Nerd Fitness » Blog Level up your life, every single day. Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:07:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Make Curry Stuffed Sweet Potatoes Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:59:54 +0000 This is a guest post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

How many times have you stood in the kitchen in front of a pile of ingredients and thought: “I have no idea what I’m doing”?

Believe it or not, I feel this way a lot. (Don’t tell Steve!) About 90% of the time, I eat the same meals over and over again: cans of tuna with smashed avocado, scrambled eggs and bacon, baked chicken breasts and broccoli, lettuce wrapped burgers and baked sweet potatoes, etc..

Unless I’m whipping up a new recipe for The Rebellion, I rarely try anything new. When I’m tired, cranky, and hungry, I don’t want to have to think too hard about where my next meal is coming from.

Sound familiar?

We’ve had a few requests from you awesome Rebels asking about adding Asian-inspired cuisine to your cooking repertoire. I have a feeling that a lot of us nerds are into Asian food — I know I am. But we don’t get to eat it often because it’s packed with sugary sauces, processed thickeners, and in general, stuff we know works against us in our quest to get strong and stay healthy.

So today, we’re going to try some Indian flavors.

Francisco M Taj Mahal

Indian food fascinates and intimidates me. Garam Masala? Curry? What are these spices and where do they come from? This is something I was never introduced to growing up.

For me, this recipe was 100% new. Something I never even thought about cooking before. If I can do it, you can do it. Trust me.

In fact, it’s a lot like Steve’s Chicken Stir Fry recipe – a level 1 recipe.

Curry sounds like something fancy, exotic, and intimidating to make in your own home. But honestly, the only thing that may appear to pose a challenge is gathering the spices. They’re things that might sound a little weird, but I’ve been to a couple of different grocery stores, and to my surprise, they were readily available. If you can’t find one or two of them, that’s totally fine. Just replace it with a little extra curry powder!

A quick note to all you Indian food connoisseurs out there…because I have never cooked or eaten much curry in my life, there are likely a few top secret spices and tricks that I’m missing out on to make the Best Curry Ever. If you aren’t an Indian-food n00b like me, please feel free to share your tips/tricks/super secrets in the comments!

Ingredients and Equipment

Cook Time: 30 min
Prep Time: 10 min
Serves: 4


2 chicken breasts (about 1lb or .45kg) – Boneless and skinless is good! We’ll be cutting these into 1″ cubes.

4 large sweet potatoes

1 yellow onion

2 cloves garlic, minced – These are the little guys inside the big bulb (or 1/2 tsp [2.5ml] pre minced garlic).

2 tbsp (30ml) olive oil – We’ll use 1 tbsp to stir fry the chicken and the other 1 tbsp to stir fry the veggies and spices.

1 tbsp (15ml) curry powder – Find this in the spice aisle. Pro tip: Spices are often organized alphabetically.

1 tsp (5ml) coriander – Also find it in the spice aisle.

1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cumin – Again, spice aisle.

1/2 tsp (2.5ml) cinnamon – You guessed it… spice aisle!

1/8 tsp (.61ml) red chili flakes – You are becoming well acquainted with the spice aisle, aren’t you?

1 can (14.5ml) tomatoes – Look for a BPA-free can or a box!

1/3 cup (79ml) coconut milk – I use the kind in the can. You can usually find this in the ethnic or Asian foods aisle.

1/8 tsp (.61ml) salt


Frying Pan

Spatula or Spoon – for stirring while cooking


Cutting Board - plastic is best for chicken, but any kind will do. Also, make sure to sanitize your cutting board and knife well after cutting raw chicken on it!

Bowls – for measuring your ingredients

Measuring cups

Measuring spoons


1. First we’re going to cook the sweet potato. The fastest way and easiest way to do this is to cook it in the microwave. Poke it with a knife or fork several times (careful not to poke your hand), place it in the microwave, and if you’re lucky, your microwave will have a button that says “potato”. Push that one and hit “start.” If not, cook the potato for 5-8 minutes.


When the potato is done, it’ll be super hot, so you can leave it in the microwave for now. Okay, now let’s get down to the real cookin’!

2. Prep all your ingredients! A lot of people who are new to cooking are not great at multitasking in the kitchen. This is okay! The more you cook, the better you’ll get at it! If we prep our ingredients before we turn any heat on, we’ll have everything ready so that there’s less of a chance of burning your food, ruining your meal, and giving up cooking for all of eternity. So, consider steps 3-5 prep steps.

3. Cut your chicken into 1 in to cubes. Your chicken should look about like this when it’s done:


4. Dice your onion. (Refer to paleo shepherd’s pie for a refresher on how to dice an onion).


5. Measure out the rest of your ingredients. That means spices, garlic, and coconut milk. Open your can of tomatoes. If you’re using carrots and cauliflower, cut these up as well. Also, measure out your peas.


6. Now it’s time to turn on the heat! Pre heat your frying pan for about 5 minutes.

7. Pour 1 tbsp (15ml) olive oil in your pan and let it heat up. This takes about 10 seconds.


8. Dump all your chicken in the pan (if your pan is small, you may want to do this in a couple batches).


Stir fry the chicken until it is cooked through. This will take about 15-20 minutes. The outside of the chicken will look toasted brown and you wont see any more pink in the meat. “Stir fry” just means cook on high heat in oil, stirring frequently.


9. When the chicken is browned, remove it from heat and set aside.


10. Place your pan back on the heat and pour your second Tbsp of oil in it. Tilt the pan to coat. (It’s okay if you don’t clean the pan before you do this).


11. Add your onions and stir. If you’re using more veggies, now would be a good time to add them.


Let them cook 3-5 minutes until translucent. They also might look a bit yellow because they’re picking up all the leftover chickeny flavors. This is totally fine and definitely delicious.

12. Now, add the garlic, tomatoes, spices, and coconut milk. Stir well.


13. Return the chicken to the pan, mix it in and let simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the chicken is warmed through. Add about 1/4 cup (59ml) water to the pan and stir if the the liquid is evaporating quickly. (You probably won’t have to add water if you put a lid on the pan while it’s simmering.)


14. Remember that sweet potato from earlier? It should be cool enough to touch now. (If it’s too cold, warm it up for 30 seconds – 1 minute more.) Take it out of the microwave and cut it down the middle.

15. Spoon some of the chicken curry into the middle of the sweet potato and serve!


And that’s it! Looking to change it up a little? Try one of these variations!

  • Want more veggies? I suggest 4 carrots, 1/2 a head of cauliflower, finely chopped, and 1 cup (236ml) of peas. Broccoli or eggplant would probably also be great.
  • Crave more spice? Add some more red pepper flake, a dash of cayenne pepper, or 1/2 of a jalapeno pepper, minced!
  • Want even more flavor? Use fresh ginger, grated (I use a cheese grater. Be careful with your fingers! You can also mince the ginger with your knife if you don’t have a grater.
  • Don’t feel like pouring it in a sweet potato? You can whip up some cauliflower rice. Or for less hassle, just roast or steam your cauliflower, and serve the curry along side that.
  • Make it vegetarian! Replace the chicken with a can of chickpeas – drain and rinse them first. Toss them in at the re-warming stage of this recipe.

Adventure for your taste buds!

JD Hancock

To be honest, I was pretty stressed about this recipe because I had never made anything like it before, but I’m super happy that you guys requested that we try something new together!

You reminded me that cooking new things is awesome! As Steve tells us, sometimes we need to do stuff that scares us!

Doing something new in the kitchen can certainly fit that bill.

Here are some tips to help you get over that fear:

  • Find some recipe websites or a good cook book that you trust. (I like Nom Nom Paleo and Civilized Caveman Cooking!) If you know their recipes are high quality, there’s a good chance your dishes will come out tasty every time!
  • Pay attention to what you’re doing. Give your meals 100% of your attention (or as much as you can).
  • Read the recipe at least once completely before you even touch the ingredients. This prevents you from accidentally skipping steps or doing things in the wrong order. Know what to be ready for!
  • Have a back up plan. The other day I totally messed up a super simple chicken and veggie stir fry. (Even experienced cooks have trouble!) Luckily, I had a back up plan so I wasn’t stranded without food. Even if it’s something simple, make sure you always have a back up when you’re trying something new so you aren’t frustrated, stressed, and starving if something doesn’t go perfectly.

What do you do to get over your fears in the kitchen?

What is one of the things you’re most proud of having accomplished when it comes to cooking? 



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!

Photos: Taj Mahal: Francisco Martins, Adventure TimeJD Hancock

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Already Gave Up On Your Resolutions? Congratulations! Here’s Why. Mon, 23 Feb 2015 14:32:47 +0000 Remember those resolutions you made last month?

Me neither. I’m sure you woke up, hungover on January 1st, with visions of yourself one year from now…a changed person. “This year, things are going to be different!…”:

  • I’m going to floss every day!
  • I’m going to exercise 5 days a week!
  • I’m going to eat better!
  • I’m going to play the piano more often!
  • I’m going to sleep more!

Here we are, 8 weeks after January 1st. So, how are those daily habits going? Which ones are you still on target with, and which ones have you already abandoned?

If you’re like most of the world, you’ve probably abandoned all of them! And you’re probably taking it personally, thinking things like:

  • Ugh, I’ve failed again.
  • What is wrong with me?
  • Another year of broken promises.

Yeah, it sucks when you feel like you’ve let yourself down. Even worse, if you decided to make a grand declaration on January 1st on a blog or social media to your friends/family/coworkers, you probably feel like you let them down too.

But, you see, I only have one thing to say: “CONGRATULATIONS!”

Congratulations because from my perspective, you have simply found a method that does NOT work for you. Like any level-headed scientist, you do not get personally offended when your hypotheses don’t pan out. You analyze the data, and then pick a new hypothesis to test.

So, your previous hypothesis:


…did not work. Perfect!

Now, purely as part of your process, you can cross off “change everything about my entire life at once” as a method for you. Or maybe you tried to change just a few things, but didn’t put the right systems in place to set yourself up for success. Or didn’t understand habits. Or didn’t put your focus in the right place.

So, next time, change something. Maybe it’s a big thing, like only changing 1 thing instead of “all the things.” Or maybe it’s a small thing: try a cutting out junk food a little more slowly this time. As we say here on Nerd Fitness, we don’t care that you failed, or that your character died in battle. It happens!

We need you back in the game, and we need you to RESPAWN as quickly as possible. We don’t die. We respawn.

gamers dont die

The faster you can cross methods that don’t work off the list, the faster you can try something new and see if that works.

