Nerd Fitness » Blog Level up your life, every single day. Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:50:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Is Motivation Useless? Thu, 30 Oct 2014 17:50:48 +0000 The day was May 6th, 1954, in Oxford, England.

A gentleman named Roger Bannister did the impossible: he ran a mile in 3 minutes and 59 seconds. For the nine years prior to this race, the world record had stood at 4:01, and it was widely considered that crossing that barrier was outside of human ability.

In just three years after Roger set this new record, an additional THIRTEEN people completed a mile in less than four minutes.

More recently, we saw the same big hullabaloo (what a great word) years ago when Tony Hawk first landed the 900 on a half-pipe. I remember watching this live and thinking it was the greatest thing I had ever seen. Since, then another 9 people have landed the trick.

It begs the question: Was there a sudden increase in ability during the 1950s when it came to running? Are skateboarders getting faster and finding better equipment?

Or, what if it’s something else?

Today I want to talk about self-imposed limits – our capacity to realize what’s possible instead of rationalizing what’s impossible.

Brains over brawn

pinky and the brain

What if I were to tell you that right now, you are physically capable of pushing yourself further and harder than what your brain is telling you.

In 2012, a group of trained cyclists were told to perform a 4k timed trial as quickly as possible, using “all out effort.” That was their only guidelines.

They were then invited back, and in the second trial, they raced a virtual avatar that went the same speed as their first timed trial. The average result for every cyclist was a full 1% faster than their first “all-out” effort.

They were then told to come back a third time, and raced their avatar again, which unbeknownst to them had been sped up to be slightly faster than their original time. Again, these cyclists beat the avatar, improving their “personal best” original time by 1.7%.

So, what’s going on here? 

How did these subjects, who had previously expelled MASS-EFFORT suddenly find more “gas in the tank” and improve their time overnight?

Imagine you’re playing Mario Kart, and you’re racing against a ghost of your previous best effort. Not only now do you know exactly how fast you need to go to improve, but the visual cue is right in front of you, tempting you to push yourself beyond what you thought possible.

I learned all of this through Mark McClusky’s “Faster, Higher, Stronger.” I absolutely fell in love with the content on limitations, fatigue, emotions, and what our bodies are capable of.

For example, Tim Noakes, South African professor of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, hypothesizes, it’s not our bodies that slow down, but rather our brains that control WHY and HOW our bodies slow down:

“Fatigue is an emotion, a construct in the mind that helps ensure that exercise is performed within the body’s ability. That emotion is affected by many factors, such as motivation, anger, fear, memories of past performance, self-belief, and what the body is telling the brain….our physical performance is regulated by the brain, not limited by our hearts, lungs, or muscles.”

Are we capable of more than we realize, and simply need it proven to us? Just as a planet full of runners suddenly realized, “hey, the 4 minute mile IS possible!” These cyclists are up against an avatar that constantly challenges them to go further and faster than they ever thought possible.

Even though they went ALL out, once they had a benchmark to base their own performance off of, they were able to go even further and push their effort beyond what they initially thought possible.

We see this story day after day on Nerd Fitness: Success Stories from people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight that said “I never thought I’d be doing handstands or rock climbing…and yet here I am.”

How are these everyday joes accomplishing and crushing their own limits, and is it the same reason that world class athletes set records and break through barriers?

How can we push our own limits?

Glass ball

I recently came across a fun quote on Imgur (NSFW: language) – that was incredibly thought provoking. Somebody asked how they can get themselves motivated to do more stuff or get things done, and the response was interesting:

“Better to cultivate discipline than to rely on motivation. force yourself to do things. force yourself to get up out of bed and practice. Force yourself to work. Motivation is fleeting and it’s easy to rely on because it requires no concentrated effort to get. Motivation comes to you, and you don’t have to chase after it.

Discipline is reliable, motivation is fleeting. The question isn’t how to keep yourself motivated. It’s how to train yourself to work without it.”

In a nutshell: If you are relying on yourself to “wait to get motivated” to work out, stop it! Stop whining! It’s better to build a system in which you don’t have to rely on motivation… build a system in which you get to race against (or lift against) an avatar that was you from last week. Don’t rely on inspiration; build a system for success – a system to break your own limits.

This quote also reminded me of the most successful people I know, or the people who seem to get more done in a month than most people get done in a life. 

It’s not because these people are more “motivated” than others. It’s because they have built and expect the habit of greatness.

For example, take Cal Newport: computer science professor at Georgetown University, publisher of numerous papers, and author of four books. He gets more done in a day than most do in a week, and yet he stops work every day at 5:30 pm so he can spend time with his wife and family.  How the heck does he get all of this done while also being a full-time professor?

By practicing the habit of greatness.

He plans out his entire week in advance, he makes distractions irrelevant, and doesn’t surf the web at work.

Is Cal more motivated than the rest of us to get things done, or does he have more willpower than mere mortals? Hell no! He just understands how habits are built, and then he’s spent years making these things automatic in his life.

It’s cliche, but Aristotle said it best: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”   Cal simply practices the habit of excellence, carefully honed over years and years.

So what does this mean for people like us? It turns out we can trick ourselves into pushing farther than we think we’re capable of, and we can DO more things than we think we’re capable of.  Like building a bat cave, instead of relying on willpower and motivation to get yourself to exercise or eat right…work smarter, not harder. Or by making the only comparison you can make – and using this avatar of past self to push you to the next level.

And sometimes we need people to push us, to challenge us, to drag us through things we don’t want to do until we realize that we’ve done it.  You know, like Gandalf nudging Bilbo out the door. I bet Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation wouldn’t have completed this lap without the support of his friend Chris:


Just by surrounding yourself with better, more advanced people can hugely impact your own training. John Kessel, Director of sport development at USA volleyball, explains that a disproportionate number of their best players are younger siblings, because “The more you play against bigger kids, older kids, even adults, the better you become as an athlete.”

And sometimes, we need assistance (technology) to help us build these habits of excellence:

  • Self-Control to block time-wasting websites on our computer.
  • Rescue time to track our efficiency.
  • Alarm clocks across the room.
  • A freaking wrist-shock device when we miss our habits.

Notice that none of these examples above rely on motivation or willpower or just being better than somebody else. Instead, they all situations in which outside forces are employed to push us beyond our seemingly entrenched capabilities.

Don’t be outworked


I want to imagine what you’d accomplish if failure wasn’t an option. As McClusky theorizes in his book, especially when it comes to performance, competition, and victory: “the winner is the athlete for whom defeat is the least acceptable rationalization.” In other words, people who are willing to do anything to accomplish their goals almost always end up accomplishing their goals.

Or, in Will Smith’s own words:  “I will not be outworked.” (h/t Derek)

Will Smith

“The only thing that I see that is distinctly different about me is I’m not afraid to die on a treadmill. I will not be out-worked, period. You might have more talent than me, you might be smarter than me, you might be sexier than me, you might be all of those things you got it on me in nine categories.

But if we get on the treadmill together, there’s two things: You’re getting off first, or I’m going to die. It’s really that simple, right?

Not surprisingly, Will Smith is one of the most successful actors out there today. Unfortunately, we’re all not like Will Smith (yet). At some point in our own quests, when we are not willing to make the sacrifices to succeed, we fall into the belief that accomplishing our goals is not possible.

In fact, this rationalization can and will happen for many people before they even try!

My goal with Nerd Fitness is to help you get from the point where you move from rationalizing “it’s not possible,” to “I wonder what am I capable of, and when can I get started!?”  I want to help you get what you want out of life, whether it’s a flat stomach, bigger muscles, self-confidence, and/or a life of adventure.

In my 6 years of running Nerd Fitness, I’ve come to learn that happiness, greatness, and success are not things people are born with, entitled to, or lucked into.

They are habits and practices that have been built intelligently.

Instead of berating yourself when you’re not motivated to exercise, or getting mad at yourself when you struggle with eating unhealthy food, take a step back and look at it from a different angle:

“How can you build the habit of success and put your focus there, instead of chasing the motivation to make it happen?

It’s easy to become ensnared - to chase motivation and fail – or rationalize inaction and never try. Every single one of us has fallen into this trap. I’d love to hear about your experience with this, and how you plan to (or already have) overcome it.


PS: Just wanted to mention Faster, Higher, Stronger again by Mark McClusky (editor of I read this book last week and had a fun chat with Mark who’s a really cool guy. If you’re a nerd about human performance and our capabilities, it’s a super interesting read.


photo pin: Anne Worner: The Art Critic, Khalid Al-khater: Silhouette, David Hawkins-Weeks: Marble, JD Hancock: Pinky & the Brain

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Is a Calorie REALLY Just a Calorie? Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:09:54 +0000 This whole “nutrition thing” can be a confusing, contradictory mess.

Depending on who you talk to, you could get a few different answers on how to approach eating:

  • “I’m Paleo, and only eat meat, veggies, fruit and nuts – boo grains!”
  • “Well I just eat based on my macros (Protein, Carbs, Fats) – Paleo is ridiculous!”
  • “Whatever fools – a calorie is a calorie. I can lose weight just eating less.”
  • “I’m in incredible shape and all I eat is pizza. Hell, I’m a freaking wizard!”

Whoever you talk with, you can get a pretty different picture of what it means to “eat healthy.” To make things more confusing, each of these perspectives are backed up with plenty of anecdotal evidence and scientific studies.

I wanted to cover our thoughts (and yes, my humble nerdy opinion) on this great nutrition debate, starting with the question: 

“Is a calorie really a calorie?”

What is a Calorie?


A calorie, by its simplest definition, is a unit of energy.

It’s equivalent to 4.184 absolute Joules (which is different from 1.21 Gigawatts).

If you really want to nerd out, here’s what that means: 1 food calorie equals 1 kilocalorie, which is the amount of energy needed to raise 1 kilogram of water from 15 to 16 °C.

So, in this sense, just like a pound is a pound and a kilogram is a kilogram, a calorie is a calorie.

But…that really doesn’t help us at all. What we’re really interested in is:

Do different types of calories affect our body differently?

  • Is 1000 calories of twinkies the same exact thing as 1000 calories of grass-fed steak and vegetables? This man lost weight on the Twinkie Diet!
  • Does your body process those foods differently, or is it as simple as “energy in, energy out?”
  • Does the type of food you eat affect your health outside of just weight loss (or muscle gain)?

These questions usually provoke a controversial and heated debate, because we say things like “a calorie isn’t a calorie” or “energy in is energy out” and we all mean different things.

Shockingly, on the internet this has generally devolved into a lot of name calling and angry debates between people who are 100% sure (and will link to any number of studies to prove) their method is the correct one.

But you know that the internet is for people to argue incessantly about anything and everything, so you’re instead here on Nerd Fitness because you’d like to learn something. Or maybe you just like my witty puns and clever jokes?

No? Okay!

So let’s dig into all of this stuff. To start, let’s establish some common ground.

Nutrition 101


Before we dig into the specifics of how calories work, let’s get one thing straight. No matter what your “nutrition philosophy,” how you eat will be responsible for 80-90% of your success or failure.

Long story short: the food you choose (and how much) matters.

As we say in the Rules of the NF Rebellion, you can’t outrun your fork. You could train five days a week, and with an awful diet, you won’t see any transformation in your body…which I’m guessing is a part of the reason you’re training to begin with!

Sure, you could certainly have improved cardiovascular health from running a lot, but if your goal is to transform like your boy Optimus Prime, how you fuel your body will play the starring role.

Exercise is the supporting cast.

