Nerd Fitness » Blog Level up your life, every single day. Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:40:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Make Mini Paleo Pizzas Thu, 29 Jan 2015 15:40:42 +0000

This is a post from NF Rebel Chef Noel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can totally do this.

Ready! Set! GO!

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



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

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

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

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

Salt & Pepper to taste (optional).

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/2 Bell pepper

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

1/4 Red onion

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

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

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

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


Cookie sheet

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

Knife & cutting board – for cutting your veggies.

Spoon – for adding the sauce onto the pizza.

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

Paleo Pizza Instructions:

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Cut your bell pepper into slices:


Slice your onion:


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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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


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



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

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

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

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

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

What methods do you use to battle them? 

- Noel

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


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


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

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

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

Would you look like King Leonidas leading the mighty 300?

Or Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games?

Would people confuse you for Chris Evans in Captain America?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shall we?

The fitness first philosophy

Yoda and Danbo Fitness Skeptics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work Out

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

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

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

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

Eat Well

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

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

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


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

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

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

But there’s no way!

changed priorities sign

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

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

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

They agreed it was full.

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

They chuckled and agreed it was indeed full this time.

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

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

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

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

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

Steve tries “Fitness First”

Steve Fitness Skeptic Goggles

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Before After

Stats on December 31, 2013:

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

Stats on January 19, 2015:

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

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

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

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

Recent lower body day

Recent upper body day

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

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

Fitness came first, with very few exceptions.

The Lessons I learned

Steve Front Lever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any questions about how my past year?

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


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


photo source: mendhak: Yoda

]]> 47
Star Wars Explains Why We’re All Fat Thu, 22 Jan 2015 14:57:39 +0000 Stop trying so damn hard!

If you’re somebody who has tried to lose weight and exercise more, spend less time watching TV and more time reading books, or eat less candy and more real food – you’re not alone.

However, if your solution for any of those problems above is to “try harder” or “do more,” I’m here today to smack you in the mouth as if I were Neil Diamond.

STOP beating yourself up for lacking the willpower and motivation to make changes, and instead realize you need a new plan.

After all, you’re reading a site called “Nerd Fitness,” a community composed of computer programmers, rocket scientists, doctors, engineers, and everything in between.

We need to stop trying harder and instead start trying smarter.

It turns out that the part of our brain that allowed us to survive as a species for hundreds of thousands of years is the same part that can make us overweight, unfit, and unable to get ahead in life.

It’s just like The Force: Once we have the knowledge, we can either use this decision making process to push us further down the path to the Light Side…or we can become a slave to it and head further down the path to the Dark Side.

In today’s post, we’re going to discuss the importance of delayed gratification in getting healthy, and how we can use this information wisely, for the good of the Galaxy.

Why our brains are stupid

SuperBrain Caffine Fly

Within our brain, there is a built-in reward system involving a hormone called dopamine that has allowed us to survive for hundreds of thousands of years. Think of it like an achievement system for this giant game called life (where have we heard that before?).

As cavemen and cavewomen, our brains were rewarded with pleasure any time we found things that kept us alive (food!), did things that allowed us to reproduce (sex!), or took part in activities that kept us alive (running from predators!).

When our body encountered anything that was biologically helpful to our survival as a species, dopamine would be released in our brain that encouraged us to continue searching out those things.

For thousands of years, this “lizard brain” was freaking awesome. Like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, it was these biological systems that kept us safe, happy, and healthy.

Fast forward a few thousand millennia, and EVERYTHING that gives us pleasure but was only available in limited quantities, is now available everywhere. Depending on your “dopamine/midichlorian” stat, these things will affect you in various ways:

  • Want food NOW? You can order Domino’s pizza WHILE playing World of Warcraft.
  • Want a companion NOW? With a few clicks of a mouse and a credit card you’re good to go.
  • No need to run from predators! We’re now at the top of the food chain.

Our brain’s pleasure center can now get all the pleasure it wants without much effort – it’s like getting a participation trophy or earning achievement points just for turning the game on. Everything is out of whack! Stuart McMillen does a great job of explaining this in a comic.

Think about any free-to-play app-based game these days, like Boom Beach, Clash of Clans, and so on. Sure, you can wait four days for your castle to be built…or you can just spend a few measly bucks and get it RIGHT NOW. South Park absolutely nails this point in this must-watch segment below (obviously a few swears mixed into this):

Just as every Jedi is born with a different amount of Midichlorians (damn you George Lucas, for ruining the Force, by the way), we too are born with varying degrees of influence by this reward system.

So what’s the alternative to embracing our lizard brain and chasing dopamine all day?

Delayed satisfaction and gratification.

I can’t get no delayed satisfaction


Imagine you are a caveman named Bonk.

You spent all summer and fall eating anything and everything available to you. You instructed the rest of your family to do the same thing, laughing at the Gronks down the dirt path who only ate a bit and stored the rest.

When winter comes (damn you Ned Stark), your family is shit out of luck and you’ll end up as caveman popsicles, while the Gronks will survive and live to pass on their “put things away for the future, and you’ll have a better chance to survive!” genes. This is natural selection at its finest.

It was this skill that allowed certain members of our species to effectively hold off on the “GIMME PLEASURE NOW” part of our brain in favor of the “THIS WILL MAKE ME A BETTER CAVEMAN LATER” part.

Have you heard of the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment? No, it’s not a hipster indie band outta Austin (but I bet there IS a band named this).

Here’s the study:

A child was offered a choice between one small reward provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period, approximately 15 minutes, during which the tester left the room and then returned. 

In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the two rewards tended to have better life outcomes, as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index (BMI), and other life measures.

While debate still rages about what the study actually means for dopamine regulation and habits, one thing is clear: some of us are better at this delayed satisfaction thing than others. Just like some of us are more likely to get addicted to alcohol/drugs/food/whatever than others.

It’s also explains, at least in part, why some people are more successful and fit than others:

Can you say no to cake (it’s a lie, after all) every day for the ultimate reward of looking and feeling great in your skin?

Can you say no to watching TV all night and instead read a book or get more sleep for the ultimate reward of increased knowledge, a stronger body, or a better job?

Can you say no to drinking with friends or a video-game binge to you hold out for the ultimate reward of building that business you’ve been working on?

Within our brains right now, there is a battle of epic proportions going on: lizard brain vs logic (aka Lizard vs Spock).

Once we understand how the pleasure and happy parts of our brains work, we can start to think like a Jedi and set ourselves up to have a fighting chance against the Dark Side.

Resist the Empire


We’ve said this a few times before on this site, but solely relying on willpower to change habits is like trying to hold back the tide.

Depending on your level of bad habits (aka how strong of a pull the Dark side of the Force has on you), it could be like holding back a tsunami.

So, instead of just “trying harder,” we need to be smarter with our attack plan!

  • We need to cultivate a culture of discipline - small at first, but we are legitimately in a battle over our brain, involving hundreds of thousands of stimuli every day. A well-trained army has a much better chance to succeed in this battle!
  • We need to believe: Just as there is a Dark Side of the Force, so too is there a Light Side. Start proving to yourself that with each decision made to delay gratification for ultimate satisfaction, you are strengthening that part of your brain. Each decision makes it a bit easier, so show yourself that YOU CAN say no.
  • We need to think about systems, and start with identifying the things we can’t stop doing: I am hopelessly addicted to Sour Patch Kids, sunflower seeds, goldfish crackers, and pistachios. If I have just ONE of any of those things, my lizard brain immediately takes over and I cannot think of anything else until I’ve eaten every single one of them. Instead of just “trying harder” not to eat them, I don’t keep ANY of those foods within a hundred yard radius of me.
  • We need to remind ourselves of the long term: Just like keeping short term bad rewards within reach is a recipe for disaster, not making your long term reward a consistent part of your daily plan is a recipe to abandon it at the first sign of “gimme gimme gimme.” If you’re saving up money for a house or vacation, keeping a picture of that house as your computer background will consistently remind you to keep saving rather than spending it on stupid crap :)
  • We need allies in this fight: Employ your friends and family, and get them on your side. They can either pull you closer to the Dark Side unknowingly (“come on, just have one. What’s the harm in that? I don’t want to eat dessert/go out/play alone!”), or they can work on your team to help you succeed.

Ultimately, there is no silver bullet or how-to list to overcoming environments that are set up to work against us. This is a BIG question. Hell, that’s why I started Nerd Fitness – to give us Rebels a fighting chance.

Remember, we’re all in this fight together, and we’re constantly discovering new strategies and techniques for overcoming the tricks of the Empire. Although these short-term distractions are at every corner, this group of rag-tag Rebels is here to show you that success IS possible.

Down with the Dark SIde


Nerd Fitness is a site and community built around the long term reward of a healthy, happy life full of the Light Side of the Force.

Every day, we battle the overwhelming propaganda and marketing engine of the Empire to make better decisions, we battle co-workers and friends who unknowingly want us to slip up and join them on the Dark Side, and we battle a part of our brains that so desperately wants short term happiness.

Every day we wage this war, and every day we have the opportunity to get a little bit closer to Jedi, and a little bit further away from Sith.

Eventually, we can break the cycle, and we will defeat the Empire.

Thanks for being here, and thanks for fighting alongside us:

How are you taking a step closer to the Light Side today?

What’s one decision you can make or one change you can manufacture to prove to yourself change can happen?

Let’s hear it in the comments.



Pascal: Darth, Alan: Jedi, Brad Cerenzla: Caveman, Krissy Venosdale: Marshmallow, James Edwards: Storm Troopers

]]> 66
Dodge This: How the Matrix Can Help You Take Control of Your Life Mon, 19 Jan 2015 15:40:05 +0000 Neo: What are you trying to tell me? That I can dodge bullets?

Morpheus: No, Neo. I’m trying to tell you that when you’re ready, you won’t have to.

We’ve all seen that amazing scene in the Matrix, where Neo learns how the Matrix works… and when you heard that quote above, you probably said “whoa.”

Believe it or not, our pal Morpheus here is teaching Neo the same lesson you’re going to learn today. By the time I’m done with you, you’re going to accomplish more in one day than you accomplished in all of last week.

I have spent the past few weeks living like Neo, seeing how the Matrix works, and operating at peak efficiency. Instead of dodging bullets and putting out fires, I’m now more in control of life than ever before.

If you feel like your life is in shambles or you want to get healthier and happier but never have the chance to work on it, then today is for you.

It was a rude awakening, but I now feel like Morpheus, which means you get to be Neo.

Instead of learning how to dodge bullets as they’re shot at you, we’re going to stop them from happening in the first place.

Within a few weeks, you’ll be crushing every Agent Smith that stands in your way.

