Nerd Fitness » Blog Level up your life, every single day. Tue, 30 Jun 2015 22:26:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Ron the Lay Pastor Lost 100 lbs Mon, 29 Jun 2015 13:30:59 +0000 Meet Ron, an office manager for a retirement and investment firm, a lay pastor at a local church, and a badass nerd.

Ron and his family (wife of eight years and two girls) live in western Indiana, where they raise some of their own food, and work their butts off in the yard.

Not long ago, Ron was stuck feeling as though he was just drifting through life –  sapped of energy, unmotivated, and overweight.

But after coming across Nerd Fitness, going Paleo, and implementing exercise strategy from the Nerd Fitness Academy, he’s turned his life around both physically and emotionally. Ron is down over 100 lbs (and 10 inches off his waist), and is hungering for the next thing to keep him challenged. 

Let’s find out how he did it.

Ron’s Story

Before after2

Steve: Thanks for taking the time to let me interview you dude! Let’s start with what life was like for the “old” you. 


Ron: I was a sad sack of unmotivated carrion. My days usually started late because I had usually stayed up too late the night before watching TV or reading. Only having enough time for a quick shower and something carby or sugary for breakfast on the way out, I would collapse into my office chair typically 5 minutes or more late.

To no surprise, my stomach was usually pretty quick to rumble, so I was typically in the break room searching for munchies by 9:30 or 10.

Lunch was usually hurried because, shockingly, I was usually behind schedule having arrived late and taking up time for the previously mentioned munchies. Portions for most meals are surprising to look back at now. Like oliphant-sized portions. I don’t remember chewing a whole lot. Things were swallowed or torn into like an orc. I don’t remember tasting much either, for that matter.

I was completely exhausted by 5. You can imagine how fun I was when I arrived home. I was too tired to play with the kids, work in the yard, or help with the house. Dinner was an exaggerated display of the lunch mob scene. Then I usually followed that a couple hours later with a “bedtime snack,” which meant anything in the pantry that I could munch on while I sat in front of the TV or studied on the computer. I couldn’t tell you how much I would typically consume because there was no sense of regulation or measure. I just ate until I felt better. I ate until I didn’t feel bad about all the things I thought were so bad about my life. It was a deadly cycle.

Steve: Holy crap – you were seriously stuck in a cycle of doom. So what was it that sparked the change?

I remember being on vacation with my family and my closest friend’s family. We usually go to Lake Michigan in August. I love the beach there, but I remember being so aware of my weight that I couldn’t enjoy it. I couldn’t enjoy the kids. I wasn’t happy about spending time with my wife or my best friend and his family. I wasn’t thankful for what I had been given. I felt sick at what I had wasted. I felt disgusted that I had selfishly spent so much time being a horrible steward of what God had blessed me with.

When we were back home, I started searching. I wanted to find something sensible. I knew none of the gimmicky stuff would work for me. I needed something I enjoyed and could connect with, and I found this article by this nerd on fitness. His “deep” thoughts were “eat a little better, get a little stronger, run a little faster.” I felt the connection, I had dealt with God on the deep roots of the problems that had caused all of this, and I was ready to live differently.

Steve: And what’s a typical day like now?

I get up with more time on my hands, and usually have time to read something encouraging from the Bible or a spiritual article. My wife spoils me and without fail is up making me eggs and bacon. This is my absolute favorite food now, especially if it contains some kind of greens like kale.

Work actually goes by much quicker nowadays. I convinced my boss to let me replace my desk with a standing desk on the wall, so I am usually on my feet or at least leaning on a stool. I usually do not feel the mid morning call for snacks.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays I enjoy running after work as well as on Saturday mornings. I have been training all winter and spring for my first half marathon which I recently finished. I know it’s not your favorite mode of exercise, Steve, but the camaraderie of my running club has helped immensely and the experience and advice of other runners has helped me to pursue it carefully and wisely. I also cross train on other days using the workouts in the Nerd Fitness Academy.

Steve: If you love it and it’s working for you, that’s awesome! Seems like you’ve changed completely – how did you get started?

When I first started I was just focusing on completing different routines you had on the site and others I found online. This worked great and is what I was doing when I lost a lot of my weight.

I  soon found some exciting goals to conquer – the challenge of completing a half marathon just pulled me in. So, I put my focus on this, and maintaining my core and building strength.

Steve: That’s awesome man – sounds like you got the workout part figured out! What about your diet? 

I have had a gluten sensitivity since high school that required a diet change not long after I was married. Of course, gluten-free does not mean healthy, so when I started studying on Nerd Fitness, I was definitely excited to get on the Paleo bandwagon. My wife was not as excited as I was, which was my fault looking back, as I did not take the time to share with her what I was learning and the reasons for my excitement.

Eventually she did see the merits, and we use a Paleo-ish strategy. (I would not say we are 100% as we do use rice and some other exceptions, but definitely emphasize whole foods over processed.) We have also started raising some of our own meat in the form of chickens and have a good size garden. It’s been awesome to see the kids learning from a young age where our food comes from and to help in growing their own.

Steve: I love that you’re raising and growing your own food! Well done sir! Let’s talk about the journey itself – how did you track your progress?

Focused entirely on weight early on, weighing myself almost daily. Then feeling the weight of your reprimands in the Academy, I stopped obsessing over that and took encouragement from losing inches around my waist and chest as well.

Steve: Haha awesome, glad to see someone’s listening! What would you say was the most important change you made that helped you succeed?

As a family man, the most important change would have to be when the whole house changed. It made it so much easier to have my wife and kids eating healthy with me so that I didn’t come home to temptation.

Steve: Was it your family that was your main support system?


Yep – I got lots of of encouragement from my wife – my chief supporter. Other family and my family at church really helped to encourage me when they noticed changes. My best friend helped big time with the accountability by being willing to ask how I was doing in working out and such. Of course, the information and community on Nerd Fitness was an instant shot in the arm whenever I was struggling.

Steve: Have you tried and failed to get healthy before in the past? What made this time different? Any advice for someone in your old shoes?

I would have to say the big difference in this effort was the small bite approach.

My advice would be to look honestly at your life, and do some self-examination – are your bad habits merely symptoms of deeper root problems? Then resolve to tackle this a step at a time: “Eat a little better, get a little stronger, run a little faster.”

Steve: You’ve lost a hundred pounds and transformed dramatically. What’s next for you?

Now that I finished my first half marathon, I have a goal to do another one in the fall with a focus on finishing it in under 2 hours. This last one was 2 hours and 9 minutes.

Steve: That’s awesome. Your physical appearance has clearly changed…what else has changed about you?

I would say my eyes are more open to all I have to be thankful for.

Steve: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

Definitely Lord of the Rings, but I enjoy Star Wars and know enough about it to frustrate the ones that love it with incorrect references and such.

Steve: Do you have any nerdy passions or pursuits?

I could read all day every day. If I go missing, look for me in a dirty hotel room, covered in the dust jackets of a thousand books.

Steve: If you could have any superpower in the world, what would it be, and why?

Matter manipulation so I could manipulate what matters.

Steve: I see what you did there. Quote to live by?

“God finds our desires not too strong, but too weak…like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” -CS Lewis

Steve: Tell us something interesting about you!

I can beat most people playing chubby bunny. Google it.

Steve: Thanks for putting my words into action my man! The Rebellion is proud of you :)

Why Ron Was Successful


Ron cracked the code: when you’re stuck in a cycle of demotivation and apathy, 100 lbs of weight loss and changing nearly all of your daily habits can seem like an impossibility. But Ron’s life now looks completely different – he’s full of energy, has built a solid base of healthy habits, and is hungry to take on the next challenge.

Let’s take a look at the why Ron broke through:

Ron had a great “why”: Ron had an awesome source of motivation – his family. One of the exercises in the Nerd Fitness Academy asks Rebels to write down their “big why” – the reason you decided to start on a path to a healthier and leveled up life, which helps keep you going when the initial excitement wears off and you have to stay on target. Ron had one of the best reasons out there – he wanted to be able to play with his daughters, and serve as a role model for healthy behavior. We can accomplish tremendous feats when we are fueled with a powerful “why.”

Exercise strategy: Ron implemented a cross-training exercise strategy. He didn’t JUST go for runs or didn’t spend all day at the gym. Instead, he implemented some core strength training ideas, but set his big goals around his runs because that’s what made him happy! Ron didn’t spend his time stressing about “getting through” workouts he hated. Instead he found something that got him excited.

Not only did this help him to start to build an antifragile body, but it also gave him many different ways in which he could see progress (and thus create some awesome positive feedback to keep him motivated and on track). When you see your running mileage going up AND you’re getting stronger from week to week, it’s hard not to get excited about leveling up your real life character even further.

Ron took small bites: Ron says he never really gave “getting healthy” an honest try before. It was the mantra of “small bites” (aka tiny permanent changes) that made approaching this huge journey seem doable rather than impossible. When we stand at the base of the mountain and look up, it’s easy to turn around and think: “no way am I getting up there.”

But when we look forward at the road ahead, instead of the peak of the mountain, we begin to realize that all really need to do is put one foot in front of the other. Just ask Frodo: that’s how he walked to Mordor!

If you’ve failed in the past, or struggled to even get started on your journey, give it another shot. Try setting incredibly small goals, and stop looking at the peak of the mountain. Just focus on that next step.

Ron went Paleo-ish: As we say (ad nauseam) – diet is 80-90% of the battle. Nearly every success story we’ve had has made diet a key focus at some point in their journey. Ron didn’t stress about going 100% paleo, following a strict “clean eating” diet, or counting calories every day, but he did put a focus on eating less processed food and more real food.

We often overcomplicate the diet thing. In reality, that’s all it takes: eat more real food, and eat a little less junk each day. In the Academy we have 10 different levels of “healthy eating,” and we encourage people to find the level that works best for their lifestyle and goals – for Ron it was a paleo-ish focus on eating whole foods and more vegetables. He’s even now growing his own food in his back yard!