Allow me to present a few alternative hypotheses:

  • I’m going to change one thing today, and focus on that one thing for the next 30 days.
  • Instead of starving myself and hating my existence, I’m going to focus on eating one better meal each day.
  • Instead of running myself ragged on a treadmill like a gerbil, maybe I’ll try exercise that I actually enjoy instead?
  • Instead of telling myself I’m going to floss EVERY day, maybe I’ll build the habit of just flossing ONE tooth every day. That’s it.

We all struggle when we try to make new changes. We stumble and bumble and fumble our way until we find the exact path that works for us.

Remember, life isn’t a sprint, or a marathon. It’s a Labyrinth (David Bowie not included). 

Hell, it’s taken me seriously 12 years to finally find a sustainable path to consistent strength and muscle gains…and I DO THIS FOR A LIVING!

So stop beating yourself up, stop taking it personally, and most of all, stop sucking the same way each time. It’s not working! Remember, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Get back in the game. Hit start, respawn, and rejoin us.

We’re waiting! Post your respawn message here in the Message Boards and get back after it!

Today is the first day of a new 6-week challenge, a perfect day to try out your new hypothesis of doing less but getting more accomplished.

Continue? 10…9….8…7…



photo source: Carol Vanhook: New Years

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How to Make Friends as a Grown-Up Thu, 19 Feb 2015 14:38:16 +0000 Note from Steve: This is a guest post from my good friend Lindsay Miller, who’s already written about how to deal with the anxiety involved in approaching people and how to be better at small talk.

Today we’re going to talk about the next step: making friends as a grownup! If you’re a shy nerd like me, it can take some real effort – which is why we asked Lindsay to give us her best tips on how to level up our social circle game – Take it away Lindsay!

Being a little kid was kind of the best, wasn’t it? Between mandatory nap time, pajamas as acceptable formal wear, and an abundance of chicken tenders, kids have a lifestyle that can only be called “ideal.”

But all that great stuff aside, there’s one aspect of childhood about which I’ve become even more nostalgic lately: making friends.

About a year ago, I moved to a new city where I knew approximately none people. This is the fourth time I’ve made such a move, but only the first where I didn’t have school or a job to provide scores of people who were contractually obligated to interact with me. Starting from scratch was a daunting prospect, but with a bit of inspiration from some wee humans, I figured out a few things along the way that helped me… and might help you, too.

Today we’re going to learn how to make friends like we did when we were little.

How do you level up from mere acquaintances to actual buddies?

There’s a lot that we big kids can learn from the smaller versions of ourselves, but let’s start with three main lessons:

Lesson 1: Play in the right sandbox


Kids know what they’re into.

Spend five minutes at a playground and it’s clear:

  • the daredevil is happily flinging herself across the monkey bars while she pretends not to hear her parents’ admonitions
  • the future members of the Rebellion are wielding lightsabers cleverly disguised as tree branches
  • the dreamy introvert is spending peaceful creative time under his favorite tree.

Ask your family what you were like as a kid and they’ll tell you: there was probably stuff you liked, stuff you didn’t, and not much in between.

So why, as adults, do we so often do things that we know we don’t want to do? I’m not talking about life necessities like bills and laundry – or horizon-expanding experiences like traveling alone or learning a new skill.

I’m talking about going to a crazy dance club when we’d really rather be at the premiere of The Avengers, or joining a monthly networking group when all we want to do outside of work is talk about anything but work. Think about where you’ll be happiest, most at ease, and have the most to say—then go to there.

Much of the time, when trying to meet new people, we’re encouraged to “just get out and do stuff!” As we consider which things to go “get out and do,” let’s listen to the little kid inside of us and stick with what we’re into. This dramatically increases the chances of us meeting true friends, and decreases the chances that we’ll be miserable in the process.

Careful readers will notice that this is exactly the same principle behind Steve’s suggestion of the best workout planthe one you’ll actually stick with! 

Whether we’re getting in shape or making new friends, it shouldn’t feel like work or torture. And it doesn’t have to. In fact, a group of nerdy strangers who met up for Camp Nerd Fitness last year might normally tell you that they suck at making friends. Turns out, they just needed to be in the right atmosphere:

camp costume party

While “playing in the right sandbox” would be my advice to you at any point in history, there’s truly never been a better time to make it happen than today.

Wherever you live and whatever you’re into, a group or con of likeminded people is often just a few clicks away. Check out or websites/social media covering local events for some ideas that strike your fancy.

Seriously – we’re nerds! Let’s use technology to our advantage.

Lesson 2: Ditch your filter

Steve Ostrich

Something else that’s evident fairly immediately with kids is that they lack the little gatekeeper between brain and mouth, which occasionally informs us, “I SHOULD NOT SAY THIS THING.” 

My niece demonstrated this in an especially salient manner on a recent family trip, when she pointed to and verbally addressed “the baby in [my] belly.”

Two things I should quickly mention:

  1. I was in a bathing suit at the time
  2. I was not then—nor am I now—pregnant.

Having not received the reaction she expected, she quickly followed with, “That’s okay! My belly sticks out, too!”

TO BE CLEAR, I’m not suggesting that line as a go-to method for making friends. But it’s illustrative of something I do recommend, which is saying the things that other people don’t—or won’t—say.

Take for example the following two scenarios, set at a volunteer event:


Or what about these, set at… say, Camp Nerd Fitness:


The reference to “doing the thing” both frames your upcoming request and slightly distances you from it. It puts the semi-awkward act of exchanging contact information up on stilts for a second, leaving you and the person you’re talking to down on the ground together, pointing up at it and chuckling.

While it’s additionally true that there’s a confidence level involved in telling rather than asking, it could just as easily be posed as a question: “What if… instead of just saying goodbye and never running into you again… I do the thing where I get your email and reach out the next time I hear about something fun going on?”

So often we let little connections lapse and fizzle out because each person assumes that the other would reach out if they wanted to… so then neither one does… and then the other doesn’t, either.

Be the one who does. Do the thing!

In my post about small talk, I described the disarming power of quirkiness. The same principle totally applies here. We get so used to the rote, scripted nature of human interaction that when someone dares to shake things up—to say the (nice!) things other people won’t—it’s guaranteed to capture people’s attention.

If this feels like way too assertive an approach for you, here are some lines that are a bit more passive, but still employ the same disarming tactic:

  • “Nice talking to you! Before you go, I’m always down to check out a new music venue or restaurant. If you’re ever looking for a partner in crime, count me in. Wanna be all fancy and exchange info in case we ever have an extra ticket for something?”
  • “You too! I’m new here so I don’t always know all the cool things going on, but I’m an excellent wing(wo)man and I promise not to embarrass you too much if you ask me to join trivia or game night. I might even help you win. Shall we do the thing where we exchange contact info?”

If your reaction to these scripts is, “Ha! They’re weird, but I can dig it,” then give them a shot. If you’re instead thinking, “I still can’t muster up the courage to say anything to someone, let alone these out-of-the-box things, AND THUS I REJECT THEM,” then maybe your style will be to go to the same meetup a few weeks in a row just to scope things out a bit first… eventually working up to smiling and saying hi, and then saying to them the following week, “Hey, I see you at these meetings a lot and figured I should introduce myself. I’m Lindsay.”

But you should probably change that last part. Unless your name really is Lindsay.

[Steve’s note: I had to use this very tactic last weekend to make some new dude friends here in Nashville! A group of us were hanging out and I wanted some new friends, so I just asked for numbers for the next time we’re all getting together for beers. It might feel weird, just ask. Use your 20 seconds of courage!]

Now that we’re playing in the right sandbox and saying the things that others won’t, what else can little kids teach us about forging friendships?

Lesson 3: Mind your Ps and Qs


The lessons we first learned as children about the importance of being considerate are just as relevant to us today, perhaps even more so.

After all, as adults, we’re in charge of our own social schedules, and there’s much more competing for our time. This means every time a potential friend puts you on his or her calendar, he or she is actively choosing and prioritizing you over lots of other stuff. That’s a precious gift, and it should be treated as such!

Be a good friend:

  • Show up on time.
  • Silence and holster your cell phone.
  • Hold the door open.
  • Offer the seat with the better view.
  • Applaud like hell after any and all karaoke performances.

Those five things honestly get you 92% of the way there.

Remember that the sandbox in Lesson 1 works both ways: Are you considering their likes and dislikes when you hang out? You might be indifferent between jogging and cycling, but how does your friend feel? Perhaps you notice they have some difficulty with conversation or they’ve told you they’re shy. Maybe they prefer small groups, or talk-free activities like movies or paintball?

This doesn’t mean that you have to grill him or her with 30 probing questions before every potential hangout, or that you should put your own preferences on the backburner completely.

It’s just a gentle reminder of one of the ways in which we can build a new friendship: “Hey, I don’t take you or your time for granted.” Other examples include offering to give them a ride, listening to and remembering the stuff they talk about, and neither sneezing nor coughing directly in their face.

A little bit of consideration goes a long way, and sets a wonderful foundation on which to build together. In the early days of friendship, not every hangout will be a non-stop festival of laughter and merriment.

But something as small as demonstrating respect for people and the time they’ve chosen to share with you is often the difference between pleasant hangouts that never happen again, and those that blossom into deep, lifelong friendships.

If you are trying to make new friends, say yes to every opportunity that comes along at the beginning – if you consistently say no, they’ll stop asking. Conversely, continue to invite people you hope to become better friends with! What’s that? just thinking about all of this gives you social anxiety? Ramit did a fantastic job writing about social anxiety cures last week.

The game of life


We’ve covered a few tips that will help us embark on new friendships, but I want to share a few thoughts on why I chose this topic in the first place.

In response to my two previous guest posts, I’ve been touched to receive some mail from readers at Some of these were indeed about love and dating, but the other most common theme has been plain ol’ friendship and the challenges associated with finding it as an adult—particularly for those of us who are not super comfortable in social settings.

Thrillingly, I’ve also gotten to hear from people who have put some of these suggestions to work and have seen their lives improve as a result.

Wait a minute. Challenges… attempts… successes… improvement? This is a classic level-up story! How cool to see that as Rebels level up their physical fitness, they also begin to uncover other dimensions of fitness—social, emotional, romantic—that they feel motivated to attain.

And how important to remember that whatever our current challenges are, whatever our goals or struggles, other people are feeling the exact same things. Who knows, your future best friend might be one of them!

What do you think?

What strategies have you employed to make new friends? What do you most struggle with? 


Check out Lindsay on Twitter @RellimYasdnil or send questions/comments at

PS from Steve: Just a reminder! Make sure you are signed up for the Camp Nerd Fitness interest list. We are going to send out event info and booking details soon, and we don’t want to leave you out!


photo source: Jason Tester: Life, Anders Sandberg: Beach, David Mulder: Legos, dhendrix73: Handshake

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Strength and Honor: Why a Strong Nerd is the Best Nerd Mon, 16 Feb 2015 15:12:13 +0000 “Strength and Honor.”

