her mid-30s and had been a runner in college. During the pandemic, she started training hard again and qualified for the Olympic trials. She did not compete in them, though, due to injury. Her workout isn’t super hard. It’s something a ‘normal’ person did — well, normal with a lot of talent — and you could go try it. Another is a guide to performing a handstand from Heidi Kristoffer, a yoga teacher I’ve known for years. It’s a simple step-by-step to do something you never could do before. Another is the Dragon Ball Z workout, which I pulled from scenes of the popular anime show. I have interviewed multiple people over the years that said they were a fat kid and a Dragon Ball Z fan, and it got them into fitness. It’s a totally different way to get into moving your body and it’s a legitimately fun workout.
SE: Your book is full of fresh, fun ideas. Do you think we generally need to have more fun with our exercise routines?
GP: Thank you! And 100 percent, no doubt. We already have a lot of things we have to do; you have to do work and laundry and get the oil changed … and yes, you have to do things for your body, but you can turn it into something you get to do instead. Why not have that 30 minutes be something that doesn’t just make you sweat but also makes you feel more energized or connected to someone. Research shows that if you like your workouts, you’re more likely to do them. The key is consistency, so find out what you love and do that thing. It doesn’t have to be laughing and silliness — it can be about doing something you couldn’t do or didn’t think you could do.
SE: On the topic of fun, tell us about the world’s silliest sport.
GP: It’s Cross Country Big Ball, and it’s especially good if you think running is boring. You and the kids can do it. You hit a soccer ball with a bat — each person has one — and you race toward the finish line. There’s a lot of bat swinging, so be careful. I know a coach who always says that when people are working out, they can’t wait to stop, but when you’re playing, you don’t want to stop.
SE: Let’s talk about losing your motivation to exercise and how you get out of a rut.
GP: This especially happens if we don’t increase the challenge over time. We get stuck doing the same weight for the same amount of repetitions over the long term. But I have some solutions. One, find some new exercises. Or change the way you’ve been doing an exercise. For example, try flipping over the number of sets on your strength exercises or your intervals. Do ten sets of three instead of three sets of 10. Another way to get out of a rut is to find a newly structured program with the goal you want to achieve. There are so many programs online that are cheap or free. And the last one — just set a goal. Goals don’t have to be meaningful to anyone but you. I met a guy recently whose goal was to run a five-minute mile, which isn’t a world record, but it’s a record for him.
SE: So what do you say to people who have a lot of excuses for skipping exercise — no time, no space, and so on?
GP: Not everyone has the luxury of time — we could spend a lot less time beating ourselves up. Why bother waking up at 4 a.m. to crush it with the dawn patrol crew if that’s not going to improve your quality of life? Even a 10-minute walk after lunch will help your heart, creativity, and vitamin D levels… For people who are having problems with finding space to work out or types of workouts specifically, people will tell you to find a compelling “why.” But I think it’s just as important to come up with a compelling and accessible “what.” Figure out what you’re going to do that you will enjoy and keep coming back to, and then you won’t have as many excuses. Find something you enjoy doing; if you hate to run, then you will find reasons you won’t go run. If you don’t like strength training and you think that’s what you need to do, then yes, you’ll find an excuse. But you might find something like a yoga video that you hadn’t considered before. And when you enjoy it, you’ll do it. You’ll come back to it because you like it. If people need ideas, they can hit me up on social media.
SE: You cleverly weave a lot of historical tidbits throughout the book. I liked reading about Thomas Jefferson’s daily walk. What’s one of the standouts for you?
GP: My favorite one was that Walt Whitman was very into fitness, and even in his 60s, his workouts were crazy, like, “I go out and find trees and bend them, and I vault over fences.” In the 1850s, fitness wasn’t a thing, but he wrote a series of exercise columns under a pseudonym about fitness, which I made into a modern-day workout.
SE: Tell us about the Titanic workout.
GP: A few years back I read an article about this guy who made letter-perfect models of the Titanic and there was a gym on board. I reached out to him, and he sent me blueprints for the gym and photos. There was some stuff you can’t replicate today, like a horse riding machine. But there was a lot of what you’d see in gyms today. So I created a workout that you could do in the Titanic gym, which you can do in your own gym without drowning. It’s a real workout, but you get the sense of history to it.
SE: You managed to dig up a lot of the exact workouts done by historical figures, as well as current famous figures. How did you find these out?
GP: The dead ones came from historical accounts. Bruce Lee published a lot of his workouts in a book. Thomas Jefferson wrote about his workouts in letters to his daughter. Babe Ruth’s trainer wrote a book — he was the first celebrity trainer. For Zac Efron’s plan, I spoke with his trainer. I spoke with the Olympic team and Halle Berry’s trainer. And some, I just observed them, like Steph Curry.
SE: Speaking of Halle Berry, you have a tough workout in the book that she does.
GP: Yes. Halle’s trainer is not just a trainer, he’s a choreographer as well. For the book, he put together a workout of his style called Combat Shape that he’s done with Halle. It’s seven moves, and it is not easy. It’s worth a try, but your legs and abs will be sore.
SE: Who is this book for? And is there something for everyone, no matter their fitness level?
GP: I’d like to say it’s for everybody who has a body: if you love to move, if you want to move and challenge yourself, and if you want to explore the world around you physically or through history or see what it’s like to be someone else or see what the limits are to the body. It’s a great gift for an active dad or mom, young or middle-aged people. People who want to have a great story to tell. And regarding fitness levels, there’s something for every type of person — running, swimming, walking, weight lifting, and I included workouts that fit all kinds of interests. There’s a Broadway dancer in the book. Or there are athletes. There are things for movie fans and those you wouldn’t expect — nurses, chess champions, Mister Rogers. You don’t need to be super flexible to do yoga; for something simpler, do Thomas Jefferson’s walk. Team up with friends to virtually walk the Great Wall of China. You can do facial yoga without getting out of a chair. Some are deceptively challenging, like the chess workout.
SE: What are some of the most daring, challenging workouts?
GP: Probably the Marathon des Sables — called the toughest footrace on Earth. A guy almost died because he got stuck out there in the desert. There are a couple of insane races out there. Near the end of the book, there’s a swim to escape the world’s third-biggest whirlpool in Scotland and you have to show that you can really swim and you go in and try to swim out of it.
SE: Why do people like a big workout goal — like training for a marathon or walking the Pacific Crest Trail or swimming out of a whirlpool?
GP: A big part of it is that, as humans, we are natural storytellers, whether it’s to yourself or other people. “I go to the gym three times a week and do the same machines” might be someone’s story, but if you can get all the benefits while building another story, that’s about life, and that’s compelling.
SE: Why do you think it’s important to have a bucket list?
GP: For me, a bucket list helps me keep my eye on things I want to do. Some people feel like there are things they should do. To me, it’s stuff you’ve always wanted to do. I’m starting to train to dunk a basketball for my 40th birthday because I’ve always wanted to. They can be silly or small or fun. My friend made a new year’s resolution to eat at a Michelin-star restaurant. And that’s doable and enjoyable. The meaning of life is what you say it is. We decide which things are meaningful to us, and a bucket list is a way of assigning your own meaning.
The Workout Bucket List is available on April 26th on amazon.com.
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