Become the Next Success Story


Ron made some major changes over a period of 18 months. He didn’t use quick fixes. He worked smarter, implemented a few small changes that made a big difference and built on those over time.

Remember, we want to create permanent changes that last a lifetime, not just get you ready for the beach or your wedding. With over 100 lbs lost and a new outlook on life, Ron joins the hall of Rebel heroes to help inspire us all to keep moving forward and leveling up.

Remember – we’re a community, here to support and lean on one another. Let’s learn from each other’s successes.

What questions do you have for Ron?


PS: I was really proud to learn that Ron was a member of the Nerd Fitness Academy – and to see that the programs were an important part of his journey. If you’re looking for more complete and directed instruction, check out the Academy and see if it can help you too. Otherwise, the 600+ articles and free workouts on Nerd Fitness are a great place to start too :)


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How to Cook the Easiest Steak Ever Thu, 25 Jun 2015 13:54:40 +0000 This is a recipe from Rebel Chef Noel Fernando.

When people think of the Paleo Diet, it seems like the first thing that comes to mind is a big, juicy steak. (Okay, so maybe bacon is first. Then steak.)

Many of us do love steak, but are afraid of trying to cook it at home. A nice piece of meat, even at the grocery store, can be expensive, so we don’t want to risk over-cooking or seasoning incorrectly. I understand where your fears are coming from, friends, and I’m here to talk you through it.

Believe me, steak intimidated me for a long time. If you’ve been wanting to try cooking your own steak at home, this recipe couldn’t be any simpler. Get ready to level up your cooking game and make yourself gosh darn proud!

This steak is super easy. It takes 15 minutes and only uses 4 ingredients.

Enough talking. Let’s get to cooking!

Ingredients & Equipment:


Basic Steak:

Prep Time: 5 min
Cook Time: 3 min
Serves: 2

1 steak (1/2 lb or 226g per person) - if this is your first time cooking a steak, get a ribeye. It’s hard to go wrong with this cut. Ribeyes are well-marbled, tender pieces of meat, with a mid-range price. If you can afford it, spring for grass fed beef. It tastes better.

An ideal ribeye is about an inch thick. Some places give you the option of bone-in or boneless. I usually go with boneless, but this is just personal preference.

1/2 Tbsp (7.3 ml) butter or ghee – ghee has a higher smoke point and is better for searing meats, which is what we’re doing here. But chefs around the world have been using butter to sear meat for a long time. Just make sure your pan isn’t so hot that the butter burns. (You’ll know it’s burning when you put it in the pan and it immediately turns brown and smells a little off. If this happens to you, it’s totally fine. I still do it all the time. Just pour your butter out, rinse off the pan – careful not to burn yourself while doing this – and start over by heating the pan up again.)

Coarse sea salt - using coarse salt for cooking steak changed my world. If you want your world rocked and you’re going to be cooking meats often, get some high-quality coarse salt. You won’t regret it.

Freshly ground, coarse black pepper - the best way to control the coarseness and freshness of your pepper is to buy a pepper mill. This is a pretty decent investment for a new cook. If you like the taste of pepper, nothing beats having it freshly ground. If you don’t have it, regular pepper obviously works too!


  • Frying pan - Please use an all-metal pan (cast iron or stainless steel are great). You’ll be placing it in a hot hot hot oven, and nothing ruins a meal like melted, burned plastic inside your oven. Womp womp.
  • Tongs - One of my favorite pieces of equipment in the kitchen. If you don’t have a pair of tongs, get yourself one. You’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.
  • Cutting Board – Any will do, but plastic is best for staying sanitary when cooking with raw meat.
  • Meat thermometer (optional) - I’ve mentioned this magical little piece of equipment before. If you never ever want to have to worry about over or under cooking your meat, buy this thing. It makes everything so much easier. Your steak, chicken, pork chop, etc. will be cooked to perfection every time.


1. Start by taking your steak out of the fridge and letting it come to room temperature. This helps the steak cook quickly and evenly. Just make sure you put it in a safe place so your dog doesn’t steal it. My dog stole a pound of flank steak one time… it was a bad day (for me…my dog had a great day!)

2. Next, heat your pan and the oven. Set the oven to broil (or high, if that’s an option), and heat your pan on medium-high heat for about 5 minutes.


3. While the pan and oven are pre heating, take your steak out of the package and place it on a cutting board or plate. Pat it dry with some paper towels. Having minimal moisture on the meat will ensure the most contact between the actual meat and the pan. You’re shooting for no liquid in between.

4. Next, sprinkle some salt and grind pepper onto both sides of your steak. Easy enough.


If you want to get really fancy and plan ahead, salt your meat and then let it sit uncovered in the refrigerator over night. The salt will break down some of the muscle tissue and re-absorb some of the moisture.

5. This is where things start to happen quickly. Make sure you’ve read through the rest of the recipe so you know what comes next! I suggest you also have a stop watch or timer with you.

Plop your butter or ghee into the pan, and place your steak right on top of it. The steak should sizzle right away. Oh yeah.


After 30 seconds, use your tongs to flip the meat. Your steak should have a nice brown caramelization on the side you just seared. This is called the maillard reaction, and it is delicious, beautiful thing.


6. Let your beautiful steak cook for another 30 seconds on the second side. Now both sides will be caramelized brown, but the middle will still be raw. That’s okay. Move on to step 7.

7.  Next, take that pan and stick it in the oven. (If you’re using a meat thermometer, this is the time to use it. Set it and stick it in the steak before you put it in the oven please! Remember, medium-rare is 130-135F, medium is 140-145F, and medium-well is 150-155F. Many digital thermometers have pre-settings you can choose from.)


8. In order to get a medium-rare steak, it will need to sit in the broiler for approximately 2 minutes. Yes, that’s right. Only 2 minutes.

9. After those two minutes are up, grab an oven mitt and pull your steak out of the oven. But don’t slice into it yet!

10. Remove your steak from the pan with your tongs and place it on a cutting board or plate. If you’re using the same board/plate from step 4 (seasoning), you’ll want to wash it first! No mixing cooked and raw surfaces!


Let the steak rest on the plate, covered in foil, for about 10 minutes. This could be the longest 10 minutes of your life. While you’re waiting, fix up a salad, put some veggies on your plate, cut your sweet potato in half, or play some Tetris.

11. Eat up! Congratulations! You just cooked your first steak! 10 points to Gryffindor!

Get Cooking!


The weather’s getting warmer, and summer is a time for grilling. Not all of us Rebels have access to a grill, but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a big juicy steak every once in a while!

Now, I’ll be the first to admit this makes a pretty plain piece of meat. If you’re buying high quality beef, this is probably all you’ll need to make it taste amazing.

However, some people’s taste buds might want a little more. Feel free to experiment with dry rubs, marinades, herbs, and spices of any kind (more of these higher-level recipes coming soon!). As always, if you’re sticking to paleo, read the labels!

In any case, follow the 10 steps above, use these 4 ingredients, and it’ll be one of the tastiest, prettiest home cooked meals you’ll put on your plate. Be proud of your mad skills!

What’s your favorite way to cook a steak? Marinades? Rubs?

What other recipes would you like to see? 

Let us know in the comments!


PS: We’ve been adding these recipes and a few dozen more to our Nerd Fitness Academy, which has recipes, meal plans, workout plans, and the ability to complete quests and missions and level up as you get healthier. Check it out!


Dunechaser: Neoligthic Men

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Fat Shaming vs Body Acceptance: Is it okay to be fat? Mon, 22 Jun 2015 13:51:13 +0000 Love who you are! But don’t settle!

That person must be vain. They’re way too in shape.

Get that girl a burger! She’s too skinny!

I’m full-figured and proud of it! Strong is the new skinny!

You can’t go five minutes these days without everybody chiming in on body acceptance, fat-shaming, or just expressing their opinion about what a human body should look like. (Not to mention the recent controversy surrounding /r/fatpeoplehate on Reddit.)

Today, we’re gonna dig into some of the tension between those supporting body acceptance, those actively engaged in fat shaming, and those looking to simply improve their health and the health of their loved ones.

Regardless of your current physique and situation, I bet you’ve contributed to this problem without even noticing it.

Let’s get after it.

You should look like this


Regardless of what you look like currently, or how you want to look, there will always be detractors everywhere, letting you know you should look different.

Ultimately, they’re saying one of two things:

  1. I am interested in this type of person, and you look different; therefore, you should change.
  2. I look a certain way and you look different, thus I need to challenge your look to feel better about my look. (Sometimes this is also, “I want to look like you do, but I don’t, so I’m going to challenge it to feel better.)

About a week ago, Nerd Fitness was featured in an Imgur article that made it to #1. In it, they referenced the before and after photos of Team NF member Staci and her incredible transformation.

A quick trip to the comments reveals plenty of dudes who decided it was their place to let Staci know they liked her better in the before picture.


Staci gets this quite frequently (thank you Internet), and her response is always the best:

“Why do I care what they think? I was unhealthy, my doctor told me I was unhealthy, and I was miserable. Now I’m happy and healthy. Thanks for the input though.”

I’m sure this isn’t the first you’ve seen of this. People want to let others know they liked them better when they were bigger, or smaller, or whatever. It will come from random internet trolls, or even from our own family and friends!

Throw in this “Dad bod” nonsense (I weep for the future of humanity that I even have to acknowledge this) and you got yourself plenty of situations where we have a group of people who are unhealthy justifying their unhealthy lifestyles by putting down people who choose to live healthy.

It’s ridiculous, and it needs to stop.

Things we need to stop saying

words dictionary

Be honest, I bet you’ve said one of the following phrases or saw somebody else saying it and agreed. If we’re gonna elevate ourselves above all of this, the following phrases should be put out to pasture:

“Strong is the new skinny!” This phrase is often accompanied by a picture of a smokin’ hot woman in minimal clothing who is thin and (maybe) strong. You now have two things to feel bad about: you’re neither strong nor skinny! Not only that, but there are a ton of skinny folks trying their hardest to gain weight. Which brings us to…

“That person needs to eat.” This is essentially “skinny-shaming.” Many people have no problem saying “that girl should eat something!” when the same person would probably never say “that girl should eat less!” about someone who is overweight. We all have different body types, and yes, some people are naturally very thin. Guys or girls!