Young or old, big or small, being strong is the best attribute you can give yourself. Just as Maximus Decimus Meridius tells his army in the movie, Gladiator, there’s a true sense of honor that comes with being strong.

It’s no surprise that six months later, when I was cut from the high school basketball team – mostly because I sucked, but also because I was weak – I signed up for a gym membership to get strong. Maximus taught me there was honor in strength, and I wanted it.

Thus began my torrid love affair with strength training. Here I am, twelve years later, more enamored with being strong than ever before.

Whether you’ve never done a push up or you live to deadlift, you plan on running a marathon, or you simply want to be a better parent to your kids, being strong is the best gift you can give yourself.

It needs to be part of your existence as a nerd, and I am going to tell you why.

Strength lets you take back control


“I have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect.” – Henry Rollins.

As Nerd Fitness began, a friend shared an article with me by the musician and fitness fanatic Henry Rollins. I think I read it three times straight, and have re-read it monthly ever since.

Iron and the Soul” is one of the best, most amazing things I have ever read when it comes to fitness, and I highly encourage you to take 5 minutes now to drop what you’re doing and read it.

I’ll wait :)

Done? GREAT. Although strength training is the best tool we have that can help us transform physically, it’s the mental challenges and changes that come along with strength training that truly make it an absolute staple for human existence.

Strength training teaches us about ourselves. What we’re capable of. Where our weaknesses are. What we can overcome with persistence, practice, and patience.

If life is great, or if it sucks, it’s easy for us to blame it on anything and everything – and most people do. Strength training teaches us that obstacles and set backs are merely things to be overcome.

And let’s be honest – we’re all nerds - we’re were the ones that got pushed around at school, on the playground…and maybe even still today in the office! We don’t really fit in, and although we’re taught as children to think for ourselves, why does it feel like being ourselves is frowned upon once we grow up?

Welp, you know who else is weird?

Thor.  That’s right. THOR.

You know who doesn’t fit in?

Katniss Freaking Everdeen.

You know who feels like he probably doesn’t belong?

Captain EFFIN America.

Yup, these people are weirdos who don’t belong among regular folks. They’re also badasses and super strong. They’re also in charge of their own destiny, and I know that goes hand in hand with being strong.

Strength training teaches us that we alone are in charge of the results we expect to get out of life. Nobody can lift the weight for us; there’s nobody to blame if we don’t get that job, and there’s no excuse that can change what’s happened.

Once we understand that our transformation is 100% in our hands, we can get to work picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and being better. 

It’s easy to feel like the deck is stacked against us – that everything is going wrong –  that we have lost control and things are falling apart. My best advice for you is: Get strong.

Everything that has gone wrong might not be your fault, but it is your responsibility – so focus on fixing one thing in your life that you have 100% control over.

Strength Changes YOU and your outlook on life


In every success story we’ve ever shared on Nerd Fitness, there’s something amazing that happens when the person gets strong.

As they developed strength, they started to build confidence.

And once they proved to themselves that they could transform their physical situation, they started looking at other areas in their life that they wanted to fix. Full of confidence and a sense of personal responsibility, they get to work on fixing other parts of their life or attacking challenges they never thought they’d be able to:

  • Saint got in shape for his wedding, then changed jobs and built his own app company – designing our entire Paleo Central app!
  • Staci got in shape and got strong, and now works full time for Nerd Fitness.
  • Anthony dropped 200 pounds, and then moved cross country, took his dream job and started dating after years of lacking the confidence to try.
  • Bronwyn lost a ton of weight, and now competes in freaking powerlifting meets!

In every situation, a Nerd Fitness Rebel focused on fixing one thing: getting stronger and eating right. As a result, they built momentum and then asked themselves “What’s next?” Strength training become a part of who you are – not a 90 day plan, but a LIFE plan. So, it’s no surprise it was easy for them to adopt and apply those same principles to any other obstacle in their life.

“I got a little bit stronger and more confident each day; why don’t I try that same tactic with [aspect of my life that I want to improve]?”

Strength training will change you at the most fundamental level. Just as it changes how your cells deal with energy (“use to build strength” vs. “store as fat”), so too will it change how your brain attacks obstacles.

Get strong, and old roadblocks start looking like mere speedbumps.

Strength Makes Life Easier


A strong nerd is a healthy nerd.

No matter what activity you are trying to accomplish today, be it strenuous or mundane, being strong will make it easier, guaranteed. Strength training improves how our muscles, joints, tendons, and bones all operate more efficiently with each other.

  • Carrying groceries in from the car and up a flight of stairs? Do it in one trip.
  • Wrestling with your kids in the back yard? Give them piggy back rides without worry.
  • Playing ultimate frisbee? Jump higher, run faster, stay injury free.
  • Is it “business time“? Leave your socks on, and go for longer.
  • Running a marathon? Strength training will help you stay injury free, improve your time, and give you an extra boost on ‘heartbreak hill.’

As we pointed out in our article about becoming antifragile (my favorite concept of 2014), our bodies work with a “use it or lose it” system. When we don’t strength train and push our muscles and bodies beyond the comfort zone, they get complacent and actually atrophy.

When we use our bodies and muscles regularly in increasingly challenging ways, previous exercises that used to tax us are suddenly no challenge:

  • If you’re used to deadlifting 250 pounds, then helping a friend move a couch will be a cakewalk (sorry for mentioning cake).
  • If you regularly do pull ups, then hanging from the jungle gym with your kids will make you look like super mom.
  • Hike regularly with a backpack up mountains and hills? Going for a walk with kids in a stroller will be a walk in the park (especially if you are walking through a park).

Seriously, almost everything we do suddenly becomes more enjoyable, and less strenuous as a result of strength training. Strength training improves fundamental human movements, like sitting down in a chair and getting up (squats), or bending down and picking something up (deadlifting). It’s everywhere!

The only bad part? Your friends will now be 100 times more likely to ask you for help when they need to move.

Strength Will Transform Your Appearance

barbell woman

“Appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

As I formulated the idea for what would become Nerd Fitness years ago, the movie 300 took over the internet and everybody wanted to know how the actors got in such great shape for their roles. It turns out they trained as if they WERE warriors, focusing on intense strength training with a disciplined diet.

The man who trained them, Mark Twight, said what has forever shaped how we view health and physique here on Nerd Fitness: “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

From that moment forth, how Nerd Fitness helped people get healthy was built around this foundation:

A strong body is a body to feel confident in.

We care about helping people get strong, because we know what happens to bodies that become strong – they transform, Optimus Prime style, into something that helps build self-confidence, momentum, and pride.

The best part about strength training? It teaches your cells how to deal with calories differently. If you just eat less, your body will start to pull from muscle along with fat to fuel itself. When you strength train, your body uses extra calories to rebuild those muscles, encouraging them to stay strong.

On top of that, strength training can help fix your posture! Pull those shoulders back, stand tall, look people in the eye. It’s amazing what this can do for how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you.

Strength training is the reason why these NF rebels altered their appearance (Click on their pictures for their stories):

Staci Nerd Fitness Before/After


saint transform

Before After Anthony

Athena Progress - Front

Yes, beauty is on the inside. However, strength training can help transform you both inside and out. Not only that, but it can freaking make you smarter too.

Strength keeps you younger, longer

ben before after

Age is only a number.

We all assume that as we get older, our cells deteriorate and thus we feel older. However, there’s plenty of science out there that suggests our cells deteriorate from lack of use, and thus we ‘get older.’

If for no other reason, strength training needs to be part of your future because it will keep you younger, healthier, more alert, longer.

Strength training can help negate the effects of OsteoArthritis.

Strength training helps with older folks with dementia.

Strength training helps keep you healthy by preventing falls, accidents, and other common issues as you age.

Do you think Willie Murphy feels 77-years old as a powerlifting grandma?

Do you think Gandalf feels like a 2,000+ year old wizard as he’s twirling his staff and kicking the crap out of orcs? hell no!

Age is only a number, and you are only as old as you feel:

we are designed to be strong


There’s a lot of great things that have come with the advancement of society – however, now that our survival is no longer tied to our strength, it’s no longer something ‘required’ of us.

But we are genetically designed to move. To be active. To be strong. It is IN our DNA, and it needs to be awoken if you want to become the healthiest, happiest, strongest version of yourself.

Plus, it’s in our nerd-DNA. Did you know strength training makes us smarter nerds? Memory benefits.  Less anxiety and improved cognition. Improved test scores.

I don’t care if you start with just a few push ups and squats getting up from your couch. The sooner you start strength training, the sooner you can reap the benefits and retake control of your future.

I strength train because I want to find out what I’m capable of. I want to know how strong I can become. I want to set an example for all other Nerd Fitness Rebels. I want to prove to myself that with enough time and focus, anything is possible.

I strength train because I believe it’s my responsibility to become the best version of myself. Anything less than that is unused potential and a missed opportunity, and I have no desire to look back upon an existence unlived and say “what if?”

I plan on living a long time, and I know that the best way to live a long healthy, happy life, is to be strong, and push myself to become stronger. I can’t wait until my next workout.

Your turn. Why do you strength train? Leave your comment below and share it with the community!



photos source: James Jordan: Superman

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There are no extra lives. Make this one count. Thu, 12 Feb 2015 14:27:28 +0000 Lives Remaining: 0

Before I started Nerd Fitness, I worked for a company called Sixthman, which produces floating music festivals. Although I no longer work for them (and even have a full team here at Nerd Fitness now), I still attend one event every year without fail:

The Rock Boat, a floating music festival where you spend five days with music fans and 25+ bands.

It’s my one chance every year to truly disconnect, reflect, and embrace my love of music. While at sea, I received word that one of my former co-workers from Sixthman had passed away due to complications from surgery for lung cancer (despite never having smoked a cigarette in her life). Tiffany was only 31.

Here on Nerd Fitness, I often talk about how we don’t get to pick the “level of difficulty” we have to play on in the game of life. Some people get to play on “Easy” while others have to play on “Legendary.” Tiffany played on a level two steps above Legendary, forced to deal with a tremendous number of issues throughout her life, never once failing to sport a smile or positive attitude.

She simply played the hand she was dealt to the best of her ability, smiling ’til the very end. She never complained or asked “why?”

It broke my heart, and I am really going to miss her.

It’s a shame that it generally takes a tragedy to remind us how short and unexpected life can be, and that we need to enjoy every day. The stark realization is that in order to live our lives fully and happily, we have to remember we have no extra lives.

This is it.

Did you enjoy your story?


As Gandalf the Grey taught us, “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.”