Hacking the Matrix is NOT a Band-Aid


When it comes to getting healthier, stronger, happier with work, or more productive with your time, a band-aid is a temporary or fragile solution to a problem without addressing the underlying cause.

Let me give you a few examples:

Let’s say we’re somebody who’s overweight that decides to go on a diet. A temporary solution would be to starve ourselves and run on a treadmill for a few weeks to a month until we can go back to eating like we used to. Once we reach our goal weight and go back to how we used to eat, we’ll put the weight right back on, and have to continually repeat the process.

Let’s say we’re somebody that wants to start exercising. If we have a vacation coming up in a month, and we suddenly start going to five days a week of bootcamps (that we don’t actually enjoy), sure…we might reach our target goal weight in time for the vacation to squeeze into that bathing suit…but two months later we’re right back to square one!

Maybe we struggle with depression and wonder if we’re stuck in the Matrix with our day jobs. We come home exhausted from work and have half a dozen drinks to help us forget the crappy day we had. We stay up too late playing video games – the only part of our life in which we feel like we have control – and then we wake up exhausted to an alarm clock, and chug a pot of coffee to get us through the next day of work.

Every single thing on this list is a temporary band-aid for a serious problem that is not being addressed.

Above, we are seeking temporary solutions to major problems - like somebody trying to follow the rules in a Matrix that doesn’t want the human to wake up. Somebody else is pulling the strings, programming your movements, and you’re stuck simply going through the motions. Trying to use a band-aid when the whole Matrix is set up for you to remain locked in this “prison for your mind” is like trying to hold back the tide.

If we want to start living a leveled-up life, we need to hack the Matrix to fit OUR lives, not try to operate within its stupid rules.

As Morpheus tells us:

“Some rules can be bent, others can be broken.”

THAT’S when the fun starts to happen.

Find the Source Code


As we said above, band-aids and patches are temporary, fragile solutions to problems that have a much deeper cause.

If you’re a programmer or coder, you might have been advised by your bosses to “just get the program working again” for a piece of software you just inherited. This requires you to haphazardly patch together a solution that solves the problem, but doesn’t deal with the crux of the issue: the original code was poorly written!

So, you’re going to spend hours upon hours writing temporary hacks and solutions instead of being given the chance to fix the buggy code at its source.

Instead of buying bigger and better band-aids, or creating more elegant hacks and patches to the code, what happens if we clean up the source code instead? By identifying the problem and then implementing a solution that addresses the cause of the problem, we can systematically destroy that end result requiring the band-aid in the first place.

Let’s get even nerdier: think about it like a video game. Normally you only have control over the character, but we want you to have access to the source code as well. If you’ve ever played an Elder Scrolls game or the original Doom, you’re familiar with this: you get to be the Architect behind the game – which enemies go where, if you get double the speed, can levitate, or activate God Mode.

Want to go old school? You’re the Dungeon Master in a D&D game!

Build the game yourself, and force the enemies to adapt to you and how YOU want to play. Pretty freaking awesome huh? It turns out, life is our computer program, and we can design it like an Architect.

On the recommendation of Ramit Sethi, I read a book called Work the System by Sam Carpenter. It might as well have been called “Hack the Matrix.” Although Sam mostly discusses the use of building systems in the workplace for efficiency, I’ve been applying these systems to my very own life. It’s the ultimate argument for “proactive vs reactive.”

So, how do we attack the source of our problems and put band-aids out of business? By finding the source code that sucks and rewriting it, and applying systems to stop problems before they start.


1) Identify the overarching outcome you want to have for our program. What does the optimal version of your Matrix look like? Are you in shape, waking up without an alarm, going to a job and home by 5pm to see your kids?

2) Identify the decisions that are made or systems that are in place that are keeping you from reaching your desired outcome: If you’re not in shape, identify what is causing the problem (lack of healthy nutrition, not enough exercise, long hours at work, stress at home, etc.).

3) Identify inefficiencies or issues in ONE of those systems. “I want to eat better, but I get lazy and only eat fast food because it’s so convenient.”

4) Fix the problem or the inefficiency that’s the root cause of the problem. Prepare meals in advance on Sunday so “lazy” doesn’t factor in come Wednesday afternoon.

5) Repeat the problem with each inefficiency until the system is running smoothly (aka you have built a new habit or the system runs without your input), then attack the next inefficient system. 

Let me give you a few more examples, along with how I’ve recently changed my life to adapt the Matrix to the existence I’m building.

Be proactive with your health


Let’s take one of the systems that we’re hoping to fix, and attack our nutrition problem. If you are somebody who is overweight and struggles to lose weight, then we have a system that is operating inefficiently. Fortunately for you, because it’s a system, a few small changes to how the program operates can get to the root of the problem.

So, looking at our five steps above, let’s see what we can do.

1) Identify the overarching desired outcome: a clean bill of health from the doctor and a smaller waistline.

2) Identify the decisions that are made or systems that are in place that are causing the issue: although we know not all calories are created equal, we know that eating less is a step in the right direction for weight loss. So we need to identify WHY we are overeating or how we can start to eat less:

  • Do you eat more food when you are bored? Are you eating when you are doing other things (watching movies, sitting at your computer, etc.?
  • Do you eat more food when you are unhappy? It might be time to dig into the cause of that unhappiness, and your relationship with food.
  • Do you opt for junk food or drive-through meals when you are “too busy”?
  • Do you simply not know how to cook healthy food? Maybe you’re afraid of your kitchen and need to prove to yourself you can cook a healthy meal.

3) Identify inefficiencies in that system. We need to educate ourselves on what’s missing or how we can make an adjustment to that system.

NOTE: Just saying “I need to eat less” or “I will try to eat less” is a recipe for disaster. Remember, we are building systems here! If you leave it up to “willpower” or “when I’m inspired” you will NOT make permanent changes. You need to write better code from the start; vague or abstract doesn’t work when you have to dial it down to 1s and 0s.

So, using the example above, let’s put some rules in place to take action.

4) Change the inefficient part of the system:

Eat when you’re bored? Make a rule that you are not allowed to eat when doing another activity. Don’t eat while working. Don’t eat while watching TV. Don’t eat while playing games. This is the part of the system you are changing – otherwise you can eat normally.

Eat fast food when you don’t have time to cook? Pick a handful of healthier fast food options (like a salad bowl from Chipotle) that you restrict yourself to when you find yourself needing to get a quick bite.

5) Track your progress and repeat until you reach the desired outcome. After a month of focusing on your new system, check your results. Is it working? Keep doing it! Then pick another system and attack that with equal vigor. It’s working but not as fast as you’d like? Pick another part of that system and make an additional adjustment.

Put agents Out of Business

agent smith

I can see you reading all of the above, and I can see you saying to yourself, “Steve, I know I need to make changes. I know my “Matrix” is broken. That’s not the problem. I just can’t get myself to do the stuff I need to do. I’m too lazy, too busy, and too good at procrastinating.”

To that I say: these feelings are all merely symptoms of a massively inefficient system! Remember, “F*** motivation! Cultivate discipline.” We need to build ourselves an environment that sets us up to win (Like a Batcave!), and we need to build our lives in a way that we can effortlessly operate at peak efficiency within our program.

I’m reminded of the following quote:

“I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes at nine every morning.” S.Somerset Maugham 

If you’re truly interested in changing your life, the more you can break it down into systems and then get to work on improving those systems, the more long-term success you will have. No “motivation” or superpowers required. Just results.

So enough with accepting the Matrix for what it is and trying to be a dutiful slave within it! Hack the Matrix, and start to build your own rules within it:

1) Stop dieting. This is a band-aid. Make fundamental changes at a deep level.

2) Find exercise that you enjoy. Changing your life at the source code means finding long term sustainable activities, not temporary miserable bouts to lose a few pounds.

3) Build systems at work too - go to work excited and come home proud. Here’s how to become more efficient in the office.

4) Start insanely small. Think big, systems big. But when starting to change, you can only change one line of code at a time. Pick one habit to build, make it incredibly simple and basic, and stick with it for weeks. Five minutes of walking every day for 30 days is more powerful than 2 hours of walking for two weeks and then giving up.

With each system that you change, with each update to the source code in your Matrix, you get one step closer to Neo status.

This is coming from somebody who used to stay up way too late, spend way too much time “being busy,” procrastinating ’til the last minute, and never getting to accomplish the things I wanted to do.

Now? I’ve hacked the code at its source, stopped fires from happening instead of constantly having to put them out, and I’m able to accomplish more than I have ever accomplished in the past. I haven’t quite learned how to fly yet, but the Agents ARE scared.

I want to hear from you and how you plan to hack the Matrix:

What’s ONE problem in your life that you are currently dealing with reactively, and how do you plan on taking a birds eye view of the situation and finding a proactive solution?

I want a concrete example with the NEXT STEP you plan on taking to hack your source code to stop putting out fires and running from agents, and stack the game in your favor.

Be specific. And take action!

Wake up, Neo…



photo source: Sam: Band Aid, Jonathan: Matrix, stefan tarnell: morning workout

]]> 24
How LEGO and Minecraft Will Help You Get In Shape Thu, 15 Jan 2015 15:11:05 +0000 Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved to build stuff.

If I was in the back yard, I was building a treehouse. If I was in my basement, I was building a pillow fort. If I was anywhere near LEGO pieces, I was building a masterpiece! Or a random hodgepodge of multicolored blocks that I called a spaceship. This is why most photos on this site are of LEGO characters!

It’s no surprise that my favorite book of all time is The Pillars of the Earth, which follows the construction of a massive cathedral over many decades in a small town. What sounds like a weird concept and boring story turns into one helluva mystery and adventure.

Needless to say, I love building stuff and learning about building!

Now, sure, the LEGO photos are cute, but they’ve actually been serving a far deeper purpose - I’ve been slowly brainwashing your subconscious with each picture – showing you the true secret to a healthy body, stronger muscles, and a better life…one brick at a time.

So, when I recently stumbled across a quote that hit me like a ton of bricks (sorry, pun TOTALLY intended), I knew it was time to teach you everything you need to know about getting fit with LEGO pieces.

Become a Bricklayer


I was reading something from my friend JC Deen and in it he shared a quote that I fell in love with:

“Get obsessed with consistency in the actions that feed the goal. Getting obsessed with the goal won’t work and neither does having moderate goals. It’s like thinking about laying down the perfect brick after perfect brick rather than going nuts over when you’ll see a building emerge.”  -Amir Siddiqui

I then thought of all of the creations in the world built out of bricks: the Pyramids of Egypt, The Cathedral of Notre Dame, and LEGOLAND’s Model of New York City.

