Do you want to get in shape but you can’t afford a gym? Do you want to become stronger but you don’t know how? In this article, I show you the simplest and cheapest workout method that I have come across in my life.

I Write Mostly About Psychological Topics, Why Write About A Workout Method?

I believe in order to improve our state and wellbeing; we need to improve holistically.  This means that we need to become the best versions of ourselves in mind, body, and spirit.

When I was researching the clinically depressed in psychiatric facilities, I noticed that the patients needed to take long walks and participate in sports classes, because sports boosts serotonin and mitochondrial function, for example.

One of the commonalities among patients was that they all had either no gym routine at all or a bad one.  On the other hand, I found that successful people all had some kind of exercise regimen.

If you want to improve your brain, you also need to improve your body.  Think of your brain as the driver; your body is the vehicle.  If you are motivated and you have goals in your life, you do not want the ford fiesta; you want the fucking Ferrari.

Who Is Ray Lewis?

Ray Lewis is a former American football player who played 17 years for the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL.  He is arguably the best and most feared linebackers of all time.  When I was researching the habits and routines of successful people, I looked at Ray’s workout routines and tried to emulate them.

I was particularly interested in Ray because he had a very troubled childhood.  I always look for people who seem to be self-made.  I believe you can steal more habits and routines from them than, for example, someone who was born with all the resources in the world.

I look for people who succeed despite their circumstances, and not because of circumstances.

Ray developed the Deck of Cards workout when he was a child.  Other men constantly abused his mother.  To protect his mother from the brutal beatings of his stepdad, he started working out as a child.  I was particularly interested and fascinated by athletes who used sports as an escape.  To use the pain that they had in their life as fuel, they somehow find a way to tap into that pain and trauma and use it to transform into drive.  Click here to read my article on how you can turn your trauma into a superpower.

There is this upper echelon of pro athletes and high achievers with troubled backgrounds who all seemingly have something dark in common when it comes to their relentless drive.

They do not only seem motivated by external gain, but by a personal escape forwards.  A fight inside that is invisible to the outside world.  When Ray took his deck of cards as a child and worked out, it was to get stronger to protect his mother from his abusive stepfather.  He worked out, so he was strong enough to save his beloved mother.

My Stepfather hit my mother so hard that she would bleed from her eyes, and I remember looking at him with this rage in my eyes.  I could not help here because I was not strong enough.  So, I went to the next room and grabbed my deck of cards.  I was training because I was sick and tired of what pain and powerlessness feels like”.  Ray Lewis

So, What Is The Ray Lewis Deck Of Cards Workout?

Ray’s workouts are intense, but not scientific.  They are born out of necessity.  They are as simplistic as they come.

What you need: A Deck of Cards with 52 Cards.  That is it.


Shuffle a deck of cards.  Then pick a card.  If you draw an 8, for example, you do eight push-ups.  Any face card is worth 10 push-ups, an ace 25, and a joker 50.  That is it.  Repeat until you have gone through the deck.

In Ray’s NFL days, he went through three decks of cards for each exercise.  That is a shit ton of push-ups!  You can do the Deck of Cards workout for sit-ups, pull-ups, and for whatever area you want to stress.  If you are not strong enough yet, start with a personalised version of the workout.  If you are a beginner, then instead of doing 10 push-ups, do 3 push-ups.

As a Digital Nomad, I love the Deck of Cards workout, because you can have an amazing workout anytime and anyplace, and you do not need anything else but your body.  For me, it motivates me a lot to know the history of the workout, and I visualise Ray doing the same workout that I do every morning.  One of the main pillars of my philosophies is that if we start doing the things successful and strong people do, we eventually will get the same results.

If you want to develop the habit of an insane work ethic, then stay with me.

Why Do I Write This Article?

Caution Soul striptease ahead: This dark escape forwards was something I did not need to emulate.  I already possessed the ability to use pain as fuel.  It was already eternal in me.  I grew up in a rather rough neighbourhood, under very simplistic conditions, in a single-parent household.  Rich in spirit, but rather poor economically.  In my neighbourhood, you had a lot of tough, violent kids.  I was rather soft at that time, and I was skinny as hell (about 40 pounds underweight).  I was interested in poetry, arts, and basketball.  As you can imagine, being a bookworm when you grow up in an environment full of sharks was not the cool thing to be.