I receive emails daily from people who are in crappy situations or are unhappy about the path they’re on, and my advice is generally the same:

You MUST find a way to be happy today, because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

If you are in a crappy job, start looking for a new one today (or make your own). If you are in a crappy relationship, get out of it. If you are friends with people who drag you down, fire them and move on.

Yes, all of the above is easier said than done. Somebody once told me “You can make excuses, or you can get what you want. But not both.” The first time I heard that it felt like a slap in the face – a brutal wake-up call.

If you’re not interested in getting what you want (i.e., continuing to be unhappy and making excuses about why change won’t work), you’re filling yourself with untapped potential, regret, and “what if?”

YES, it is morbid to say, but the “Lives Remaining” counter in our game is ZERO. We could get hit by a bus tomorrow! Or find out that the one thing we all take for granted – our health – is taken from us at a moment’s notice.

So, be happy today. 

Here’s how I found to do that: Make your life about the story, not about possessions or bank accounts. I’m not telling you to quit your job and move into a tent in the mountains (though I’m not saying don’t do that if that will make you happy!).

What I AM saying is that every day is an opportunity for adventure, happiness, and improvement…or another day of being unhappy and unfulfilled. We spend so much time on shit that Just. Doesn’t. Matter, when we should make sure we spend that time on the important stuff.

You can start by making sure you spend time with people who fill up your brain with stories that start with: “Remember that time we…. I’ll never forget it!”

Whether it’s a quiet night with friends enjoying a beer and swapping stories, playing a board game, or climbing a freaking mountain in a foreign country, we need to take advantage of the fact that today is a damn good day to be above the roses. If you can fill your day with adventure, improvement, and gratitude…you’re on the right path.

Although I’ve linked to this video more than a few times on the site, I couldn’t help but share it again in case you haven’t seen it. This will be the best five minutes of your day:

Joy Remains


Just a few short days after the Rock Boat, I got to be the best man at the wedding of my best friend Cash, whom I’ve known since first grade, and have been on so many incredible adventures with.

We’ve shared so many memories nobody would ever believe. Cash was the travel partner that joined up with me for many of my crazy-ass adventures around the world.

As I was putting together my speech for the newly married couple…I couldn’t help but think back on my previous week on the Rock Boat, my friend Tiffany whose light burned out far too soon, and how fortunate I am to spend another day alive and well. Here’s what I said:

“In my brief time on this planet, I’ve come to learn a few things. Although we don’t get to pick how much time we get to have, we do get to choose two things:

  • Who we spend our time with.
  • What types of stories we have with those people”

Although Tiffany’s life was cut too short, I’m grateful for the time I had with her, and the lessons she taught me about playing life on Legendary. I’m grateful for my friendship with Cash and the ridiculous stories we’ve had together.

There are so many things we take for granted, but none more-so than our health, and the time we have left. We can control one, and we have no clue about the other…so make sure today is an opportunity to go to bed saying, “I lived today right.”

I have two quests for you today:

  • Pick up the phone, and call a friend or family member you’re grateful to have in your life, and let them know you’re glad he/she is in your life.
  • Do one thing today that reminds you it’s a great day to be alive. Whether it’s playing music, going for a hike with your dog, starting to plan a big trip, or grabbing dinner with a friend you haven’t seen in a while. Do something billions of people would give anything to have the chance to do again.

Cash, thanks for the adventures and letting me be a part of your wedding.

Tiffany, thanks for everything you’ve taught me – you will be missed.

As the my friends in Gaelic Storm say, “here’s to one more day above the roses.”



photo source: Darla Hueske: Sunflower, kilgarron: jump, William Warby: 1up

]]> 64
Captain America Teaches Us Why Old School is the Best School Mon, 09 Feb 2015 15:58:06 +0000 “New workout designed to target your stomach and obliques!”

“Revolutionary new supplement that speeds up fat loss!”

“The recent discovery about optimal performance scientists don’t want you to know!”

It seems every day, there’s a new workout plan, piece of equipment, or plan to get you more in shape than ever before. It usually involves BREAKTHROUGH technology, a scientific discovery, or patent pending workout strategy that is gripping the nation. These things make me laugh (and weep) for humanity.

It’s no wonder we act like cats chasing shiny objects, with our brains being subjected to this all day every day. These products and systems aren’t designed to actually get you healthy – they’re designed to target your insecurities and make the companies MORE money – until they create the next break-through to get you to spend more money.

Today I’m gonna share some harsh truths about the trend of mainstream modern fitness, and encourage you to see through the bullshit… and start thinking old school.

Here’s your soundtrack for the day (old school hip hop for the win).

It’s time to think more like Captain America, and less about what the latest and greatest is. (Yes, I see the humor in the fact that he was turned into Captain America with a super serum, but hear me out!)

It’s time to learn why Old School is the best school.

Reinventing the Wheel


Way back in the day, the first caveman, Fred Flintstone (I assume that was his given name) invented the wheel. He used that wheel to help him transport things great distances.

When it comes to getting stronger and more fit, we pretty much had things figured out as cavemen too:

  • Pick up heavy things occasionally.
  • Move your body weight in ways you move every day (think squats, push ups, and pull ups).
  • Move around at different speeds (walking, running, sprinting).
  • Rest

Those principles are the same principles that will help you get in the absolute best shape of your life today. The problem with these principles and methods of training? They’re boring! They are tough to market, repackage every month, and get you to commit to paying money to learn about.

Which is why every marketer is tasked with trying to reinvent the wheel – not to help you get in better shape, but to sell gym memberships, magazine subscriptions, supplements, and workout DVDs.

Think about it:

  • Every gym you walk into has all the fancy new machines, ellipticals, and equipment front and center. Buried in the back corner is the free weights. The machines and ellipticals break, require maintenance, and are replaced with more “technologically advanced” version every few years with the latest features. The free weights never change and rarely need to be replaced.
  • Every workout DVD has a “special proprietary workout solution” designed to stimulate/annihilate/shred blah blah blah. This is done to get you to buy this workout plan after you bought the last plan. The principles are the same, it just has a fresh coat of paint on it…to sell you the latest craze.
  • Every fitness magazine has “Get shredded with this new secret workout!” on the cover. If they told you to eat better and lift heavy things every week, people would stop reading and buying issue after issue. So they make a few small changes, throw in some nonsense terms, and BAM! “The Secret Workout You’ve Been Missing Out On.”

If you want to see success, start thinking, training, and living like Captain America. The Cap was frozen in time when old school strength, honor, courage, camaraderie, and values were important. In this story arc he’s thrown into a crazy modern world, with questionable morals, crazy new tech, and advancements that make him wonder if we have gone to far.

Steve Rogers continues to serve as a concrete pillar of morality and values – When the world goes to hell, Cap knows what he needs to do, and has his rules and beliefs to fall back on for how to proceed. He trains in an old school way and he attacks problems with old solutions that have worked.

When everybody else is racing to a new secret or advanced whatever, he simply puts on his helmet, reaches way back to how he was brought up, and gets to work.

It’s this faith in the old school process that allows him to succeed where others fail.

Be Old School Like Captain America


Captain America is the poster child for “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Go way back, and you’ll find cavemen climbing trees, moving rocks, picking up logs, dragging animal carcasses back to caves, sprinting from predators, and so on.

Next, we have the ancient Greeks, who trained in “Gymnasiums” to improve their strength and muscle through training. Believe it or not, there wasn’t a single elliptical machine, ab cruncher, OR smith machine present – it was real world movements and competitions among the Greeks to improve their physiques in tribute to their gods.

Have you heard the tale of Milo of Croton? He was said to have achieved the feat of lifting of a full-sized bull by starting in childhood, lifting and carrying a newborn calf, and repeating the feat daily as it grew to maturity. Today we call this progressive overload!

Fast WAY forward to the 1940s and 50s (what’s up Captain America!), the predominant method of well accepted “exercise” for people was strength training!

I’m not surprised that my workouts of today, and those of the most fit people I know (just look at any gymnast or power lifter) are no different from those same workouts of the past. I’m now in the best shape of my life, and my workouts consist of mostly the same movements I’ve been using for the past decade:

  • Squats, front squats
  • Deadlifts, romanian deadlifts
  • Gymnastic ring work
  • Pistol squats
  • Pull ups and push ups.

It ain’t sexy, it ain’t new technology, and it ain’t very marketable. But it gets better results than any of this newfangled nonsense you see on TV. It requires dedication and consistency over a long period of time – which is why you should be putting fitness first.

A strong body is a healthy body, and the methods to build awesome, powerful, functional strength haven’t changed.

I would argue that our pal Rocky Balboa was successful in his fight against Ivan Drago because he chose to train in the old school fashion rather than chasing science and technology. Plus, what a great song!

I’m sure Captain America would be proud of Rocky’s training methods. So how can you train more like Captain America?

  • Stop chasing the latest and greatest. Look backwards to what methods haven’t changed for decades and decades. These anti-fragile training methods produce results.
  • Stop looking for improved technology and quick fixes when old school focused hard work gets the job done.
  • Focus on functional and strong over flashy and showy.Tough to fight Nazis and terrorists if your muscles aren’t built to help!

what would captain America do?


Now, as a man who lived in the 40s and 50s, Cap is probably very confused about the foods and things people do these days. He ate foods that came from animals that roamed free on a farm, fruits and vegetables that came out of the ground, and wasn’t afraid of consuming fat. Sugar – worse than Darth Vader as we know – wasn’t nearly as pervasive back then as it is now.

Fast forward to today, and Captain America wants to punch a hole in the wall for what he sees:

  • Foods loaded with sugar, touting “low-fat” as a healthy option.
  • Processed foods that don’t look anything like actual foods.
  • Diet pills that promise quick results with no effort.
  • Juice cleanses that help with rapid weight loss!
  • A severe lack of products that come out of the ground.

So how can you be more like Captain America? Ask yourself “What would Captain America do?”!

Hat tip to my friend Eric Barker, who pointed this study out:

“We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do.

Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.”

As you are making your decisions on how to eat, how to train or what to do, before you make your decision, ask yourself “What would Captain America do?”

No seriously, before you make your next food decision, ASK YOURSELF what the Captain would do, and then make your decision.

I bet he’d opt for the real food grown in the ground rather than processed through a ton of machines until it’s unrecognizable.

It’s tough to be a superhero when you can’t fit into your uniform!

old school is the best school


“Yeah, yeah, that’s great, but technology has drastically improved our lives, and thanks to some scientific breakthroughs human performance is at an all-time high.”

I hear you loud and clear.

We love technology here at Nerd Fitness, duh. We’re nerds! Whether it’s a Fitbit to track our steps for the day, Evernote to track our workouts, or Zombies Run! app to help us run more…technology can make our lives easier.