“Real women have curves.” Real women have a heartbeat. If you qualify, then you’re in! Real women have curves, or they’re skinny, or they’re big, or they’re tall, or they’re short. Just because you don’t look like the woman next to you doesn’t mean she’s not a real woman.

“That person is WAY too fit. Soooo vain.” It’s easy to make fun of the really really big guy at the gym, or the “too strong” girl, and make fun of them for being really vain or “scary” for having a bodybuilder body. We don’t make fun of people for being great at football, drawing, or cooking – fitness is a hobby, too (and weightlifting / powerlifting is a SPORT just like football).

Apparently the world has determined it’s okay to get in shape, but not too in shape. If you’re a dude, you can get big… but not too big. If you’re a woman getting strong is cool, until you’re too strong and then it’s “manly” and you need to stop because it’s gross.

As the comedian Jim Gaffigan quipped in a way that’s all too real: 

Jim Gaffigan

We all want to feel good about ourselves, and it’s easier to indirectly put down others who don’t look like us instead of taking a look in the mirror and asking ourselves “am I healthy, happy, and comfortable and confident in my skin? Cool, I’ll do me, and you do you.”

After all, who gets to determine what somebody should look like? And whether he or she should gain weight or lose weight, get bigger or get smaller? Only THAT PERSON!

Body acceptance vs shaming

measuring tape bellyNow, we’re all created differently. 

Where do we draw the line between telling people “love who you are, no matter what” and “you are killing yourself with your lifestyle choices, and you need to change?”

It’s certainly not always tied to our physical appearance. Some women have a gap between their thighs, while some men can put on muscle quickly and easily. Some women are naturally more big boned, and some men are super skinny. Regardless of where we are: big or small, thick or thin, we can all work towards a healthier existence.

That’s probably why you’re visiting a site called Nerd Fitness!

On top of that, you might look at somebody and say “that person is unhealthy,” not knowing that they are on their journey, down 100+ pounds already, and working daily to improve themselves. You never know.

In this game of life, it’s like somebody hit the random button when it came to our genetics and that’s the character we must play…but from there it’s 100% up to us to play the game however we want. Once you accept your starting point, you can also accept personal responsibility and start leveling up from there.

Regardless of what you look like, all I care about is the following:

  • Do you get a clean bill of health from your doctor? You can be “damn proud” of your body, but if you’re overweight and unhealthy, or skinny and unhealthy…something needs to change.
  • Are you working to get better? For some that might mean a bigger deadlift, or a slimmer waistline, or 10 lbs lost or gained. Again, the specific goal is less important than having one! What I care about is that you only compare yourself to you from the day before, and work on making improvements.

If we’re going to survive as a society, we need to stop putting down other people, fit or unfit, and realize its a waste of our time, energy, and effort. It’s never okay to shame or bully people.

Body acceptance and health

lego pullup

The truth can hurt sometimes, but we need to accept it: we are bigger as a nation than we’ve ever been. 

In fact, women’s clothing has had size inflation for the past 40 years. It’s clear that as a society, we might not be doing so well.

And yup, things need to change. 

I’m all for body acceptance, but if we are in an unhealthy place, it should be accompanied by a commitment to getting healthier. The truth is, many people are unhealthy and eating themselves to an early grave.

Insulting people who are unhealthy is certainly not helping; it’s cruel, unhelpful, and can make things worse.

We have a personal responsibility to ourselves to be happy. We have a responsibility to play the hand we’re dealt, challenge ourselves to be better and take action on improving our lives. Nowhere is there a place for insulting others.

My challenge to you today is to start thinking about a few key things:

1) Are you using any of the phrases that put down others to make yourself feel better?

2) Are you getting a clean bill of health from your doctor, or are you using the “I am proud of my body” as an excuse to live an unhealthy lifestyle?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this controversial subject: 

How should we navigate this space of not wanting to offend, but help the people in our lives get healthy? What about people who proudly don’t want to change?

Conversely, have you noticed yourself putting down others because they were simply different?

Let’s hear it in the comments!



photo source: Paul Boxley: Kirby, caleb roenigk: hostility, Koisny: Lego

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Your Most Popular Diet Questions Answered Thu, 18 Jun 2015 16:31:09 +0000 “Help! I know should eat better but I don’t actually know what that means!”

We get emails like this all day, every day, because “eating better” is a confusing subject.

  • Go to a doctor and he might tell you to eat more “heart healthy whole grains.”
  • Read another blog and it might say “eat 30 bananas a day for optimal health” (seriously, that’s a thing apparently).
  • Open the latest fitness magazine and you’ll be taught about belly-fat banishing super foods.

What’s the truth? How the heck does one “eat better?” How much should I eat? Why are we here? What’s the answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything?

The answer to all of these questions and more are covered below in an easily-digestible (heyo) article.

Let’s dig in.

How much should you eat?


“Is it true that the less I eat, the faster I’ll lose weight?”

Maybe… and only up to a certain point. Our goal isn’t to get you to lose weight as quickly as possible. Our goal is to get you to lose body fat (not just weight) in a sustainable, permanent fashion.


Because starving yourself for a month-long “diet” only to return to old habits right after doesn’t help anybody.

So, we do NOT recommend you go on a diet. I actually hate that word. And the word “moist,” but I digress. A diet implies a temporary change to lose weight quickly, until you return to an unhealthy “normal life,” at which point you’ll put all of the weight right back on and have to repeat the cycle. Instead, we are going to make permanent changes to our lifestyle, moving the bar and adjusting what “normal” means to you.

Because over-consuming calories is generally the major culprit in an expanding waistline, consuming fewer calories is a good starting point. Spend a few days using a calorie tracker app (like MyFitnessPal) to track your daily food intake – every calorie. Once you start to educate yourself on how much you are eating every day, my bet is you’re eating more than you thought.

[note: Most sites and apps like MyFitnessPal give you macronutrient breakdowns that we don’t necessarily agree with. Disregard their recommendations for a low fat and high carb ratio, and simply use the apps for tracking.]

“So, I know how much I AM eating, how much SHOULD I be eating?”

Depending on your level of activity and body composition, your daily caloric needs will be different for every person… but here’s a broad range for an average human trying to eat an acceptable amount:

  • Men: 1800-2200 calories
  • Women: 1600-2000 calories

These are ROUGH estimates based on basic numbers, though the specific total you need will depend on your height, weight, genetics, and level of activity – you can actually calculate it by plugging in your stats here, and it’ll give you a ROUGH estimate of how many calories you should be consuming on average to maintain your weight. Eat less, lose weight. Eat more, gain weight. This is called your TDEE (total daily energy expenditure).

You can calculate your TDEE here.

Now, because this amount might be drastically less than you currently consume, we recommend you slowly decrease the amount of food you eat so your body doesn’t revolt: going from 3500-4000 calories per day down to 1600 is a recipe for disaster!

“Wait, why is eating WAYYY too few calories bad?”

Regardless of how much you eat, we don’t recommend that you drop below the bottom end of the spectrum if you want to be healthy and happy. Eating 1200 calories a day (or less), along with running on a treadmill for two hours is unsustainable, unhealthy, and won’t get you the results you’re after in the long term.

When you eat the right kinds of food (explained below!), and the correct amount of it, you’ll give your body the “ok!” to stop hoarding calories and storing energy and start burning it!

Note: This doesn’t mean if you skip a meal here or there your body will kick into starvation mode. In fact, we recommend skipping meals here and there for many people! It’s called intermittent fasting.

“What if I’m trying to get bigger?? How can I eat more calories?”

Welcome to my world! If you are skinny and looking to pack on some size and muscle, you need to consume more calories than you are burning, in addition to following a challenging strength-training routine to stimulate muscle growth.

For that reason, the same foods we encourage people to avoid when they are trying to LOSE weight can be great tools to help you GAIN weight.

This means in addition to consuming protein sources to assist in muscle building (meat, fish, eggs, whey protein, etc), look for foods that are high calorie and high carb to get your total caloric/carb intake up:

  • Rice (brown or white)
  • Whole milk
  • Beans
  • Oats
  • Fruit
  • Nuts (healthy fats, high in calorie)
  • Nut Butter (peanut, almond, cashew)

If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough. Count calories for a week, add 250 more per day, and check again in two weeks to see how your weight has changed!

“What about snacking? What are some healthy snacks I can eat throughout the day?”

Actually, I’m not a big fan of snacking! I’m officially on Team “No Snack” as I just make sure my actual meals are big and healthy. Now, if you are looking for some healthy options, no problem. Make sure you check out our article on snacking! Just remember to keep track of total calories for the day!

Eating healthier


“Got it, so I should eat fewer calories…but now I’m hungry all the time because I’ve cut half of what I used to eat in half. And now I’m cranky. And I want my cookies. And that ice cream over there.”

Although calorie restriction is a good start for losing weight, we also believe that the quality of the calorie plays a big role too! Your body does not treat every calorie equally: eating a lot of vegetables, healthy fats, and protein will result in a different experience for your body compared to an equal amount of candy, pasta, cookies, and cake.

For that reason, if you’re going to start eating fewer calories, you need to start consuming more filling foods that don’t have a ton of calories.

Foods like chicken, steak, fish, and most protein sources (provided they aren’t breaded and deep fried) can help you feel full without increasing your caloric intake.

The same is true for vegetables: if you can LOAD up a plate with veggies and grilled chicken covered in salsa (or one of our other healthy recipes), I guarantee it’ll be a fraction of the calories compared to a big soda, french fries, a plate of pasta, chips, or candy. And you’ll actually feel satiated after!