Heck, somebody went through the effort to create a replica of the famous Elven city of Rivendell in Minecraft (which is but one of million epic creations in the game):

There’s something pretty cool about looking at something so grand on such a seemingly microscopic level: “Don’t worry about the brick you last placed, or the brick you must place next. Instead, put 100% of your focus on where THIS brick is supposed to go…and things will work out.”

In order for these creations to withstand the test of time, every brick, stone, or LEGO piece had to be placed in the perfect spot, next to the previously perfectly placed piece (say THAT three times fast).

I was recently introduced to an 85-year-old sushi chef named Jiro (h/t Ramit), widely known as the world’s best. Jiro is known as a master for seeking absolute perfection in each piece of sushi that he is creating. Not the one he already made, nor the next one. But rather, Jiro takes true joy in mastering the piece of sushi in front of him:

Jiro doesn’t concern himself with that final product. He knows if he can pour his all into THIS piece, and then repeat that process – the rest will take care of itself. (If you’ve seen the new movie Chef, from Jon Favreau, it’ll make you fall in love with the process of preparing a great meal, too.)

Look at a final plate from Jiro. Or take a walk through the Notre Dame. Watch that fly-by video of Rivendell. It’s incredibly easy to focus on the finished product: “Wow that looks amazing, and it look like it took a crazy amount of work…there’s no way I could possibly do that.” But that’s not how great things are built. Great things are built one brick at a time.

I see the same thing every single day in health and fitness. We have readers that have long journeys ahead of them, needing to lose hundreds of pounds. Or we see some people who can only focus on the finished product; they see somebody else they want to look like, or they think what’s in front of them is too daunting.

It’s quite easy to look at the plans for a cathedral, or the blueprints for a LEGO skyscraper and get overwhelmed.

Today I want you to stop worrying about that final plan, and instead focus on just putting the next LEGO brick in the right spot. THAT’S IT.

Forget what happened yesterday, what has to happen tomorrow, an hour from now, or even five minutes from now. All we have to worry about is putting that next brick where it belongs. Once that brick is placed, we can move onto the next brick. If we can put our faith in the plan that’s in front of us, we don’t need to worry about what it will eventually become or how quickly we’ll get there.

We just need to do the one thing, and do it well. And enjoy it!

Enjoy the process!


Remember when Forrest Gump ran and ran and ran? He wasn’t worried about the great distance. He wasn’t running for a particular cause…he did all of it simply because he just liked running:

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run. So I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town. And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County. And I figured, since I run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama. And that’s what I did. I ran clear across Alabama. For no particular reason I just kept on going. I ran clear to the ocean.”

In nerdier terms, Frodo didn’t concern himself with destroying the ring in Mordor, but rather asking “Gandalf, is it left or right?” and then putting his faith in his feet to get him there.

I want you to do the same. Get really damn good on focusing where that next brick is going.

  • Don’t worry about the 100 pounds you need to lose, instead focus on making a better decision while in the lunch line today. Or be like Jiro, and try to make your next meal a masterpiece – even if it’s just chicken stir-fry. We are building towards something epic, and every individual decision is something we get to control – that’s pretty awesome. Like building a castle out of LEGO bricks, building is most of the fun. The finished product is just a bonus!
  • Don’t worry about what you’re supposed to look like a year from now, instead focus on the completing that next set of push ups with great form. Or how you can cook an epic meal for dinner. Or how you can get a tiny bit closer to doing a pull up! When Joe lost 128 pounds in 11 months, he didn’t step on a scale for half a year – he just put his faith in his brick-laying, every day focusing on his next meal, his next workout.
  • Don’t worry about the 26.2 miles you need to run in a marathon, instead focus on running past the next tree as smoothly as possible. And remind yourself why you’re running: because you enjoy it! Enjoy the wind in your hair, the ability to place your next foot anywhere, and the freedom it brings you.
  • Don’t worry about all of the things you need to get done before the weekend, instead focus on the NEXT thing and do it to the best of your ability. Get that done with focus and precision, and then move onto the next task. Repeat.

The best part about all of the scenarios above: if you can lay enough bricks consistently, the cathedral takes care of itself. Falling in love with the process we are completing will allow us to build the best damn thing ever, but it requires us to take a brick-by-brick view of life.

Nerd Fitness has provided the blueprints for your leveled up life, so let US worry about that. All I want you to worry about now is where to place that next brick, and how perfectly you’re going to place it.

My cathedral, and my brick: 

I am not good at the violin, and it’s intimidating me so much that I opt out of practicing a lot. So, I’m going to stop worrying about playing like Kiana in Gaelic Storm, and instead just focus on playing the next song in my song book today.

On the fitness side of things, I’ve also been putting my faith in my bricks, and falling in love with each workout. It’s working! Plus, it allows me to do cool stuff like this :)

What about you? What’s your cathedral? And what’s the next brick you’re going to place?

I’m feeling particularly generous today, so let’s give away some free stuff! I want you to leave a comment: tell us what kind of Cathedral you’re trying to build, and how instead you’re going to focus on the placement of your next brick. How can you fall in love with the method with which those bricks are being placed?

We’ll pick 3 winners at random and send them a Nerd Fitness shirt from the NF store.

Tell us about your bricks before 11:59pm on January 22nd to be eligible!


PS: Seriously though, if you haven’t read it, check out The Pillars of the Earth. It’s a monster at 900+ pages but it surprised the hell out of me and I’m about to start reading it again.


photo source: Patrick Louke: lego

]]> 180
How Daryl the Fast Food Manager Dropped 100+ Pounds Following Nerd Philosophy Mon, 12 Jan 2015 16:47:36 +0000 Daryl is a self described simple guy. Just a nerd who loves lifting and video games (hey, he’s in the right place!). Working in fast food management, Daryl has his share of willpower-challenges throughout the day.

Previously drinking well over 100 oz of soda each day and skipping meals to…drink more soda, it’s safe to say that he lived a fairly sedentary life:

I was a complete slob and all I did was eat and play video games. On the average day I would get up (if I had even gone to bed) and go to work, come home and not even bother to contact any of the few friends that I did somehow have, and go right to playing video games…that was my life for quite a while.

But Daryl decided to make a change, and today finds himself over 100 lbs lighter with a whole new outlook on life. Let’s take a look at how he did it.

Daryl’s Story

Daryl before after

Steve: Hey Daryl! Thanks for chatting with us. I’m sure most Rebels can relate to your story – unhappy with your life and using video games as an escape. I mean, that was me circa 2008! Was there a specific moment when you decided to make a change? What inspired you to get started?

Thanksgiving of 2013. I ate a whole BBQ party tray by myself and was about halfway through a pie and I threw up. I had literally eaten myself sick, and I knew I had to fix myself before I killed myself.

Steve: Wow, so what’s a typical day like now – after the change?

A typical day now is a complete 180 with a little rocket fuel to get away from the old me! I am up early every morning, and I make sure I have plenty of time before work starts to complete my morning routine. Start with a quick 5-minute warm-up to start the day and then it is breakfast time! Always have a hearty Paleo breakfast so I am ready to destroy my workout! Immediately after breakfast I am into my workout and then a cooldown before I start my day.

Steve: So what has been your exercise strategy?

I train six days a week. Initially I started off with the beginner body weight circuit 3 days a week, and I did interval training the other 3 days of the week, with one rest day at the end of the week.

About 2 months in I scored a weight set off craigslist for $50 and immediately added lifting into my regime, which helped me get past a plateau in my weight loss that I was at. At about month 3 I swapped from doing the above circuit to the Advanced Body Weight Circuit (scaled) with a dynamic warm-up. And I begin doing hill sprints on my interval days twice a week with yoga finishing the week.

This is what I am still doing in month six of my training.

Steve: Holy crap, what a progression! Start small, and work your way up to a serious routine. What are you excited to do now that you weren’t physically able to do before? Any activities in particular?

Pull-ups. Holy crap pull-ups. That was the one thing that always made me feel embarrassed in high school and now I do them every day! [Steve’s note: here’s how to work your way up to pull ups].

Steve: Good stuff. So, what about the other side, your diet? What’s been your strategy? 

99% Paleo. I quit my old diet cold turkey. I signed up for the site and downloaded the guides I bought (now The Nerd Fitness Academy). I told myself that if I could get through the holidays on this diet then I could do anything. I mentally shook hands with Steve when he asked in the guide for six weeks of training/eating right for this to take hold and I am glad I did!

When I first started I ate way less than I needed, but the NF forums are very helpful and that was pointed out to me when I asked a few questions after I was feeling weak and fatigued. I upped my food intake and the fatigue went away, with that I gained more energy than I ever remember having in my life.

Daryl Paintball

Steve: Wow, what a huge change. Was that the hardest change? If not, what was?

Exercising. I didn’t really know how to start (so thank you Nerd Fitness!) and I lived in a small town of sub 5,000 people. The one gym was open 9-6, Monday-Friday, and I worked through most of that.

So, I made it all work from my bedroom. The hardest part was telling myself that I am getting out of bed 2 hours before my 7 am shift to EXERCISE and make a healthy breakfast.

Now that it is all routine, I can’t imagine life without it; it has become my new way of life!

Steve: How did you track your progress? Was it just the scale or did you track other metrics too?

I took photos every 3 months (I really REALLY wish I would have taken more, but I hated having my picture taken when I was obese, and I still had some of that tracking around in my mind). I weighed myself once a week, if I did it any more than that I would become paranoid…I made sure it was the same time every week so the differences would be most accurate. I really did not take any other measurements because I was uneducated on how to, and was too distracted by how awesome the other changes were!

Steve: We know how you feel dude – sorry I didn’t write my article about photos sooner! So, your physical appearance has changed…what else has changed about you?

I am noticeably happier and not as shy around people. Being a tall guy is rough enough being shy, but being tall and heavy is just a nightmare. Losing a lot of the shyness too!


Steve: What kind of support system did you have on your journey?

Everyone I could tell! It started out with my hello on the NF Community Boards and after a warm reception, I started actually doing it, I got the help I needed when I had questions, it was just amazing! My family was incredibly supportive as were my friends. They also loved that I was becoming a healthier, happier person.

Being public about my goals was one of my most important decisions; I would have never done it on my own!

Steve: Have you tried and failed to get healthy before in the past? What made this time different?

Yes, but I never knew how or really who to ask. It was different this time because like I said, I told EVERYONE. Everyone was helping keep my accountable, even the grocery clerks I told. And it felt great when complete strangers like them, or customers in our store that I worked really started to notice, so that was motivation to keep going hard! I also love RPG and I had never imagine putting myself in one in my own life to help myself lose weight, but it worked pretty well!

Steve: So, what’s next for you? You’ve accomplished all of this stuff that you have to be super happy about…but is there another dragon to slay?