HOWEVER, we must first learn to live like Captain America and understand the importance of REAL life, non-technological breakthroughs and success before we start seeking tiny, technology-assisted performance boosts.

After all, do you think a new and improved Captain America uniform would help Steve Rogers fight the Nazis if he looked like this?

Fundamentals first.

Besides, Old School obviously beats out New School:

  • The Ewoks’ old school battle techniques against the Empire on the Moon of Endor (go Ewoks!).
  • Full-fat ice cream vs new “low-fat ice cream” (with way more sugar).
  • Grass fed beef vs grain fed beef.
  • The original Ninja Turtles movies vs. Michael Bay’s abomination.
  • Old school break dancing instead of whatever twerking is.
  • The movie Old School

So, it’s time to make a re-commitment to old school, and a pledge to ask yourself when trouble arises: “WWCAD?”

What sort of old school solutions do you love to implement in the battle against new-school nonsense? 

What solutions have withstood the test of time and helped you succeed?



photo source: JD Hancock: Superheroes, The Conmunity: Shield, Varin: Captain

]]> 35
How Fast Can I Build Muscle Naturally? Thu, 05 Feb 2015 15:25:11 +0000 I get it. We all want to look like super heroes and stars, be it Captain America, Daniel Craig, or Katniss Everdeen. And like Homer Simpson, we want it NOW.

Fortunately for us, there is no shortage of magazines, products, and supplements promising us those results in just a few short weeks/months! UNFORTUNATELY for us, reality doesn’t agree. Yes, we can eventually get the results we’re after…provided we put in the time, energy, effort, discipline, and dedication.

So how DO we get there? For most people – the superhero version of themselves would require a loss of fat and both increase in muscle. We covered the weight loss side of this last week.

If you’ve read that article, then you know our recommendation is usually to start with trimming the fat before we pack on some muscle, which is the focus of today’s article. If you’re a person on the thinner side of average looking to bulk up, this article will cover you too.

Here are some of the most common questions we get that we’ll be addressing today: 

  • How fast can I build muscle?
  • If I’m new, can I gain more quickly?
  • I’m worried about getting too bulky, help?
  • Can I target specific body parts?

How fast can I build muscle naturally?


Under OPTIMAL conditions, you can expect to gain around 1-2 pounds of muscle per month – though we’ve found that for most Rebels, closer to one pound is the reality.

“Optimal conditions” mean that you are eating the right amount and the right kinds of food, AND you are training perfectly for muscle growth (which we’ll explain below). Proper sleep is also absolutely necessary.

This also means you are trying to thread the needle of eating JUST enough to build muscle, but not too much that you put on a lot of fat, too. Yeah, you could go full hulk mode (“dirty bulk”) and just eat anything and everything, maxing out your muscle building… but it’ll be buried under fat, which you’ll have to trim again and restart the cycle. While it is certainly one effective way to gain muscle and strength, we more often recommend fiddling with your diet and training so you can find that sweet spot where you’re building muscle and not gaining too much fat.

All of this to say: Yes, can build muscle, but it will NOT be the crazy amount you read about in the magazines, unless you’re taking Dr. Stark’s super serum (ROIDS!). If you had grand visions of looking like the dudes in the ads you see in muscle and fitness, don’t expect to do so in 90 days with a few days of training and protein shakes.

Remember: Expect 1-2 pounds of month of muscle gain…under optimal conditions.

The one possible exception to gaining strength and muscle fast? Noob gains.

What about Noob gains?


Yes, we’ve all heard the stories of guys that have gained 40 pounds of muscle in two months. Those stories aren’t real.

We’ve also seen all the ridiculous ads about “the workout supplement doctors don’t want you to see” with a guy that looks like Bane.

99% of that stuff is absolute bullshit, so let’s just get that out in the open! HOWEVER, If you’re really skinny, young, training hard, and eating all day every day, as a newbie you can produce results very quickly (ESPECIALLY if you are naturally predisposed to building muscle).

It is possible, in the first year of true strength training with intense focus and dedication, to gain 15-20 pounds of muscle. Combine that with 15-20 pounds of fat gain and you can drastically change your appearance if you started out very skinny.

However, this is rare. (It also requires a LOT of eating – my friend Nate Green packed on a bunch of size for an experiment, and reflects that it was brutal.)

When I started to take strength training, I felt like I was invincible. I even gained 18 pounds in a month, and I foolishly assumed most of it was muscle. But due to taking the supplement creatine (which allows your muscles to hold more water weight), almost all of it was water weight, along with some fat… and then probably 2-3 pounds of muscle!

I’ve since come to learn TEH MUSCLE GAINZ aren’t that easy. Fortunately, that’s only part of what I learned in that month. If you are new to strength training and you are eating right, you’ll not only pack on muscle, but you’ll see some incredibly impressive gains in your strength training:

  • Going from 1 pull up to 3 sets of 15?
  • Adding 100 pounds to your squat?
  • Adding 150 pounds to your deadlift?

I can’t predict what sort of results you’ll see in that first year, but it can be pretty epic if you attack it right! Muscle growth might happen slower than you want, but I expect something different will happen along the way – you’ll fall in love with this idea of building STRENGTH! In fact, getting hooked on progress, and strength training is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

So, if you are young, growing, and brand spankin new to strength training, you’ll be able to pack on muscle at a decent clip. Our goal will be for you to do it in a way that’s sustainable!

Hopefully I didn’t put a big damper on your Captain-America fueled dreams! I just want to set proper expectations so you don’t get discouraged with slow progress, and instead get SUPER encouraged with any progress. Getting strong should be freakin’ fun!

Good? Good! Now let’s build you some muscle!

Okay, How do I build muscle?


We’ve covered this at length in the “Beginner’s Guide to Getting Bigger” but I’ll give you the abridged version:

  • Lift heavy things, progressively lifting heavier things.
  • Specifically include squats and deadlifts and compound movements – they target the muscle building triggers in your entire body.
  • Read through our whole Strength 101 series.
  • Sleep as much as you can.
  • Eat more calories, especially on training days (with plenty of protein and carbs, and vegetables).
  • Repeat month after month after month.
  • When in doubt, eat more than you think.
  • If you put on too much fat, cut back on calories/carbs on non-training days.

The goal here is to thread the needle where we pack on size and muscle but not fat. If we don’t eat enough (generally a problem for skinny people), we will struggle to put on either. However, if we overeat we’ll build muscle and add some fat. We can then trim the fat, if after a few weeks we notice our body fat percentage creeping up.

“But Steve, I don’t have access to a gym – can I pack on muscle with just bodyweight exercises?

Yes, you can pack on size while only doing bodyweight exercises – I did it while traveling the world – and gymnasts train mostly with bodyweight movements. However, this can feel like playing Halo on Legendary difficulty. It can be done, but damn it can be challenging – especially for lower body movements. If your sole goal is to get bigger as fast as possible, access to a barbell for squats and deadlift is almost a requirement.

One note: Our genetics factor in tremendously – some people can put on muscle easily, some people put on fat easily, while naturally thin people (like myself) will struggle to put on either. It’s in our genetics! We can certainly do our best to fight that battle, but it will be a struggle for some more than others.

…But I don’t want to get bulky


“I want to put on muscle, but not too much” shouldn’t be a big worry for you.

However, we get this question a LOT, from guys and girls. In fact, we get it so much from women, we included it in our top 7 myths of strength training for women. Mostly, this comment comes from folks who are new to strength training and fitness, which makes sense.

The unknown is scary, and we’re scared to start something if we’re not quite sure how our bodies are going to adapt. Combine this with mainstream magazines saying things like “lift light weights to tone arms!” and we we conjure up visions of lifting heavy weights producing a Hulk-like response.

Staci Progress

Here’s the truth: YOU DO NOT GET BULKY WITHOUT TRYING VERY HARD TO DO IT! Unless you are training with hypertrophy (increased muscle size) as a focus, have superior genetics, are taking steroids, eating like a horse, and focusing on nothing but muscle size for months/years, you are NOT going to get bulky.

I run a fitness site. I have dedicated my life to health and fitness for the past twelve years, and I have actively been trying to put on weight and muscle throughout that entire time.

I am nowhere close to looking bulky, despite all of my efforts to do so, and dedicating my last 13 months to building muscle and size. Yes, genetically some of us put on muscle faster than others, but even then it’s fractions of a degree, not DRASTIC sweeping differences. We tend to get this question from men or women who are so thin and have such fast metabolisms, they probably need to put on 40-50+ pounds of both fat and muscle, before they would ever even think to use the word “too bulky.”

So, remove this from your vocabulary! 

Get strong. Now.


I want to talk about one final thing: all of the above info about muscle building is true, if you are 100% focused on muscle building.

Your results will vary if you are trying to build muscle while also:

  • Running regularly
  • Doing martial arts
  • Participating in sports that require endurance

Now, all of this information comes with a caveat: do what makes you happy! If you love to run, or play ultimate frisbee 4 days a week, go for it. Just be sure to temper your goals if you’re ALSO trying to accomplish a billion other things too. Just temper your expectations as to what will be possible.

What else can I answer for you about healthy strength and muscle building? I want this article to become a resource for the Rebels who are confused about building muscle so let’s hear your questions! 

We can become superheroes, and we have dozens of stories to prove it :) – just remember it’s going to take time. Attack the problem with the right game plan, and your ascension to superhero status can come a bit quicker.

What do you want to know about building muscle and strength? Leave questions in the comments!



photo source: Jay Springett: Start

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Just How Fast Can I Get the Body I Want? Mon, 02 Feb 2015 14:54:09 +0000 Be honest, you’ve said the following sentence before:

“I want to lose 20-50 pounds, and I’d like to pack on some muscle too…but not too much! Can I do this in 2-3 months?”

I know you have, because I certainly did when I started training.  Men want to know “the secret” to a thinner waistline, but also get bigger arms and chest… Meanwhile, women ask how they can lose weight while getting more toned, without getting too bulky.

If you’ve had those same thoughts, then today’s article is for you.

Today we’re going to dive into these goals, and how to best go about them. Keep an eye out for Part 2 later this week.

What We’re After

toned abs

I know why we have those goals of “smaller waistline and bigger/toned muscles.” 

We’ve been listening to and following the image put forth by the infomercials, magazines, and advertisements –  that in just 90 days with a few workouts (or one key piece of equipment) – we can accomplish everything we want:

  • Shredded, six pack abs!
  • Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
  • Bigger chest and arms!
  • Hot women falling all over you!

For women, the message is only tad different:

  • Lose stubborn “belly fat!”
  • Tone your hips, butt, thighs, arms!
  • Get that bikini body!