There’s a method to the madness with this type of eating. We don’t LOVE counting calories, as it can cause us to get neurotic and freak out over every calories, though it is a good place to start. So, instead, we try to simplify things and put the focus on real food as a strategy to stay on track long term.

Some use the Paleo Diet, which we are fans of due to its focus on consuming real foods. Others just use the “stop eating junk, start eating real food” strategy.

“Wait, eat more vegetables, and protein? But I read on many sites that meat is bad for you, and I should be eating more heart-healthy whole grains.”

Personally, I’m not a vegetarian nor do I prescribe to the lifestyle – I believe meat can be a healthy part of our diet. If you don’t eat meat, feel free to stick around, but make sure you check out my friend Matt at too! As for “heart-healthy whole grains,” we actually recommend you minimize the amount of grains and total carbs you consume.

“How many carbs is too many?”

If your goal is weight loss, we recommend that you consume less than 100 grams of carbs per day, and aim to get most of those carbs from leafy greens and other vegetables. Depending on your training routine, that number might need to be lower or higher.

“If I keep my carbs under 100 grams per day, then what else do I eat?”

Lots of healthy fats (avocado, fatty meats, almond butter, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil) and protein!

“I thought fat was bad for me?” 

Nope! Fat has been wrongly vilified for years. Eating fat does not make you fat, just like eating foods with cholesterol is different than the cholesterol in your blood.The real enemy? Sugar and refined processed foods!

Want to kickstart your weight loss? Cut sugar from your diet. No more sodas.

“I know I should eat more vegetables. But I don’t want to give up the foods I love. And I love sugar.”

How about this: eat healthy as often as you can, and then for a few meals a week, eat what you want. See how your body changes over a few weeks, and then adjust accordingly. Don’t give up anything permanently, but you have to start limiting the junk food. And sugar is what’s ruining us.

What if I just don’t like the taste of vegetables?

That’s cool. Neither did I, til I found my gateway vegetable: grilled asparagus. And then I started liking zucchini when in a stirfry. And then broccoli. And now I eat bowls of vegetables. Here’s a strategy for vegetable haters.

Making changes permanent


“Great work Steve, you made my head hurt. Eat less sugar, eat more fat. Vegetables are good, too many carbs is bad. Eat less but not too much less. Just tell me what to do.”

First and foremost, don’t over-complicate things. Knock that off. All I want you to do is make small, DELIBERATE, sustainable changes to your diet:

  • Try to eat some protein with each meal.
  • Vegetables are your friend. And no, corn doesn’t count.
  • Fat is not the enemy! Liquid calories, and sugar in particular, are your enemy.
  • Make changes you can live with.

All we’re trying to do is raise the average number of healthy decisions you make each week. If last week you made 0 healthy decisions, then if you make just 1 this week – congrats, your average week is now healthier than last week!

We are not trying to crash-diet our way into a bathing suit for a week. We are making permanent changes that permanently change our relationship with food. We take care of ourselves – we eat more veggies and protein because we know they make us operate and function better.

No matter your situation, start today. Make one better decision. As you get better at understanding how to eat better, you can increase the difficulty and make more healthy decisions each week to accelerate the speed you transform.

“What’s the answer to The Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything?”


Any other questions for me? I’d love to answer them.


PS: If you want more specific instruction, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy, which has recipes, meal plans, diet strategy, workout plans, and the ability to level up a character by completing quests!


]]> 26
11 Most Common Workout Questions Answered Mon, 15 Jun 2015 11:01:52 +0000 Why, hello there!

The goal of Nerd Fitness is to remove every barrier and excuse, both mental and physical, from helping you build a body you’re proud of and do the things you want to do.

Not that any of us would ever use excuses to skip exercise :)

A big part of that is having confidence: confidence to walk into a gym or start a workout and know exactly what to do. It means having the confidence that what you’re doing will help you reach your goals, and that the time and energy you’re putting in is worth it!

Think of this like the instruction manual that comes inside the case of a video game called Exercise.

Now available on all platforms!

Where do I start?

start road

“I know I should be exercising, but I don’t know what to do. Should I just strap on some shoes and go running? Get a gym membership? Yoga? HALP!”

We have a few key philosophies at Nerd Fitness:

  • Diet will account for 80-90% of your body transformation.
  • Pick a form of exercise you enjoy and do it often.
  • Strength training will make ALL aspects of your life easier.

So, if you are trying to lose weight and just getting started with exercise for the first time, your focus first and foremost should be on your diet. That will account for a strong majority of your change!

After that, you need to find something that you enjoy that gets your heart beating faster. If the thought of running makes you miserable, don’t do it. If the idea of going to a sweaty gym scares you, hold off! I don’t care how you exercise, just that you do SOMETHING. It all counts:

If you don’t like to exercise currently, then you haven’t tried enough activities yet. We are genetically designed to move – which means you need to find the type of movement that puts a smile on your face.

Lastly, we love strength training: We believe that a strong nerd is a healthy nerdThis can be as simple as doing some squats and push ups in your living room (like with the beginner bodyweight routine), or as intense as deadlifting 400+ pounds in the gym, doing gymnastics, and so on.

No matter what you are doing for your fun activity, and what type of life you plan on living, strength training even once or twice a week for 15 minutes can have a profound effect on your physique, heart, and happiness.

How does cardio fit in? I heard I need to do cardio to burn fat!

Can I let you in on a secret? I run a fitness site, and I don’t do cardio. Ever. The thought of running on a treadmill makes me ill. I pick up heavy things, and I do activities that are fun to me (hiking, kickball, parkour), etc. My cardio is built into my fun activities so it doesn’t feel like cardio.

If you enjoy running, RUN! That’s amazing. If you enjoy hiking, HIKE! But if you’re doing mindless cardio to lose weight, there are far better uses of your time – again, eating properly is 90% of the battle, and strength training can give you more bang for your buck on burning calories.

So, only do cardio if it’s an activity you enjoy. And regardless of what that activity is…strength training will make it better and more enjoyable.

Frequently Asked Workout Questions

Steve Ostrich

“Okay Steve, I’m ready to start strength training, you got me convinced to give it a shot. Now, WTF do I do?”

Good question, but don’t swear at me. My Gramma reads this! Strength training ultimately just means you put your body and muscles through a routine that pushes past your comfort zone, breaking down those muscle fibers and forcing them to rebuild. Thus, your body and muscles will adapt by rebuilding themselves stronger to be more prepared next time.

This is strength training in a nutshell.

Because your body is constantly rebuilding the muscle, it’s burning extra calories the whole time – this is why strength training is so fantastic; you get stronger, you burn extra calories, you keep the muscle you have and burn the fat that covers your muscles. Everybody wins!

“Do I need a gym membership?”

Nope! You can get a great strength training workout in while at home, or at a park, but obviously, also at a gym. Strength training can be picking up weights, or just doing movements using your bodyweight. My favorite path combines the two! Here are some workouts to get you started:

What does a good workout look like?

A good workout takes movements that recruit as many muscles as possible. Why do 15 exercises with machines when you can get the same (or better) results with ONE movement?!

A great full body workout has one or two exercises from each the following components:

“Okay, so I see the list of exercises, so what do I do now? Pick one? how many do I do? Do I rest between sets?”

You have two options here.

  1. A typical strength training routine will have you doing something like 3-5 sets of 5-10 reps of an exercise, waiting 60 seconds between each set, and then moving onto the next one.
  2. You can do them one set of each exercise and then quickly move onto the next exercise, and so on. Then do it all over again. That’s called a circuit.

FOR EXAMPLE, here’s how I would do a barbell squat:

  • Warm-up set: 45 pounds (just the bar!)
  • Set 1: 5 reps of 100 pounds.
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 2: 5 reps of 100 pounds
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 3: 5 reps of 100 pounds
  • Rest 60-90 seconds
  • Set 4: 5 reps of 100 pounds

Then you move on to the next exercise.

Meanwhile, a circuit looks like this:

  • Exercise 1: 10 bodyweight squats
  • No rest, go right to…
  • Exercise 2: 10 push ups
  • No rest, go right to…
  • Exercise 3: 10 dumbbell rows
  • No rest, go back to…
  • Exercise 1: 10 bodyweight squats
  • Repeat!

When you do all exercises in a row like this, you will get tired more quickly than if you rested 60-90 seconds between each exercise, and your heart will get more of a cardiovascular workout. The circuit is designed to burn slightly more calories, while the strength routine (surprise) will befit you slightly more in strength and muscle building.

Either plan, #1 or #2 will work. What’s important is that you pick one and start!

“How often should I strength train? Every day?”

Our advice is to strength training 2-4 days per week depending on your goals and schedule. Generally, avoid strength training the same muscle groups two days in a row.

  • If you do a lot of push ups today, wait at least 48 hours for your chest and triceps muscles (the major muscles used in a “push” movement) to recover before doing lots of them again.
  • If you do barbell squats in the gym, you should wait at least 48 hours to do them again.
  • If you do a TON of pull ups, don’t do them again tomorrow!

Now, if you do a workout in which you do a lot of lower body exercises (and only lower body exercises) today, you can work out tomorrow and do all upper body exercises, because you’re working out different muscle groups! However, we generally recommend that beginners don’t do this, and instead work out your whole body, and then take a full day off – on your day off you can do the fun fitness activity you picked above!

“I’m scared in the gym, and I don’t know how to do many of the exercises listed above. Can I just use the machines? It’s much tougher to screw those up.” 

I loathe machines. They take up most of the gym space, they force your body to move unnaturally, and they do most of the work for you. Body weight exercises and free weights are much safer, healthier, and better for you in the long run. I promise you.

But that might scare you, so we’ll work up to it. I’d rather have you in the gym doing machine exercises than not exercising at all. HOWEVER, each week I want you to transition from one machine to a comparable free weight or body weight exercise. Here’s how you can transition from machines to free weights.

Our Strength Training 101 series has tons of great information on proper form of exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench press, and overhead press.

“How do I know what workout plan to follow? I’m overwhelmed.”