When it comes to PURE weight loss (not factoring in muscle vs. fat, body composition, overall health, physical performance, or energy levels), eating fewer calories than you burn every day will be the chief part of the equation.

Eat less than you burn: lose weight.

However, we’re FAR more concerned with how you look, how you feel, if you are healthy, if you are getting stronger, if your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, and if you live a long life full of activity, exercise, and video games.  We want to do everything in our power to help you avoid things like heart disease and type-2 diabetes – diseases that end Game of Life too early.

So, as you’ll see below, we need to focus on the type you foods you eat along with how much you eat.

Ultimately, our goal is to turn you into a freaking superhero.

Let’s take a look at the first big part of the equation.

Are all calories created equal in weight loss?

Tri Plate

Let’s say you’re a typical American dude or dudette (do people use that term anymore? didn’t think so), and you eat anywhere between 3000 and 3500 calories per day of whatever the hell you want. And you want to lose some weight.

Or maybe you eat way more than that, or you have no clue how much you eat, but you know you need to lose some weight.

So you set a calorie goal of 2200 calories and you eat less. You don’t change WHAT you eat, you simply change the proportions of what you eat.

And look at that, you start to lose weight. You might be miserable due to severely restricting your body from the normal amount of calories it expects to eat, but it’s a step in that direction.

When we consume roughly 500 less calories per day on average, burn 500 extra calories per day through exercise, or some combination of the two, you will lose roughly 1 pound (.45 kg) of body mass per week.

As pointed out on, “a net negative energy balance…is responsible for weight loss.”

Notice we said “weight loss” and not “fat loss.”

Unfortunately, this is where things become problematic – many people stop here and assume that you should simply start to eat less, case closed.

But here’s the thing: We aren’t robots… unless you are a robot, in which case I’d like to be your friend when we reach singularity.

We know that our bodies react differently to certain types of foods, as we cover quite extensively in our article on sugar. Certain foods fill us up more than others without being full of calories (oh hey, vegetables), while other foods are loaded with calories but don’t make us feel satiated at all (I see you soda, crackers, and candy!).

Most of us simply do a horrible job of turning off our emotions and desires when it comes to eating. If I told you to eat 2200 calories every day of Mountain Dew, Twinkies, Sour Patch Kids, and animal crackers, would you be able to stop at 2200 calories? It’s no surprise that people struggle with portion control and eating a certain amount when it comes to processed foods.

Remember, these foods are scientifically designed to get you to eat more without realizing itThey are designed to press every button in our brain that says “I NEED MORE OF THIS. GET IN MY BELLY.

It’s why using small plates is so effective at getting us to eat less (without changing anything else). It’s why this study at Cornell found that if they gave people a large tub or a medium tub of popcorn, and then gave them stale popcorn, the size of the tub mattered far more than the staleness of the popcorn in determining how much people ate!

We are not rational creatures.  Certain foods are calorie dense and nutrient light, making us feel like we are starving all day when we have already consumed our daily ‘allotment’ of calories.

Compare that to a diet of just vegetables and tons of meat, and the reverse can happen: we can feel satiated while still eating a caloric deficit, which makes it easier for us to consistently eat less than we burn daily, and thus lose weight.

In our opinion, this is like LEVEL 1 of Weight Loss. If you have a LOT of weight to lose, and aren’t aiming for anything in particular other than weight loss, eating less will get you well on your way down that path.

Unfortunately, the entire story is much more complicated. Are you looking to build or retain your muscle? Have a body composition you are proud of? Have solid energy throughout the day?

Would you rather look like Captain America than be skinny fat? Or look like Scarlett Johansson in the Avengers than be far too thin simply because you wanted to “lose weight”?

Different types of foods have different effects on your body – affecting your body composition and athletic performance.

Let’s go one level deeper…and hopefully stay out of limbo.

Calories, Macronutrients, Body Composition


Okay, so we’ve officially graduated from level one: eat less and move more.

So, this is where the “if it fits your macros” (IIFYM) crew – which kind of sounds like a break-dance crew from the 80s – comes onto the scene, AKA Level 2. The IIFYM theory is that so long as your meals fit your macros (certain amounts of fats, carbs, and protein), you can eat whatever you want.

And, in our view, this is indeed more sophisticated than simply “eat less”: As long as we keep our total number of calories in line with our goals, and our foods are composed of the right macros, you will lose weight. Combine it with strength training, and you will build strength (and potentially muscle), while losing weight.

What does the perfect ratio look like? In our opinion, the amount of calories consumed and the ratio of what the macronutrients should differ from person to person…mostly depending upon their body, goals, and routine.

But no matter what you choose, people following IIFYM calculate the total number of calories, fats, proteins, and carbs in each meal, and then subtract them from their total daily allotment. As the day moves on, they try to make choices that fit what they have remaining. So, for example, if they are supposed to eat 25g more of carbs and no fats – they might opt for something like a banana. At the end of the day, this might feel a little bit like food tetris.

Now, if all of that seems like a lot of work to calculate and track all of our macros and calories throughout every day, we hear ya.  In fact, we’ve found that some people can take this stuff very seriously (and sometimes too far), spending a lot of time stressing out about going over their macro allotment and getting it to align perfectly.  We know people that actually bring a scale with them everywhere to weigh their meals!

But it’s clear that tons of people have found success with IIFYM – it helps get your body the right kind of nturients, and so many have found it effective in achieving body recomposition. IIFYM also goes by the name of “flexible dieting – this is because there is no forbidden foods and thus no “cheating” when you eat something that doesn’t align perfectly with your diet (we also hate the concept of “cheat meals”).

So, if it works, why isn’t IIFYM what Nerd Fitness recommends? 

Remember, our goal is multifaceted: 

  • Look and feel like a superhero.
  • No diets. We want life-long success stories, not 90 day crashes!
  • We want you to actually achieve your goals, not struggle, fail, and start over until the end of time.
  • We don’t want fitness and health to take over your life. Wherever possible, we want to avoid OCD/addiction behavior. Strong body, strong mind.

Yes, we realize that Level 1 is great for many people. We also realize that there are also TONS of people who live in the IIFYM crowd and it works for you.  That is AWESOME!

As we talk about in this article, as long as you are happy with how you look and you are getting a clean bill of health from your doctor, keep doing what you’re doing. It’s clearly working!

However, there is a reason that “Nerd Fitness Nutrition Philosophy” is a bit different than IIFYM. We think that this method actually works for the greatest number of people. Let’s take a look one final step further.

Eating for Health and Success


Welcome to our preferred nutrition strategy at Nerd Fitness.

Although we know and understand that eating less calories will result in weight loss, and that eating the right ratio of macronutrients is an even bigger step in the right direction, we don’t love the time-intensive nature of calorie/macro counting (although we will often ask people to temporarily track calories or macros as an awareness exercise).

Further, IIFYM just wants you to hit your macro targets, regardless of what food items you consume. We believe that the actual foods that contain these macronutrients are an important part of the equation. Is getting 100g of carbs from a vegetable really EQUAL to getting 100 grams of candy? Of course not. A whole host of other factors make the vegetables a far superior option:

  • Consider the fact that candies and processed foods are engineered with the perfect bliss point to make you eat (and buy) more.
  • Or look at the differences in micro nutrients – there is no contest between the vegetable and the candy.
  • It’s not exactly rocket science, 200 calories of different foods can be incredibly different.
  • Finally, look at your energy levels. How do YOU feel after eating it?

Remember, we want to find a way of eating that you can stick to. A way of eating that makes you look and feel great. Something that keeps you out of the hospital and enjoying life at your fullest.

So, if we like the idea of eating less calories, but we don’t love the idea of counting calories and macros every day, how are we supposed to eat less? By focusing on the right KINDS of foods.

We put a focus on eating whole foods, rich full of macro and micro nutrients. The type of food that fill you up, without being jammed packed full of calories. The type of food that make you feel full, but not awful.

So, when we eat carbs, they’re coming from healthy sources, not cans of soda.

Instead of counting calories, try this instead: every meal needs to have 1-2 vegetables on the plate (or about half your plate), and a big protein source. Keep the grains and starches to a minimum, and mindfully eat until you’re satisfied. Add more vegetables and protein when hungry :)

Not losing weight over a few week period? Do some investigative work and track your calories for a few days to see how you’re doing, possibly including your macro intake. Use these few days to make a note of what proper portion sizes of each meal should look like, as well as how the total amount of food for the day feels. Strategies like intermittent fasting might be helpful in reducing the amount of calories you consume without even realizing it! Or, deploy some Jedi Mind tricks on yourself, like waiting 20 minutes before you get seconds so your body has a chance to feel full (longer list of Jedi Mind tricks here).

Here’s the bottom line: We all know that eating less and moving more is quite important to weight loss….and yet we are still more overweight than ever. Just “eat less” might not be the permanent solution we’re looking for, as it doesn’t factor in behavioral psychology and how we crazy humans operate day to day!

The Great Nutrition Debate

No Calorie Mayo

“But Steve! What about macros? You just said it works. And I know plenty of people who have counted calories and lost weight!”

So do I! My friend Leo has dropped a good amount of weight without doing any additional exercise, and has written about it in tons of nerdy detail here.  Now that he’s seen a big chunk of his success from counting calories, he’s slowly shifting his diet to adding in more vegetables and cutting back on some other stuff (while never giving up anything completely).

And there are plenty of people who have lost weight or built tons of muscle following the IIFYM ratio, dutifully tracking calories and macros day to day and eating what they want.

If those options sound awesome to you, AMAZING! Go for it! There are tons of sites out there that love counting calories, sites like Daily Plate to help you with it, and tons of sites that swear by IIFYM as well.

Here’s the thing…although people spend all day arguing about this stuff on the internet, it turns out when you look at what all these “different” nutrition philosophies advocate, everyone pretty much ends up on the same side of the fence for what the best practice is:

  • Eat real food.
  • Eat less processed junk.
  • Be smart when making nutrition decisions.
  • Nothing is 100% off limits unless control is truly an issue.

For example, let’s say you’re a 170 lb (77 kg) dude who is eating to reach your macro goals.  Under one traditional IIFYM formula, this guy needs to eat 215g of carbs, 170g of protein, and 60g of fat.

This is practically impossible if you’re eating twinkies! In fact – it’s almost impossible to achieve unless you’re eating whole foods, tons of protein sources, and vegetables with every meal. Hmmmm, sound familiar?

In many cases, the IIFYM advocate who is vehemently debating with a Paleo or “clean eaters” is actually eating the same foods at the end of the day.

All the while, these two sides are dutifully arguing with each other over which method is truly the best.  

What method is truly the best? The answer is the same as the answer to the question “What’s the best workout plan?” – the one that you’ll actually FOLLOW THROUGH WITH!

For some people, they eat 100% paleo and LOVE it. For others, it’s two weeks of misery before falling off the wagon and returning to old habits.

For some people, counting macros is either the easiest thing ever, or will create an eye twitch on their first day.

So, we don’t get caught up in the “perfect” debate. Perfection doesn’t exist. The perfect diet doesn’t exist; we only care what happens in reality, with real people, who have busy lives, bad habits, and need help.

What I care about is what diet or nutrition plan will result in the following for the greatest number of Rebels:

  • A strong, functional body.
  • A happy, confident person who doesn’t freak out about food.
  • A clean bill of health from the doctor.
  • Life long success!

I’ve been running this site for 6 years, have dealt with thousands upon thousands of unhealthy people who have found consistent success and happiness, and I plan on continuing that trend!