Regardless of which camp you fall into, you see these commercials full of professional fitness models and genetically flawless dudes, and then we look at ourselves in the mirror…and we decide enough is enough: we want to look like them!

And here’s a program that tells us we can get there in just 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week, for 90 days. And thus we get started. 90 days later, we’re slightly closer to our goal, but we didn’t build a lot of muscle and we only lost a bit of weight. So we freak out: “those other people got results, but I only lost a few pounds and I don’t have women falling all over me. What did I do wrong?”

Forgetting the fact that I can pretty much guarantee the actors/models in those ads definitely did not use the program they’re advertising to get fit, these programs aren’t even designed with you in mind.

Don’t worry, we CAN turn you into a superhero. It’s just going to mean going about things a bit differently…

Okay, but I want to lose fat and gain muscle…


If you are trying to lose ‘belly fat’ and also get bigger and stronger, it’s incredibly difficult to do both at the same time. It’s just how our bodies work. 

Which then might lead to your next question:

“Well, Steve, I want to gain muscle and lose weight, but I have no muscles and I have a gut. What do I do first? WHY CAN’T I JUST DO BOTH AT THE SAME TIME!?”

Putting on weight (be it fat or muscle) requires eating more calories than you burn every day.

Losing weight requires burning more calories than you eat… so if you have these two goals, it can feel as if you are watching a battle of tug-of-war. If you try to do both at the same time, neither side can get an advantage and you’ll struggle to see any discernible results in either direction.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: For most people, the first thing we recommend is to drop your body fat percentage: put the focus on fat loss (notice I didn’t say weight loss) and maintain the muscle you already have. Once you get your body fat percentage down to a specific level, you can then turn your focus to packing on muscle.

Here’s why we recommend this:

  • Carrying extra body fat isn’t healthy: if you’re already overweight, packing on MORE muscle and fat is going to push you farther away from a healthy body fat percentage (which is our ultimate goal).
  • Build momentum early. Losing weight, for most people, is an easier and faster process than building muscle. When you get rid of the body fat covering up the muscle you already have, you’re going to build up emotional and mental momentum.
  • Create a great starting point: Physiologically, when you get rid of excess body fat and are down to a level that you’re happy with, you can adjust your training and nutrition so that your whole body, all the way down to the cellular level, is now dedicated to a single cause: BUILD MUSCLE!

So, what should your game plan be? Here are a few strategies to drop weight while retaining as much muscle as possible:

  • Focus primarily on Paleo-type foods
  • Eat more carbs on workout days, especially right after your workout (sweet potatoes, fruit, rice)
  • Eat more fat on non-training days (almond butter, avocado or guacamole, nuts)
  • Always eat enough protein (lots of chicken, fish, and a protein shake here and there)
  • Get enough sleep!
  • Consider working out in a fasted state – as explained in our article on Intermittent Fasting.

Combine the above diet advice with three types of exercise:

  • Strength training
  • Walking (or any activity you enjoy that gets you moving)
  • Sprints or jumping rope

When you strength train, your muscles are broken down and need to recover. The calories you are consuming during this period are used to rebuild those muscles and recover, keeping them strong.  When you walk (especially first thing in the morning, in a fasted state), you don’t tax your body enough to need to pull from your muscles’ fuel stores. Instead, you pull from the fat you already have.

Win win win.

ONCE YOU’VE DROPPED YOUR BODY FAT LOW ENOUGH (somewhere between 10-15% for guys, 18-22% for women), you can adjust your diet to consume more calories/carbs on training days and start building muscle – making adjustments along the way.

How much weight can I actually lose?

Athena Final Before and After

For most Rebels who email us, your first step should be to cut down your body fat percentage by combining healthy eating with strength training. If you happen to be super skinny, you can probably skip straight to the “how to get big” article!

Your next question might be, “Just how quickly can I lose the fat then?”

We’ve shared tons of success stories here on Nerd Fitness where people have lost 100+ lbs in a year, and even one story where Anthony lost 200+ pounds in a year.

Before After Anthony

Whenever we post these stories, we receive a few dozen emails from people saying “But that can’t be healthy, to lose all of that weight so quickly.”

Our response is always the same: every person will react to strength training and healthier eating decisions differently. If somebody is incredibly overweight, and they switch to a healthy diet and proper exercise and stick with it for months and months, their transformation COULD be drastic and also completely healthy.

In this nerd’s humble opinion (and I am not a doctor), any day spent 200+ pounds overweight is unhealthy, and the faster we can get a person down to a healthy body fat percentage, the better (provided it’s done in a sustainable, healthy way).

We encourage people to NOT starve themselves, to NOT overexert themselves with exercise, and to listen to their bodies. The Nerd Fitness path involves healthier eating decisions, building exercise habits, and months and months of dedicated work! Depending on your situation, you could lose anywhere from .5 lbs to 5+ lbs a week and be completely healthy. Everybody is different, so if you are concerned about your rate of weight loss, be sure to check with your doctor.

One BIG factor here: If you are strength training and actively trying to preserve the muscle you have, the weight will drop off more slowly than if you solely focused on eating better and eating less and exercising as much as possible at all costs. However, in the long run, we believe most people find this route preferable.

Again, our goal is not pure weight loss. It’s building a body that is healthy and gives you confidence. Don’t just focus on the scale, but the big picture.

What’s really possible?

steve push ups

Here’s the truth: we’re human beings. Yes, we are capable of freaking amazing things, whether it’s Joe transforming, or Saint getting in incredible shape for his wedding, Anthony dropping 200 pounds, or Bronwyn becoming an actual superhero.

Unfortunately, unlike in superhero movies, there’s no super serum we can take to turn us from Steve Rogers into Captain America in a matter of minutes – or even in a matter of months! No matter your desired level of superhero status, it’s gonna take hard work! And a crazy amount of patience and dedication.

Focus on the fundamentals above, be aware of these tricks up the Emperor’s sleeve. 

1) Those magazines, DVDs, infomercials and books are designed to prey on your insecurities about your body, and paint an unrealistic picture of what you can accomplish in a few short months. Not cool! They don’t want to get you healthy; they want to sell products. If they got you healthy AND taught you how to keep going, you wouldn’t need them anymore!

2) Unless you’re a member of the X-men (if you are, let’s hang out), or on steroids, it’s brutally difficult to build lots of muscle while simultaneously losing fat. As explained above, to build muscle, you need to eat a caloric surplus so the extra calories go into muscle building. To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit so your body is forced to burn fat for energy. How does one eat too much and too little at the same time? It’s kind of like trying to thread a needle while riding Space Mountain after eating a gallon of Dippin’ Dots. Not impossible, but certainly no walk in the park.

Fortunately, if you are just getting started with strength training, you can make some SERIOUS strength gains (which is not the same as muscle gains) while simultaneously losing weight. We’ll explain that in Thursday’s article.

3) If you’re trying to lose weight and the scale went up, you probably did NOT build muscle. We get this quite a bit too, from people that are overweight and in their first two weeks of attempted weight loss.

The conclusion they come to, thanks to what we’ve been told, is “muscle weighs more than fat, so I must have put on muscle!”

Building muscle is not as easy as you’ve been told, so it’s likely that you:

  • Put on fat, and ate a caloric surplus. Or, most likely, you:
  • Are carrying additional water weight, or your first weigh-in was in-accurate. Remember, the scale lies. Increased carb/sodium consumption for a few days, menstrual cycle for women, or any number of factors can give you a totally inaccurate starting weight, or progress weigh-in.

If you are overweight, the scale should be trending down if you are eating properly and exercising. If after a month you’re not seeing results, or the scale is going up, we’ll need to make some small adjustments to your diet (look at your total calories and the sugar/grain consumption).

Yes, you can EVENTUALLY accomplish each goal if you have a solid plan to follow, and you’re dedicated. Becoming Captain America, Black Widow, or Katniss Everdeen is possible. It just depends on how badly you want it, and what you’re willing to give up to get it.

I can tell you building a body to be proud of is absolutely worth it, but you’re much better off building that superhero frame one step at a time, instead of all at once!

But I’m ready to see Results now

alarm clock

I hear ya! Look, I would LOVE to get you in killer shape for your wedding in two months and help you lose 50 pounds, and give you a bigger chest and arms (or ‘toned’ arms and legs), and make you look like Daniel Craig in James Bond or “famous action star in big movie.”

Unfortunately, here on planet Earth, in a place we call “reality,” we have to attack this differently than in Hollywood. We’re much more interested in getting you down the proper path, with a strong, solid base, that sets you up for year after year of success (rather than for 15 minutes during a movie shoot).

I want this article to become a resource for the Rebels who are confused about weight loss –  so let’s hear your questions! I guarantee if you have one, there are a dozen others with the same question, too. And remember, keep an eye out for Thursday, where we’ll talk about the other side of this coin: muscle gain!

What else can I answer for you about healthy weight loss? What tips do you have for your fellow Rebels?


PS: We have 650+ free articles and dozens of free workout plans on Nerd Fitness, but if you’re looking for a comprehensive course that covers all of this stuff, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy – level up a character by completing quests and missions, follow the workout plans, and level up your nutrition to get started down the path to life as a superhero.


photo source: Ray Sawhill: Tone your butt, Ray Sawhill: 22 minutes

]]> 80
How to Make Mini Paleo Pizzas Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:40:42 +0000

This is a post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

There is a demon I battle on a regular basis: The Pizza Demon.

Pizza is my favorite food of all time. I am not a college student, nor am I a fourth grader who gets a day off from learning for a pizza party. I am a fully grown adult who just freakin’ loves pizza. I also have a feeling I’m not alone in my love for this particular Italian invention.

But we all know eating tons of bread, sauce, and cheese isn’t going to help us much in our quest to become a superhero (unless you’re a Ninja Turtle).

If you’re looking for an easy paleo alternative to pizza, we’ve got you covered. It’s not a totally perfect replacement, but it might help you get through any pizza cravings (and it’ll help you get more veggies into your day).

Further, this recipe can be made totally vegetarian or vegan (we hear you and we don’t want you guys feeling left out!).

Not only is this recipe paleo and vegetarian, but it’ll boost your confidence in the kitchen. This is a simple recipe that lets the ingredients do the talking:

Choose your favorite pizza toppings, like some good quality veggies, and the smells of them cooking will let you know you’re on the right track.

And don’t let the ingredient list scare you off. Most of these things can be found in the same section of the grocery store (veggie section and pasta/tomato sauce section). If there are too many ingredients, feel free to cut some of them out. If there are things you don’t like, just eliminate them! This is YOUR personal pizza. You add what you want!

Chop some veggies, assemble them atop mushroom “crusts,” and pop them in the oven for 15 minutes or so. No sweat.

