Dear Nerd Fitness reader: I have the best homework assignment ever for you.
If you’re been reading this site for longer than today, you know that I’m a BIG fan of strength training for anybody and everybody: young or old, male or female, big or small, fat or skinny. Today’s homework assignment is to take the inspiration you get from today’s article and DO something about it. Don’t worry, I provide you with the tools necessary.
I know there are folks out there who are afraid to strength train, don’t enjoy it, and/or don’t think it’s necessary: this article is for you. If you’re already strength training, congratulations – you get an A in my book (lie: I don’t actually have a book). Read the articles below for added inspiration or just skip to the end and leave a comment WHY you strength train.
I don’t care who you are or what you do, you should be doing some sort of strength training if you want to level up your life:
- If you only like to run, strength training will improve your time.
- If you only like to do martial arts, strength training will improve your power.
- If you only like to do Parkour - strength training will help protect you from injury.
- If you only like to sit around and eat donuts, strength training will make pretty much every part of your life better.
So where’s that inspiration I promised you? Read on…
Iron & the Soul
If you only have time to read ONE thing today, let this be it.
I’ve written about Iron and the Soul by hard-rocking Henry Rollins twice already on Nerd Fitness – that’s how much this article has inspired me. In fact, I’ve read it so many times that I finally dedicated a page to it. Feel free to bookmark this link and read it whenever you need motivation – that’s what I do. I didn’t know he had it in him, but Rollins has put together one of the most inspiring and profoundly philosophical articles I’ve ever read:
I’ll bet you five imaginary dollars that this article will make you want to do push ups and squats by the time you’re done with it. Do yourself a favor and set aside a few minutes to blaze through it. You can thank me later.
Here are my favorite passages:
“It wasn’t until my late twenties that I learned that by working out I had given myself a great gift. I learned that nothing good comes without work and a certain amount of pain. When I finish a set that leaves me shaking, I know more about myself. When something gets bad, I know it can’t be as bad as that workout.”
“I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect. I think a lot of inwardly and outwardly directed contempt passes itself off as self-respect: the idea of raising yourself by stepping on someone’s shoulders instead of doing it yourself. When I see guys working out for cosmetic reasons, I see vanity exposing them in the worst way, as cartoon characters, billboards for imbalance and insecurity. Strength reveals itself through character.”
“Through the years, I have combined meditation, action, and the Iron into a single strength. I believe that when the body is strong, the mind thinks strong thoughts. Time spent away from the Iron makes my mind degenerate. I wallow in a thick depression. My body shuts down my mind. The Iron is the best antidepressant I have ever found. There is no better way to fight weakness than with strength. Once the mind and body have been awakened to their true potential, it’s impossible to turn back.”
“The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs.
Friends may come and go.
But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds.”
Wow. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go climb a mountain, wrestle a bear, and bench press a tour bus.
Everything You Know About Fitness is A Lie
My old roommate Evan, fellow nerd and developer of the awesome and free iExit iPhone app (iTunes link), forwarded me an amazing article from Men’s Journal last week. I found myself nodding and smiling throughout the entire article, and was seconds away from standing and applauding at the end before remembering that I was in a crowded internet cafe in New Zealand.
It’s quite a lengthy read but so freaking worth it. Here’s the overarching theme: no matter who you are or what you do, focus on getting stronger if you want to continue being active for the rest of your life. Pick up a weight or go do body weight exercises, make building strength a priority, and the rest will take care of itself.
Rather than copy and past the entire article here, I’ll post some of my favorite paragraphs:
“Too many of us drift into health clubs with only the vaguest of notions about why we’re actually there — notions like maybe losing a little weight, somehow looking like the young Brad Pitt in Fight Club, or just heeding a doctor’s orders. Vague goals beget vague methods; the unfocused mind is the vulnerable mind, deeply susceptible to bullshit.”
“Most gyms do include a few token free weights, but think about where you’ll find them: around the edges of the room, like fresh fruits and vegetables in a supermarket that gives all the prime middle-of-the-store shelf space to Frosted Flakes and frozen cheesecake.”
“True sport-specific training, for literally everybody except elite athletes, isn’t sport-specific at all. It’s about getting strong, durable, and relentless in simple, old-school ways that a man can train, test, and measure. Nobody does crunches training this way, nobody watches television from the stationary bike, and 60-year-old women dead-lift 200 pounds and more.”
“I knew this wasn’t about a gym or about gym equipment; it was about an ethos, an understanding that nothing on Earth beats the fundamentals, a commitment to regular, measurable improvement in everything that a gym trainer won’t teach, for fear you’ll walk away bored: push-ups, pull-ups, bench presses, squats, dead lifts, and even such military-seeming tests as just how fast you can run a single mile.”
“The only other thing you really need to understand is how our bodies respond to training. First: The human body adapts to stress. Throw us in ice-cold water every day and we’ll sprout subcutaneous fat for insulation; expose us to the desert sun and our skin will darken. What this means for getting in shape is that each week, you have to stress your body a little more than last time — lift a little heavier, run a little harder. Muscles weaken with exhaustion after a workout, but then they recover and typically, a few days later, go into what’s known as “supercompensation,” a fancy word that just means bouncing back a little stronger than before.”
