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“I Tricked My Body To Exercise”: Zaki Abdul Malik’s Onnit Story

Written by
March 16, 2022

Working out doesn’t have to feel like working in a coal mine. If you don’t like going to a gym and lifting traditional weights or running on a track, don’t bother. But don’t be surprised if you do find yourself enjoying those things after you get your feet wet with some other activity.

Zaki Abdul Malik rediscovered his passion for fitness when a late transit bus forced him to walk home one night. Feeling more empowered than angry, Malik made the walk a habit, and it led him back to the sports and martial arts training he enjoyed as a younger man. Now he’s participating in Onnit 6 Challenges, making up his own workouts, and teaching his son to make a habit of exercise that he enjoys.

Malik tells his story, part of our ongoing Onnit Stories series, in a live video interview conducted by Onnit’s Director of Education, Shane Heins. See below for the video, as well as an edited transcript of the highlights, time-stamped so you can find those moments in the video. Stay up to date with Onnit Stories by following Onnit’s Instagram TV (IGTV), where a new one appears every other week. 

Zaki Abdul Malik Show Notes

3:05 – Finding Onnit

I was messing around on YouTube, looking at some motivational videos, and I came across one by Joe Rogan. He was talking about being the hero of your own story, and man, that one really hit home. He started talking about Onnit, and I could see the two had a connection. I went onto the Onnit website, and I saw that you guys were going to have an Onnit 6 Challenge. I said, “Let me just jump in and see what’s going on.” Initially, seeing the monetary gain that could come from winning was definitely one of the motivating factors [Editor’s note: Onnit 6 Challenge finalists are eligible to win $6,000, among other grand prizes]. 

I joined the Onnit Tribe as part of the Challenge, and I went in with the mindset that this is a competition that I needed to win. But I started to notice that while I was being quiet and doing my own thing, everybody in the Tribe seemed to be sharing more. I began to make a few connections there with individuals, and I learned that the Onnit 6 Challenge is a lot different from any other challenge that I’ve ever done. The Tribe is a lot different from every other group that I’ve ever been in. I didn’t win, but I came out of the Onnit 6 Challenge feeling like a part of a community of people that are all going for the same thing that I am.

8:00 – Life Before Onnit

I’m 5’6”, and it got to a point where I was tipping the scale at about 260 pounds. I like to be active with my kids, and I was beginning to feel like I was losing a step when I played with them, and I was too young to feel like that. I carried a lot of weight in my midsection, and I had read an article about that type of fat being linked to heart attacks. My father, bless his soul, that’s how he passed on, and so I didn’t want to be in that number.

But it took me a while before I really got started with fitness. Then one day my car broke down and I was waiting on a bus, and the bus didn’t come at the time that it was supposed to. I just began to walk. My apartment wasn’t really that far from the bus stop, and when I got home, I felt good. I said, “You know what? I’m going to go ahead and start doing that every evening.” I made it a competition to see if I could walk down to my apartment faster than the bus would get there.

That was the jump-start I needed. That tricked my body to get exercise without really thinking of it as exercise. I was able to stop being sedentary all day long. I started to see that belly fat going away, and that got me thinking about fitness stuff that had interested me in my youth. I used to do a little bit of boxing, a little bit of karate, and at one point I even started watching some Billy Blanks Tae Bo® stuff. So I got back into those things.

12:10 – Zaki and Shane Talk About How To Make Lasting Changes

Zaki Abdul Malik: Everybody thinks change has to be something major, so they set huge goals like losing 30 pounds in a month, or whatever. But that’s extreme, and too hard to maintain. You do better to change small things and stay consistent with them.

Shane Heins: A lot of folks coming into the Onnit 6 Challenge for the first time think they have to make major changes in six weeks, because that’s how long the Challenge runs. I think we do a decent job of helping them make progress in that time, but by the end of the program they recognize that six weeks is just the beginning. If they stay in the Tribe and keep doing more Challenges, I’ve noticed that by around the two-year mark, they have massive revelations, and see where they are now compared to where they were two years ago as night and day. Part of having that success is giving yourself the grace to realize that huge change takes time. Rather than push, push, push all the time, you need to know when to back off.

