Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Why
  3. The How
  4. The What – Sleep
  5. The What – Diet
  6. The What – Exercise Regiment
  7. Summary

Introduction

Three years ago, when starting doola, I was out of shape.

Fast forward to today, we have $Ms in revenue, and I’m now in the best shape of my life.

I went from 20%+ body fat to <10% and competed in my first bodybuilding show.

The secret?

The AM Founder Fitness Plan:

Read this on Twitter: https://x.com/ArjunMahadevan/status/1742199297846706341?s=20


Discipline is the only thing that can change your DNA.

I wasn’t blessed with incredible genetics, but 1) I am disciplined, and 2) I love systems.

So I’ve found the key to getting in and staying in great shape while working 60+ hrs/week is:

Win the AM.

Win the first 6 hours.


In summary, the AM Founder Fitness Plan is 1) win the first 6 hours of your day and 2) trust the process:

• Wake up early (5 AM EST)

• Pre-workout

• Workout

• Post-workout

• Work

• Have a rotation of meals you love to choose from

• Sleep

• Repeat


Below, I’ll break down the Why, the How, and the What.

You can skip directly to the What if you’d like, but the key to this fitness plan is understanding the Why and the How; otherwise, the odds of you sticking with “this What”, let alone any other fitness plan, are low.

The Why is important because a large enough Why can overcome any how.

The How is important because it is the system. You don’t rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems. Systems lead to consistency, which is the key to reaching goals. Most people need consistency more than they need intensity. I know I sure did.

The What is important because you then have to show up every day and execute (even on the days you don’t feel like it). But with your Why and How properly set up, you make it much easier to execute upon the What.


Why

I want to feel good, look good, and become the role model I wish I had.

Why do I want to feel good?

I think of myself as an athlete. In order to maximize the chances of business success, I need to be able to consistently put in high volumes of work (60+ hour work weeks) for year after year after year after year after year after (you get the point).

Now, here’s the thing… I am not blessed with godlike genetics or innate superhuman energy and stamina.

So, I’ve made it a point to get into the best shape possible.

Keeping my body sharp keeps my mind sharp.

My mantra is: sharpen your body to sharpen your mind.

I treat my health like it’s a fiduciary responsibility to investors, team members, and our customers because I know I’m not at my sharpest when I let my health slack.

A harsh truth I learned early on: On days I didn’t exercise because I was tired, I was actually tired because I wasn’t exercising.

Trippy right? But it’s the truth. If you’re not exercising because you are tired, I bet you are actually tired because you’re not exercising.

Once I stuck with a routine for a few weeks, I experienced energy levels that I’d never felt before, seven days a week. Once you taste that, it’s intoxicating, and you never want to lose it.

Why do I want to look good?

I sat down and actually thought, “Why do I exercise?” It’s not because I am an athlete training for a championship or competing for a race time. No I exercise because it gives me energy, I love the endorphins I get during it, and I want to look good.

Once I realized that, I didn’t really care how fast my 5K time was or how much weight I could deadlift. Those are good metrics to track performance, but they are not the end all be all.

So, with those goals in mind, I stopped stressing about my 1RM max on a squat, bench, or deadlift or how fast I could run 2 miles.

I instead focused on 1) how I felt and 2) how I looked. Was I getting leaner? Were my abs visible? Was I maintaining muscle while losing body fat? If so, great. If not, adjust.

Lastly, if it’s vain to want to look good, so be it. What do I define looking good as? It is probably similar to what others would include: abs, a v-taper, and lean, toned muscle mass.

But at the end of the day, I realized that if my goals are to feel good and look good, I should adjust my training around that, and it greatly simplified things for me.

Lastly, there is one more why that drives me:

I want to become the role model I wish I had growing up.

What I mean by that is I didn’t see people who looked like me (Indian) who were athletic, in good shape, and working on entrepreneurial pursuits. I thought, why is that the case? Do you have to tradeoff between the two to have success in either? Is it against the law of physics to work long hours, on risky pursuits and have your health suffer?

My answer to that is a defiant no. There is nothing in the laws of physics that prevents this and I want to prove that you can build a business and be in fantastic shape. I want to prove that you can sharpen your body to sharpen your mind. I want to prove this 1) to myself and 2) serve as an example to the younger version of myself who is going through a similar thought exercise.

For you: You have to find your own why.