“Finally, keep it simple; understand that variety is overrated. Variety does stave off boredom — it’s fun to mix in new exercises all the time — but a guy who hasn’t trained in a long time, if ever, will get stronger faster on the simplest program of squats, dead lifts, and presses, three times a week…If you constantly screw around with endless new exercises, you have no way of adding the precisely calibrated weight increases that actually make you stronger. To get it just right, keep meticulous records, writing down every rep and every lift so your targets for each workout are easy to spot and your gains are easy to measure.”
“I’ll admit this begs a few questions, mostly about how pure strength makes anybody healthier, or helps in a given sport. There’s the predictable answer about how numerous studies recommend resistance training for the maintenance of bone density and muscle mass and even for heart-health benefits equal to cardiovascular exercise, how even famous big-wave surfers have begun lifting like this, and how barbells have become de rigueur on the pro-tennis circuit.
But there’s an even better reason to build pure strength. I’ve come to believe that men don’t go to gyms just to avoid heart disease or support our weekend sports. It’s worth getting strong because we go to gyms in large part to maintain a little goddamned self-respect, and to blow off steam, and to insist, against all odds, that we do remain fiercely vital physical beings.
If you don’t have a gym membership or have any desire to get one - don’t worry, you don’t need one – but that doesn’t excuse you from strength training. Here’s why:
No Gym? No Problem.
The authors of the two articles above are huge fans of gyms and free weights. Not surprisingly, I am too. Working out in a gym is something I’ve been doing for over a decade now (which is why I enjoy writing articles like “How to Not Suck at Working Out” and “Infiltrating the Empire“), but now that I’m traveling I no longer have access to a gym and free weights.
As I said in last week’s article, I came into this epic trip already expecting to lose strength and muscle mass because I would not have access to a gym. Fortunately I snapped out of my funk a few weeks back, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started taking action. I decided I was going to find a way to come back to the States in June in better shape and with more muscle than when I left, using nothing but my own body weight for resistance in my workouts.
Here’s what I did to put my plan into place:
- I researched advanced body weight routines from gymnastic websites that would help me build pure strength and muscle.
- I made eating a priority to make sure I provided my body with enough fuel to build muscle.
- I worked with Vic Magary, my partner in writing for the upcoming Rebel Strength Guide, to develop body weight exercise routines that get progressively more challenging. Yes, these workouts are in the book.
- I began watching videos by guys like Willy Wendens who show what’s possible with enough practice and dedication.
WARNING: you will have to pick your jaw up off the floor after watching this:
I also started reading about moves like Planche push ups and Front Levers, which made me realize that although it’s pretty damn tough to do these incredibly difficult exercises…it’s not impossible. Just like with anything else that seems impossible, you simply take it one day at a time, one change at a time, and get just a little bit bigger/better/faster/stronger every day.
If you’re just getting started with strength training, begin with the Angry Birds Workout and go from there. If you’re already big into advanced body weight training, try adding on the static holds explained in the article above to the end of your workouts – that’s what I’m doing currently.
Why I strength train.
So why do I do it? Why have I dragged myself to gyms for ten years, forking over thousands of dollars in membership fees and spending hours of my life with a bunch of old metal plates? Why do I dedicate hours of my time while traveling to exercising on hostel bedroom floors and preschool playgrounds? What’s the point of it all?
- I strength train because I was always the weak one; I was the skinny kid that got pushed around on the basketball court or football field, and I got sick of it. I’m still not as strong as I’d like to be, but I’m getting there.
- I strength train because it builds my self-confidence and allows me feel good about myself. I know a successful day of working out usually leads to a successful day outside of the gym.
- I strength train because I like knowing that I’ve improved my life in some measurable way. One more push up or five extra pounds on my squat compared to last week means that I’ve become a stronger version of myself.
- I strength train because I know that a solid foundation now will allow me to live a long and strong life later. I want to be able to wrestle with my kids when I’m forty, surf until I’m sixty, weight train until I’m ninety, and die peacefully in my sleep with smile on my face at the age of 125 after climbing a mountain.
- I strength train because I’m inspired by people who are stronger than me. I watch videos like that guy above and think “now I know what’s possible.” It’s a challenge to myself every single day to be better than I was yesterday. I want to be the best Steve Kamb I can be – the Level 50 version of me is strong as an ox, so I’m working every day to get there.
- I strength train because I want to know what I’m made of.
Why do YOU strength train?
That’s why I strength train. Now it’s your turn. I want to know why YOU strength train. Because I apparently love giving away stuff, I’ll be picking one answer from the comments to win a free NF shirt. Rather than pick a winner at random like usual, I’m going to be biased and simply pick my favorite comment from all submissions. Because that’s how I roll.
So, my rebel friend, why do you strength train?
For the Rebellion,
That’s right, the NF Rebellion has spread to the Middle East!
After taking this picture, Lindsay bench pressed both women behind her, rebuilt the ruins by hand, and then swam home to LA.
Update – Just THREE weeks until the Rebel Strength Guide is released! I started loading all of the content into our templates this morning and got a sneak peak at the cover design from my buddy Joe – it looks bad ass.
push up photo locations: Wanaka, Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu, Franz Josef Glacier, Cusco.