16:45 – Getting Back to Fitness Like a Kid 

I am a certified workforce development coach, and I love it. A lot of people look at dollar amounts that they can make when they’re trying to decide on a career path, but I always ask, “Is the job anything like what brought you enjoyment when you were a youth?” Because that’s what will make you happy now. I ask the same thing about fitness. I work with my son and his group at school—it’s a special-needs group—doing rec activities. I ask the kids, “What are some fun things that you guys like to do?” If they like to play basketball, I have them do jump shots—just without the ball. If they like to pitch, I have them pitch without the ball. I’m just tieing things that are dear to them back to movement, so they stay active and associate exercise with fun.

19:00 – How to Deal with Adversity

John [Wolf, Onnit’s Chief Fitness Officer] says in one of the Onnit 6 workouts that life is all about ramping up and ramping down. So, when times get tough, I think about that. Sometimes you have to come out of your comfort zone to achieve things. For some of us, being sedentary is our comfort zone. But once you start moving, you won’t be comfortable sitting still anymore. 

23:30 – How to Stop Procrastinating

You really just have to care about that thing that you’re procrastinating about doing. To me, procrastination doesn’t exist. If you keep putting something off, it’s because it is just not that important to you. I found my consistency and drive for exercise again that day when I walked home from the bus stop, and the Onnit Challenges help me keep from putting workouts off again.

24:40 – Fitness and Fatherhood

Being active makes me a lot more jovial around my son, because feeling good on the inside translates to feeling good on the outside. Exercise… it’s an endorphin thing. It just makes you happier. Being more active myself has made him more active too. Kids today live in the reality show and video game world, and that makes me want to set an example that much more. I teach my son that you can like what you like, but you still have to be physical.

Sometimes he’ll do some of the stretches from the Onnit 6 programs, and he’ll say, “Hey, Dad, check me out.” Is it as intense as what we do in the Onnit 6 workouts, or perfect form? No. But he’s doing it, and that’s the number one thing. At the same time, if he catches me working out and I see him looking, I’m like, “Let me go ahead and push these last three reps hard, so he sees.” [Laughs]

36:30 – Zaki’s Favorite Supplements

I’ve tried the Onnit Whey Protein and Plant-Based Protein, and I’m taking fish oil. I was experimenting with ginkgo [biloba], but the Tribe members talk a lot about Alpha BRAIN®, so I’ve been thinking about giving that a try. As far as the protein powders go, I like the Whey Protein because I think it dissolves a little better than the Plant-Based Protein. It also helps me stay satiated longer. 

41:20 – Zaki’s Favorite Training Tools

I have kettlebell adapters, which are a tool you can use to make a kettlebell out of weight plates. I used that for the Onnit in 30 Kettlebell workouts. The next thing I’m going to get is some steel clubs

43:40 – Zaki’s Favorite Digital Exercise Program

The first Onnit 6 I did was Bodyweight, and that was awesome. I also combined the flows from the Onnit in 30 Mobilized Strength workouts with the Onnit in 30 Decompress to Defy workouts. I mixed them together and that was really fun. 

46:00 – How He Stays Disciplined and Focused

A lot of self-talk. For example, in the Onnit 6 workouts, where you have progressions going from Level 1 exercises to Level 2 or Level 3, I might feel like staying on Level 1. But instead of staying there, I’ll tell myself I should try Level 2 and see how it feels. “Zaki, you know you can do it. You’ve got it. You see it. Just do it.” At the same time, I know that discipline doesn’t have to be so strict that I beat myself up about it. 

Onnit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible. The online database includes articles, videos, tutorials, and workouts featuring alternative implements like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, battle ropes, and more.
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