I was originally motivated by joining the military, but hit a snag in my journey with the military motivation. I finally got around to talking to some recruiters, and while they were all very impressed with my weight loss and my ability to complete the fitness trials, I was told that going active duty is simply not an option for me.

I have gout, and while my medicine keeps it at bay it is one of those things that can render me unable to serve, endangering those around me and myself. When I got told this from every single recruiter I had a blowout: I went back to eating crappy and stopped exercising. After about a week of this I looked in the mirror and I wasn’t magically overweight again from this binge.

I had a moment where the light switched on that my motivation wasn’t that I wanted to join the military, so much as it was to be as healthy as the people I see in the active military. I slapped myself awake and realized that I did NOT want to go back to how I looked and felt before, so I got back on track. Now I have taken a job transfer that was long overdue, and I am going to keep doing new things, challenging and pushing myself! I’m going to go for the Spartan Beast this year in Montana)

Steve: Sounds like you mentally leveled up. Sorry to hear about the military thing, but it sounds like you got to the true source of your motivation for why you wanted to change - so props to you for snapping out of the funk (which we can all understand) and getting back on track. Proud of you. Okay. On to the good stuff. Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

I was raised into Star Wars by my older brother! I have a special place for it in my nerdy heart.

Steve: Do you have any nerdy passions or pursuits?

I love to write story lines for video games in my spare time, I am working with a buddy on one right now who does game design. I’ll keep ya updated on that one!

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

Aquaman wanna-be checking in here. I am fascinated with deep sea life and it seems only fitting, and I could also definitely help a lot a of people with it!

Steve: Quote to live by?

Pain, Strength, Suffering, and Reserve. These are the pillars a man must endure when he remakes himself, for he is both the sculptor and the marble.”

Why Daryl Was Successful

Daryl used to use video games as an escape, living almost a completely sedentary lifestyle – sound familiar? Today Daryl is down 100 lbs and looking for the next thing to keep him challenged.  Let’s break down some of the key reasons Daryl was so successful:

Daryl_week 11

Daryl took the most difficult challenge in small bites. Daryl said that he always found exercise the hardest part of the equation. So what did he do? He started small, with something manageable – the Beginner Bodyweight Workout. After building some momentum, he added in a proper warmup and cooldown, advanced to the higher level version of the workout, and added in sprints.

Daryl built up his workout slowly, just like leveling up in a video game. And by focusing on exercises that gave him his most bang for his buck (compound movements), he didn’t have to spend hours on a treadmill to do it!

Daryl made sure things were different this time: When Daryl failed in the past, he didn’t have a support team and he didn’t have a guide. This time he came prepared. First he made his quest public and had an enormously supportive team of friends, family, and Rebels on the board.

If there was a question that would normally trip him up and serve as an excuse for not doing a workout, he had a community of 30,000 Rebels who were ready and waiting to answer questions and cheer him on.

Daryl put a MAJOR focus on diet. Unlike his strategy for exercise, Daryl went all-in on Paleo (In our most recent discussion on Paleo, we discuss some of the pros and cons of wading in slowly and jumping right into a new diet). As diet accounts for 80-90% of success, this change was absolutely essential. While some have trouble diving right into 100% Paleo, Daryl took his troubles to the boards, got feedback from others who have walked the path, and simply made some tweaks to his diet to keep him on track.

Daryl remembered why he got healthy: We all have different reasons why we want to get fit. For some of us, it’s because we want to be better parents to our kids, for others it might be they want to develop confidence to start dating. What’s important is that we have a REASON – not “I should probably work out.” Daryl aimed to get fit for the military, which served as his driving force to start; eventually he realized that this motivation was actually just him wanting to be the type of person who is fit – like military people. In our minds, this motivation from within is a much more powerful “why” – doing something to build a stronger, leveled-up version of you. And as he started getting fit, his motivation changed; he now actually looks forward to exercising!

We’ve noticed this with almost ALL of our success stories :)

What’s Your “Why?”

Daryl Race

We all need a reason to get healthy.

Whether you’re doing this to finally achieve a certain fitness feat, serve as a role model for friends or family, or to simply feel comfortable in your own skin, your “why” is a huge part of long term success.

What started as a simple revelation turned out to put Daryl on a path to reclaiming his life and building the character he chose to be. He surrounded himself (in real life and virtually) with people who wanted him to succeed. He had a plan, and put it to work.

And now he’s crushing adventure races, down 100 pounds, and excited about exercise.

Congrats Daryl, and thanks for sharing your story! Feel free to ask a question or leave a note of congratulations for Daryl in the comments!


PS: Although Daryl eventually purchased the training plans that Nerd Fitness offered (now part of the NF Academy), he started simple – following the free workout routines we have hereWhat’s important is that you pick a plan, even if it’s not perfect – and start! We’re all figuring things out as we go, and our motivations/goals change as we go. What’s important is to GET STARTED… yesterday, if possible, but today will have to do :)

]]> 27
Going Paleo? 5 Things You Need to Know. Thu, 08 Jan 2015 15:05:06 +0000
“Alright, I’m in. Let’s do this Paleo thing.”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the Paleo Diet. Actually, if you’re living under a rock, you probably are doing a pretty good job at living a Paleo lifestyle…and I’m impressed you’re reading this.

Anyways! Today’s article isn’t going to dig into what the Paleo Diet is, as I’ve already covered that extensively in the “Beginner’s Guide to the Paleo Diet,” which has been viewed 9.5 million times.

If you’re not sure which foods qualify as Paleo or not, our Paleo Central mobile app takes out all of the guess work.

And if you’re somebody that’s quick to point out “the Paleo diet is flawed for [insert some reason about cavemen eating something]” or because you read the China Study, check out our “Paleo Diet Debunked?” article, where we explain our stance on the diet (and why we’re fans).

Today’s article is for those people who have already decided they want to go Paleo or Paleo-ish, but aren’t quite sure what that means or how to officially get started.

We’ll dig into the different ways to go Paleo, if there’s a WRONG way to do it, what pitfalls to avoid, and how you can set yourself up for success.

Is there a Wrong Way to Go Paleo?


“But the big point of the Paleo Diet is that I can eat as much as I want as long as it’s Paleo right?”

For many people, the reason they’re choosing to go Paleo is because they want to lose weight, and have heard plenty of success stories. Heck, many of the success stories here on Nerd Fitness are from people who have done the same thing:



However, just as there’s a right way and a wrong way to start eating gluten free, and a right way and a wrong way to love somebody (thanks Keith Sweat!), there’s a right way and a wrong way to go Paleo.

The right way:  Focus on eating real foods (not processed crap), like protein, healthy fats, and plenty of vegetables.

The wrong way: Switching from normal cookies and pancakes to Paleo cookies and pancakes. Eating as much fruit, potatoes, and dark chocolate as possible.

When you’re getting ready to transition to a Paleo Diet, the point is not to find Paleo substitutes of all of your favorite unhealthy foods - but rather to fundamentally adjust how you think about food and how you fuel your body.

Remember, just about every meal should be loaded with vegetables, along with a protein source. Fresh fruit is great, in moderation, and mixing in nutrient rich complex carbs (like sweet potatoes) is awesome too.

But loading up on tons of ‘Paleo friendly’ (aka processed and sugary) carb sources defeats the purpose entirely.

So, we’re focusing on eating real foods, right? Great! That’s a good start. But should switch 100% to real foods RIGHT NOW? Or slowly switch over?

Should I go all in, or gradually transition?


Great question. I knew you were smart!

THE “WADE IN” METHOD: Instead of going 100% Paleo, you decide to SLOWLY transition to the diet over weeks or months. You swap out a food here and there, eliminate one type of food after weaning yourself off of it for months, and you make adjustments along the way.

PROS: Your change is gradual, and it’s less of a hit on your wallet. Instead of throwing out ALL of your food and going to buy all Paleo items, you simply stop eating certain foods as you run out of them, replacing them with Paleo items.

Your body has to deal with less of a drastic shock, which means you’re less likely to run out of willpower during your transition. You’re slowly transitioning, pushing your body and tastebuds just slightly outside of the comfort zone.

CONS: When you slowly transition to a Paleo Diet, the “oh my god I feel amazing!” change that many people feel is a lot less pronounced. Because you’re not making drastic changes, your results will be, surprise, more gradual and less drastic!

THE “ALL IN CANNONBALL!” METHOD: If the above method is you wading slowly into the deep end of the Paleo Pool, this is you pulling a Ron Burgundy CANNONBALL! and going all in with 100% Paleo on Day 1. You get rid of all non-Paleo foods, you stop eating dairy and grains, and you “rip the band-aid” off fast.

PROS: You get all of the changes over with immediately, and all of the ‘uncomfortableness’ with transition is all done much quicker. It sucks for many, but it’s over with faster. You also don’t have to worry about deciding which foods to swap out next.

Also, because you’re going full Paleo, you’re more likely to have a drastic weight loss story in the first few weeks, which can be really encouraging and positively reinforcing, making it easier to stay on target.

CONS: Because “carb-flu” is a real thing (which I cover below), it requires a TREMENDOUS amount of willpower. It’s very easy to slip up when you go all in, because it’s a drastic shock to your system and body. This is especially true if you normally fuel your body with grains and carbs and are used to eating a LOT of them.

Seriously, those first few weeks can seriously suck, which can be enough to cause people to have a bad day and run to their nearest Pizza Hut.

Personally, Team Nerd Fitness is a much bigger fan of the “wade in” method, as we’ve seen this be more successful for the majority of people. We’re huge fans of small gradual changes that last permanently, but we know everybody is different. What we don’t want is for somebody to go all-in for a month, lose a bunch of weight, but be so miserable that they go right back to eating pizza and pasta and undo all their work.

When NF Team member Staci went Paleo, it took her a total of eight months to complete the transition - slowly removing each item from her diet one at a time. That was back in 2010 – so while the change took a long time, it’s stuck for five years now.

The choice is yours as to which method you like, as we’ve seen success stories from both types – it comes down to what’s right for you!

Once you’ve decided HOW you’re going to go Paleo, it’s time to figure how to play it out amongst your friends and family – as they’re going to give you a few weird looks for this “eating like a caveman” thing.

Social Paleo Recommendations


“If you’re a vegan who ran a marathon & got your dogs from a shelter, how do you decide which thing to wedge into the conversation first?” -Ken Jennings

“How do you know if somebody does Crossfit? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you.”