Eat Real Food

Veggie Dish

Welp, in typical Steve Kamb fashion, I managed to take “just eat real food” into a behemoth of an article.

Let’s keep it simple: Our bodies are complex pieces of machinery, and although a calorie might make a simple equation for weight loss, every other factor of “healthy” can be affected by the quality and nutritional makeup of that calorie.

For that reason, we want you to eat real foods, cut back on sugar, and think long term (habits) rather than in short bursts.

I’d love to hear your thoughts:

Have you had success with counting calories or calculating macros, or did it make you go crazy?

Did you go full Paleo and struggle before finding a balance?

Did going full Paleo help your addictive nature, or further fuel that fire?

We’re all still trying to figure this stuff out ourselves, and quality research on these issues is slowly advancing.

So, I’d love to hear from you below. Which methods have you messed around with, and what are your goals? We’d like to know if you’re trying to lose a few pounds, lose a lot of weight, get to a minimal body fat percentage, compete in an elite sport, etc.


Today’s Rebel Hero: Anna L., rockin’ her Nerd Fitness hoodie on her honeymoon in Barbados. Congrats Anna!

Want to be the next Rebel Hero? Send us a photo of you rocking your Nerd Fitness battle gear to 



photo source: Bill Grace: Three vegetables, David Goehring: Waffle, sharyn marrow: three dishes, meg: vegetable dish, amy_buthod: veggies, ray sawhill: dip, Harsha K R: McDonalds, Jeanette Goodrich: Scale

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How to Make Pan Roasted Pork Chops Thu, 23 Oct 2014 13:48:50 +0000 This is a post by Rebel Chef Noel.

I don’t know about you, but where I live, changes are happening. The leaves are turning, the air is a little crisper, and it’s finally cool enough to turn on the oven!

The weather getting colder also means my appetite for warm comfort food is in full effect. Usually, the colder weather means tons of sweet treats and unhealthy meals – but not for Rebels!

Fear not, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t mean we have to give up comfort food all together. We have the power to make hearty meals that are not only delicious, but will also nourish our bodies and make us stronger. Win-win (win)!

I don’t want you go get the wrong impression. When I say comfort food or “pan roasted” it might sound intimidating, but I assure you, this is a level 2 recipe. If you can make paleo spaghetti, you can absolutely do this.

These pork chops take 20 minutes, only need 5 ingredients, and have minimal preparation.

Let’s get started!

Pan Roasted Pork Chops



Active time: 10 min

Total time: 20 min

Serves: 2-3 (depends on how many pork chops you buy)



2-3 Pork Chops -
I suggest buying the thicker ones for this recipe. They look like this:

They’re generally about an inch thick. All pork chops come with a fat cap on one side, so don’t worry about that. Whether you buy bone in or bone-less is up to you. I personally prefer boneless since I don’t like paying for the weight of a bone that I’m not going to eat, but the bone-in ones do look rather impressive…

1 Teaspoon Ghee or Olive Oil - Ghee is a form of butter that is basically heated until it all of the lactose, casein, and whey are cooked out. This makes it a safer paleo option than regular ol’ butter. It is richer tasting than butter, and can pack a serious punch when added to veggies, used for sautéing, or for searing meats (which is what we’ll be doing here). If you don’t want to use ghee, use olive oil!

1/2 a Lemon - for squeezin’ over the chops

2-3 Cloves of Garlic - one for each pork chop. Remember, these are the little guys that you break off of a bulb. Don’t use a whole bulb (unless you want to repel vampires for weeks…which might be advisable).

Salt and pepper


Knife -
for cutting your lemon and smashing your garlic

Cutting board

Frying Pan or Skillet - Anything without a plastic/meltable handle will work great here. Cast iron skillets are awesome. My pans are stainless steel and they work just fine. Though, if you only have pans with plastic handles, I have a solution for you. Keep reading.

Measuring spoon - just the teaspoon this time.

Tongs - for flippin’ the chops. A fork will work in a pinch.

Meat thermometer - (optional) I LOVE using a meat thermometer. It insures that my meat is cooked perfectly every time. If you’re new to cooking, especially if you’re squeamish about cooking meats (I know, I’ve been there. Former vegetarian here!), please consider getting one of these. Mine cost $15 and was totally worth it considering the number of chicken breasts I have undercooked (and the resulting ruined lunches that have left me hungry and my willpower bar empty at work).

I would suggest a digital probe thermometer with a cord so you can keep it outside of the oven to monitor the temperature. Most of them come pre-programmed with settings for different types of proteins so that you don’t have to memorize or look up the temps you need every time. And, all the ones I have owned beep obnoxiously enough to get me off the couch when my food is done.

Foil lined baking sheet - (optional) You can use this if you don’t have a pan without a plastic handle. If you do this, you’ll use both your pan and the baking sheet.

Pan Roasted Pork Chop Instructions

1. Heat things up! Start by pre-heating your oven to 350 F (177 C) and pre-heating the pan you’ll be using to sear the meat.

2. Now start prepping your pork chop. First, pat it dry with a paper towel. We do this to make sure it sears quickly and evenly the second we put it in the frying pan.


3. Then, sprinkle on some salt and pepper. Massage the spices into the chop with your hands. Make sure you get both sides. If you have a favorite pre-made rub, you can use it here too! Once you’ve seasoned them to your liking, set them on a paper towel near the stove. (And always wash your hands after touching raw meat!)


4. Move on to the rest of the ingredients. Cut your lemon in half and smash your cloves of garlic using the side of your knife. Don’t worry about peeling them or anything. Just smash!


5. Once your pan is heated and the oven has come to temperature, measure out 1 tsp ghee or olive oil and pour it into your pan. Once it hits the pan it will melt and spread very quickly. Tilt the pan to move the oil and coat it.


6. Place your cloves of garlic in the pan. They will sizzle and pop. It’s kinda scary, I know. Be brave! (If you don’t want your hands too close to the oil, you can use your tongs to place everything in the pan.)


*Make sure to NEVER drop anything into hot oil. (Even if it’s just a little bit of oil.) The hot liquid can splash up and burn you. Set everything down in the pan gently.

7. Place your pork chops on top of each clove of garlic. Once you put them down, don’t touch! They are searing! Let them sit for 2-3 minutes.


8. Now take your tongs and flip the chops over. It’s okay if the garlic sticks to the meat. The side that was seared will now be a nice toasty brown color. We want to do that to the other side too, so after you flip, no touching. Just let this side sear for another 2-3 minutes.


9. Take your 1/2 lemon (or the juice from the lemon) and squeeze or pour it over the chops. This will cause the hot pan to sizzle and some of the oil to pop, so be careful!


9.5 (optional) If you’re using a meat thermometer, now is its time to shine! Turn it on, set it to the correct temperature (for pork, the standard food safe temperature is 145* degrees F (63 C). Stick the probe into the thickest part of the chop and set the digital reader on the counter.

*Note: The temperature standard for pork was changed recently from 160 F (71 C) to 145 F . This is why if you have a pre-programmed thermometer, the setting for pork may say 160. Because the pork chop is a leaner cut of meat, it may dry out if it is cooked up to 160. This is your personal preference as to whether you like a juicier or with less juicy texture to your meat.

10. If your pan is completely metal, you can take that baby and stick it directly in the oven. If it’s not, remove the chop from the hot pan and place it on your foil lined baking sheet. Pour the remaining juice from the pan on top of the pork chop and stick that in the oven.


11. If you’re using the meat thermometer, you don’t have to set a timer, but if you’re not using a thermometer, set a timer for 10 minutes. (Ten minutes is about the amount of time it takes for pork chops of this size to reach 145 F.)

12. When the chops are done, remove the pan from the oven. Take the chop off the pan and rest it on a cutting board or plate for at least 3 minutes before devouring.


*Don’t forget to use a towel or oven mitt when touching the handle of the pan! It stays hot for a long time. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve forgotten that it’s hot and burned myself with the darn pan that I just took out of the oven.

Grab a veggie, and enjoy


I like to serve pork chops with a side of garlic cauliflower mash (recipe available in our Paleo Central App!) and roasted asparagus or broccoli. Simple steam fresh veggies, sautéed kale, a baked or mashed sweet potato, or your favorite vegetable sides should be served along with your chops!

If you want the meal to be extra delicious, make some of this caramelized onion and apple hash from the pulled pork recipe and serve it on top of your chops. Amazing!

If this is about a level two recipe, what level of recipe would you like to see in the future? Keep it simple or level up your cooking game?

Let me know in the comments!


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


]]> 24
Life is a Game: A Major Epic Quest Update (Plus, a Request!) Mon, 20 Oct 2014 15:19:02 +0000 As kids we have all sorts of dreams and fantasies…defeating the dragon, visiting far off lands, going on grand adventures.

As adults, we continue to dream, but more often than not, we never act.

This was me, five and a half years ago when I started Nerd Fitness with the tagline “Level Up Your Life.”

Having never traveled outside of North America, and being generally risk averse, a picky eater, and quite shy…I decided to turn life into a giant video game.

I wanted to prove that any regular Joe Steve could improve their life by applying game mechanics to it and having fun along the way.

That’s the idea behind my Epic Quest of Awesome, to send myself on epic adventures and challenges, and inspire other desk jockeys to leave our cubicles and create unforgettable experiences.

So, what’s going on with my epic quest these days? I’m glad you asked!

Seeing as I went and had crazy adventures in Croatia this summer – where I completed three quests - I figure today would be a good day to talk about my making a game of life, how it works, and what’s next for me.

On top, of that…I have a request for some help on a super secret project I’m working on!

Shall we?

What the hell is an Epic Quest?

Steve Jump
Everybody has a bucket list.  

I did things a bit differently.

Instead of just creating a massive bucket list of things that would never get crossed off, I build my list like a game.

The earth is my video game, and I am the main character. Each quest carried a certain amount of experience points, each continent was a themed video game zone, and I had to progress through levels by completing increasingly challenging missions..

As I read more books, visit more places, and have more experiences, my list and goals are constantly changing.  I kind of think of it like an MMORPG (like World of Warcraft). There are expansion packs, patches, updates, upgrades, nerfing, buffing, Master Quests, and more.

Taking this mindset to heart, here are my five of my favorite quests that I’ve crossed off my list:

1) Exercising Around the World. I’m really proud of how this video turned out, as it took about 150,000 miles of flying and 18 months. I’m sure I could have gotten more views had I just taken a video of a cat wearing a shoebox, but I maintain this experience was worth it :)

2) Living like James Bond for a Weekend.  I have an obsession with becoming an international secret agent. Step one was living like James Bond in Monaco, because why the hell not. Believe it or not, I actually MADE money on my weekend!

3) Exploring Machu Picchu. This was my first real adventure outside of the US. Channeling my inner Indiana Jones, I spent a few weeks on the Gringo Trail and ended my trip at the fabled Machu Picchu. I’ll never forget that first moment the sun crested the hills and the clouds parted to reveal these ancient ruins. That was the moment I decided to explore the world.

4) Finding Nemo on the Great Barrier ReefFinding Nemo is one of my favorite Disney movies ever, and Australia was a big stop on the beginning of my world tour. I spent a week getting scuba certified and on my final dive, managed to swim up, over, and around various coral formations until… I ACTUALLY FOUND NEMO!