Here’s the truth: Pretty much ANY workout plan will get you results. Seriously. Just remember two things:

  • Diet is 80-90% of the battle. If you follow a strength training plan and eat healthier, your body will change.
  • Pick a plan and stick to it. The best plan is the thing you actually do with consistency.

We have a number of free workouts on our resource page here, or you can check out more detailed workouts along with diet advice and a character leveling system in the Nerd Fitness Academy.

“I’m not seeing progress, what am I doing wrong?”

When we strength train, we are trying to lift more weight (or do more repetitions) than we did last week. For this reason, if you aren’t getting stronger and adding more weight to the bar, or doing more repetitions, you aren’t going to see progress.

WHAT’S REALLY IMPORTANT: Write down your workout. Since strength training only works if you progressively increase the difficulty each time, you need to know how you did last week and what you need to do this week to improve.

  • If you can do 3 sets of 9 push ups this week, next week go for 3 sets of 10.
  • If you deadlifted 225 lbs this week, next week go for 230 lbs.
  • If you could do 2 pull ups this week, next week go for 2.5 pull ups.

How can I find a more advanced version of the exercise I’m doing?

As stated above, the goal with strength training is called “progressive overload.” You want to consistently pick up heavier weights or challenge yourself with increasingly more difficult movements. Our bodies adapt quickly, and if we pick up the same weight or do the same number of reps, our bodies adapt and we get less and less benefit from the same amount of work.

Which means we need to make things tougher!

  • If you are training with barbells or dumbbells, simply add more weight or do more repetitions as you get stronger.
  • If you are training with bodyweight movements, you need to increase the difficulty of the movements once they become easy.

How does one make bodyweight movements more difficult?

  • By adding weight if you are doing dips or pull ups.
  • By elevating your feet when doing push ups.
  • By switching the exercise, such as working towards pistol squats instead of normal bodyweight squats.

By changing the angle or amount of bodyweight you’re manipulating with an exercise, you can make it tougher! Check out our “Playground Workout” to see how to scale some exercises!

What if I want to do cardio AND strength training?

Go for it! Feel free to strength train and then do cardio (only if you enjoy it!!) on your off days. Maybe you strength train on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Friday, and you do fun activities that get your heart racing on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Feel free to do interval training or sprints on days you’re not strength training to kick start your weight loss. Or yoga. Or Parkour. Or live action role-playing! Whatever makes you happy.

Get started

Storm Trooper starts exercising small by taking small steps

The absolute best thing you can do for yourself is to start. Today.

  • Make a change to your diet, even if it’s a small one.
  • Do some push ups and see how you feel tomorrow, even if you’re not sure the form is perfect.
  • Go to a gym and try squatting for the first time, even if it’s just the bar.

As Winston Churchill famously said, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

That’s right, we hit you with historical quotes, fitness knowledge, and cat videos here on Nerd Fitness. Boom.

Educate yourself with the least amount of information possible that gives you enough confidence to start. That might mean reading 15 articles on the barbell squat before finally going to a gym and trying it…or it might mean reading ONE article and trying it.

But what’s important is that you start.

Don’t become an underpants gnome!

What other questions do you have about getting started? I tried to cover as many bases as I could here, but I’m sure there are some questions I left out!


PS: If you’re somebody who wants more info, workout plans to follow, and specific advice on adjusting your diet and building habits, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy. This is our flagship course that helps beginners on their first year of fitness. Join over 13,000 Rebels currently enrolled!


photo source: Stephan Boudy: Question Mark, Kristina Alexanderson: Storm Troopers

]]> 17
Why you should do less. Or maybe even nothing at all. Thu, 11 Jun 2015 13:29:34 +0000 We’re always encouraged to do more if we want to get ahead in life.

To run further. To work out longer. To work more hours. It’s freaking exhausting!

What if the solution to our problems is to do less?

I know, it sounds counter-intuitive. How the heck do you accomplish ALL THE THINGS you want to get done if you do less?

Our culture has become addicted to “more.” If we don’t feel busy, we feel like we’re not contributing. We feel the need to tell everybody else how busy and stressed we are as if it’s a badge of honor.

In fact, I’m a recovering addict of “more” and “being busy.” I never had enough time and proudly told people how busy I was. It wasn’t until I started doing less that I got my act together and got MORE important things done!

It started with, “DO LESS YOU IDIOT!”

We’re going to tighten up our workouts, our productivity at work, and our lives. Ready?

Let’s do less!

Less is More: Strength


Now, this “less is more” philosophy doesn’t apply for everything, but it totally applies to strength training, my preferred method of getting healthier. As we say, a strong nerd is a healthy nerd.

Instead of trying to pump your biceps with ten variations, sculpt your calves with four different exercises, hit three types of bench presses, and train each glute independently, do less. Do way less.

After all, why do 10 different leg exercises and spend an 90 minutes doing “leg day” when you can complete two exercises that give you the same or better results? 

For starters, there IS such a thing as diminishing marginal returns. If your first exercise is a compound movement like a squat or deadlift with heavy weight, you are pushing your central nervous system and every muscle in your leg, lower back, and core to their absolute limit. This negates the need for 10 more exercises, each less effective at muscle stimulation than the previous one!

Also, doing too many exercises for the same muscle group can lead to overtraining and injury if you’re not careful. Just ask our favorite anchorman, Ron Burgundy!

It’s no surprise Ron isn’t exactly the most efficient guy. When you target a single muscle group with 10 different exercises, you’re isolating muscles that never actually work in isolation in real life. Why isolate biceps when in reality, your biceps/forearms/shoulders/back all work together?

Compound movements recruit every muscle fiber, every tendon, and small muscle to prepare your body for real world activities and scenarios. Much safer and more effective.

These days I work out just 4 days per week, for about an hour each time, and I’m in the best shape of my life: two lower body days and two upper body days. Here’s what they look like roughly:

Lower Body Day 1:

  • Heavy Deadlifts
  • Higher rep front squats
  • Pistol Squats

Upper Body Day 2:

  • Weighted Chin Ups
  • Weighted Dips
  • Ring work

Lower Body Day 3:

  • Heavy Squats
  • Higher rep snatch grip romanian deadlifts
  • Pistol Squats

Upper Body Day 4

  • Overhead Press
  • Dumbbell Rows
  • Ring work

If you want results, try simplifying your workout. Stick to a few exercises, and get really strong with them. Cut your gym time in half, tighten your focus, and make WAY more progress in a faster time. Unless you’re a bodybuilder, stop worrying about sculpting isolated muscles and get strong with big movements.

Do more by doing wayyyy less.

Less is More: Life

changed priorities sign

Life got you stressed out? Never have enough time?

Stop trying to do everything! Instead, pick 3-4 things that are incredibly important to you each day and say no to everything else. Don’t worry, the world won’t end. I’m going to guess your things will end up something like:

  • Take care of yourself: Exercise, nutritionsleep.
  • Take care of your relationships: Quality time with family/friends.
  • Kick ass at work: I’ll get to that below.
  • Enjoy yourself: Listen to music, read a book, or play video games.

Every day, set aside time on your calendar for those things. If you get a request to attend an event, or help out with something and you don’t have time for it…SAY NO. DO LESS.

Remember, as Derek Sivers says, “It’s either a hell yeah! or a no.”

One of my favorite scenes in “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” has Paul Rudd’s stoned character teaching Jason Segel’s character how to surf:

The wisdom of Kunu seems a little goofy at the time, but has some real world value for us nerds: Instead of doing a million things and sucking at all of them, why not pick a few and get pretty dang good at them?

“The less you do, the more you do!”

Less is More: Work


We’re all addicted to being “the busy one” at work, and wanting everybody to know how busy we are. Fun fact: nobody really cares! They’re busy too, I promise.

What matters: you are doing great work and getting the things done you said you’d get done, when you said you would get them done.

Want to learn the BEST thing I’ve done to explode my productivity and allow me to get more done? I stopped multitasking.

We pride ourselves on being fantastic at multitasking. Hell, I know I used to. In college I would study a text book while watching the Red Sox on mute, blasting music, and playing four tables of online poker at the same time. What an idiot!

Multitasking seriously makes us dumber. It causes us to waste excess brain power switching back and forth between activities. Stop it. Do Less.

Now, I’m not saying become Peter from Office Space. Instead, do less by pick three major things at work every day you need to accomplish, and shut EVERYTHING off whenever working on those tasks.

Personally, I don’t check email until AFTER I finish the first task. And I don’t let small tasks take priority over the important. My phone is literally on  “Do Not Disturb” mode.

This one change has revolutionized my work productivity (and you can learn more about productivity in this monster post)

Do less, get more done


Chop the unessential from your life. It makes the stuff you keep far more powerful.

  • We burn ourselves out when we don’t take the time to actually recharge our batteries, so take time off.
  • Be unavailable when you’re not working.
  • When you’re on vacation or spending time not working, embrace itStay away from your computer, don’t check email, and spend time with friends and family.

These moments of “not busy” allow us to be WAY more efficient and productive during our work days and lives.

Next week brings us a new free 6-Week Challenge on Nerd Fitness, and I can’t wait to get back at it.

I hope you do the same. The next time you are overwhelmed, take a few minutes to do less. Or hell, do nothing at all.

What if you can’t do nothing for 15 minutes? How about 2?

Your turn: What’s one thing you can eliminate from your life right now that will allow you to do less? What’s one thing at work you can do to focus your mind and actually get the important shit done ON TIME?

Let’s hear it in the comments!


P.S. - If you’re interested in coming to Camp Nerd Fitness, grab a spot soon! We’re down to fewer than 9 spots left!


photo source: Addison Berry: Priorities

]]> 32
9 Mistakes Skinny People Make Trying to Get Bigger Mon, 08 Jun 2015 14:33:51 +0000 I’ve been trying to get bigger for as long as I can remember.

It started when I was 17, days after being cut from the basketball team. What began as a simple quest to pack on a bit of muscle and feel a bit better about myself eventually evolved into a love of health and fitness (and ultimately, Nerd Fitness!).