Although I’m using the examples above as a joke, you could EASILY mix in “Paleo” or “gluten free” into either of those. When we make a change to our life, we feel like shouting it from the top of the Lonely Mountain. We want to tell anybody and everybody that we feel amazing, and that life is SO much better now that we’ve seen the light. However, doing so is a recipe for getting punched in the face, so here’s how you can still eat healthy without getting ostracized by those around you:

Don’t be a know-it-all: Stay humble, and realize most people need to discover their own path to a healthy life. So don’t preach, and don’t start spouting off facts and figures unless you’re asked; certainly don’t judge those that still eat a typical diet. Remember, that was you. Like, a month ago :)

Stay creative when navigating the real world: Look, even if you don’t talk about your dietary changes or tell others to make adjustments for your needs, you still live in a world that is designed and built to make you fat. From a “balanced breakfast” which is just a pile of empty carbs, to snacks that are processed and plentiful, our society that is BUILT around grains…it’s a challenge to live a fully Paleo lifestyle in modern times.

You’re like Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer, trying to live like a caveman in today’s society.

You may need to ask your waiter to substitute some items or change your grocery shopping habits. And the weird looks? They’ll come with the territory. Embrace the weird!

Don’t panic. Use common sense: We are not a group of Paleo-book thumping fundamentalists that refuse to eat anything because it didn’t exist back in the day. There’s no purity test, and honestly, we don’t care what Fred Flintstone ate.

We just like the “idea” of the Paleo diet, as it makes eating and maintaining a healthy weight easy. So we don’t freak out about every ingredient, or FLIP out if there’s one meal that’s got some non grass-fed beef in it. Do the best you can to use the Paleo diet as an easy guide to eat more real food and less crap… lighten up, Francis!

Just try a little bit of Paleo


Maybe you like the idea of the Paleo Diet, but you’re not ready to jump in 100%.

Or maybe it scares you! Maybe you’ve heard from people that you need your heart healthy whole grains, and that fat is bad, and without dairy your bones will fall apart.

That doesn’t mean you can’t try a Paleo lifestyle, even a little bit.  For example, try swapping out Coke for water. Or try eggs and bacon instead of a cereal, muffin, and orange juice.

A sustainable 10% is better than an unsustainable 100%, or nothing at all. Every little change will have big, long term effects. One Rebel lost 20 lbs from simply cutting out soda and fast food!

Remember, we’re after long term changes, not a 30-day diet or 10 day cleanse.

If you’re thinking “If I do this Paleo thing, how long do I have to do it for before I can go back to eating normally?” then you need to free your mind and shift how you view these diet changes.

The Paleo Diet isn’t a temporary diet, but a permanent lifestyle change. We recommend making small changes because any change you make should be something you can stick to. Not for a week, ten days, a month, or even a year. It’s a lifestyle change. Forever.

So, we’d rather you make WAY fewer changes, but make them changes you can live with for the rest of your life!

You need to experiment and find the combination of healthy and happy that works long term for you. 

We’ve actually structured our Nerd Fitness Academy around this philosophy, with 10 different levels of nutrition that allow you to pick the level that works best for your goals and expectations, along with instructions on how to graduate and level up when you’re ready!

Carb Flu, Cheat Meals, and More


Carb flu is a real thing! If you are somebody that has steadily subsisted on lots of carbs for years (bread, pizza, cereal, bagels, pasta, etc.) and then you switch to a 100% Paleo Diet, your body might struggle for the first few weeks of the transition. When you consumed a lot of carbs before, your body consistently pulled from those carb glucose stores to fuel your body. When you switch to Paleo, your body has to relearn that it can pull from the fat in your body to produce energy…instead of looking for that readily available glucose.

They call this “carb flu.” It doesn’t affect every Paleo person, and it affects people in varying degrees…but it can be a real bummer for many people, leaving them sluggish and depressed (and thus infinitely more likely to bail on the dietary changes). If you are in your first few weeks of dealing with Paleo and you feel really sluggish: 

  • Make sure you are eating enough! If you just cut out carbs but don’t increase your vegetable/fat/protein intake, you could simply not be eating enough. Add more avocado/nuts/coconut oil/protein to your meals and see if that helps. We suggest tracking your food intake for a few days while you make this transition.
  • Consider adding in SOME carbs. If you are truly struggling with a very low carb diet, consider upping your carb intake by eating sweet potatoes or fruit and see if that helps. Paleo is NOT a ketogenic diet, and it shouldn’t be. It’s a lower carb than normal, but not to the extent that keto is.
  • Consider trying the wade-in method. You will be far less likely to experience the carb flu if you don’t go all-in.

Cheat meals can be rough! Depending on how intolerant your body is to gluten and/or dairy…don’t be surprised if that “cheat meal” of pizza and ice cream one day wreaks absolute havoc on your stomach and causes you to spend the next day curled up in a ball. You’ve been warned.

Your tastebuds can and will change. For those of you that think you’d never give up [bad food] or can’t live without [blah blah blah] – that’s fine. Feel free to eat those things occasionally – life is too short. However, don’t be surprised when after a few months of healthy living, those same ‘comfort foods’ start to look gross.

Never say never, and don’t assume you’re going to struggle with giving up certain foods. Get started and see how your body reacts, taking changes as they come.

Teach me how to paleo!


I feel obliged to say one last thing about the Paleo Diet: It’s not going to turn you into Superman.

As with anything that becomes popular, people come out of the woodwork to tell you how AMAZING and life changing it is – along with those that scream the exact opposite.

Yes, the Paleo Diet can potentially help you live a healthier life – you’re going to be eating more real food and lots more vegetables. It can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. But it’s not going to make you superhuman overnight. If you are a skeptic and numbers fanatic, consider speaking with a doctor to get your blood work done, and then get tested again in a few months after making your dietary changes.

Second, results may vary. If you go all in on Paleo, and you used to eat terribly before, it’s possible to see a dramatic weight loss within the first few days.

This is because your body was carrying a lot of extra water weight, thanks to all of the grains, carbs, and sodium you were eating. So when you see that scale drop drastically, it’s easy to get overly excited and irrationally optimistic…followed by irrational depression when you stop dropping tons of weight each week. (This also works in reverse. If you eat like crap for a weekend, your water weight could spike UP!)

This is why instead of basing your self-worth on what the scale says each week, we’d rather you base your success on a few other metrics:

  • How you feel! Are you feeling better? Sleeping better? Less achey?
  • How you look - Compare your before photo to today’s photo (you DID take a before photo, right?)
  • How your clothes fit - Are your pants getting looser? Do you need a new belt? And what’s really happening down there?

If you do slip up, we recommend not even stepping on the scale for a few days until you’re back on the Paleo Train Flintstone Car.

Remember, results vary for everyone. Even among experts there is disagreement if they are Paleo or not. There is no one exact right way to “go Paleo”. The best thing you can do is figure out what works best for you…and then go eat more vegetables – even if you don’t like them.

What other questions do you have for me about Paleo?

Do you have a success story, or want to share your struggles with the transition? I can think of about 245,000 people who’d love to hear your story – it might help them in their own transition!

Leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer them :)


PS: I wanted to share some of my favorite Paleo and healthy eating articles here on Nerd Fitness:

PPS: Quick reminder about the NF Academy (which has recipes, meal plans, and a nutrition leveling system built around Paleo Principles) – if you sign up before January 10th, you can join us for 4 live Q&As each week where you get to ask me whatever you want about getting started!

Nearly 10,000 Rebels are leveling up in the Academy right now. Come join us!


photo source: Asrar Makrani: caveman


]]> 25
Getting Started With Nerd Fitness: Ready Player One. Fri, 02 Jan 2015 14:16:24 +0000 Life is an adventure game, waiting to be played.

I’ve been running Nerd Fitness for six years now (!), helping people live better lives any way that I can. The NF tagline has been “Level Up Your Life” since then, and Team Nerd Fitness has been focused on finding ways to inspire, educate, and entertain with the help of our favorite movies, books, games, and comic heroes.

Maybe this is your first day ever seeing Nerd Fitness, and you’re trying to figure out what the heck this site is all about, and if it’s for you.

Maybe you’ve been reading for years, but you’re still learning and interacting with all the different aspects of our community.

Either way, I’m glad to have you here. Now, I tend to be wordy, and with over 650 articles published on the site, it’s tough to encapsulate what Nerd Fitness is, what the Rebellion is, and what we stand for.

Today, I’m presenting you with the “too long;didn’t read (tl;dr)” version of Nerd Fitness to share with friends, or help you dive in if you’re interested in learning more about what we do.

Here’s Nerd Fitness, in a nutshell.

Life is a Game

quest map

Life is an adventure game waiting to be played.

I mean that literally.

I was born and raised on Nintendo, and spent many of my formative years getting lost in role playing games, fantasy novels, adventure movies, and comic books.

In grade school I spent my afternoons playing Legend of Zelda, Chrono Trigger, Earthbound, and Final Fantasy. When I got to high school, I spent nights and weekends dumping 40+ hours into Everquest, a nerdier (and more archaic) massively multiplayer online predecessor to World of Warcraft.

If I wasn’t gaming, I was burying my face in strategy guides, reading Harry Potter or watching Lord of the Rings, grateful for the chance to escape briefly from a life that wasn’t nearly as exciting as the stories.

If you grew up with a passion for books/games/comics, I’m sure you can relate when I say that I spent far too much time dreaming about my nerdy pursuits, getting more than a few strange looks for being so passionate about them.

Heck, to this day I still continue to look at the characters in these adventures as a fun escape from reality: 

  • I dreamt that I was big and strong like Captain America
  • I wished I went on adventures like Link from the Legend of Zelda.
  • I thought it would be cool to escape like Jason Bourne and take over a room like James Bond.

Up until a few years ago, reality could never match my imagination. The games, books, and movies were far more exciting…until I decided to turn my life into a giant adventure game - I called it my Epic Quest of Awesome.

This idea of life as a game stuck, and I was fortunate enough to give a TEDx talk on how I turned life into a game a few years back:

TEDx Talk

We look at life like a game around here, because it’s meant to be fun and full of adventure. We love the idea of leveling up our lives just as if we were leveling up a character. Exploring far off lands, or even exploring our back yards and getting smarter, stronger, and faster. We love gaining strength by doing more push ups or by deadlifting slightly more weight than last week. Or earning stamina points by running farther and faster.

Believe it or not, we humans are biologically designed to love leveling-up psychology, instant gratification, and challenge that video games provide.

At Nerd Fitness, we look at those games (and books and movies) not just as an escape - but rather as the very inspiration and education to help US live better. Our secret weapon.

We apply the mechanics from our games, and apply them to our exercise strategy. We take those same games and movies, and use them as the inspiration to get us off our asses and outside doing stuff.

It’s how I was able to do the following:

You see, although “nerds” and “fitness” don’t seem like they belong next to each other, it’s actually the opposite.  We’re tailor-made for this adventurous, forward-moving life, complete with a healthy body and a happy existence.  We’re more than capable of becoming real-life versions of our favorite superheroes and characters.