In consequence, I was laughed at, and they beat the living daylights out of me daily.  It was bad.  Sensing that something was off, my amazing mother bought me a basketball, and with it, an escape, a way of channelling all of the accumulated pain and leave it all on the court.

Suddenly, it was not only cool to be a tall skinny kid, but it was an advantage.  I was hooked immediately.  I began practising every day, all day.  I became known as a gym rat.  Working out longer and harder than others.  In basketball, weight training is kind of mandatory.  Turns out that if your hobby is to push other 2 meter tall dudes around all day, you get strong rather fast.  The next time the school bullies picked on me, I fought back.  The bullying stopped.

There is a scene in the beautiful movie “Moonlight”.

The movie is about a young gay kid who grows up in a ghetto, who is constantly bullied and beaten until he loses it, fights back, and becomes a bully himself and invents a completely new persona, which he calls “black”.  I do not want to glamorise violence in any form, but I believe we must make use of all of our resources, and if we have pain in our life, we might as well use it to move forward to a safer place.

Although I was completely safe afterwards, the habit of working extra hard and using pain as fuel still resides in me to some extent.

What Is The Psychology Behind Escaping Forwards?

I believe that the habit of escaping forwards is exactly that: a habit.

All automated behaviour patterns work after the same principles.  Click here to read my article on how habits work.  Let us dissect Ray Lewis’ behaviour.

3 Rs are important, according to Charles Duhigg.

  1. Reminder
  2. Routine
  3. Reward/Punishment

Ray Lewis’ reminder was that his mother was beaten.  His routine was the deck of cards workout.  His reward was that he felt 1% closer to protecting his mother.  Now that is intense behavioural psychology.  Pain can be an incredible motivator.

Working out was his coping mechanism.  So, through years, he automated his routine of extreme work ethic.

After Ray stepped up and protected his mother from his piece of shit Stepfather, what do you think happened to the habit?

That is right; it remained.

Did you ever ask yourself why successful people do not stop after they have made it?  It is because of habit.

After some years, Ray was a millionaire, and his mother and his family were secure.  How come he still continues to work like he has not made it?  It is because of habit.

Habits do not care whether you have made it or not.  Ray installed, by accident, this relentless work ethic software in his brain.

If you break automated habits, you also take the automated reward away.  After enough repetition, you are addicted to that reward, and eventually, we do things just because we do them.  Breaking that habit would mean crazy discomfort for Ray because he has linked pleasure and the feeling of security to his crazy workouts.  Also, we do things out of familiarity, and we feel discomfort towards non-routine behaviours.

Also, when it comes to habits, people are much more motivated by pain than by pleasure.

If you have a negative, pain-causing variable in your life, you will pay almost any amount to get rid of it.  This effect, in my opinion, far outweighs the psychology of gaining something positive.

Our brain is wired to protect us.  Almost everything we do is to avoid pain.

Working out for Ray meant that the physical abuse of his mother would stop; this neural association was ridiculously powerful.  To me, this somehow explains his insane intensity on the football field.  While to us as observers, he is only playing football, to him, it was internal.  A fight nobody knew about.  What is your inner battle?

We all will have pain in our life; it is unavoidable.  What we can choose is the way we cope with it.  We can use bad habits, such as drugs, avoidance, or procrastination to deal with our pain, or we can use pain as fuel to use the bad things that are given to us as a resource and transform it into something beautiful, working out, dedicating ourselves to our craft, learning, travelling.

The habits that we choose will eventually determine what kind of person we become.

Are you going to use your pain?  Or are you going to let your pain control you?

I made my choice.

Call to Action

Here is some homework for you. It's your turn now!
  1. Buy a deck of cards.
  2. Do the Ray Lewis Deck of Cards workout.
  3. Write down five coping mechanisms that you have.
  4. Circle the one that benefits you the most.
  5. Circle the coping mechanism that is most destructive for you (smoking, overeating, etc.).
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