We receive a few emails every day from skinny men (and some women) who are trying to get bigger. As a former very skinny guy, I’ve made all the mistakes one can make over the past twelve years.

In the past 18 months, after a decade of making inconsistent progress, I’ve cracked the code, and figured out how to finally gain some muscle. I’m still not big by many people’s standards, but I’m the Incredible Hulk compared to where I used to be.

Make sure you’re not making these mistakes!

1. Not Eating Enough

Lego BBQ Paleo Bacon Preparation

If you’re not getting bigger, you are not eating enough.

This one solution will account for 95% of most skinny men and women who are looking to get bigger. When I started lifting, I spent 5-6 days a week in the gym following a bodybuilder workout routine from various fitness magazines.

Over the next six years (end of high school and all of college), I put on maybe five pounds total, even though it felt as though I was eating a lot.

Turns out, I was eating 500-1000 less calories per day than I needed to stimulate muscle growth.

It wasn’t until after college that I finally cracked the code, simplified my workouts, and doubled the amount of calories I consumed and I was able to put on about 15 pounds in 30 days. This is back in 2006:

Steve 2006 Before and After

I didn’t put the weight on a healthy or sustainable way, but after six years of struggle, this experience solidified the connection between diet and getting bigger. It finally made sense.

If you don’t eat enough calories, you won’t get any bigger.

If you aren’t getting bigger, you probably aren’t eating enough calories.

If you’re trying to gain, the moral of the story is: when in doubt, eat.

(I highlight some of my favorite techniques in my “How to Get Bigger” article. Hint: liquid calories are your friend, slowly add more calories until your stomach gets used to it, and when in doubt, eat more.)

2. Setting unrealistic expectations


We live in a world of instant gratification.

Just as people have unrealistic expectations thanks to marketing when it comes to weight loss (“Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”), people also have unrealistic expectations when it comes to NATURALLY building muscle as well (Scientists don’t want you to learn this trick to pack on 40 pounds of muscle!”). These ads are designed to sell supplements, not get you bigger quickly.

We cover this extensively in our “how fast can I naturally build muscle?” article.

The short version is: In optimal conditions, you’ll most likely only be able to put on 1-2 pounds of muscle per month (or less). Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t make tremendous strength gains — just not overall muscle mass.

What this means: stop setting your getting big goals by the week or month. It’s time to think in terms of months and years.

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Muscle isn’t built in a matter of days or weeks. It’s going to take time, and it’s going to take patience. But you can get there!

3. Not having a solid plan


You need a plan. A plan that is balanced, and provides you with big movements that stimulate growth all over your body.

If you just wander into the gym without a strategy, you’re going to struggle to get bigger. It’s better to pick a basic plan and stick with it for months and months and months, than jump around from week to week chasing the newest shiny object.

Here’s the easiest way to put it: get freaking strong at the following movements, eat enough, and you will get bigger:

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Overhead Presses
  • Rows
  • Pull-ups (weighted)
  • Dips (weighted)

What plan to follow?

  • Many people start with Stronglifts 5×5 or Starting Strength, which are both great programs.
  • I started with Stronglifts, then moved into more of a hybrid program (similar to the workouts featured in the Nerd Fitness Academy.
  • If you’re not ready for barbell workouts, start with bodyweight. 

Which one of them? Honestly, any of them will work – you just need to start, and stick with it for months at a time, focusing on getting stronger with each movement.

4. Not doing enough

lego workout

If you are trying to get bigger, you might not be doing enough in the gym or in the park to stimulate muscle growth.

No matter what, you need to be doing heavier weight, or doing more repetitions in order to challenge your body, breakdown muscle fiber, and force your body to rebuild stronger.

Yes, you can get bigger doing just bodyweight exercises - take one look at BarStarzz on Instagram or gymnasts – these dudes have built their muscle through years of intense bodyweight training. However, you must be scaling these exercises constantly to make them increasingly more difficult, which many people struggle to do.

Just doing more regular push ups, bodyweight squats and pull ups is a good way to get conditioned, but after a certain point, it most likely won’t produce muscle growth without increasing the challenge. Once you can do more than 10-15 reps of an exercise in a single set, you need to increase the challenge.

I detail this during my “stay in shape while traveling” post, in which I packed on a few lbs of muscle while ONLY doing bodyweight exercises.

I started by doing just pull ups and dips. Now I’m up to doing pull ups with 60 pounds on a weight belt, and dips with 70 pounds on a weight belt.

I used to just do ring pull ups, now it’s muscle ups and gymnastic complexes like this and this. So, YES it can be done! You just need a solid plan that allows you to consistently push your muscles further.

5. Going too quickly and getting injured


In the age of instant gratification, we always want more, now now now.

Over the past decade, I followed a terrible cycle:

  • Try to get bigger. Eat lots of food, and put on some weight.
  • Ramp up my workouts too quickly.
  • Sustain some sort of injury from trying to do too much.
  • Take a month off to recover.
  • Start back at square one.
  • Repeat the process.

Have patience.

Start out with easy weight, and get a teeny tiny bit better every single day.

Even though I have some back issues, I’ve crawled my way to a higher deadlift the past 18 weeks.

Back when I started deadlifting again, I kept thinking “I can do more! I can go heavier!” – but I patiently forced myself to go just a tiny bit further than the week prior.

As Lee Haney says, “Exercise to stimulate, not to annihilate.”

6. Not following a sustainable strategy

Plan A B

Just like losing a bunch of weight by running on a treadmill and starving oneself is not sustainable in the long term, neither is making yourself miserable for a month just to pack on some size. As soon as you go back to “normal” you’ll lose all of your gains!

For me, I’ve found that eating the same meals every single day, getting enough sleep, and training four days a week for about an hour each time is sustainable for me. As a result, I’ve been able to make consistent progress for the past 18 months, and my new “normal” is progress and strength improvements!

If you can’t work out six days a week for the next year, DON’T!

Start with twice a week, doing a basic program, and dump the extra time you would have spent training into eating more or getting more sleep. If you can train three days a week, that should be MORE than enough to make you bigger. Remember, if you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough!

It might take you 6+ months longer than if you went all-in and did nothing but eat and lift all day every day, but you’ll actually KEEP the progress you’ve made rather than giving it all back.

7. Not making it a priority


After telling myself “I want to get big and strong,” I realized that for much of the past decade, it wasn’t really a priority.

I put work, messing around on the internet, video games, and going out and drinking before my training. Over the past 18 months, I made it a point to see what I could accomplish if I made getting bigger and stronger a priority.

I ate extra meals even when I wasn’t hungry. I rearranged my work schedule so I could get all my training sessions in. I hacked my productivity so I could get more done in less time. I said “no” more often to staying out really late and drinking. I made fitness a priority.

Is this truly a priority for you?

8. Sweating the small stuff


Bicep curls! Forearm curls! Calf raises! Should I target all three heads of the triceps muscle? I see the big guy over there doing 8 types of bicep exercises – should I do what he’s doing? Does chest day need to be bench, incline bench, decline bench, cable chest flys, dumbbell flys?

Should I do 6 sets of 8 reps or 5 sets of 5 reps?

Forget all of that stuff!

If you want to get bigger, focus on getting stronger in one of the few big, basic movements. Once you have a solid foundation, then we can start targeting specific isolated muscle groups like the bodybuilders do.

Back to the basics (noticing a theme here?):

  • Squats
  • Deadlifts
  • Bench Press
  • Overhead Presses
  • Barbell rows
  • Pull-ups (weighted)
  • Dips (weighted)

“But where’s my bicep curls, tricep extensions, ab work, etc.!?!?!”

ALL of those muscles get worked incredibly well with the above exercises, so don’t worry about isolating. Instead, just get strong. When you can lift heavy things or complete intense bodyweight exercises, your body needs to adapt.

Let your body worry about getting bigger.

9. Not recovering enough


I used to pride myself on not needing a lot of sleep. I also used to be dumb, apparently. Since putting a focus on getting bigger and stronger, I’ve had to considerably up my sleep time.

When you strength train, your muscles break down and need to rebuilt over the next 24-48 hours. Sleep is a key part of this process. Without it, your body can’t recover, and you can’t grow.

So make sleep a priority! 

Here’s how to not suck at sleeping.

My last 18 months

I’m really proud of what I’ve been able to pull off over the past 18 months, and I’m excited to see what the next 18 months bring.

Here are two recent photos to highlight how I’ve transformed over just the past six months.

  • Photo on the left: October 1st, 2014. 171 pounds
  • Photo on the right: May 1st. 194 pounds

The best part is that it was all done in a healthy, sustainable, natural way:

Before After October 1 - May

Do you have any questions for me? Have you had success as a skinny dude or lady and made great progress? Have you struggled your whole life with being skinny and still can’t seem to crack the code?

Let me know how I can help!

-Steve (former skinny guy, future Captain America)


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In Case of Emergency, Follow This Workout Strategy Thu, 04 Jun 2015 13:43:13 +0000 “Aw hell. I’ll get back on track when things settle down.”

Whether we have a sick kid who’s keeping us at home, or we go on a trip that’s crazy and our schedule is all over the place, or even just a stressful few weeks at work trying to hit a tight deadline, our personal health tends to be the first thing that goes out the window when the shit hits the fan.

And then we have our first day back to exercise. Ugh. We feel like crap, we have ZERO momentum, and getting back into the gym feels like walking into the depths of hell. On top of that, we’ve put on weight, our strength numbers are down, and we feel like we’ve backslid by months in mere weeks.

Well, I say NO MORE!

Today I’m going to give you an emergency plan to follow that will allow you to weather any storm, endure weeks of chaos, and get back on track with minimal backsliding.

Use this in case of emergency.

The Emergency Diet Plan

Veggie Spread

When the shit hits the fan, our first thought is to abandon any healthy plan we had in mind.

Late nights in the office revolve around pizza and subs, vacations revolve around strawberry daiquiris and junk food, and a sick kid or being sick ourselves means we’ll eat whatever we can get our hands on.