5) Complete 5 straight muscle ups.  I’ve been working on Muscle Ups ever since completing my first swinging muscle up in March 2012.  Since then, I’ve slowly built up my back muscles, grip strength, forearm strength, and improved my technique.  This was the first time I had EVER tried to do more than one muscle up in a row, and I managed to do 5 straight (while hanging off the boom of a yacht in Croatia).  Not a bad way to cross a goal off my list!

What’s next: A renewed focus


As I said before, my Epic Quest has taken less of a priority in my life up since returning from my Around-the-World trip.  

I spent almost all of 2013 and the first half of 2014 focused on growing Nerd Fitness – sure I’ve traveled to visit friends around the country, attended weddings, and spent a few weekends donating money to the great state of Nevada through their lovely casinos – but none of my trips have truly focused on Adventure.


I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time to travel, that there were other more important things to do, that things would fall apart the second I stopped working.  Honestly, for the past few years any time I spent NOT working made me feel guilty. 12-14 hour work days flew right by, because pretty much everything I do at Nerd Fitness doesn’t feel like work.

Without realizing it, I had fallen into the old rhythm that I worked so hard to get out of: working all day, not doing new things, and spending my free time and energy on the unimportant.

About five months ago, I decided that I had gotten too far away from the stuff that inspired me to start Nerd Fitness to begin with. I talked about the importance of a work-life balance and focusing on what’s TRULY important…but I wasn’t practicing what I was preaching!

So, I made a decision:  I’ve spent the past eight months building a team at Nerd Fitness to help me keep this place running at top speed and take Nerd Fitness to the…next level (heyo!).

Not surprisingly, once I removed myself as the bottleneck for many of the daily decisions, we got a lot better (and I got a lot less stressed out).

So, I’ve challenged myself to cross off at least one big thing from my list every three months.  My hope is to spend less time on small trips, and instead focus on those big wins.

Here are my big wins for the next few months:

  • Kiteboard certification, most likely in the Dominican Republic.
  • Complete a 60 second freestanding handstand. Held one for 40 seconds the other day!
  • Continue to take weekly violin lessons – (I’m coming for you Promentory!)
  • Start taking voice lessons (October 2014)
  • Reach 250,000 email subscribers on Nerd Fitness.
  • Build a bug-out bag.
  • Start work on learning a third language through (French!).
  • England and Scotland in Spring 2015? MAYBE!

This is in addition to some of my goals and work for Nerd Fitness: publishing two articles a week, launching our first expansion course for the Nerd Fitness Academy (which we’ll announce soon!), getting Camp Nerd Fitness 2015 rockin and rollin, and continuing to work on a few secret projects.

Why Start Your Own Epic Quest


It’s been a shift for me over the years to focus on gathering experience points and experiences rather than possessions.  

I realized it was important to dump my time and money into adventures rather than spending all day on my couch gaming (though I still play plenty of games!), to remind myself how amazing it is to be alive rather than living vicariously through somebody else.

To borrow from the Most Interesting Man in the World, I wanted to start living vicariously through myself.

I want to encourage you to get started with your own Epic Quest, and hope you will consider the 3 most important lessons I’ve learned from my quest over the last few years:

1) More stuff won’t make you happier.  In 2011, I sold everything I owned and lived out of a backpack for two years. I didn’t own a TV, I didn’t own any video game systems, and own much of anything… And I couldn’t have been happier. My time went into meeting new people, doing more things, or just relaxing and enjoying the day.

Now that I live in Nashville and have a proper HQ, I have to constantly remind myself that more isn’t better. Stuff is far too easy to collect, and incredibly difficult to get rid of. Unfortunately, this means more money spent on things (and maintaining those things), and less spent on adventures and experiences.

Now that I have some of those luxuries that I didn’t have while traveling, things aren’t necessarily better for me, there’s just more space for me to fill up with more stuff!  Don’t fall into this trap :)

2) There’s always stuff to be done.  For the past 18 months, I’ve crossed very little off my Epic Quest List. I blamed it on Nerd Fitness getting too busy (a great problem to have), but the reality was because I stopped making adventure a focus and priority in my life. I constantly told myself there’s too much work to be done, and I can get to it when things get less busy. This trap can be equally ensnaring!.

I’ve recently reestablished priorities in my life, reminding myself that it’s these very adventures, experiences, and challenges that provide me with motivation and ideas for Nerd Fitness.

3) Things generally work out.  I’ve been stranded in foreign countries with no phone, spent time in back alleys in third world countries, and entered countries late at night with no place to sleep (nor knowledge of the current language!).  EVERY SINGLE TIME, things have worked out.  With few exceptions, I have only encountered nice people who are willing to help.

Yes, there’s always the occasional attempt to scam tourists, and certain parts of cities that should be avoided (which is true here in the US), but my experience across 20+ countries has been overwhelmingly positive.

Don’t let your negativity bias (like the news) scare you into not having adventures and trying new things. You’re probably more likely to die driving to work than you are flying to a foreign country and traveling. Be smart, use common sense, and do some basic research before you enter a country.

Don’t let your fears throw you off!

Approach your adventures with an open mind, and remember that no trip or new experience will be without its hiccups. Lean in and enjoy the ride. Tomorrow is no guarantee!

How To build Your Own Epic Quest


As previously stated, my goal with my Epic Quest of Awesome is to inspire you to get started with your own, and provide you with all of the inspiration (and examples) you need to get started!

So, here is a step by step guide to building your own epic quest:

1) Decide what type of game you want to play - I’m a fan of Indiana Jones, Jason Bourne, Uncharted, and Assassin’s Creed. Thus, the game I decided to build was an globe-trotting action-adventure game!  For you, it might be a dancing game, or a cooking game, or a language learning game, or NES Track and Field (remember that gem!?). It’s your world, and thus your game to build.

2) Identify a list things you’d like to accomplish - These can be goals that aren’t related, or goals that increase in challenge as you go. The important thing is to spend 15 minutes or so writing down all the stuff you want to do.  BE SPECIFIC (“Learn to speak French in 6 months” vs “learn a new language”, “run the Boston marathon” vs “run more.”)

3) Place them in order of difficulty if possible - Most people build bucket lists, very few people actually cross things off of them. It’s VERY easy to get overwhelmed, and spend more time adding things to the list than completing them. So, if you’re the type of person that struggles to actually complete adventures.

4) Surround yourself with people doing awesome things – If there’s a particular goal I want to accomplish but appears too challenging, I find people who are already doing what I want to do, or have done what I want to do, in the way I want to do it. Make your list public, and add due dates to the things you want to accomplish, and give yourself a chance to succeed.  We have a community of people doing awesome things if you need support :)

5) Pick one thing on the list, and get started. Today.  Once you’ve built your own list, I want you to pick ONE thing on your list (preferably the easiest thing), and do ONE concrete specific thing today to get you closer to completing that item.  Here’s step-by-step instruction on how to actually cross stuff off your list.

Have you started your own epic quest?

quest map

I have a favor to ask.

I know we have people reading this article that have been reading Nerd Fitness since Day 1, while others have just discovered the site (and thus My Epic Quest) today.

I’m working on a super secret project, and I need your help.  If you are somebody that has developed your own Epic Quest of Awesome, or used the idea of gamification to level up in your real life thanks to Nerd Fitness, I want to hear from you.

Have you gamified your weight loss and can now do things you haven’t done before?

Have you drawn inspiration from your favorite game/movie/book and used those things to learn a new skill or try a new class/activity? 

Have you made adventure/travel a bigger part of your life and visited new locations?

Have you gamified life or your passions in a way other than just adventure? How?

IF SO! Can you please fill out the following survey and tell me about your adventures/successes?  The more unique/creative, the better!

Tell us about your Epic Quest here!

Due to the number of responses I won’t be able to respond to all of them (but I will read all of them for sure!), but I’ll be reaching out to a handful of people with unique “life” games to hear more.

Make sure you put your email address so I can contact you!

Even if this is your first exposure to the concept of an Epic Quest of Awesome, I want to hear from you too!

What’s one quest on your own epic quest list, and what’s one concrete step you’re taking TODAY to get closer to completing that adventure?

Leave a comment and let me know!



photo source: imNicholas: skyrim, Brian Matis: Map

]]> 27
Does it REALLY Matter? Thu, 16 Oct 2014 14:10:01 +0000 “I have a WHAT!?”

“You probably have an ulcer. It’s like a small hole in your stomach.”

“Yeah, but I’m 27. How the hell can I have an ulcer?!”

It was 2012, the day before I was getting ready to move to Ecuador for a month.  I had just hired my first full-time team member for Nerd Fitness (Hi Staci!), and I got some news from my doctor after having stomach pains for the previous three weeks.

Now, I know there’s no TRUE evidence that says stress causes ulcers, but all I could think of was how stressed I had been for the previous few months: working 16-hour days, freaking out about the tiniest things, having absolutely no balance, etc.  I had started Nerd Fitness to help people get healthy, and I was driving myself to an unhealthy existence.

It was a wake-up call.  

Until now, I haven’t told many people about the ulcer – in fact, I’m not even sure I told my parents.  Ooops, sorry Mom!

At the time, this inspired some serious self reflection: What was I doing? Were my priorities right? Why was I so stressed?

This all came back to me just a few weeks ago when tragedy struck a close friend of mine, reminding me what’s truly important in this big game we call life.

Everything is amazing and nobody is happy

Angry face

A few weeks ago, a close friend of mine lost a relative in a tragic car accident. His life, and the life of his family, was turned completely upside down in a matter of seconds.  

I spent that afternoon counting my blessings, and realizing how freaking lucky I am.  Suddenly that stressful Friday morning didn’t seem so stressful; the five minutes of traffic I had sat in was absolutely a non-factor in the rest of my AMAZING day.

I feel absolutely terrible that it often takes a tragedy or close call to remind us of what’s really important, and is many times the only thing that can truly put everything else in perspective.

It reminded me of the incredible Louis C.K. skit “Everything in Amazing right now, and nobody’s happy,” which is well worth four minutes of your time:

Louis CK – “Everything is Awesome and Nobody is Happy”

My favorite section is the following, where he’s talking to somebody who had a flight delayed:

“First of all we didn’t board for 20 minutes (right) and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes. We had to sit there.”

“Oh really, what happened next?  Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero?”

You laugh, and then you probably think to yourself (like I did), “oh crap…that’s me…many, many times.”  Whether it’s a delayed flight, or slow service at a restaurant (where we’ll overeat and then complain about being full) it’s amazing what we can complain about just so we have something to complain about!

I want to share with you a system I’ve created over the past few weeks to insure I remember what’s important.

Does it REALLY Matter? REALLY?

Happy Balloon

Over the past few years, I’ve gotten much better at not stressing out over the unimportant – AKA “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Whenever I get stressed out, I think, WWLD?  AKA “What would Leo Do?”  AKA Leo Babauta, mr Zen Habits.

I remember going to meet up with Leo in San Francisco a few years ago. I was a huge fan of his, and due to traffic, I was running late for our lunch/tea meeting.  I was panicking and hyperventilating, which is not the best thing in the world when you’re going to meet probably the most LAID-BACK AND HAPPIEST DUDE IN THE WORLD.

I called him on the phone and began making up excuses about traffic (boooo excuses!) and apologizing profusely for being late. He simply said, “Steve, I just want you to get here safely, please take your time and relax.” You could actually HEAR his smile through the telephone.

Suddenly, my blood pressure dropped about 50 points, I stopped sweating, and realized he was absolutely right.  Shit happens, life can get in the way, and things can change in an instant.

I now actually have a post-it note on my computer screen to remind me of this fact.  It simply says “Does it REALLY matter? REALLY?”