You can totally do this.

Ready! Set! GO!

Serves: 2-4 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 32 minutes



4 Portobello Mushrooms – These are the big ones. They come in packages or in bulk. The ones in the packages tend to get slimy and moldy more quickly than the bulk ones in my experience. So if you can, pick your own!

1/2 Cup (118 mL) Tomato Sauce – Jars of sauce are better than cans (unless you can find a BPA-free brand of tomato sauce at your store). But don’t sweat it. A jar of spaghetti sauce will work just fine.

Sprinkling of “Italian spices” – You may have some of this left over from that time you made Paleo Spaghetti. If not, take a stroll down the spice aisle at the store while you’re out.

Red pepper flake to taste (optional) – I like my food to have a little kick to it.

Salt & Pepper to taste (optional).

2 Cloves of garlic or 1/2 tsp (2.5 mL) of the pre minced stuff.

4 Tbsp (59 mL) olive oil – approximately 1 tbsp per mushroom cap.

2 Tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar (optional) – approximately 1/2 tbsp per mushroom cap.

The toppings on your pizza will be completely up to you – it depends on your own preference.

Personally, I like to use a lot of veggies. Maybe you can use this as an opportunity to try something new! Here is a list of toppings I suggest. Add or subtract as you please!

1/2 Cup (118 mL) Spinach – don’t worry about measurement accuracy with the spinach. 1/2 cup is about half a hand full.

1/2 Bell pepper

2 Tbsp (30 mL) sliced black olives – You can find these in cans, jars, or in bulk if your local market has an olive bar.

1/4 Red onion

1/8 cup (30 mL) mozzarella cheese (optional) – If you can handle eating cheese and want to add it to your pizzas, go right ahead. If you’re 100% paleo or avoiding cheese, no problem! The veggies are flavorful enough to make this recipe tasty without it.

Fresh Basil (optional) – Here we’ll just use a few fresh leaves and cut a chiffonade (a fancy French term for cutting mint or basil into ribbons) to sprinkle on the pizza. Because I love me some fresh basil.

Italian Sausage (optional) – Where I shop, you can buy ground sausage in bulk and cook it yourself. They also have sausages of different types in casings for purchase. I would suggest a “Spicy Italian” sausage or a “Chicken Basil” sausage if you want to add some protein to your pizza. As always, check the ingredients list. Applegate Farms makes a pretty clean product.

Important!** Make sure you cook the sausage BEFORE adding it to your pizza. The time in the oven isn’t going to be enough to cook raw meat all the way through.


Cookie sheet

Parchment paper or foil – for lining the sheet to make cleanup easier!

Knife & cutting board – for cutting your veggies.

Spoon – for adding the sauce onto the pizza.

Basting brush - for brushing the mushroom caps with olive oil and vinegar. If you don’t have a brush, it’s not a big deal. You can use a paper towel or a small amount of spinach or lettuce leaves as a brush. You could also use a spoon to drizzle and spread the oil and vinegar onto the mushroom caps. It won’t be pretty or even, but it will work in a pinch.

Paleo Pizza Instructions:

1. Wash your hands and your veggies. Your mushrooms may have some dirt on them. You can brush the dirt off of them off with a paper towel.

2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (176 C).

3. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.


4. If you’re using sausage or another meat, this would be a good time to cook it. Pre-heat a pan over the stove and throw your ground sausage or a sausage link into the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally until there is no more pink visible. Drain the meat and set it aside in a bowl with your other prepped toppings. If you bought sausages in link form, slice it!

5. Turn your mushrooms over and pull out the stem of the mushroom. You can use your hands for this. It should come out fairly easily.

6. Place the mushrooms on your baking sheet. Brush the tops and bottoms with olive oil first and then vinegar.


7. Now place your mushrooms bottom side up and sprinkle your Italian spices, red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.

8. Next, take your minced garlic (refresher on how to mince garlic in this post) and spread some onto each cap.


9. Your oven should be pre-heated by now. Take your mushrooms and place them in the oven for about 7 minutes. This is called par-broiling. We do this because the mushrooms are thick and will take a bit longer to cook than the veggie toppings on your pizzas. Pre-cooking the mushroom caps to about 70-80% of the way done ahead of time will ensure the mushrooms are cooked through and the toppings are not overdone.

10. While we’re waiting for the mushrooms to cook, it’s time to prep our other ingredients.

Cut your bell pepper into slices:


Slice your onion:


Nothing too fancy here. After you peel it, cut 3 or 4 slices and then cut those in half:


If using basil, now is the time to “chiffonade” it:

Stack some of your basil leaves on top of each other 5-6 should be fine. Then roll them up like this:


Then take your knife and slice the rolled up leaves like this:


When you’re done slicing, fluff the shredded leaves with your hands and you’ll have ribbons! Use these on your pizza and as garnish to add flavor and a nice visual finish.


If your olives aren’t pre-sliced, you can slice those too. Mine came sliced already.

When making pizzas, it’s nice to have all the ingredients out and ready to use. I prepped mine like this:


If preparing your veggies takes you more than 7 minutes, that’s totally okay (it took me longer than that). It’s always best to err on the side of slow and safe when it comes to using a knife. Just take your mushrooms out of the oven when the timer goes off and let them cool for a little while you finish prepping your toppings.

11. Once you’ve finished prepping your toppings, move the pan of par-broiled mushrooms to your table with the toppings. If your pan is still hot, set it on a kitchen towel so it doesn’t burn or melt your table.


12. Now, you can place your toppings on the pizza any way you like, but I usually start with the sauce. Spoon your sauce onto the mushrooms and spread it around.


13. Then take your toppings and divide them liberally among your mushroom caps. Tell me those colorful fresh mushroom caps don’t look awesome and delicious!


14. When you’re done adding toppings to your pizzas, pop them back in the oven for 15 more minutes.

Once they’re done, let them cool for a minute or two before serving. I like my pizzas with a side salad.


If the thought of a few miniature pizzas for dinner isn’t enough to satisfy your hunger, it’s totally cool to use mini pizza as a side to your chicken, steak, or other protein option. Or make a legen…(wait for it)….dary! salad to go along with it.



I’ll be the first to admit this recipe isn’t a perfect replacement for regular pizza. There are lots of recipes out there that can give you tips on creating a cauliflower or coconut flour-based crust for a closer, paleo-ish substitute. If you’re into that, awesome! Try it out and tell me how it is!

However, this recipe will give you a less complicated, less time consuming whole-food based option. It’s a recipe you can enjoy making and eating with friends and family. Kiddos love assembling their own personal pizzas! The older ones can help slice and dice and the littles can assemble a masterpiece.

Create positive memories in the kitchen from an early age, and you can help them learn to love healthy cooking from the start!

Try it out and let us know how you like it.

What are some of the food demons you struggle with?
(If you want, please feel free to draw a picture and add it to the comments.)

What methods do you use to battle them? 

- Noel

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!


Photo source: FrogDNA: Ninja Turtles, Stefan: Pizza Delivery Man


How to Make Mini Paleo Pizzas
Recipe type: Lunch/Dinner
Cuisine: Paleo
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 servings
Miniature Paleo Pizzas!
  • 4 Portobello Mushrooms
  • ½ cup (118 mL) Tomato Sauce
  • Sprinkling of "Italian spices"
  • Red pepper flake to taste (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 2 cloves of garlic or ½ tsp (2.5 mL) of the pre minced stuff
  • 4 Tbsp (59 mL) olive oil - approximately 1 Tbsp per mushroom cap
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) balsamic vinegar (optional) - approximately ½ tbsp per mushroom cap
  • ½ cup (118 mL) Spinach
  • ½ Bell Pepper
  • 2 Tbsp (30 mL) Sliced Black Olives
  • ¼ of a Red Onion
  • ⅛ cup (30 mL) Mozzarella Cheese (optional)
  • 4-5 leaves Fresh Basil (optional)
  • ½ cup (118 mL) Cooked Italian Sausage (optional)
  1. Wash your hands and your veggies. Your mushrooms may have some dirt on them. You can brush the dirt off of them off with a paper towel.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F (176 C).
  3. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
  4. If you're using sausage, this would be a good time to cook it. Pre-heat a pan over the stove and throw your ground sausage or a sausage link into the pan. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat stirring occasionally until there is no more pink visible.
  5. Turn your mushrooms over and pull out the stem of the mushroom. You can use your hands for this. It should come out fairly easily.
  6. Place the mushrooms on your baking sheet. Brush the tops and bottoms with olive oil first and then vinegar.
  7. Now place your mushrooms bottom side up and sprinkle your Italian spices, red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Next, take your minced garlic (refresher on how to mince garlic in this post) and spread some onto each cap.
  9. Your oven should be pre-heated by now. Take your mushrooms and place them in the oven for about 7 minutes.
  10. While we're waiting for the mushrooms to cook, it's time to prep our other ingredients.
  11. Cut your bell pepper into slices, slice your onion, and chiffonade your basil if using. If your olives aren't pre-sliced, you can slice those too. Mine came sliced already.
  12. Once you've finished prepping your toppings, move the pan of par-broiled mushrooms to your table with the toppings. If your pan is still hot, set it on a kitchen towel so it doesn't burn or melt your table.
  13. Now you can place your toppings on the pizza any way you like, but I usually start with the sauce. Spoon your sauce onto the mushrooms and spread it around.
  14. Then take your toppings and divide them liberally among your mushroom caps. Tell me those colorful fresh mushroom caps don't look awesome and delicious!
  15. When you're done adding toppings to your pizzas, pop them back in the oven for 15 more minutes.
Shopping List
4 Portobello Mushrooms
1 can or jar of tomato sauce
Italian Spices
Red Pepper Flakes
1 bulb Garlic or a jar of minced garlic
Olive Oil
Balsamic Vinegar
Bunch of Spinach
1 Bell Pepper
Can or jar of black olives (or bulk olives from an olive bar)
1 Red Onion
Mozzarella cheese (optional)
Fresh Basil (optional)
Italian sausage - ground or in links - (optional)

]]> 51
Why You Need to Be Selfish and Put Fitness FIRST Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:44:58 +0000 Imagine what you could accomplish if your fitness came first?

Like famous actors and actresses that get in INCREDIBLE shape for their movie roles, pretend you only had to focus on eating healthy foods, sleeping plenty of hours, and exercising in order to get in peak physical condition.

Would you look like King Leonidas leading the mighty 300?

Or Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games?

Would people confuse you for Chris Evans in Captain America?

It’s fun to think about “what if” - what would we be capable of if we put our training and nutrition over everything else?

Most people would answer the question above with something like “I would end up in the BEST shape of my life…except that’s not possible. You see, I have…”

  • A wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend/OS
  • Kids/dragons/pets
  • A job
  • No money
  • Friends/obligations/etc.