Nerd Fitness isn’t just a workout plan, or a 30-day diet that temporarily gives you superpowers. Our goal is to turn you into a permanent superhero. The leveled up version of you.

Let me tell how you we’ve helped thousands upon thousands of people do that.

Small Changes Create Long Term Results

Storm Troopers workout with Darth Vader watching, small exercises

We are not fans of diets.

We’re not fans of 90 day “get shredded!!” workout plans either.

They might work in the short term, but that’s not what we’re after.

We ARE fans of creating long term, gimmick-free, antifragile success for our Rebels. There’s no such thing as a get-fit-quick scheme, or the perfect workout plan, or a pill that will solve all of your problems.

In order for us to create this long term success for you, we focus on rewiring your brain (don’t worry, no surgery required) so that you can build permanent (and small) habits that result in long term success. It all comes down to understanding how our brains work, and how habits are formed.

We’ve written about this stuff extensively in the following articles, which we encourage you check out when you get a chance, but I’ll give you a quick abridged version too after:

The tl;dr version: We are creatures of habit – what we look like and how we act is a result of hundreds of tiny habits built over many years. If we want to start losing weight, looking better, or feeling better, we need to start by building tiny new habits and adjusting our old habits to set us up for success!

Want to lose weight? Don’t go on a crash diet and starve yourself – after a few weeks you’ll be so miserable that you’ll go right back to where you started. I’ll cover diet more below.

Want to exercise more? Start by building the habit of exercise. Just got for a walk, every day, for 10 minutes. After a few weeks you can increase the challenge and type of exercise, but its the HABIT we want to build. As they say, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”

Whatever you’re trying to accomplish, it’s important to know that we have a limited amount of willpower in which to change how we live daily – think of it like your health points in a video game. If you want to build new habits, pick ONE or TWO habits to change, and make them small. Attack too many new habits too quickly, and your willpower will rapidly deplete, and you’ll lose.

This is why everybody gives up on their New Year’s Resolutions within two weeks! They attack too many problems at once, instead of focusing on building one or two tiny habits at a time.

After you’ve investigated why habits are so important to our long term success, it’s time to apply that to our training philosophy so you can actually start looking like the superhero of your choice.

A strong nerd is a healthy nerd


We believe that a strong nerd is a healthy nerd.

To borrow from Henry Rollins, author of the amazing Iron and the Soul (MUST READ),  “We have never met a truly strong person who didn’t have self-respect.”

Being strong makes every aspect of life better, from how we carry ourselves, to our personal health, to our confidence, and even our performance in any other activity we look to complete.

On top of that,  we love strength training because it gets you to your goal no matter your gender or age. If you’ve been spending miserable hours on a treadmill and not seen results, it’s time to try another path. Strength training is simply the most efficient way lose weight and achieve that ‘lean’ look that you are going for.

Yep, even if you’re a lady trying to get “toned.”

Staci (now a full time NF team member) pictured below loves The Legend of Zelda, her pets, and old school barbell training. We receive dozens of emails a week from women asking how to look like her. The answer? Clean eating and heavy lifting.

Staci can now deadlift 405 pounds!

staci screenshot

Staci’s story should put ANY fear you have to rest about getting “too bulky” with strength training – but if not, make sure you also read these 7 Strength Training Myths Every Woman Should Know.

For the reasons above, strength training is the foundation of our training philosophy – again for guys AND girls.

We also believe that physical activity should be done because you enjoy it. That’s right, if you don’t enjoy running on treadmills, we’re not going to make you! Whether you like to do yoga, hike, run marathons, perform martial arts, or partake in live action role playing, do the stuff that makes you happy.

If you’re ready to get started with strength training, we recommend you begin with our beginner bodyweight circuit, and to read through our Strength Training 101 series if you’re interested in training with weights.

Real life role playing

Real Life RPG

Remember earlier how I talked about how life is a game?

We’ve taken this to a whole new world level with Nerd Fitness, and have actually segmented our message boards and training into role-playing archetypes. You can decide what TYPE of character you want to be in the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, and craft your adventure around that! We could use members of every class!

Here are our Role-Playing Game archetypes. Which do you most identify with?

  • Warrior - powerlifting, general strength training
  • Scout - Endurance training, running, biking, swimming.
  • Ranger - cross training (think Crossfit) or a mix of Warriors and Scouts.
  • Assassin - gymnastics, parkour, bodyweight training
  • Monk - mixed martial arts of any variety
  • Druid - tai-chi, yoga
  • Adventurer - general wellness and fitness

What’s that? You’re not sure if you fit into one in particular? Or you want to try a few different ones out? That’s totally fine too! We just think this is a fun way to look at how we train and exercise.

On top of that, when you look at your training as if you’re a character, playing a role, that needs to improve…it sets off these signals in our brain that LOVE progress. Seriously – we are wired to level up.

Luckily, there’s all sorts of ways to level up, and we’re excited to help you reach those goals.

Speaking of reaching fitness goals, what you eat is the most important part of the equation. Seriously!

Nerd Fitness Nutrition


Your nutrition will be responsible for 80-90% of your success or failure when it comes to getting healthy.

Let that sink in for a second.

There’s no avoiding it: you can’t out-train a bad diet, and you can’t outrun your fork.

No amount of exercise will allow you to eat poorly and still look the way you want to. If you care about your health, the MOST IMPORTANT thing you can do is to devote significant effort and brainpower towards eating better!

Fortunately for you, eating healthier is not rocket science – though I know we have a few rocket scientists in our community! Let me break it down into a few key points.

  • Processed foods, sugar, and junk food are ruining our waistlines, our hearts, and our bodies. Seriously, sugar is worse than darth vader.
  • We need to stop eating like idiots, and start taking a more active role in what we eat! Eat real, whole foods and eat mindfully.
  • We also need to stop chugging liquid calories. They don’t fill us up, but they can certainly expand our waistline!
  • Although not all calories are created equal, eating fewer calories is the first step towards taking back control of our health. After that, it’s a matter of eating the right kinds of foods.

We’ve covered how to eat properly here on Nerd Fitness extensively, and I’d recommend you read the following articles when you get a chance:

If you’ve read up to this point, and you’ve thought…”hey, that doesn’t sound too bad. Plus, I like games and I’m kinda nerdy,” I hope you’ll go one step further and join our little ragtag band of underdogs.

Join the Rebellion


Welcome to The Nerd Fitness Rebellion, your new home.

We’re a group of misfits and goofballs that are fed up with the status quo, and we’re excited to do something about it.

If you’ve ever felt like the odd man out when it comes to what you’re looking for in life, or find yourself heading down a path that involves both nerdy pursuits and an active life, we’re here for ya.

Heck, if you’ve ever been burned by sleazy informercials, you’re sick of the conflicting information, and you just want to feel better, we’re here for ya.

You are not alone.

Although you might be the “only one” in your group that wants to get healthy, we encourage you to embrace the weird…and join us. Like when Wolverine discovered there was a school for ‘mutants’ like himself.

If you’ve failed to get healthy in the past following fitness magazines or trying the latest products/pills/machines – don’t beat yourself up – those things are designed to make companies money, not get you healthy!

That’s where the Nerd Fitness Rebellion comes in. There are hundreds of thousands of members scattered across every country in the world, excited to share their own stories and what has worked for them.

Paying homage to Star Wars, we decided that we are building a rebellion as we level up our lives:

  • We’re rebelling against conventional wisdom that actually does more harm than good.
  • We’re rebelling against sleazy companies telling us we need supplements, ab machines, and expensive plans to get healthy.
  • We’re rebelling against a fitness industry that we don’t fit into.
  • We’re rebelling against stereotypes that nerds have to be unhealthy.

If you want to know more about what we stand for, check out our Rules of the Rebellion!  Here are a few ways to get involved:

1) We have our free email list, which I strongly encourage you to sign up for to get started. We’ll send you six daily emails walking you through your first week, and then we’ll  send out two articles every week that will inspire and educate you on the path to a better life.

2) We also have a message board community, with over 30,000 members who are excited to support each other and newcomers on their journey. It’s absolutely free, and in fact, we’re getting ready to launch our next 6-week challenge, which I explain further below.

Monday is the start of another 6-week challenge which is free to join as well and is a great way to start the year off on the right foot!

3) On top of that, you can join us through Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and Instagramwhere we share interesting info, connect with rebels, share fun community photos, and have a damn good time doing so.

If you’ve looked through all the above options and are looking for something a little bit more, let me tell you about the Nerd Fitness Academy.

The Nerd Fitness Academy

Academy Banner

While we’ve published over 650 free articles in the last few years, we kept getting request from Rebels for everything they need to know in one place - exactly what they needed to do, exactly what to eat, how to workout, and how to progress to the next step in the process.

So we built this thing called the Nerd Fitness Academy, and we’ve had just under 10,000 Rebels join us since we opened it!

In addition to getting specific workout and nutrition plans, private forums, and step-by-step instructions and videos – this group has been the first to test our new character leveling and experience system. Yup, now you can actually level up your life!

If you’re interested in this aspect, check out the walk-through video on the information page.

We just added two new quest lines to the Academy (for Druids and Monks), with more meal plans and recipes getting added soon.

If you’re somebody that wants to get fit and wants to remove all fo the guess work, consider joining us in the Academy so we can walk you through your first year of getting fit, including meal plans, recipes, workout plans, and exercise demonstrations.

Not interested in the Academy? No worries! We’re just glad to have you here, and hope that we can help you get fit in any way possible!

Nerd Fitness TL;DR


We want you to start today, and we want to make sure Nerd Fitness is for you.

If you haven’t already noticed, I can be a bit wordy – hell, I managed to make an article about how I write too much, and it turned into a monster post! I’m not very good at tl;dr I guess.

So here’s the ACTUAL tl;dr version of the entire Nerd Fitness philosophy:

Life is a game, find a way to be active doing things you love.

Strength training is the foundation of a healthy body. Follow our free plans to get started.

Habits make us who we are. Understand how habits and willpower work, and you can permanently change your life.

Diet is 80-90% of the battle. Eat real foods. Sugar is the enemy, not fat.

Our supportive community is ready to help you get started. We even have a new 6-week challenge starting on January 5th. Join for free.

If you want specific workout plans, meal plans, and want to level up a character, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy - lifetime access for one fee, and a lifetime money-back guarantee. Lifetime!

The most important thing is for to take action.  Get started today – go for a five minute walk. Swap out a soda for water. Do SOMETHING that proves to yourself that you’re making changes to your life.

So, join the Rebellion! The world needs you. And the world needs the BEST version of you can build. No matter your shape, size, or age, we would love to have you. Thanks for being a part of it, and thanks for putting our words into action.

What sort of questions do you have about Nerd Fitness that I can answer? Let’s hear it!