Because diet is 90% of the battle, the BIGGEST wins we can snag while everything else is chaotic is to keep our diet in check. Here’s your emergency escape plan:

1) Make sure every calorie counts. Sure, we know that not all calories are created equal, but every calorie counts. Would it be awesome if you ate chicken and broccoli and kale while things were going poorly? YUP. Is that gonna happen? NOPE. So do the best you can.

Just because you have access to three meals a day plus snacks does NOT mean you need to eat all the things, all the time.

  • Swap out sodas for water.
  • Swap out grilled veggies as your side instead of fries.
  • Practice portion control, where you don’t eat the entire meal. Eat slowly, and dump salt on it after you’re done.

Consider skipping breakfast! It’s called intermittent fasting, and it’s how I lost 5 pounds while traveling for three weeks and eating poorly. I strategically missed certain meals to keep my daily calorie count in check.

2) Alternate healthy and unhealthy meals. When we eat poorly for breakfast, we think it ruins the whole day and causes us to eat like crap for lunch and dinner too. Stop it!

  • If you eat a bad lunch, eat a good dinner.
  • If you eat a bad dinner, opt for a healthy breakfast (or no breakfast).

One bad meal doesn’t ruin you for weeks. It’s when you let one bad meal ruin the next one, and the next one, and the next one. So snap out of it. Alternate healthy with unhealthy. Even if you can only make ONE healthy choice, it’s better than nothing.

3) Time your bad meals. I always do an intense strength training workout right before meals where I’m going to eat poorly. When you strength train, you break down your muscles and they then rebuild themselves slowly over the next 24-48+ hours.

While your muscles are rebuilding, they’re pulling from your most readily available calories to make that process happen. Like the ones you just ate.

Conversely, when you eat poorly and don’t exercise, those calories have really no other option but to be stored as fat.

Now, what should that workout look like?

The tread water workout

SteveUnderwater Running

Below, you’ll see a list of exercises. If you only have time for one exercise, pick the one at the top. If you have time for #2, do the next. If you have time for #3, do ‘em all.

But that (1, 2, and 3) should be your whole workout. This should take you about 15-20 minutes, and you can do it 1/2/3/4 times per week depending on your schedule. What’s important is that you do it at least once per week.

These movements work every muscle in your body, recruit extra muscle fibers, and tax your nervous system in a healthy way, and keep you alert, fit, fierce, and strong. Feel free to print out the following PDF to bring with you on your next trip, or to have ready for the next emergency.

Depending on your situation, pick the Weight Training or the Bodyweight Routine.

Emergency Workouts Weight


Exercise #1: LEGS

Alternate each workout: Squats / Deadlifts: 3 sets of 5 reps at a weight that is challenging.

Exercise #2: PUSH

Alternate each workout: Overhead Press / Bench Press: 5 sets of 5 reps at a weight that is challenging.

Exercise #3: PULL

Pull ups, dumbbell row, or Bodyweight rows: 5 sets of as many reps as possible.

Emergency Workouts Bodyweight

Bodyweight: Pick one from each category.

Exercise #1: LEGS

Squats: 3 sets:

Exercise #2: PUSH

Push ups: 3 sets:

Exercise #3: PULL

Pull ups or rows: 3 sets:

You can download the bodyweight graphic here (right click save as) and the weight graphic here (right click save as).


Alternate sets of exercise #2 and #3 if you are in a big hurry. If things are really desperate, I’ll go into a gym or park and just do the following:

  1. Pull ups: as many as I can in one set
  2. Push ups: as many as I can in one set
  3. Repeat #1 and #2 for 5 circuits.

You’re your only hope

star wars

Shit happens… oftentimes for weeks and weeks. During that time, every calorie counts, every meal counts, every rep counts:

  • If you only have time to do a few lunges while you’re taking care of your baby, that rep counts.
  • If you can only do one pull up on various structures while walking around on vacation, they count.
  • If you crank out 50 hungover push-ups before you head out for the day while on vacation, they count.

Scrape and scrap for every rep you can get, whenever you can get them. They count, and they add up.

Make one healthy decision per day in your diet, and find time to do at least one INTENSE strength training session per week (or many small ones like explained above).

Conserve energy during the chaos, minimize any backpedaling, and allow yourself to hit the ground running again once you can focus on your health.

What about you? Have you found a way to minimize the damage during a chaotic stretch in your life? Any tips and tricks you have will help SOMEBODY in the Rebellion – after all there’s at least 270,000 of us :)

What’s your “in case of emergency, do this!” plan?

Share it in the comments!



photo source: mac_filko: jedi, Wajahat Mahmood: emergency keys

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What’s the deal with GMOs? Are they ACTUALLY unsafe? Tue, 02 Jun 2015 15:56:20 +0000 BOOOO GMOs!

Down with Monsanto!

These days, it’s quite popular to hate on Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs for short. From genetically modified crops to genetically modified animals, mentioning the term GMO is like discussing the intricacies of Soylent Green or a dystopian future in which everything sucks and we’re ruled by robots.

Like aspartame, GMOs have been widely banned and labeled as dangerous and unhealthy. This stuff is all over the news lately:

However, with us being both fans of the Paleo philosophy AND skeptics at Team Nerd Fitness, I too questioned my own personal anti-GMO bias and wondered: am I just falling in line with public opinion? What does the science actually say? Are we part of a marketing campaign, or is there truth to what’s happening?

If we’re going to question EVERYTHING, as the Rebellion Rules say, can we question scientific advancement as well?

Let’s don our sleuthing caps, Sherlock, and find the truth!

Quick note: I’m not a doctor or scientist, just a nerd dedicated to helping people find out what works for them. I have zero connection to ANY companies mentioned in this article. This post is GMO-free.

What does GMO actually mean?

GMO Protest

You’ve probably only started hearing about GMO foods in the past few years, but we’ve technically been modifying our food for as long as we’ve been domesticating plants and animals (i.e., the agricultural revolution 10,000+ years ago).

Anything from picking the strongest or fattest animals to breed, to planting seeds from the best plants, to cross breeding dogs to get cuter versions of our four legged friends, we are genetically modifying (“artificially selecting”) an organism to best suit our needs.

This happens WAY more often than you’d realize. Now, rather than type out a confusing explanation, I want you instead to watch this video from Neil Degrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist, host of the amazing COSMOS miniseries, and professional nerd.

Practically everything we eat or interact with has been genetically modified at some point in the past 10,000 years:

Now, what you’re probably thinking is: “Steve, that’s not what I’m talking about – I know we pick better fruits to plant and try to breed the best animals! I’m talking about the evil scientists creating modified things in a lab.”

That’s explained here in this handy dandy chart from the FDA:


Ultimately, it means that you’re changing the DNA of an organism to hopefully make it genetically superior, resistant to something that could harm it, or allow it to grow bigger/stronger/faster/etc. Back in the day, this meant picking the crops that survived a drought and planting them over many seasons, or cross-breeding certain animals over many generations.

Today, the process is sped up: a.k.a. artificial genetic engineering, which is the direct manipulation of genes using biotechnology. There are many types of plants that have been artificially genetically modified and available for widespread sale:

  • Alfalfa
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cotton
  • Papaya
  • Soybean
  • Sugar beets
  • Summer squash
  • Zucchini

Each of these plants have been modified in some way to make them stronger, pesticide resistant, or yield greater amounts of food.

“93% of corn grown in the U.S. in 2014 was genetically modified. This includes 76% of corn that is both herbicide resistant and pesticide producing, with the remainder engineered for only one of those traits. 94% of the soy grown in the U.S. in 2014 was engineered for glyphosate resistance.”

If GMOs concern you, if you’re eating processed foods then you’re almost certainly eating GMOs: “Experts said 60 to 70 percent of processed foods on U.S. grocery store shelves have genetically modified ingredients.”

Now, obviously if you’re a Paleo diehard, then you’re already not consuming Corn or Soy, but you still might be consuming genetically modified Zucchini, Alfalfa, or Summer squash.

So, now that you know what GMOs are, let’s find out if they’re evil.

What the science actually says


It’s easy to make a leap from genetically modifying plants and wondering “where does it end?” How far will companies go in the face of profit?

We imagine evil scientists in a laboratory messing with nature and creating new products, all in the name of a bigger yield, more food, and more profit. And yes, as fans of the Paleo Diet, we like to see people eating more real foods and less artificial, processed ones.

As pointed out in this phenomenal answer on Quora, fact and fiction are quite different when it comes to history and companies like Monsanto: “People are lazy and people want history to be easy, approachable and quick. They want our good guys to be all good and our bad guys to be all bad.”

We take something incredibly complex like GMOs and slap a one-sentence truth to it that is easy (they’re evil), and any viewpoint that states an alternative is viewed as “idiotic, dangerous, or wrong.” In reality, like ANY company or any product, Monsanto (and others) are neither good nor evil, and not all GMOs are created equal.

When I looked into this question, I quickly came across a recent Pew poll had the following results on “Are GMOs generally safe to consume?”:

Scientists from the American Association for the Advance of Science: 88% say it’s safe.

US Adults: Only 37% say its safe, while 57% say it’s unsafe.

So, my next question was, what do scientists know that the general public doesn’t? As pointed out in this LA Times piece:

In 2003, the International Council for Science, a nongovernmental body representing more than 100 national science academies and dozens of international scientific unions, reviewed 50 independent and authoritative studies. It concluded that the GMOs Chipotle banned this week “are safe to eat.”

In this EU document with a decade of funded research on GMOs, the following is presented: 

The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research, and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than e.g. conventional plant breeding technologies.

Finally, in one of the most comprehensive studies of GMOs ever conducted, with nearly 30 years of data representing more than 100 billion animals, found that GMO feed was nutritionally equivalent to non-GMO feed on animal health. 

But, we can’t swing too far in the other direction either. With all of the seemingly comprehensive evidence above, and numerous GMO objections, what’s a nerd supposed to do?