If I’m overly stressing about something that has gone wrong, whether its my fault or not, I ask myself if in the grand scheme of my brief existence on the planet this issue really matters.  99.9% of the time, the answer is NO.

If I’m stuck in traffic, or my cell phone call drops, or my computer crashes, I ask if it REALLY matters.

If I start to feel sorry for myself for one reason or another, I slap myself in the face and ask if what I’m complaining about REALLLLLY matters.

It’s so easy for us to stress about things at our job (that we might not even like).  We skip engagements with friends, or miss our kid’s soccer games for things that might SEEM important now but will honestly have NO significance in our lives in the big picture.

I remind myself: “Hey…did you wake up today? That’s a good start. Build on that.

And don’t worry, I don’t have all of this figured out either.  It’s so easy these days are so easy to get caught up in the unimportant rat race that we struggle to remember what’s truly important.

If you ever need a reminder as to the scale we’re currently working with, watch an episode of COSMOS to put things in perspective, as Sweet sassy molassy that’ll make your brain explode.

Enjoy Today


As morbid as it sounds, “Tomorrow is no guarantee” is something that I think of every day.

I have to remind myself that working all the time, stressing out about everything, and complaining doesn’t make my day any better, and tomorrow everything might change.  It did recently for my friend, and tomorrow it might change for me too.

I was reminded of what’s truly important in our pursuit of happiness from my friend Eric’s recent article: The “8 Things that the Happiest People Do Every Day“, which covers scientific proof about what makes us happy:

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

I realized that without even planning it, I really focus on a lot of these things already and it’s probably why I feel so freaking lucky and happy.

I make it a point to do a few things every day purely for enjoyment (yes, even if I suck at them). For me, it’s hearing live music, playing music, reading, exercise, and adventure (you know, those lifelong challenges on my Epic Quest).

Do you make it a point to spend even a few minutes each day doing something purely for the joy of it? Whether it’s gaming, or music, or volunteering, or sitting on a bench in a blue hat…enjoy today dude!

Don’t worry, be happy

Happy face

I want you to look at that list of things above that happy people do every day.

I then want you to pick ONE thing on that list, and work on it today:

  • Sign up to volunteer once a month at a children’s hospital or homeless shelter. Remember how lucky you are to have the opportunities you do.
  • Take the afternoon off from work to spend more time with your children.
  • Stop worrying about tomorrow – it hasn’t happened yet! Enjoy today.
  • Call somebody who’s in your life and tell them that you’re grateful for knowing them.
  • Find 10 minutes to do something that makes you happy.
  • Exercise!  Stop putting it off, skip that extra 30 minutes of TV and get it done.

I want you to be happy and healthy, so I’m literally going to bribe you.  I want you to STOP stressing out about one thing that would normally drive you crazy, and instead pick ONE thing from that happiness list and get it done.

Leave a comment here before midnight on Thursday, October 23rd, telling me what you stopped worrying about, and how you’re actually going to ENJOY TODAY.  We’ll pick one winner at random from the comments to win a free Nerd Fitness shirt.

So, leave a comment, and let me know.

And freaking stop worrying about useless shit!


Oh, and smile.



photo source: J E Theriot: smiley face stress ball, Evan: You, Amy McTigue: rage, Massimo Regonati: cat

]]> 161
Lessons Learned From Camp Nerd Fitness Mon, 13 Oct 2014 16:37:41 +0000 “Holy crap, did that actually just happen?”

A few weeks ago I sat in my car, tears streaming down my face, as I reflected on what had transpired over the previous 72 hours. After two years of planning, months of late nights and early mornings, and more than a few “are we crazy for doing this?” thoughts…we had just completed our first ever Camp Nerd Fitness.

Roughly 200 rebels came together in the mountains of Clayton, GA, for a weekend of community, education, inspiration, and late night dance parties.  Oh and parkour, and kung fu, and yoga, and deadlifts.  Because, deadlifts.

It was like an awesome culmination of our online community, blog posts, the NF Academy, and 200 of my closest friends all together for a weekend.

Although we hit a few snags along the way, Camp Nerd Fitness was a resounding success, and the first event of MANY MORE TO COME that brings together our our online community in real life.

We’re already planning for next year’s event, so make sure you sign up on the interest list to be the first to receive more info!

We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.


When we announced Camp NF earlier this past spring, I wasn’t sure what kind of crowd we were going to get. Would it be mostly young people? Older folks? In shape people? Brand new beginners?

As the two shuttles pulled up to the camp grounds, I was more than a little nervous to see what kind of crowd would pull up. Okay, I was also super excited (as anybody that witnessed my giddy behavior can attest to).

I knew things would be great as soon as I began addressing the crowd during our opening ceremonies, as we had an enthusiastic and ecstatic bunch from all walks of life:

  • gymnasts
  • newbies
  • men and women
  • young and old
  • students and teachers
  • doctors, nurses and scientists
  • stay-at-home moms and dads
  • self-aware robots

As the weekend went on, I watched as our advanced campers supported those at the beginning of their journeys. I watched young campers and some of our older campers throwing a frisbee around on the lawn or playing lawn games…nobody cared about anybody’s age or social standing – they just wanted to have fun…so much fun that it led to a camper-made Nerd Fitness music video.  Gotta love our community:

Camp Nerd Fitness Music Video

Since I first crafted the Rules of the Rebellion more than four years ago, the first rule has remain unchanged: “We don’t care where you came from, only where you’re going.”

It was awesome to see this on full display at Camp.

Whether you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for a week or for five and a half years (hi Mom!), all I care about is this: “are you better off today than you were yesterday?”  We don’t care if you’re a newbie or a pro…all we care about is helping you become a leveled up version of yourself.

We’re not in this alone

happy at camp

Before Camp NF had even officially started, I was walking around the grounds and came to Hyrule Field (yes, we changed the name of every location at Camp to meet our nerdy needs), and saw a group of newly introduced campers crowded around the creek.

“What happened?” I asked another one of the Wizards (our name for the NF Team on hand to help). “One of the frisbees ended up in the river, and they’re all working together to get it out.”

In the weeks leading up to Camp NF, I wondered if there’d be any issues with Campers interacting with each other or being too shy…and here we were, 20 minutes after people had arrived, and they had already formed a team to solve a problem.

The next morning, I watched five groups of eight rebels complete a challenging team-building ropes course. Suspended 40 feet in the air, we had to traverse a course that required trust, cooperation, and courage.swords

It was fun to watch a group of “strangers” become “TEAM AWESOME (and modest)” over the course of an hour – relying on each other to stay balanced, oftentimes giving each other a death grip to move more closely through each obstacle…it was a damn good time.

I feel like these two instances perfectly personify life as a Nerd Fitness Rebel. We often tend to be the ONE person in our group of friends that’s interested in both nerdy pursuits AND living healthy, and its easy to feel like we’re on an island.


Are you struggling at getting healthy – trying to go alone? Don’t you know it’s dangerous!?

No matter what your circumstances, where you live, or where you’re coming from – remember that we are NOT alone on our journey.

Camp was a great reminder of our amazing community - Rebels from all over the world reminded me that we can lean on each other for help and guidance.

If you are somebody that doesn’t have a great support system at home to help you on your journey, we’re here for you. There’s close to 30,000 of us on the NF message boards :)

Growth happens at our limits

Rope course

There was one point on the Ropes Course when I looked ahead to the group in front of us as they prepared to go down the zipline.

I saw one of our campers, Devyn, strapped into her harness, with a look of absolute terror on her face (I found out later she is deathly afraid of heights).  With dozens of people watching, I watched Devyn muster up 20 seconds of courage (okay it was more like 3 seconds), and jump off the platform and zipline to safety.

This was one instance of people pushing themselves outside of their comfort zones, which became a theme throughout the week.

There were Rebels… 

Throughout these activities, it was amazing to watch Rebels feel 100% safe and at home.  For each individual person, where that “scarecrow” lived was different, but we all knew we had to pass him in order to advance.

I watched my friend Saint throw himself into a 1-handed cartwheel attempt and land flat on his ass: he laughed, got up, and tried a few dozen more times.

I watched other campers struggle to complete their first bodyweight squat, and see a light go off in their brain as the proper form and confidence to do them finally kicked in.

It was a great reminder that failing at something and trying again isn’t a reason to be embarrassed – that it’s okay to look foolish and have fun doing so. That when you’re surrounded by people that want to see you succeed, it’s okay to be 100% yourself.

Camp was nearly a group of fit nerds acting 100% like themselves.

It was amazing to witness in person, and a great reminder that we spend far too much time worried about what others think of us; that we let complete strangers keep us from doing things for fear of looking foolish.

I say embrace the weird. Certainly better than blending into obscurity!

Train because it’s fun

fun at camp

If your idea of fitness is miserably running on a treadmill for hours every day and then eating bland food…you’re doing it wrong!

That’s why another rule of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion is that “we train because it’s fun.”

I came home from Camp more sore than I’ve ever been after any workout, and I never actually completed a workout!  I was too busy trying cartwheels, throwing around a frisbee, hiking, doing handstands, balancing, and dancing my ass off every night on Hyrule Field under the stars.

Other campers pushed themselves with yoga, kickball, pickup basketball, hikes to the waterfall, Kung Fu, parkour, and so on.

Campers were moving all day, but rarely did this activity feel like a workout.

If you don’t enjoy fitness, it simply means you haven’t found the type of fitness that works for you…it’s time to redefine what “fitness” means to you.

Here’s the truth: we are genetically designed to move!

So, get off your ass and go have some fun.  Whether it’s martial arts, yoga, dancing, parkour, strength training, running, yoga, or whatever…there’s something out there for you.

Give Yourself a Break

friends at camp

Sure, we spent most of the day doing crazy fun physical activities at camp, but we didn’t forget rule #10 of the Rebellion: Fitness can become part of what you are, but not at the expense of who you are.

For that reason, we made sure our evenings and days had plenty of nerdiness mixed in.  

Every night, we had a massive game room with every board game imaginable (and two Nintendo 64s!) laid out, with massive games of Cards Against Humanity being an opportunity to get to know our fellow campers INCREDIBLY well.

cards against humanity

Along with that, we had two killer theme nights and a DJ to allow us to loosen up and unwind after a long day of physical fitness.

Our first night was a Costume night, which resulted in some absolutely EPIC photo opportunities:

Hero Goku

Hero Turtles


Hero link

Hero Batman

And our last night, a Rubik’s Cube themed party, was probably one of the greatest parties I have EVER attended (not even kidding).  All campers arrived in six different colors of clothing, and had to trade clothes with other campers until they ended up all one color.Jim Handstand

As there were more women than men at camp, this resulted in some hilarious costumes, including yours truly in at least two different colored tutus, and a fun opportunity for our Gymnastics and Grip Strength Coach Jim Bathurst to do handstands in a wedding dress (pictured to the right).

The lesson learned: Life is way too short to not have fun.  It’s okay to use physical fitness to live a better life (provided you are having fun with it), but don’t forget that tomorrow is no guarantee, so enjoy today.

Camp is 365 days a year

camp costume party

While camp took place over a period of only 72 hours, weeks ago, I believe that campers now feel closer and more connected to each other than they did while at camp!

Our camp campers now post online to each other multiple times a day – their stories, successes, struggles, plans to visit each other, and general awesomeness. The hashtag #CNF365  soon was developed by campers: Camp might have only been a few days, but the ideals and lessons learned at camp need to be applied 365 days a year.