PS: In honor of it being the new year, we’ve adding a fun bonus to NF Academy! For anybody that signs up (or has already signed up) for the  before 11:59pm EST on January 10th, we’ll be hosting 4 special Q&A’s over the next month to answer any and every question you have about getting started. We’ll call it “How to Not Suck at 2015.”

PPS: Go do some push ups! 


photo source: the grocer: veggies

]]> 17
The State of The Rebellion: Nerd Fitness 2014 In Review Mon, 22 Dec 2014 18:48:00 +0000

2014 was a game-changing year for Nerd Fitness. What started nearly six years ago as a simple blog to help a few people has transformed into something far greater than I ever could have imagined.

We’ve gone from a one-man-band (imagine this guy) to a team of full-time members working for the Rebellion. We had a freaking Summer Camp, and finally my dreams of creating a place for people to level up in real life has been realized (though we’re just getting started on that front).

While we’re gearing up for a monster 2015 (where the Rebellion truly takes steps towards world domination), I wanted to take a look back at 2014 and where we’ve been before we plot out where we’re going!

The Legend Spreads…


At the beginning of the year, Nerd Fitness had close to 120,000 subscribers on the email list.  Since then, we’ve doubled yet again to now over 240,000 people!

Not bad, considering we’ve spent $0 up to this point on advertising :)

If you’ve ever shared a Nerd Fitness article on Facebook, or told a co-worker about us on gchat, thank you. We’ve chosen to dump all of our time, energy, and effort into two things – content and community – and hoped the nerds would help us with the rest of it. So far, so good. And we owe that to YOU!

On top of that, we recently crossed 30,000 members in our Nerd Fitness message board community; we have over 40 volunteer moderators whose work is instrumental in helping newbies and current members feel welcomed and included. Without their work, and without the support of each member, this community would not be what it is today.

As the site grows, and our community grows, it’s really important for us to continue to have that small family feel which has helped so many people get the support and assistance they need to get fit. We’re going to continue exploring ways to create more opportunities for us to get together in real life.

Speaking of which…

Camp Nerd Fitness

Camp NF

Back in September, we had our first ever Camp Nerd Fitness.

Close to 200 rebels, volunteers, and coaches came together for a long weekend of fun, education, and awesomeness. Here’s a quick recap video in case you missed it:

I’m not going to lie, I have a hunch that I’m going to look back a decade from now at that first camp and say “that was the moment everything changed.” I knew it was going to be fun, but I never expected it to be something that would make me cry for hours after it was over. I’ve never seen so many fun, supportive, happy people in the same place….doing things like parkour, yoga, kung fu, dancing in costumes, power lifting, and so on.

Epic is an understatement.

The Nerd Fitness community is something special, and it was amazing to see what we can accomplish when we’re in the same place at the same time.

Right now, our alumni from the first camp are planning trips to visit each other, they spend all day on Facebook supporting each other, and consider their fellow campers close friends and family now.

We’ve announced Camp Nerd Fitness 2015, and we’ve already sold 200 of the 300 available spots (we actually only meant to sell 150, but I screwed up and put the wrong early-bird date, oops!). If you want to join us at next year’s Camp Nerd Fitness, make sure you sign up for the interest list over at – we’ll sell the remaining 100-ish spots in early February, and I’m sure they’re going to go fast!

Don’t worry, we’re going to continue exploring opportunities to get our community together in other ways too, big and small, so that you can meet your fellow rebels in real life. Camp Nerd Fitness is just the beginning. Whether it’s in-person meetups throughout the globe (we have a fairly active Australian NF community!), one-day events, or even just helping further coordinate meetups through the NF Boards, we want to help as many rebels get together in real life as possible!

I’m a hugger, so prepare yourself if our paths ever cross!

The Nerd Fitness Academy

Academy Banner

We get a few emails a week from people who ask the question “How the heck do you guys make money? I don’t see any ads!”

We’ve chosen to take a different path when it comes to building Nerd Fitness, and a big part of that is by not having any ads or sponsorships on the site. Everything we talk about or discuss or promote is simply because we love it and/or use it ourselves.

When I was getting started with Nerd Fitness, I received one request above all others: “Steve, just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”  I started with creating simple eBooks with workout plans years ago, and they have evolved into the Nerd Fitness Academy, a course/game that walks you through the first 6-12 months of your fitness journey. Specifically, it has:

  • 20+ Workout plans to help you exercise, whether you’re in a gym, at a park, or exercising in the comfort of your own home.
  • A built-in RPG-style quest and leveling system that allows you to level up across the entire platform.
  • A Nerd Fitness nutrition leveling system, that allows you to slowly adjust your diet (which is 90% of the battle!)
  • 100+ exercise demonstration videos, filmed in high def, from multiple camera angles to make sure you have the confidence to do the exercises properly.
  • Tons of content on helping you break your bad habits and building new ones, education on how to eat and change your life properly, and the confidence to actually get started.

It’s the closest we can come to flying to your home and holding your hand through the whole process! The Academy has been rebuilt twice already (thanks to your feedback!), and back in August we finally were able to add the ability to turn it into a game, and actually level up your character as you improve yourself in real life!

After thinking, dreaming, and working on this for years and years, it was really cool to finally see it brought to life:

quest page

We’re excited to bring this character/quest feature to ALL of the Nerd Fitness community in 2015, but for now it remains a fun part of the Academy that allows you to earn points to reach new levels, start to exercise, build new habits, adjust your nutrition, and change your life.

We have another big update coming to the Academy in early January (including bonuses for anybody that has already signed up or signs up in the beginning of 2015), and we’ll continue to make improvements.

Although we’ve sold over 9,000 spots to the Academy, we understand that most people on Nerd Fitness will never buy anything from us, which is great! We know some people love the extra level of connection and support, and others love to figure it out on their own.

The most important thing is that this community is helping people get healthy. We’d love it if you checked out the Academy, checked out our Paleo Mobile App, or picked up a shirt or hoodie from our Rebel store, but we’re just glad you’re here reading and interacting. That’s why most of what we do is absolutely free.

Most importantly, we’re honored that you are taking action and representing the Rebellion through your actions: working out and exercising. Thanks for being here!

Strength and content


For the sixth year straight, we’ve published roughly two articles a week, every week. These articles tend to be monstrous, averaging around 2,000+ words each, which has resulted in 650 total posts published and hundreds of thousands of words.

We’ve mixed in some new types of articles this year, and I wanted to highlight some of my favorites from the past year. My favorite part of the past year has probably been our Strength 101 series. We LOVE strength training here at NF, and believe it should be the foundation of everybody’s path to a healthier life. A strong nerd is a healthy nerd!

In case you missed them, here’s our Strength 101 series:

On top of the strength training series, these are my favorite articles from the past year:

We’ve already begun planning out the next few months of the Nerd Fitness content arc, and I’m excited to share with you even more ways to get stronger, eat healthier, live better, and go on more adventures.

Meet Team Nerd FItness

Nerd Fitness Pumpkin

At the beginning of 2014, Nerd Fitness had a small team that consisted of myself, Staci (operations and pretty much every thing else), and Taylor, our Master Wordsmith.

Now, at the end of 2014, our team has expanded tremendously. Along with myself (Rebel leader, focused on content and general tomfoolery), we have:


staciStaci (Rebel Operations): Staci has been a part of Nerd Fitness for the past four and a half years, and working with me on the site for almost three years full-time. She needs no introduction, as her story is one of the most popular articles of all time, and has introduced hundreds of thousands of women to the beauty of heavy strength training.

taylorsquareTaylor (Master Wordsmith): Taylor joined us in the spring of 2012 and has been leading the direction of our twice-weekly blog posts. He makes me a better writer, and helps us create story arcs as to where our content will go over the upcoming months. He’s been an integral part of our content process for the past two and a half years.

bakerAdam (Gamification Juggernaut): Many of you might be familiar with Adam Baker, as he owned and operated for years. Serving as a mentor to me since the very beginning of Nerd Fitness, he took on a more formal consultant role earlier this year when I needed help improving our company. After lots of begging and pleading, he officially agreed to join the team full time, and has been instrumental in the gamification updates and improvements made to the Nerd Fitness Academy. He’s a good friend and I’m proud to call him a co-worker.

darrylDarryl (Design Wizard): Darryl joined our team earlier this spring and has become our director of design for all things on Nerd Fitness. If you’ve been to the incredible Camp NF website or checked out the Nerd Fitness Academy, then you’ll know his work. Darryl is one of the most talented designers I have ever had the pleasure of working with, and he happens to capture the nerdy element we love so perfectly. He’s also managed to drop 90+ pounds and fell in love with barbell training along the way. Not too shabby!

DSC_0228Lee (The Architect): Lee recently joined our team in November, and will be heading up development on Nerd Fitness. His focus will be on expanding the Nerd Fitness universe and working closely with the team to expand upon this concept that “life is a game.” I can’t spill the beans just yet on where we’re heading with this…just know that it’s going to be a fun 2015.  As for Lee’s nerd credentials, he met his wife on World of Warcraft. Case closed :)

lauren Lauren (Community Maester): Lauren and I have been great friends since before Nerd Fitness existed. We worked together closely on helping the community grow at our old job at Sixthman (where we helped create floating music festivals). Since then, she has become our apparel representative and we have worked with her for years on the Nerd Fitness merchandise part of the company. She recently accepted my bribe to join our team and head up community & customer support. We have big plans to make sure our Rebels remain the happiest most supportive community in the galaxy :)

noelNoel (Rebel Chef): Late last year, we asked for help with creating fun and easy recipes for the Nerd Fitness Community. Since then, Noel has helped us create amazing recipes each month that have helped our community inject some variety (and nutrition) into their diets. Expect even more cooking awesomeness as we go along.

Nerds around the world


Although we’re ahead of the game on a few things, we’re late to the game on a few others.

Sure, we’re on Facebook and Twitter, but we’re just now starting to jump headfirst into Instagram, and we’re excited to share photos of NF Rebels from all over the globe more and more.

Hope you follow us on the Nerd Fitness Instagram there and send in your photos ( so we can share it with the community!

Here are some of our favorites!

The ridiculously cute baby Gainsdalf, in one of our new NF onesies!


A few of our favorite Rebels participating in the Spartan Sprint at Fenway Park in Boston:


Rebel Brian showing off his standing desk and NF t-shirt at work. Awesome (and nerdy!):


Dajve decided to rep the rebellion at his own wedding:


Dane representing at the Alcatraz Shark Swim!

Dane B

Rob being a badass and owning the Spartan Race course:


What’s next?


I look at 2014 as the year of the coiled spring.