Think about what your why is and let that drive you on the days in which you don’t feel motivated (which, surprise, surprise, is going to be most days).

How

Imagine a day is split into 4 quarters. You must win the first quarter of your day (the first 6 hours). If you do that, you’re set.

That’s why this is called the AM Founder Fitness Plan because the entire key to this plan is winning those first 6 hours in the morning.

The structure below is what has worked for me to win those 6 hours. If you have tried many other things to no avail. Give this a shot. If you have something that’s working for you? Fantastic, stick with it.

Step 1) Workout first thing in the morning

I’ve tried every other time of day, and this is the only time that has worked for me. The reason why is two-fold:

  1. I have less energy later in the day
  2. Once I start the work day, it’s hard to turn off. So I effectively say, “I’m going to work, then after that, I can work as much as I can the rest of the day, and I will have already gotten my workout in.”

For me, that’s waking up between 5 to 5:30 AM and starting my workout between 5:30 to 6 AM. When I wake up, the first quarter begins.

I’d like to stress this point again as to why the AM workout is so important: as a founder, it is hard to turn off. My brain is usually “always on.” So, by starting my day with the workout, before I “start work,” I’m effectively saying, “This workout is going to make me better the remainder of the day, no matter what life throws at me, so it’s happening.”

I don’t just exercise for the endorphins and the benefits during the 1-2 hour workout; I do it for the benefits during the other 22-23 hours.

Step 2) Put your Pre-and Post-Workout Nutrition on Autopilot

When we get to the meals below, you’ll see that I pretty much have the same thing every day. This means that the first 6 hours of my day are locked and loaded and “automated,” so there is no wavering on what will happen:

  1. I’ll wake up
  2. Have my pre-workout
  3. Workout
  4. Have my post-workout meal
  5. Work

This might not sound like rocket science, but once you get the 5 steps above dialed in, it becomes second nature.

Step 3) Stack the Deck

The hack here is by nailing the 5 steps above, you have significantly increased the chances of nailing the remaining three quarters. What do I mean by that?

  • If you workout and start your day with healthy meals, the odds of you eating poorly later in the day go down (you don’t want to waste your workout)
  • If you workout and eat well, you’ll get a great night of sleep and will be recovered for your workout the next day
  • You wake up, ready to get after it and work, and the system repeats.

By stacking the deck with as many wins in the morning as possible, I’ve found that it sets the tone for the rest of the day.

You might be wondering, could I do this in the PM?

Maybe you can, but it doesn’t work for me.

By stacking these wins in the first 6 hours of the day I’ve won the AM. So I’ve won the day. And I know if I keep stacking days like this, I’ll see the results I want. It’s guaranteed. Who doesn’t want guaranteed results? All you have to do is trust the process and stack days.

Step 4) Track your weight daily.

To lose body fat, you must eat fewer calories than you consume and do resistance training to maintain muscle. And then you will see a reduction on the scale.

By tracking your weight daily, you do a couple things:

  1. You can see if your current diet + exercise is putting you in a surplus or a deficit
  2. The very act of writing my weight first thing in the morning reminds me of my goals and also provides as a check on if my weight is falling to rapidly, or remaining flat or increasing

You have to ignore the noise and trust the process. This is what my daily weight looked like over a 7 month cut. The trendline is what we all want to see on the scale but reality is that blue line. It’s jagged and noisy but this is my formula for cutting (losing body fat):

  1. Take your current bodyweight and multiply it by 14. That’s how many calories you’ll have per day. I started at ~185lbs so using myself as an example: 185lbs * 14 = 2,590 calories per day
  2. Weight yourself daily for one week with your diet + exercise regiment dialed in and see what happens to your scale weight. Is it going down? Great, change nothing. Is it flat? Okay reduce calories slightly. Is it going up? Okay reduce calories even more.
  3. Continue to weigh yourself and adjust each week. If you hit a plateau (which happened to me a few times, you only have two options: reduce calories more OR add a little more cardio).
  4. Track your weight daily and shoot to lose ~1% of your bodyweight per week, I’ve found you can maintain as much muscle as possible while gradually losing fat.
  5. You have to trust the process. You can see below there will be major spikes up and down. The trendline will not be down and to the right.

What

Okay we’ve made it to the nitty gritty. Let’s get tactical on sleep, diet, and exercise.

Sleep

Sleep is a miracle drug. If you don’t prioritize it, you will not lose body fat.