I freaking love it.

Nerd Fitness and the Rebellion is so much more than blog posts, push-up instructions, and links to comical goat videos.  It’s a community, a way of life, and a movement of people working hard to live better, happier, more fulfilling lives.

Camp Nerd Fitness was just a 2-day event, but the lessons learned and friendships made at camp will carry throughout the next twelve months.


Every day, we are presented with choices and options on how we choose to live our lives.  Are these lives lived in untapped potential, what ifs, and “good enough?”  Or are these lives lived in constant improvement, challenging adventure, and happiness?

Do we look in the mirror and say “I wish I could have done…” – or do we look in the mirror, proud of what we accomplished, and in the immortal words of Camp NF Instructor Amy Clover, scream “I’M A HERO!”

I think Camp was the kick in the pants a lot of people needed to get out of a rut, or to bust out of complacency and fear.  I’m excited to see where these campers are when they return to camp next year.  For me, Camp was an opportunity rededicate myself to my handstand and meditation habits. Because I know a crazy supportive group of campers are checking in daily, I’ve been kicking ass since camp.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a MASSIVE shout out and THANK YOU to our instructors that came to Camp.  They truly went above and beyond the call of duty to deliver incredible talks, teach fantastic classes and workshops, and truly embrace life at Camp Nerd Fitness. It wouldn’t have been the same without them.

Thanks to:

Thank you instructors for leveling up the experience of our Campers.

I also want to share some of the write-ups from Campers so you can get a first hand experience of what Camp was like for them.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some meditation and handstands to work on!


PS - If you’d like to check out the rest of the photos from Camp Nerd Fitness, visit our Camp Photographer’s website at And yes, we did have a film crew at Camp as well, so we’ll be sharing a fun recap video in the upcoming weeks.

PPS – If you’re interested in joining us at Camp Nerd Fitness 2015, head on over to and sign up for the interest list. Once we nail down our location and exact dates, we’ll be first announcing to Camp NF Alumni and then to that interest list, giving you the best chance to grab a spot!


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If You Start, Go All the Way Thu, 09 Oct 2014 17:39:43 +0000 I want you to think back to the last time you truly threw yourself 100% into transforming your life (which is different than this transforming).

If you’re like me, that might be difficult. You see, I don’t know what it is about us nerds, but we’re often afraid to try with all of our effort. We’re afraid of failing, that giving our all and not succeeding is a knock against who we are at our core. If we don’t put it all on the line, then “we” are protected.

So, instead of going all in, of giving everything we’ve got…we kind of half-ass it. We give half an effort, and then when things fail, we’re quick to say “this system doesn’t work,” “well I didn’t really try,” or “I knew it would fail.”

Well, Charles Bukowski has something to say about that.

If you watch one thing today, let it be this (hat tip to Anthony):

Charles Bukowski: All the Way

Although Bukowski probably wasn’t talking about physical fitness and training, I think it’s perfectly applicable to everything we do at Nerd Fitness.

For some reason, we hold back – almost as if it’s preferred to actually going ALL IN on something. Why? Because if we’ve given our all, and we still fail…what is left? If we go all in and fail, we tell ourselves that we are failures. We aren’t good enough.

In reality, giving our all and then failing is one of the best things that could possibly happen to us. When we give max effort and we fail, we’re only setting ourselves to level up.

When we put it all on the line and then fail, we’ve taken the first step to true improvement.

If you half-ass your way through a job interview or college application and things don’t go well, you’re stuck wondering “what if I had actually tried?”

If you go ALL in on either of those things and fail, you can quickly move onto the next opportunity, making improvements to your strategy and tweaks to your resume.

In the same vein, if you half-ass your way to transforming your body and things don’t work, you’ll never know why it didn’t work.

If you are going to get in shape, go all the way.  Actively work towards bettering yourself, every day, and see what you’re capable of.  Don’t think in terms of days or weeks, but rather for the rest of your life. You’re not dieting, you’re not just exercising to look good in a bathing suit for a few weeks each summer. You’re doing it to build a better body for the rest of your life.

This is all, of course, assuming things don’t work out when you go all in.  The far more likely scenario is that…things will work out.  Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has found ways to succeed through going all in and refusing to consider failure.

So remember: If you’re going to try. Go all the way:

It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it.”

And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

Of course, our little green friend Yoda said it more succinctly: “Do or do not, there is no try.”

Yes or No, Not Guess So


To this day, I still remember a powerful lesson that Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel-san in The Karate Kid.

When Miyagi asks Daniel if he wants to learn Karate, Daniel replies with a half-assed “yeah, I guess so!”

Miyagi: Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: Get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,”  [makes squish gesture]
Miyagi: Just like grape. Understand?
Daniel: Yeah, I understand.

For Daniel-san, this was an easy lesson to understand.  He could either NOT do Karate, and thus avoid fighting Johnny Lawrence (NO MERCY!), stay safe, and spend the rest of his life scared…or he could go ALL the way, apply himself and focus on the lessons learned from Miyagi.

If he were to only go half-way, “yeah, I guess so,” he could find himself in a world of trouble when his half-training gets himself hurt.

Oftentimes, we think that just dipping our toe into the water or going halfway is an easy way to “try” something without the fear of failure or having to put forth max effort. This doesn’t mean adopting 50 new habits at once, but rather truly committing to some new small changes in your life.

With karate, with deadlifting, with building a business…”yeah I guess so” doesn’t give you a chance to succeed – doesn’t show you what you’re truly capable of, and can oftentimes do more harm than good.

I remember a lesson my mom taught me when teaching me to drive.  When I got ready to pull into traffic for the first time, she told me: “Stephen (yeah she still calls me that), you either pull into traffic, or you don’t. Go half-way and you’re screwed…so if you’re gonna go, GET YOUR ASS OUT THERE!”

Thanks, ma!

Go All the Way, and Don’t Half-Ass It

go all the_way

I wish Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation was a real person, as I would very much like to hang out with him.

Sure, he’s full of amazing quotables, but there’s one in particular that always stuck out:

“Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.”

Anytime you can draw a brilliant life lesson from a quote that says “ass” twice, you better listen up.

Be more like Swanson!  WHOLE-ASS YOUR LIFE.

We get one shot at life on this planet, and half-assing things for fear of failure or rejection (or worse, fear of success) isn’t going to get you what you want. It’s time to step outside that comfort zone, and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

I’m not saying you need to go FULL PALEO and strength train 7 days a week and burn yourself out. Instead, I’m saying see what happens when you full dedicate yourself to a plan, don’t allow self-sabotage, and find out where it takes you.

What are you currently half-assing, and what are you afraid to go all the way on?

Next, what’s one step you can take TODAY to move closer to going all-in, whole-assed, on those things?

My answer: I’m working on a super secret project that I have been putting off for too long, and it was due to too many frequent trips (that I couldn’t say “no” to). So, I’ve essentially cleared my travel schedule for the next few months to stop half-assing the travel, half-assing the projects (which I was afraid to start for a few reasons), and half-assing my training (yes, that’s three half-asses, but BARE with me…ZING!).

Instead, my focus is on two key Nerd Fitness projects and building strength.  And still sucking at the violin.


Today’s Rebel Hero: Dane! Dane completed the Alcatraz Shark Swim this past summer. Every swimmer makes their escape from Alcatraz by swimming the 1.5 miles to safety – here’s Dane in his wet suit (and his awesome NF tshirt) after the swim. Congrats Dane!Dane B

Want to be the next Rebel hero?  Send a photo in your NF shirt doing something epic at


photo source: abdulla falz: Karate Kid, Ian Broyles: Air, Jess Loughborough: Holiday









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Strength Training 101: The Deadlift Tue, 07 Oct 2014 14:17:52 +0000
This is a post by NF Team Member Staci Ardison, who recently deadlifted 405 lbs at Camp Nerd Fitness.

Deadlift day is my favorite day.

And it’s Piglet’s too. 

When my story came out in July of 2011, I said that I’m simply happier on days that I deadlift – and that holds true to this day.  There’s really nothing more satisfying than picking up a ton of weight off the floor and holding it in your hands.

Jón Páll Sigmarsson, the Icelandic Strongman/Powerlifter once said (while deadlifting 1005 lbs), “There is no reason to be alive if you can’t do deadlift.”

Now, that may be a bit extreme, but deadlifting is truly a romantic lift.

On deadlift day, I don’t need assistance or a spotter – it’s just me, the barbell, and the weight.  I love nothing more than to put my headphones in, put on a favorite playlist, and focus on nothing but me and that weight.

But even with so much going for it, many people are afraid of the deadlift and avoid it at all costs, citing fear of injury.

However, deadlifting in itself is not dangerous – but like with any movement, deadlifting wrong can be. Properly executing the deadlift will allow you to build a stronger posterior chain, less fragile joints, and a body that can handle whatever life throws at you.

We love the Deadlift, and it’s a key component of the Barbell Battalion section of the Nerd Fitness Academy.

Today we’re going to fall in love with the deadlift, and make sure you can do them right!

Why Deadlifts?

Staci Deadlift

The deadlift is a true full body movement.

While most people would consider it a “back” exercise, others will argue that it’s a “leg” exercise. In my book, it’s an everything exercise.

When you deadlift, you use every single muscle in your body:

  • Your arms, forearms, and hands hold onto the barbell and make sure the bar stays in the right position and stays stable throughout the lift.
  • Your shoulders and traps hold the weight and hold it stable.
  • Your back and core help keep your entire body tight and stable to help keep your spine secure.
  • Your posterior chain and legs to act as a lever and lift the weight.

Whenever anyone asks me where I got my shoulders/abs/etc, I answer the same: deadlifts.  Why do a million crunches when I can just do deadlifts instead? Way more fun! Plus, deadlifting is actually more effective.

On top of that, the deadlift is a basic human movement. Other than the squat, there might not be another movement that is more “functional.” From the grocery store, to moving a piece of furniture, to picking your child up off the floor – you are deadlifting (and probably with poor form!).

As you build solid form deadlifting in the gym, using better form when picking things up in real life will become second nature. This means you’ll be less likely to injure yourself now and later down the line (not only because you are stronger, but because your body knows how to properly handle weight).

And this goes further than just picking up objects – how you move while shoveling snow, doing yard work, and doing other basic every day life tasks will all dramatically improve from deadlifting. Don’t be that guy/gal with back problems from lifting that random object years from now!

Oh, and by the way, the effectiveness of the deadlift isn’t limited to an age or gender – even grandma thinks they’re cool.

The deadlift is awesome – perhaps the purest measure of strength: either you can pick the weight off of the ground, or you can’t.

Let’s take a look at how to do them right.

Choosing a Deadlift


NOTE: Before we begin, if you have a spinal injury (or really any injury), please check with your doctor before you start.

In the deadlift you’ll be lifting dead weight (motionless) off the ground hence the name).

More specifically, you take a loaded barbell (which is not in motion on the floor), grab it, and stand up with it until your shoulders, hips, and knees locked. Your arms will stay straight throughout the lift. At the end of the lift the weight, depending on the length of your arms, will be at about hip height.

There are many different kinds of deadlifts.  The most common are:

1) Conventional Deadlift – Your hands are just outside your feet, standing at about hip width apart.

2) Sumo Deadlift - Your hands are inside your feet with a wider stance.

3) Hex or Trap Bar Bar Deadlifts – Use a specialty bar made just for deadlifting which changes the biomechanics.

4) Snatch Grip Deadlift – Your hands will use a wide grip like in the Snatch.