Ask anybody, and they’ll provide you with any and every reason why fitness can’t come first. I get it! Heck, I RUN A FITNESS SITE, and I spent five years not putting fitness first; I would find a way to make some small progress here and there, but ultimately I found myself treading water due to “life getting busy.”

Today marks my 13th straight month of putting fitness first, and I am a changed man. Despite putting fitness before every other aspect of my life, I was able to accomplish more outside of fitness than I’ve ever been able to accomplish.

I feel like my mind has been opened when it comes to what I’m able to accomplish in a day – like Neo cracking the code of The Matrix.

Shall we?

The fitness first philosophy

Yoda and Danbo Fitness Skeptics

Today, I’m going to challenge you to spend the next month putting fitness first.

That’s right, you get to be as selfish as you need to be in order to accomplish three goals:

  • You do NOT miss a workout. No matter what.
  • You consume healthy calories that allow you to reach your goal.
  • You can say no to any obligation that would keep you from getting enough sleep or working out.

When you are trying to build healthy habits, especially if you are going all in, it’s often quite difficult to give yourself permission to “be selfish” when society and your duties tell you “fitness isn’t a priority.”

We all say “I’d love to exercise more,” but the reality is this: it’s not what we say is a priority, but rather what we DO that’s the real priority. This is me giving you permission to give yourself permission to be selfish for a month while you’re getting the ball rolling. Because it’s going to be a challenge to bust through bad habits and societal pressures, this might be what you need to finally build that habit.

Don’t think you can actually put fitness first? Let’s take a look at a few examples:

Work Out

WORKOUTS: You schedule your workout in your calendar each week, and there is NOTHING short of a zombie apocalypse that will keep you from going to that workout (and we even got you covered there). You let your coworkers, friends, and your loved ones know that your workouts come first. At least for this month.

If you are at work and a meeting runs late, or you’re stuck at work because you had an unproductive day, you get up and leave when needed in order to complete your entire workout.

What you think will happen: Your wife will divorce you, you’ll get fired from your job, or your kids will start to ask “where’s dad?” After all, there’s NO way you’ll find time to do all of the things you do currently AND workout, right?

What actually happens: After a week of leaving work on time without everything completed, you learn to stop sucking at time management. You are FULL of energy  from your workouts (much to the delight of your loved one). Your kids are inspired and want to become “strong like mom/dad.” People learn to respect your gym time and don’t bother you during it.

Eat Well

EAT WELL: You need to hit your target calories for the day, and you need to consume plenty of vegetables and protein. If you’re traveling, you have permission to eat at more expensive restaurants that have vegetables on the menu instead settling for fast food. Cooking at home? Take your time and do it right.

What you think will happen: You’ll go broke in three days, you’ll spend ALL of your time cooking, your friends and family will disown you for your unusual eating patterns, and your favorite fast food employees will forget your name.

What actually happens: You spend a bit more money temporarily on eating out, and you spend more time on cooking, forcing you to learn to use systems to manage your time more efficiently so you’re not always going out to expensive healthy fast food. That money can now no longer be spent on shit you don’t need. After explaining to your friends and family your goals, they start supporting you. Your favorite fast food employees WILL forget your name.


SLEEP: Like Tom Brady, you have a bed time you stick to. You have to tell your friends you can’t play League of Legends ’til 3AM. You shut down your computer and TV long before you need to get to sleep so you don’t struggle falling asleep. You stop falling asleep to your favorite tv show. You get 7+ hours of sleep every night.

What you think will happen: You’ll miss all of your favorite TV shows, your friends will hate you, and you won’t have time to play video games. You won’t be able to sleep without the TV; you’re going to miss out on SO much.

What actually happens: You realize that 95% of the garbage you watch on TV is useless, and after a week you don’t miss it. You stop needing a gallon of coffee to get through every morning. You make incredible gains in the gym, better than you ever have before. The circles under your eyes disappear. You start to throw a football like Tom Brady (I’m a diehard Pats fan, if you couldn’t tell). You still have plenty of time to play the truly awesome video games – the ones that aren’t just time-killers.

But there’s no way!

changed priorities sign

I can already see you reading this with MASSIVE eyes and shaking your head and screaming NO like Michael Scott. “Steve, that is freaking ridiculous – there’s no way I can make those things a priority without losing my job and my friends and pissing off my family.”

Honestly, I thought the same thing, until I committed to fitness first and hoped I could fit my life around those things. I’m reminded of the following story, heavily paraphrased:

A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed it was full.

So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They chuckled and agreed it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

When you put exercise and your health first before everything else, after a week or two in which you have to scramble to get everything done, I guarantee you will still find the time you need to get everything else done in your life.

  • Yes, it requires a shitload of discipline.
  • Yes, you’ll probably need to give up a few crappy TV shows.
  • Yes, you’ll need to work on the systems that govern your day.
  • Yes, you’ll need to be more productive at work.
  • Yes, you’ll need to build a batcave.
  • Yes, you’ll need to get your friends and family on board.
  • Yes, you’ll need to let your coworkers know that you need to leave at a specific time.

Yes, holy crap it is worth it. I stand (well, sit) before you a changed man.

Finally, remember – the purpose is to be selfish and put fitness first for a month. Be selfish while you build those healthy habits, so later on, like brushing your teeth, you can live a healthy life effortlessly.

Steve tries “Fitness First”

Steve Fitness Skeptic Goggles

In January of 2014, I was tired of treading water.

Although I was “in shape” – and heard from many people that I was “in better shape than most people, be happy!” – I wasn’t content. I challenged myself to put fitness first and see how it would affect my life.

Since then, I have put fitness first: it has been consistently 3-4 workouts a week, every week, for the past 13 months. I do what I can to get in bed early every night except for the occasional weekend night or epic vacation. I’ve also made eating a major priority (often resorting to a potion for my boss battle). I even stretch after my workouts!

And I’m now in the best shape of my life. Not only that, but (good news/bad news) after working with my friend Baron, I’m starting to hulk out of all the clothes I purchased at the beginning of the year! I stepped on the scale the other day at a weight heavier than I’ve ever seen. As a skinny dude who has struggled to build muscle consistently for my entire life, I’m healthier, happier, stronger, and bigger than I have ever been. The transformation isn’t drastic, but I’m beyond happy with the direction I’m headed.

Here are my photos and a few stats relating to before and after:

Steve Before After

Stats on December 31, 2013:

  • Weight: 179 lbs.
  • Bodyfat: 14-15%
  • Deadlift Max: 265 lbs. – and terrified for my spine.
  • Overhead Press Max: 8×95 lbs.
  • Pull ups: 3 sets of 10 reps

Stats on January 19, 2015:

  • Weight:187 lbs.
  • Bodyfat: 12-13%
  • Deadlift Max: 340 lbs.
  • Overhead Press Max: 3x4x140, and it was easy!
  • Pull ups: 3 sets of 5 reps with 50 extra lbs.
  • Plus, I can do cool stuff like this with rings
  • And these pistol squats :)
  • And this!

Sure, none of these stats are mindblowing if you’ve been training for a while or you’re a professional athlete, but there’s one stat I’m more proud of than anything else:

Days off to recover from injury, pulled muscles, or overtraining: ZERO

For my entire career in training, I’ve only managed to get a few weeks or months into a workout before I get overaggressive or do something incorrectly and injure myself, losing all of my momentum and having to start over. I’m currently making sure every workout is tracked (and I’m answering questions about them) over on the NF Academy message boards, but I’m also in the current 6 week challenge where you can see some workouts, too:

Recent lower body day

Recent upper body day

Because Fitness HAD to come first, the only option was to become more productive and efficient with my time. And I did.

Looking back, I was actually able to accomplish more in 2014 than I had ever accomplished in any previous year: I learned a new instrument (though I still suck!), traveled to Europe and all over the US, and volunteered every Thursday. Plus, I’m dangerously close to completing a secret project for NF! In addition to everything else that happens here at NF HQ.

Fitness came first, with very few exceptions.

The Lessons I learned

Steve Front Lever

Fitness should be thought of in terms of months and years, not days and weeks. I learned this from Anthony Mychal, my online ‘coach,’ and I haven’t forgotten it. Most fitness plans exist to get you ripped in 90 days, or slim in 30 days. I stopped thinking about fitness in short time frames and started thinking long term. Now, it’s part of my day, and I know I’ll be in better shape at the end of 2015, 2016, etc…and it’s completely sustainable.

Slow and steady wins. Getting injured is a huge setback. I spent 10 years taking three steps forward and three steps back when it came to fitness. I would always push myself too hard or not stretch enough, and it would result in me needing to take a month off and losing everything I had just gained. When you are looking to improve each week, it’s much more preferable to have 50 straight weeks of tiny incremental improvement than a few weeks of rapid growth followed by failure or injury. GO SLOW. Check your ego at the door. Remember, you’re at the gym to build strength, not display it!

Put your faith in the process. I stopped worrying about where I was going to be in a few months or how my body would change, and instead just put faith in the process… how to place the next brick. I knew if I slept well, ate enough, and was a bit stronger in my workouts each time, then the pieces would fall into place. As I learned from Mark Twight, “appearance is a consequence of fitness” – I stopped worrying about the scale and just put all my effort into the workout and recovery.

Not all progress happens on the outside. My transformation is nothing like Joe’s. Or Anthony’s. Or Staci’s. However, just as they have transformed physically and mentally, so have I.

  • I used to feel fragile, on the verge of breaking. Now I feel like freaking Wolverine.
  • I used to say “I don’t have time.” Now I realize that’s a bullshit excuse.
  • I used to wish I was capable of certain things. Now I just DO those things.
  • I use to think it was either fitness or life. Now I know fitness improves every aspect of my life.

I have never been more excited to get to my next workout than I am now, and I want the same for you.

Starting today, I challenge you to spend a few weeks building your life around your body, not trying to squeeze in your personal well being around your life.

Can you put fitness first for the month and see what happens?

  • Work Out - For me it was heavy strength training and bodyweight work. But I didn’t miss workouts, even when I traveled.
  • Eat right - Fuel your body properly, as it’s 80-90% of the battle. Get enough protein, carbs, and fats for the results YOU are looking for.
  • Sleep - Stop making excuses, turn off the TV, close the laptop, and get to bed on time!

What sort of objections or challenges do you have for me?

Any questions about how my past year?

And what’s one step you’re going to take today to get started?


PS – Congratulations to Lindsay G., Sydney B., and Joshua E., the winners from the t-shirt giveaway earlier this month! Can’t wait to see what superpowers your new gear brings you!


photo source: mendhak: Yoda

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