What we think

Microscope science

Just as we look to see the reason behind the fear-mongering or decisions being made, here are MY thoughts at Nerd Fitness on GMOs.

When it comes to Pepsi removing aspartame from their Diet Pepsi and Chipotle removing GMOs from their food, we are being targeted with these buzzwords to sell more products.

This is the same mentality behind a lot of the products that are sold to us:

  • Sour Patch Kids candies are labeled as “a fat-free food” as if it’s a healthy benefit.
  • Lucky Charms are labeled as being “made with heart-healthy whole grains.”
  • “Organic” cookies are still cookies loaded with sugar that can expand our waistline.
  • Items like muffins/pancakes/pasta/pizza being made gluten-free does not necessarily make them healthier.
  • A 1500-calorie burrito from Chipotle without GMOs isn’t automatically healthier than a 1500-calorie burrito with some GMO ingredients.

I’m sure Pepsi will laud its new non-aspartame formula as healthier despite studies saying it’s no different: they’ll switch to a different artificial sweetener that doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that aspartame does.

If I was a stockholder in Chipotle, I would applaud Chipotle’s decision to move away from all GMO ingredients. They have positioned themselves as being a healthy brand, and 2/3rds of the general public views GMOs as unhealthy…these changes can only help their business and further distance them from “unhealthy” alternatives.

Even Kraft Foods recently caved to popular pressure, certainly not for health concerns, but because they noticed a significant decrease in their sales and needed a new buzzword to change things up. So did Pizza Hut and Taco Bell: recently saying they’re getting rid of artificial ingredients.

So, what’s the bottom line, and what do we do?

Right now GMOs are a little bit like organic cookies; more about the fad (and fears) than legitimate health concern. However, this is a hugely complex topic, and there’s a lot more to think about than health, such as environmental concerns, intellectual property, international development, biodiversity, and more. Plus, current studies don’t tell us much about future developments.

There are places to find a negative view on GMOs (like here and here at Mark’s Daily Apple, a great Paleo resource), but even they point out “To date, it’s true that there exists no conclusive hard evidence that GM foods are dangerous to people.”

Is it possible that future genetically modified organism might create health or environmental issues down the road? Absolutely – we don’t have a crystal ball and only time can tell. All we can do is look at the foods and science we have now.

The bottom line is: Use your noggin, question everything, and look at the big picture.

Think for yourself

magnifying glass

After all, it’s pretty obvious that one can scare the crap out of anybody about anything with the correctly crafted marketing campaign.

Don’t believe me? Let me warn you about the dangers of water:


Obviously this is poking fun at the fear-mongering that is all too commonplace these days, but what’s one to do? We need to think for ourselves, and understand that what we’re being taught and sold are decisions almost certainly made with the bottom line in mind, not altruism.

Science and research has shown that GMOs aren’t quite the villain they’ve been made out to be (and could potentially help solve major world hunger and nutrition crises).

We understand that so many people think GMOs are unsafe, even when most scientists in this area have achieved a consensus. But, one of the Nerd Fitness Rules of the Rebellion is to question everything (and that includes us!).

So, no matter what YOU believe - make sure you don’t allow yourself to be sold a particular point of view without checking it out for yourself.

At the end of the day, we want you to be happy and healthy, and it starts with not being deluded into making decisions based on marketing.

Campaigning against GMO corn in the name of health, while stuffing your face with unhealthy (but GMO-free) food is missing the point. If you’re interested in changing your health and/or losing weight, it starts with consuming fewer calories, and consuming more real food (vegetables and solid protein sources).

Keep your attention on these big wins, not gluten-free food (unless you have an allergy) or GMO-free food.

I have a hunch this is going to result in a LOT of discussion, and I’m sure a few emails that call me a GMO-apologist, science noob, dangerous, or just calling me mean names (not that anybody would ever do that on the internet), so let’s try to keep things civil in the comments:

What are your thoughts on GMOs? Like many others, before I started this article I was opposed to them, simply because everybody else was. I now feel more educated, and have shifted my stance a bit – there are more important healthy changes for me that I am concerned with for myself and my fellow Rebels.

[dons flame-retardant kevlar suit]

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


photo source: Donna Cleveland: Monsanto Sign, Daniel Arauz: Greens, Miljopartiet De Gronne: GMO Protest, University of Liverpool: Microscope, Nic McPhee: Magnifying Glass

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Too Lazy To Work Out? Try Temptation Bundling Thu, 28 May 2015 16:17:16 +0000 “Damn you Netflix, how did I just watch 12 episodes of House of Cards! I have stuff to do!”

We’ve all been there. There are the things we know we SHOULD do, the things we NEED to do, and the things that we WANT to do.

More often than not, the WANT wins out over the NEED and SHOULD.

It’s like trying to win a tug-of-war against a tractor pulling in the opposite direction. It’s why you struggle to get to the gym after a long day of work. It’s why you opt for Taco Bell instead of taking the time to cook a healthy meal.

Today, we’re going to give you a quick life hack that can help you start leveling up your life and actually get things done that need to get done!

What is Temptation Bundling?


I bet you’ve said the following: “Before I can watch TV, I need to exercise.” And yet, TV ends up winning over exercise almost all the time, especially if it’s after a long miserable day at work.

So, instead of “if I do this, then I get this” What if we combined the two into one epic activity?

That idea is called “temptation bundling,” a term coined by Wharton Professor Katy Milkman: ultimately, you combine something that needs to be done with something you want to do.

She describes the idea in a paper entitled: “Holding The Hunger Games Hostage at the Gym: An Evaluation of Temptation Bundling.” The goal is to get us to do things we need to do by combining them with things we want to do, removing the “either/or” temptation and getting us to ACTUALLY do stuff!

Participants were randomly assigned to a full treatment condition with gym-only access to tempting audio novels, an intermediate treatment involving encouragement to restrict audiobook enjoyment to the gym, or a control condition.

Initially, full and intermediate treatment participants visited the gym 51% and 29% more frequently.

Long story short: the people in the study who were told they could listen to addictive audio books only while working out visited the gym 51% more frequently than those who were just told they should exercise more.

Here’s some Nerd Fitness examples:

In love with the show Arrow? I am, and I want Stephen Amell to be my best friend.  Don’t say, “I can only watch Arrow after exercising.” Change your phrasing, and try this instead: “I can only watch Arrow WHILE exercising.” Bring your iPad or Laptop to the gym, and only watch particular shows while you are on a treadmill, walking, or using the elliptical.

Addicted to Clash of Clans on your phone? Only allow yourself to work on your clan while at the gym, in between sets of deadlifts. Same goes for looking at stupid Buzzfeed links on Facebook: only while resting in between squats!

Maybe you can only listen to Serial or Tim Ferriss’s podcast while walking, doing a particular work task, or even completing a chore at home like cleaning or laundry. An hour episode while walking could result in you racking up 3+ miles on your walk to Mordor!

Afraid to try cooking a new healthy meal? You can ONLY listen to a podcast or music in your house while you are cooking. BLAST it at top volume while having fun making a mess trying to cook.

Now, what’s interesting is that although this study teaches us that bundling a healthy life-improvement activity with one you enjoy can help you make a change, the boost can oftentimes be temporary.

The study went on to say that the “allure” of the audiobook + gym combo wore off after a few months, thus furthering the suggestion that you have flip a switch after you get started to “enjoying the journey.” So, although this is a great strategy to get started, it’s not a permanent solution. But that’s fine – we’re going to be using it to build long term habits.

Try the temptation bundle challenge

lego hazmat

If you can implement it properly, temptation bundling can both increase your time spent doing a healthy activity while also helping you limit the unhealthy one.

Want to watch 10 hours of a TV show? I hope you’re ready to walk on a treadmill for 10 hours!

Now, you might be saying, “Steve, doesn’t this make the fun activity less enjoyable and the exercise/health portion less efficient?” 

Kind of. Sure, I would love it if you went to the gym, completed a kickass workout, ate a healthy meal, and then got 8 hours of sleep.

However, this isn’t Imagination Land, and I know the best workout plan is the one you actually complete. This is infinitely better than the perfect workout plan that makes you say “meh, I’ll start tomorrow.”

So what do we do? We use temptation bundling to get us started, and then use drive to keep us going. When we build interest ih the activity itself, we shift our focus from “I’m enduring this workout” to “I can’t wait to see how much better I am this week.” The change can become permanent.

Here’s a temptation bundle that I’ve implemented recently: I love to play video games, and oftentimes get lost in them for hours.

Because gaming is generally a passive activity, spending 12-straight hours slouched on a couch is NOT good for my back!

So I’ve created a temptation bundle when it comes to gaming:

I can ONLY play video games when I am standing, or doing the grok squat. Standing for 12 hours or squatting for 12 hours will certainly pose a challenge, so I will certainly do less marathon gaming sessions, and I’ll spend much less time slouched on a couch as well. I figure if I’m going to game I should at least work on mobility and movement simultaneously!

Your turn: what’s one activity that you love to do, and one that you know you should do more of? And how are you going to implement this strategy TODAY to your daily routine? Here are some other rapid fire examples:

  • Are you studying or getting some work done? Get your favorite sugar-free coffee drink/food item/snack only when you are doing it.
  • Try walking outside (or a cardio machine) – that’s now the only time you’re allowed to browse your favorite website, subreddit, or social media.
  • Try pairing chores like ironing, doing laundry, or cleaning dishes while watching your favorite tv shows or a new movie you’ve been waiting for.

Your turn! Let’s give away a free t-shirt (by the way, we’re having a sale on a few items in the NF store).

What’s one temptation bundle you are going to combine and start TODAY? Leave a comment before 11:59 PM next Thursday the 4th, and we’ll pick a winner at random to get a free Nerd Fitness Shirt.


PS: In case you missed it last week – we announced a few more coaches for Camp Nerd Fitness, including Michelle Tam of Nom Nom Paleo! We’re down to 12 of 300 spots left – hope you can join us :)


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