5) Romanian Deadlift, Stiff Legged Deadlift, Straight Leg Deadlift -These are variations that are all commonly confused.  Bret Contreras has a great post where he goes into the differences between these variations in detail here.

6) Deficit Deadlift / Rack Pulls: These are movements that increase the range of motion or decrease the range of motion (respectively) and are used as accessory movements.

7) Dumbbell Deadlift Variations: For either accessory work, or if you don’t have access to a barbell and weights.

Today we are going to cover principally the conventional deadlift (we will cover variations in future articles).

Other than a barbell and weights, there are two optional equipment items you should consider:

  • Flat shoes, if your gym requires shoes.  Chucks work great.  I personally prefer to deadlift in either socks or Vibram 5 Fingers.  Many powerlifters wear deadlift slippers – which are basically just a fancy sock that’s approved footwear for competition.
  • Chalk is optional and initially won’t be incredibly useful. However, after you start to put some weight on the bar chalk will be enormously helpful for hanging on to the bar.

The deadlift can actually be taught in one sentence – however, each piece of the deadlift has little intricacies that need to be done right, or you will hurt yourself.  So – lets dive in!

The Conventional Setup

While your choice of deadlift may vary depending on your body type or training goals, the conventional deadlift is a great starting point for just about any situation.

Let’s dive into the basic conventional deadlift setup:

*NOTE: Always warm up properly, and start with just the bar, even for deadlifts!

first3_front first3_side

  • Load the bar and secure the plates with collars.  If you are just starting out with the movement, begin with 5-10 lb plates, using boxes or blocks to elevate the bar to about where it would be with 45 lb plates attached (if your gym has training plates that are this size, even better!). You may also be able to use your gym’s power rack for this.
  • Stand with your feet about hip width (8-12 inches) apart, and your feet slightly angled outwards (5-10 degrees).
  • Look down – the bar should be over the middle of your feet.  If you’re wearing laced shoes, the bar would be approximately over the tied part of your shoelaces.

Now, from here, until you are actually lifting, don’t move the bar!

  • Next, without moving the bar, or your hips, lean over and grab the bar. Your legs should still be straight at this point. Your grip width will be slightly outside of your legs, but not so they touch.For now, a simple double overhand grip will work.  We will discuss options in grip in more detail later!
  • Now that you’re holding onto the bar (and not moving it), move your hips down. While you do this, your shins will come forward until they touch the bar (stop moving your hips down when your shins touch the bar). Squeeze your chest up. As you do this, your back should flatten, and your back should go into a neutral spine position.

This is the final starting position of the deadlift.

We don’t want your back to round or hyper extend. If you’re just starting out, getting into a neutral spine might feel like you’ve gone too far (hyper extended), so don’t be afraid to ask a friend for help or to record yourself so you can see what you’re doing.

Keeping a neutral spine throughout the lift is vital, and thus it is important you set up right. Note that while your spine has a natural curve to it, that curve should not be over exaggerated.

In addition to your spine, use the muscles in your upper back to help lift your chest up (Think about what King Kong looks like when he’s ready to pound his chest).

At this point: your shoulders should be slightly in front of the bar, and your arms should be straight and perpendicular to the floor. This is where the fun part comes!

Depending on your specific body, the set up position may look different from the person standing next to you. This is normal! Think about it – since we want our arms to be straight, someone with super long arms will have a different look to their setup than someone with short arms.

The Deadlift

If your setup looks and feels good, you’re ready to lift. Make sure that before you pull there is no slack in the bar – your muscles should already be slightly engaged and your entire body tight.



Take a deep breath in, and while keeping your entire back and core tight and your chest up, drive through your heels and pull! A popular cue that helps many lifters execute the right form is to visualize the deadlift not as a pull, but rather a push. Imagine you are pushing the world away from the bar… rather than pulling the bar up.  Like you’re holding onto the bar and driving your feet down through the earth.

As you pull, remember:

  • All of your weight should be on your heels and mid foot.  You should be able to wiggle your toes the entire time (though that is not a part of deadlifting!).
  • During the movement, your entire body should move upwards at the same speed. This means that your butt should not rise faster than your chest, or vice versa. You may have heard of the term “stripper deadlift” – this is when your butt rises first before your chest.
  • Think about leading with your chest as you drive through your heels, and make sure you keep it up and tight.
  • Your arms should stay straight the entire time. They are literally just there to hold onto the bar – they are not bending or pulling at all.
  • The bar should stay in contact with your body the entire time – you will literally be dragging it up your thighs.  This is why you see many powerlifters with chalk or baby powder covering their legs (and why they typically wear socks that cover their shins, to prevent cuts and scrapes).  Do not let it come forward. If you were to draw a line that follows the bar’s path from the floor to lockout, it should be a straight, vertical line.
  • As you are pulling, you should be squeezing your glutes.  Once the bar passes your knees, think of getting your hips under the bar by squeezing your glutes.  So while you’re pulling with your arms, you’re pushing through the floor with your feet, pushing your butt under the bar.
  • At the top of the movement,you should be standing tall and proud with your chest open, like if you were King Kong getting ready to pound his chest.
  • At the top, do not hyper extend and lean back.  You want to keep your spine neutral and everything tight.

Now, at this point, the first thing I want you to do is do NOT lose tightness in your body.  We are going to practice putting the bar down (not dropping it).

Setting the Bar Down


Your body should descend all at the same time, just as it ascended, only backwards.

Unlock your hips and knees and slowly lower the bar to set it down (make sure you unlock them at the same time. Unlocking your knees first will cause a lot of awkward movement, and possibly your lower back to round).

Don’t lose tightness until you let go of the bar.  This is extremely important – a large amount of deadlift injuries come from people getting super excited about making a lift, losing tightness, and then putting the bar down wrong. You want this to be a quick movement – lowering the deadlift slow will take a lot out of you and leave you sore for days.

Notes on dropping the deadlift:

The eccentric part of the deadlift (lowering it) is actually riskier than the concentric (picking it up) part of the deadlift, and it is the part of the deadlift that will give you the most DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).  Because of this, many coaches will advocate dropping your deadlift (especially with advanced athletes where they can’t afford to sacrifice performance later in the week).

I would recommend putting the bar down (especially if you want to powerlift – the lift does not count if you drop it). So, practice on putting the bar down properly. It’s just as (if not more) important as practicing picking it up.

How to Grip The Bar, Straps, and other Equipment


Grip strength is a huge part in the deadlift, because if you can’t hold on to the bar, you can’t lift it!

There are two main grips that you see with the deadlift.  The first is the double overhand grip.  With this grip, your palms are both facing towards your body.


The second is an “over-under” or “mixed” grip, where one hand is flipped (one of your palms is facing away from you).

The double overhand grip is the safest grip, and the best grip for beginners.

The mixed grip offers quite a few disadvantages – it places uneven stress on your shoulders, can aggravate problems in the biceps on the side in which your palm is facing outwards, and its easier for your lift to be uneven as you’re literally gripping it uneven.

So why do it?  Well – you can physically lift more using this grip.  At first, you won’t notice a difference because your grip strength is most likely stronger than your back.

However, as your back gets stronger, your back strength will eventually outmatch your grip. This is when you would consider adding in a mixed grip, but be sure to use the double-overhand throughout your workout until you get to the point where you need to switch. Consider doing grip strength work as well.

Finally, there is the hook grip – Hook grip is a grip where you put your thumbs under your fingers.

What about gloves and straps? Straps can help you lift more than your hands can hold, but could cause your grip to be undeveloped later down the road. Personally, I only use straps if I’ve got a ripped callus or if my hands are just exhausted from a long day of training.

Consider using straps strategically, but not regularly.

While many people wear gloves to get a better grip on the bar, gloves actually create space between you’re the hand and the bar, and it reduces your grip security, increases the diameter of the bar, and makes the bar harder to hold on to. I don’t recommend using them unless you have an injury like a ripped callus.

Speaking of ripped calluses – make sure to take care of your hands and they are less likely to happen!

“Do I need to use a belt?” When starting out, don’t worry about a belt. However, as you get into heavy weight, it may be something to look into. Belts need to be worn correctly in order to be effective.

Note: While you may be able to lift more using a mixed grip and a belt, they’re definitely not necessary to lift heavy.  Here’s a video of Anthony Mychal deadlifting 550 lbs at the powerlifting competition at Camp Nerd Fitness – double overhand with no belt.

Common Faults


Rounded Back – not keeping your spine in neutral the entire time. Letting your lower back round at all is a huge no no. (Note: there are some powerlifters that purposefully round their upper back to decrease range of motion, but this is a sport specific move, still a fault, and something you should not consider as a beginner.)

Looking up (with your neck) – Along with keeping a neutral spine, hyper extending your neck to look up is also something we want to stay away from.

Hyperextending at the top - It became popular to over exaggerate the top of the deadlift in fitness competitions, where you needed to quickly show a judge that you achieved lockout. This hyper extending at the top is actually not something we actually strive for – the spine should still be in neutral even at the top.

Treating the deadlift like a squat with the bar in your hands. You are not starting in a squat position and standing up – it is a different movement.

Letting the bar come forward - The bar needs to stay over your midline and be dragged up your body the entire lift – any movement forward of your midline should be avoided.

Butt rises faster than your chest (also known as the “stripper deadlift”) – your chest should lead the movement, and your entire body should move upward at the same pace.

Bending your arms – your arms should stay straight. Don’t bend your elbows to try to get the bar up faster.

Frequently Asked Questions

Athena Deadlift

What do I do if I can’t get into the proper starting position?

While you are getting the mobility to get into the correct starting position, you can put the bar on blocks to raise it up a few inches to help you get in the right position.  Each workout, start with the bar a little lower, until it is just on the floor.

What weight do I start with?

Just the bar :) Then progress as described here.

What is the difference between doing multiple reps from dead stop and touch and go reps?

Touch and go reps are easier – for a few reasons. First, we get a stretch reflex (think about the “bounce” you get at the bottom of the squat). Second, when you lower the bar it is already in motion, so it’s simply easier to lift something that is already moving than it is to lift something that is completely stopped. If you are at a gym that has rubber bumper plates, these plates actually will bounce a little when they hit the floor – helping you lift the weight.

However, while touch and go are easier, they are also more dangerous. It’s easier to mess up your form if you aren’t resetting every rep, and easier to get fatigued.  It is in the eccentric (lowering) part of touch and go deadlifts that most people get hurt. Resetting every rep is preferred for general strength programs.  This allows you to reset, get your form right, and get your breathing right on every rep.

“Okay, I get it.  Deadlifts are great! I should do them ALL THE TIME, right?!?”

Woah, hold on there. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but there are some things we need to take into consideration when adding deadlifts into our program.

Heavy deadlifts are extremely taxing on the central nervous system.  This means your body needs more time to recover. In fact, it’s so taxing that some coaches recommend taking the deadlift out completely for their more advanced, sport specific athletes.

Most good strength programs only deadlift once a week – and it’s lighter volume than with your squats. Both starting strength and stronglifts only include ONE set of 5 deadlifts. Meanwhile, they program 5 sets of 5 for squats.

Get Out There and Pull


The deadlift is a taxing psychological exercise. Unlike in other lifts, keeping mental focus and staying in the right frame of mind is especially important.

Think about it – when you’re at the bottom of a squat or underneath a bar in the bench – you need to finish the lift so you literally won’t be crushed. Finish the lift or fail and be pinned.