You’re literally going head to head against Leptin and Ghrelin.

It’s hard enough to lose body fat. Why go head to head against Leptin and Ghrelin as well?


I feel best on 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. If I can’t get that much, I shoot for at least 6. And if it’s a brutal night, then 4.5 hours for at least 3 sleep cycles.

Because I usually wake up at 5AM I am in bed most nights 9:30 to 10 PM.

This lets me win the AM.


What’s the trick to getting up at 5AM?

Getting to sleep by 9:30 PM.

What’s the trick to sleeping by 9:30 PM?

Have a bedtime routine the same way you have a morning routine.

The last 15 minutes of your day before sleep should be on autopilot.


If you are trying to invest in better sleep, I recommend an @eightsleep bed. It’s been a game changer.

A bed isn’t an expense.

It’s an investment into the single most valuable asset you have: your body.

https://www.eightsleep.com/doola/


Diet

Abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. You cannot out-train a bad diet. The diet you’re on to lose body fat is going to be the same diet you stay on to maintain it, so you need to find meals you love.

And put your diet on autopilot.

My diet is the following:

  • Get my .7 * my bodyweight in grams of protein per day (I try to get ~25 to 50g per meal)
  • Have enough fat (typically 50g+ is when I feel best)
  • Fill out the remaining with protein, fat or carbs (whatever I’m in the mood for).

That’s it. It’s really that simple. This is a typical day:

Pre-Workout

  • 1 Cup of Water
  • 1 Pinch of Salt
  • 1 Scoop of Protein Powder mixed with Water
  • 2 Tablespoons of Honey
  • 5g of Creatine + 6g of Citrulline Malate + Pinch of Baking Soda Mixed with Water
  • Cup of Coffee or Espresso Shot

Post-Workout Meal

  • 1 Scoop of Protein Powder with 1 Cup of Almond Milk
  • 1/4 Cup of Oatmeal
  • 28g of Raisins or Banana
  • 1 TBSP of Honey
  • 1 Tbsp of Peanut Butter or 28g of Almonds
  • Cinnamon

Lunch and Dinner (Pick 2 of the below)

  • DIG Bowl (Chicken/Meatballs, Broccoli/Cauliflower/Brussel Sprouts, Rice/Farro, and Sweet Potato)
  • A Full Rotisserie Chicken (I eat it over the course of the afternoon and evening)
  • CAVA Bowl (Lentils/Greens, Chicken/Lamb Meatballs, and Roasted Vegetables)
  • Steak and Sweet Potato
  • Salad (Chicken, Egg, and Mixed Vegetables like Edamame, Mushroom, Tomato, Cucumber etc)

Dessert

  • Non-fat Greek Yoghurt with peanut butter, honey, and mixed berries (blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc)
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Shake (Chocolate Protein Powder + Peanut Butter + water/almond milk + Greek Yoghurt + ice)
  • Dark Chocolate and Pineapple

Snacks

  • I don’t like to snack and instead like to have core meals that are bigger.

Okay, now here’s the most important part: 90% of my meals look like this. If you’re doing the math:

  • I eat ~4 times per day.
  • There are 7 days in a week, meaning 28 total meals.
  • 95% of 28 meals is ~25.
  • That means almost every day of the week, I have some variation of the above, with 2-3 meals a week that fluctuate.

In those meals that fluctuate, I could be out with friends, at a business dinner, or living life. But the discipline of being on top of my 25 meals gives me the freedom to have some flexibility with those 3.

Discipline = Freedom.

Now here’s the second catch: the only way I can do this is because I genuinely enjoy the meals above.

My pre-workout + breakfast is on autopilot. I don’t even have to think about it. And then my lunch and dinner gives me some variety but I have my staples locked and loaded so I don’t have to worry or think about what I’m eating.

Again, I’ll stress here my AM (the first 6 hours) is on autopilot, but I’ve also set structure for the remaining meals in the day. This means there is a much lower chance of deviation from the system.


Exercise Regiment

Each day, I do the following. The reason why I try to do this daily is because I feel so much better on days when I exercise. I’m sharper, have more energy, am less irritable, sleep better, am better at sticking to my diet, and the list goes on. However, you will get sick, fires at work will come up, and life will happen, so between rest days + those things happening, I find that I am working out on average 6 days per week.

If that sounds like a lot, well, two things.

  1. I really enjoy it. I find it fun. And seeing progress makes it even more fun
  2. I’ve realized exercise is a form of meditation for me. It’s one of the only times in the day when I can’t think about anything else because I have to be 100% present about what’s in front of me.
  3. Part of my workout, during cardio, I’m listening to a podcast, responding to texts, emails, Slack messages etc, so I’m able to learn and be productive during portions of the workout.

The entire workout depends on whether or not I’m doing cardio and how much can take 45 to 120 minutes:

  • 6 Minute Warmup
    • I warm up every day because I don’t want to get injured. In the past, when I’ve skipped warmups, I’ve gotten injured. So I don’t mess around and skip them anymore because rule #1 of longevity is don’t get injured.
  • Workout (Day 1 → Day 2 → Day 3 → Repeat)
    • Rotate through every day. If you feel like you need a rest day, take one; otherwise, keep going. I go based off of feel on whether or not I need a rest day. Typically, this means I’ll typically take one every 1-2 weeks. If you’re eating well and recovering well, you’ll find your body adapts very quickly, and because you’re rotating body parts, it gives you time to recover.
  • 6 Minute Abs
    • I do abs every day because I enjoy doing them, and training my abs directly means at higher body fat percentages, my abs will still be visible.
  • Cardio
    • I shoot for at least 120 minutes of cardio per week that is a combo of Zone 2 = enough to sweat but where I can hold a conversation and Zone 5 = High Intensity.
    • For Zone 2, I prefer the stair stepper and incline treadmill walking because I can check email + Slack + text + social media on my phone while doing this, and the time literally flies by. That could be 20 minutes of cardio per day after a workout OR 40 minutes every other day, OR two 60-minute sessions per week. I personally like doing 20 minutes after my workout daily, so I try to do that, and it allows me to get to the office with Email Inbox Zero + respond to Slack messages earlier in the day.
  • 6 Minute Stretch
    • I stretch every day because I don’t want to get injured. In the past, when I’ve skipped stretching, I haven’t appropriately recovered and have then gotten injured. So I don’t mess around and skip stretching anymore because rule #1 of longevity is don’t get injured. I listen to music or a podcast or scroll on social media during this so the time flies by.

This is what a sample week would look like:

  • Day 1: Warmup + Chest and Back + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 2: Warmup + Legs + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 3: Warmup + Arms and Shoulders + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 4: Warmup + Chest and Back + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 5: Warmup + Legs + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 6: Warmup + Arms and Shoulders + Abs + Cardio + Stretch
  • Day 7: Rest (or if you’re feeling good back to Day 1)

And with that, break down the exact exercises in the regiment.

6 Minute Warmup

Do this at the beginning of every workout.

Upper Body

  • With a 5lb dumbbell or a plate:
  • 4 bear hugs with a pause at extension → 4 more with no pause
  • 4 reverse shoulder rotations with a pause at extension → 4 more with no pause
  • 4 front dumbbell raises with a pause at extension → 4 more with no pause
  • 4 chest presses with 3 scapular retractions on each press → 4 more presses with no retractions
  • 4 YMCA Y poses with a pause at extension → 4 more with no pause

Lower Body

  • 40 bodyweight lunges (20 on each leg)
  • 15 bodyweight squats
  • 15 pushups
  • Shadow jump rope side-to-side for 1 minute
  • Shadow jump rope forward and back for 1 minute

Day 1: Chest and Back

30 to 45 seconds rest between sets, reverse order of exercises within body part group every other workout

Back

  • 4 x 10-12 Lat Pulldowns
  • 4 x 10-12 Single Arm DB Rows
  • 4 x 10-12 Supported T-bar Rows
  • 4 x 8-10 Seated Cable Rows
  • 3 x 12-20 Back Extensions

Chest

  • 4 x 12-15 DB Fly’s
  • 4 x 6-8 DB Bench Press (or Hammer Chest Press)
  • 4 x 8 DB Incline Press (or Hammer Incline Press)
  • 3 x 12-15 Dips

Day 2: Legs

30 to 45 seconds rest between sets, reverse order of exercises within body part group every other workout

Calves

  • 100 single-leg calf raises (drop set, each leg) on leg press or standing calf raise machine
  • 40 seated calf raises (drop set)

Quads

  • 4 x 12-15 Leg Extensions
  • 5 x 5-8 Single Leg Pistol Squats
  • 5 x 10-12 Leg Press
  • 3 x 12-15 Dumbbell Lunges on each leg