With the deadlift, the weight doesn’t work in your favor – it works against you. As the deadlift gets heavy, you know how easy it is to just not pick up the weight. You have to want it. You have to know you can get it.

As Mark Rippetoe said:“The deadlift also serves as a way to train the mind to do things that are hard.”

Or, as  Henry Rollins emoted:

The Iron never lies to you. You can walk outside and listen to all kinds of talk, get told that you’re a god or a total bastard. The Iron will always kick you the real deal. The Iron is the great reference point, the all-knowing perspective giver. Always there like a beacon in the pitch black. I have found the Iron to be my greatest friend. It never freaks out on me, never runs.

Friends may come and go.

But two hundred pounds is always two hundred pounds

What do you think? Do you jump for joy or cringe when it’s deadlift day?

Big or small, what questions do you have on the deadlift?


PS: If you want workout plans involving the deadlift to follow along with, along with a character/quest leveling system, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy – we make sure you don’t overdo it on the deadlifts, as we think LONG term success (for years), not in monthly bursts.

PPS: Check out our other free articles in the Strength 101 Series:


photo source: AKLuLu: Rapton and Emcee at 4T NF Meet, Bigm141414: thisisseth deadlift

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Don’t Escape. Get Inspired. Thu, 02 Oct 2014 14:23:56 +0000 In my nearly six years of writing for Nerd Fitness, I’ve come to a big realization that has guided my daily decision making process.

Books, games, movies, and our own experiences are a chance to do one of two things: temporarily escape our own existences, or get inspired to improve ourselves in real life.

These decisions start innocently at an early age. 

As kids, we use those books, games, and moves as both a fun escape and inspiration. When our parents asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and we mentioned things like:  “I’m gonna be strong like Popeye!” or “I’m going to travel like Dora!” – the response was always “you can be whatever you want, you can do anything!”

I remember playing Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past as a kid; I would go out into my backyard, imagine it was the Lost Woods, picture myself as Link, and feel like the fate of Hyrule was truly in my hands.  It was a great mixture of imagination AND adventure.

Then, something happens: we grow up.

We stop thinking of what’s possible and instead think of what’s rational, responsible, and realistic.  Anything outside of the norm (which is bizarre term) is an opportunity to be judged by our peers, our family, our friends.

And damnit, we’re busy! We tell ourselves that we can’t do the things we want to do. We tell ourselves we don’t have the time, money, or the genetic gifts to accomplish our goals.

Those games and books and movies that used to provide a chance for our imaginations to run wild and inspire us to LIVE our fantasies are just a chance to escape a dull existence.

In fact, I was in trouble of getting caught in this cycle until deciding to flip reality on its head.  This was the subject of my 2012 TEDx Talk.

Luckily, I found my way out, and now I’m a part of a group of folks that have found their way out too: The Nerd Fitness Rebellion.  We love these games, books and movies - but they’re used as inspiration, rather than escape.

Don't Escape

Remember, we are presented with two choices as Nerds and Rebels:

We can daydream about becoming Superman, the man of steel, or we can find a way to get stronger.

We can wish that we could run like the Flash, or we can work on getting faster.

We can lie awake imagining life as Indiana Jones, or we could set aside five dollars today for that trip.

We can be jealous of Tony Stark’s Ironman suit, or we can decide to rebuild ourselves.

We can admire the honor of Captain America, or we find a way to embody his spirit.

We can watch in awe as Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow moves gracefully through any environment, or we can start to train like him.

We can complain that we don’t look like that other person at the the gym, or we can make the comparison to ourselves from yesterday.

We can admire the courage of Frodo and Bilbo Baggins from the comfort of our couch, or we can learn what courage really means, and then step past our own scarecrow.

Every time we make a decision to get lost instead of inspired, we are telling ourselves “imagination land is better than reality.”

We choose to remain trapped in the Matrix – trapped in our own dream, like Cobb in Inception.

In The Two Towers, when Aragorn asks Eowyn what she fears, her reply is perfect:

“A cage. To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them and all chance of valor has gone beyond recall or desire.” 

Nerd Fitness is a community of Rebels who know this all too well, and have chosen to break free of that cage.

We’ve chosen to be unplugged from the Matrix.

We use our characters as inspiration for what is possible.  We use those books and movies as blueprints to start planning our own adventure.

And then we get off our asses, step outside our hobbit holes, and see where the road takes us.

Game on.

What character or story have you used as an escape in the past? How did you turn it, or plan to turn it, into your inspiration?



PS: Nerd Fitness was featured in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week. If you happen to be a new reader thanks to that article, welcome to the Rebellion!  We’re glad to have you :)

photo source: @ambrgarnr: Don’t Escape, Get Inspired

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Stay Healthy on Vacation With This Simple Hack Mon, 29 Sep 2014 14:27:54 +0000 Vacation: a chance to relax, unwind… and completely fall off the “healthy living” wagon!

How is it that we can go months and months in perfect routine, dutifully eating healthy, never missing a workout, and staying on target, but a single week of vacation can be enough to throw us completely off balance and send us back to square one?

Sure, it’s one thing to try and stay on target while traveling for work (which we cover here), but it can be a completely different beast to tackle while we’re on vacation.

Late nights, early mornings, funky travel schedules, alcohol, and “once in a lifetime” moments all seem to take priority over healthy decisions.

And… the thing is… generally these things SHOULD take priority!  

Normally, a single bad meal or missed workout is not cause for alarm. However, when that one day of unhealthy decisions becomes 7-10 days of abnormal decisions, it can make it almost impossible to get back on track once we return home.

And soon enough, a week can very quickly turn into months of poor decision making.

Over the years of traveling, both for work and pleasure, I’ve devised a game that keeps me in shape, despite far too many late nights, eating off schedule, and missing workouts.

Here’s how I stay in shape while also enjoying the spoils of vacation and having fun.

The Vacation Workout Game

Steve boat

A few weeks back, when I spent seven days at sea with friends in Croatia, I knew I was going to be going out each night, drinking, and staying up far too late.  Sure, I could have “opted out” of those nights, gone to bed early, and dutifully got up to exercise each morning at 6 AM.  Instead, I chose to go to BED at 6 AM, stay up with new friends, and watch the sun rise.

So, instead of being forced to choose between skipping the fun stuff or skipping the workouts, I devised a game to allow me to have both.  This didn’t allow me to have workouts the same as when I was home, but as a result of doing SOME exercise, I maintained some momentum and got back on track easily when vacation was over.

Here’s the Vacation Workout Game. The guiding principle is that every “bad” action must be accompanied by a “good” reaction:

  1. For every adult beverage consumed, complete 10 push ups.  These push-ups can be done as you consume your drinks, before you drink, or the morning after.  It’s a rough morning when you have to do 100 push ups (in my case, on the deck of a wobbly boat) as a result of the night before, so be strategic!
  2. For every unhealthy meal consumed, complete 50 bodyweight squats.  My recommendation for this is to actually do your 50 squats BEFORE your meal, so your calories are at least partly going towards rebuilding muscle and replenishing glycogen stores. You can break this into however many sets or reps you need.
  3. Every time you walk past a low-hanging structure, complete five pull ups.  If you can’t do five pull ups, then do inverted rows whenever you have the chance to do so.
  4. Elevators don’t exist.  Whenever possible, use the stairs. Skip the elevator.
  5. If it’s within a mile, walk.  I love traveling to new cities, as its a chance to explore and get a ton of miles on my legs without it really feeling like exercise.

That’s it. Seriously.

My advice: GET EVERYBODY THAT’S TRAVELING WITH YOU IN ON IT.  They certainly don’t need to exercise with you (though they can), but tell them that you want their help in keeping you accountable. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, friends love to help make their friends “suffer” with exercise. Trust me, this can add to the fun of the vacation.

At first, my friends thought I was crazy, but by the end of the week they got really into it and were excited to make sure I completed my reps. “Steve, how many push ups are you behind now?” “Steve, don’t you owe us squats?”

Not only that, but I had people on other boats noticing my crazy morning (somewhat hungover) workout routine and ask me about it. When I told them the reasoning, they couldn’t help but chuckle and some even joined in!

No matter what, here’s the important thing: DO SOMETHING.  

We all know that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion (thanks Newton!). If you’ve been crushing your workouts before your vacation, do everything you can to tread water (thanks De La Soul!)

Minimize Diet Damage


Okay – you have the Vacation Workout Game under your belt. But just because we’ll be employing this trick doesn’t mean we need to COMPLETELY abandon our diet.

For some reason, as soon as we go on vacation, it’s like a flip gets switched.

We go from the Paleo Diet to pancakes and pizza, from water to margaritas and daiquiris, and from veggies and protein to lasagna and Haagen-Dazs.  We eat ourselves into a food coma, and end up with a food hangover that extends far beyond the end of our vacation.

Here are some tips to avoid destroying yourself (and your momentum) completely while on vacation:

  • Break the “Boom and Bust” Vacation Cycle.  Most people follow this cycle: starve yourself for weeks, eat NOTHING but “healthy” foods for weeks leading up to vacation (and be miserable)…and then go BUCK WILD while on vacation.  Return home feeling like garbage, abandon any sort of rational decision making, and stop “getting healthy.”

Here’s the truth: there is no “after,” and there is no “end.”  There’s only “During.”

  • Intermittent Fasting is your friend.  I love intermittent fasting while traveling and while I’m on vacation.  My friends look at me like I’m crazy when I tell them I’m skipping breakfast, lunch, or dinner…but strategically skipping meals allows me to not go too overboard on calorie overload while on vacation. If you go crazy on one meal or one day, consider employing IF to help moderate your caloric intake over the whole trip.
  • Follow an unhealthy meal with a healthy one.  This is part of the Nerd Fitness “never two in a row” rule.  If you eat a bad meal, make the next one a healthy one…no exceptions!  Opt for the side salad instead of extra french fries. Get grilled chicken instead of breaded chicken.  Eat a healthy snack instead of more cookies and crackers.  The goal here isn’t to stay 100% on track, but rather to keep your momentum so it’s easier to get back on track at the end.
  • Load up on water.  Want to eat bad food but worried you’ll eat too much of it? Load up on water before you eat – it can help curb your appetite!
  • Drink your carbs. If you’re going to be drinking a lot on your vacation, don’t compound it with lots of carb heavy unhealthy foods. Instead, factor in the carb intake from drinking and be extra diligent with your food.  Easier said than done…but it can be done. And please, (obviously) drink responsibly.

Relax, Have Fun, Do Something


To recap, here’s your workout plan:

  • 10 push ups for every drink.
  • 50 squats for every bad meal.
  • 5 pull ups every time you pass something you can hang from.
  • Skip the elevator, skip the taxis whenever possible.

If you have friends that want to do it with you, great. If they don’t want to, ask them to keep you on track – don’t worry, they’ll LOVE reminding you in the morning you owe 50 push ups!

If you’re going to drink, try to minimize the damage by being smart in your beverage choice.

For your diet: If you end up eating like an idiot, who cares! Just make the NEXT meal non-idiotic :)  Make protein a focal point, and add a vegetable to the meal whenever you can.

The overall goal is to maintain momentum, and keep your mind thinking: “I am leveling up my life.”

Do something every day, and remember that every decision and every little thing counts.

What about you?  When you go on vacation, do you check out COMPLETELY? Do you try to keep exercising even though you’re “off?”

I’d love to hear your vacation “stay healthy” strategy.

Leave a comment and let’s hear it!



photo source: Doug Wheller: Sea Shell, Christian Senger: Alcohol

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