Hamstrings

  • 4 x 8-10 Lying Leg Curls
  • 4 x 10-12 Seated Leg Curls
  • 4 x 8-12 Straight Leg Barbell Deadlift

Day 3: Shoulders and Arms

30 to 45 seconds rest between sets, reverse order of exercises within body part group every other workout

Shoulders

  • 4 x 10-12 Seated DB Arnold Press
  • 4 x 10-12 Side Lateral DB Raises
  • 4 x 10-12 Rear Fly Machine
  • 4 x 8-10 Front Delt Raises
  • 3 x 8-10 DB Shrugs

Biceps

  • 4 x 8-10 BB EZ Curl
  • 4 x 8-10 Standing DB Curls
  • 4 x 8-10 Hammer Strength Curls

Triceps

Tri-set (do one of each and repeat through, 4 times):

  • 4 x 12 Bar Pushdowns
  • 4 x 10 Overhead Rope Extensions
  • 4 x 8 Diamond Pushups

6 Minute Abs

Do this at the end of every workout.

  • Start a stopwatch and hang on a pullup bar
  • 10 toe toe-to-bar leg raises (when finished, rest until 1 minute)
  • 10 windshield wipers (when finished, rest until 2 minutes)
  • 10 left-side leg raises (when finished, rest until 3 minutes)
  • 10 right side leg raises (when finished, rest until 4 minutes)
  • 10 windshield wipers (when finished, rest until 5 minutes)
  • 10 toe toe-to-bar leg raises → immediately do an upward-facing dog after to stretch your abs (until 6 minutes or longer as needed)

Cardio

Split this over the course of your week.

  • 20 Minutes of Zone 2 6x a week OR
  • 30 Minutes of Zone 2 4x a week OR
  • 60 Minutes of Zone 2 2x a week
  • I like the stair stepper (6+ speed setting) + incline treadmill walk (3mph on 12% incline)
  • Some form of HIIT at least 1x a week

6 Minute Stretch

Do this at the end of every workout, 25 seconds per pose, 5 seconds to transition between poses.

  1. Standing hamstring stretch
  2. Down dog
  3. Childs pose
  4. Sit on knees
  5. Pidgeon pose left leg
  6. Pidgeon pose right leg
  7. Runners lunge left leg
  8. Drop right knee, stretch right hip flexor
  9. Runners lunge right leg
  10. Drop left knee, stretch left hip flexor
  11. Third world squat
  12. Sit cross-legged → stand up from here to finish

Summary

In summary, the AM Founder Fitness Plan is 1) win the first 6 hours of your day and 2) trust the process:

  • Wake up early (5 AM EST)
  • Pre-workout
  • Workout
  • Post-workout
  • Work
  • Have a rotation of meals you love to choose from
  • Sleep
  • Repeat

This system has worked for me and the most exciting thing is each year I get in better shape, I feel like I have even more energy and stamina.

It truly is an incredible feeling to wake up 7 days a week with ample amounts of energy, and once you get a taste of it, you won’t want to lose it.

Lastly, I’ll share the four mantras that have stuck with me through this journey:

  • Discipline is the only thing that can change your DNA. I wasn’t born with insane genetics, and I don’t think anyone is “born an entrepreneur.” But through repetitions, you build that identity for yourself. There are no shortcuts. It’s all about the reps.
  • Sharpen your body to sharpen your mind. Even on days, I don’t feel like exercising, I remind myself: I don’t exercise just for the benefits of that hour. I do it for the benefits I get during the other 23.
  • Systems > goals. You don’t rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.
  • Ignore the crabs. Deciding to make a change and acting upon it is similar to a crab trying to crawl out of a bucket full of crabs. Because people are reminded of their own failure to take action there will be many people whose insecurities shine through who try to “pull you back down.” They’ll critique you, make fun of you behind your back, make jokes about your routine, the list goes on… Ignore the crabs and, instead, surround yourself with people who elevate you.

That’s a wrap. Thanks for reading, and whatever your goal is, however small or audaciously big it is, I’m 1000000% rooting for you,

Arjun

PS: If you made it this far, do not hesitate to email me (arjun@doola.com) or DM me on Twitter (@arjunmahadevan) with any questions.

Arjun Mahadevan
Arjun Mahadevan
Founder & CEO
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