Other than Camp Nerd Fitness (which was a massive undertaking), we didn’t put out any new courses or products. We updated our flagship course (The Nerd Fitness Academy), but all of our extra effort and work went into stuff that happens behind the scenes, pushing the coiled spring tighter and tighter.

Now that we have a full team focused on the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, 2015 is the year we’re going to unleash that spring and take over the world… muahahahaha!

Steve Flame

Seriously though, Nerd Fitness started as a hobby for me to help others get healthy – it’s now something much better than that – it’s a community of rebels; it’s a movement; it’s a declaration of “enough is enough, time to live better.”

2015 is going to be big. We’re excited to introduce new courses next year (yog…I’ve said too much!), improve the connection between all parts of the Nerd Fitness universe, have an amazing Camp Nerd Fitness 2015, and spend more time hanging out with Rebels, online and offline.

I’m proud to be a small part of this community. I’m excited to work with my team every day. I go to bed content, and I wake up excited. I’m truly honored that I get to devote my life to this cause, and I appreciate you being a part of it.

Yes, you.

We’re hitting 2015 at maximum velocity, and we have some major plans to help you even more ways. It’s going to be fun.

Thanks for coming along for the ride!  I’d love to hear from you: How did 2014 go for you? And What’s on tap for 2015?



PS: This is our last post of the year. We’re gonna come back full force starting in early January with the next 6-week challenge on the boards, an updated Academy, and more articles that will inspire, educate, and (hopefully) entertain. Let’s do this.

]]> 16
What do you bench? Strength Training 101: The Bench Press Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:16:14 +0000 This is an article from NF team member Staci.

Ahhh, Monday.  Walk into the gym, look around, and there’s a good chance not a single bench will be open.

National Bench Press Day. Every day.

For many years now, bench press has been considered by many to be the most important exercise in the gym, so many people put the bench front and center in their training program, before all else.

For the last 30-40 years, the bench press has become the universal lift for bros everywhere to determine out how strong someone truly is. How much do you bench? Do you even lift??

However, as popular as it is, the bench press in its current form is really less than 100 years old.

In fact, until the 1930’s, people did a movement called the “floor press” (which is still done today, and is pictured above), which was similar to a bench press only done from the floor. In fact, at first many people did a movement called a “belly toss” – where the bar would come down and bounce off the belly to help the lifter get it back up.

The three movements – bench press, belly toss, and floor press were all popular until the 40’s and 50’s, when the bench press started to become more and more popular, as bodybuilders liked how the bench worked their pecs better than the other two movements.

As the bench press became more and more popular, powerlifting emerged in the 1970′s and separated itself from weightlifting as a sport of its own. And to this day, the bench press is still a somewhat controversial lift.

How’s that for a history lesson! (Speaking of history, here’s a history rap battle between Thor and Zeus, because LEGO. You’re welcome.)

Why Bench?

superman benches

The bench press is a great movement to have as a part of your strength program, and one move we consider to be a part of the “big 4” basic lifts. Some of the issues coaches have with it (such as a tight chest creating bad posture) don’t come from benching itself, but come from bench being one of the ONLY movements in your program, and can disappear when incorporated as a part of a well-rounded strength program.

The bench press is widely known as a “chest” exercise, however, that’s definitely not all it is.  The bench uses your shoulders, triceps, forearms, lats, and pecs, traps, rhomboids, and pretty much every muscle in your upper body.

However, the bench press doesn’t JUST use your upper body. When you bench properly, you use your lower back, hips, and legs as well. Just like our other main lifts (the squat, deadlift, and overhead press), the bench press, while putting an emphasis on specific muscle groups, is a full body movement.

Think about it – while you’re benching, the rest of your body is not just lying there doing nothing. Your entire body should be working - your shoulders are pinched together and your lats are engaged, while your back, hips and legs are tight, stabilizing your entire body to create a solid base and help you generate drive from the round.

Plus, if you find yourself in Batman’s shoes trapped under a log, you’ll be glad you can bench.  Also, give Batman his shoes back; he needs them to save Gotham.

How to bench press: The Setup


Note: Today we are going over the basics of how to bench press the best way for a general strength program. There are many different variations of bench press used by both powerlifters and bodybuilders.

We believe this is the best (and safest) method for overall strength. Just because you see someone benching a ridiculous amount of weight at the gym does not mean they are using proper or safe form. They could be an advanced athlete who is making compromises to their form (knowingly or unknowingly) in order to bench higher numbers.

What do you need?

  1. A weight bench with uprights.
  2. Barbell – the standard weight is 45 lbs, but this may be too heavy to start. No matter how strong you are, I recommend starting with a PVC pipe or broomstick to learn proper form.
  3. Spotter – once the weight gets heavy (we will discuss options later in case you just don’t have someone else to spot you)

The Set Up


There are many different ways to set up for a bench press – as you’ll see by watching any powerlifting competition, or even by spending just 20 minutes in your local gym. Some people get on the bench and curl themselves under the bar, some enter the bench from the back and slide in under the bar, and others just lie down and then get tight.

The key here is to set up in a way that helps you get your body tight and ready for the lift. Before you begin, it might be a good idea to roll the bar forward on the uprights, as this is where you will be lifting it off from. Having the bar in the same spot in the uprights will help you with a standard set up that is the same every time.

  1. Squeeze your shoulder blades together (as if you were trying to hold a pencil between them), press your lats into the bench, and raise your chest up slightly towards the bar.
  2. While you’re doing this, squeeze your butt and plant your feet into the ground. Your entire foot (heels included) should be on the ground, on either side of the bench.
  3. Keep your entire body tight. The raising of your chest to the bar, squeezing your shoulders together, squeezing your butt, and driving your heels into the ground will create a tight arch in your back. (more on this later). Imagine you are a superhero and pretend you are sucking all the energy out of the room and absorbing it. As you the bar descends, absorb that energy and get ready to explode upward with the bar.
  4. Your shins should be vertical to underneath you. If they are out in front of you, your feet are too far forward and you won’t be able to generate proper drive.

When you look up, your eyes should be just north of the bottom of the bar – you should see the bar directly above your eyes. Your head, upper back, and butt should never leave the bench.

Note: Some people (including myself) find it easier to get tight in their upper back if they put their feet up on the bench, grab the bar, get tight in their upper back, and then place their feet on either side of the bench one at a time. This is just another method and something you can try out after you get the hang of the bench!

Next, take your arms and put them straight up, and grab the bar. Your grip should be with your thumbs around the bar. A thumbless grip is not to be used on the bench press, as it is unsafe, and often nicknamed the “suicide grip,” as it is far too easy for the bar to fall off of your hands and land on your body (warning: hard to watch).

When you hold the bar, it should be in the heel of the palm (the same spot in your hands as for the overhead press.) Your wrists will not be extended, and your forearms are under your wrists, forming a solid line of support.  If you hold the bar in the upper half of your hand or the fingertips, not only are you not in a strong position, but you could hurt your wrists.



Bring the bar (or, preferably PVC as we are just learning) down to your chest. At your chest, the width of your grip should make your forearms straight up and down (as perpendicular to the floor as you can). Get a friend to help you (as you won’t be able to see on your own), or tape yourself so you can see. Don’t stress too much about getting your forearms 100% perfectly vertical.

Once you get comfortable with the movement, you may change the width of your grip, as there is wiggle room for personal preference, but this is a great place to start.  Also, keep in mind that your grip may seem way wider or narrower than your friends based on the width of your shoulders. This is normal!


A wider grip is more pec-focused, and a narrower grip is more tricep focused. However, this grip, with your forearms vertical, is the most well-rounded and safest version for overall strength. You will see powerlifters use a super wide grip because it reduces the range of motion and therefore allows them to lift more weight in competition.

However, more weight does not always mean stronger, and our goal today is safety and strength!

Keep Tight and Build an Arch

man benching

If you’ve set up correctly, your entire body should be tight. Think of your body as one single unit, not single muscle groups. Drive your feet into the ground, tighten your entire lower body and core, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and squeeze the bar. You should feel like one solid, single unit.

When you tighten your body, your neck, upper back, and butt should be on the bench (and your feet and heels on the ground). When you drive your heels through the ground, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and raise your chest to the bar, it will form a small arch in your back – this is natural and what we’re aiming for.

You don’t want to push your lower back into the bench to create a “flat back,” or try to not create an arch. If you have heard people talking about not using an arch in the bench press, they are most likely referring to the extreme arch used by many powerlifters.

That is not what we are going for here – that is a way to help you lift more weight by reducing the range of motion, and is only safe to look into when you have been benching for a long time and really know what you are doing. For overall strength, we recommend to bench with a full range of motion instead of trying to reduce it.

Now, feel how tight your body is? It is very important that you keep this tightness throughout the entire movement.

Okay, I’m ready! Can we bench already?

Now that we are set up, and we have our hands around the bar, we want to think about not letting our elbows flare out, and having them tucked in.

One way to do this is that when you grab onto the bar, think about trying to bend it in half upwards towards the sky. This “upward bending” cue will also help you engage your lats, which don’t actually help you with the press, but do help you keep your body tighter.

Now, unrack the bar and position the bar directly above your shoulders (without losing tightness – keep squeezing your shoulder blades together!).  Continue to look up at the ceiling, unlock your elbows and lower the bar to your chest. Don’t just drop the bar to your chest – you want to pull it down towards you with control.

At the bottom of the movement, you want the bar to touch a few inches below your clavicles. If it’s up by your throat or on your stomach, it’s in the wrong position.


Once the bar touches your chest, press up to put the bar back in its starting position.

Note that unlike the deadlift and squat, that this bar movement will not be in a straight up and down motion. Because of our anatomy, the bar will follow a slightly curved path down, and then follow the same path back up.

While pressing, remember to keep your elbows tucked in, and don’t let them flare out. Think about squeezing so that your biceps touch the side of your chest (though you wont be close enough to have this happen), or try to get your elbows under the bar.  You don’t want to be too tucked though – the goal is about a 45 degree angle (see photo below in common faults).

As you press, the same parts of your body that were touching the bench before should still be touching the bench, and your feet should still be on the floor. Don’t let any of them (the most common is your butt) come off the bench. To help prevent your butt from coming off of the bench, instead of pushing up when you drive with your heels, think of pushing up and back, towards the front of the bench (where your head is).

To re-rack the bar, move the bar backwards to the uprights and touch them with the bar, and then let go of the bar. Don’t look at the racks, you know that they are there! For beginners, it’s great to have a friend help you guide the bar back to the right position in the rack.

Common Faults


  • Not keeping body tight – As soon as you lose tightness, you have the potential for missing the rep. Make sure even when you are warming up and the weight is light, that you keep your entire body tight.
  • Butt coming up – make sure your butt stays on the bench at all times! It’s easy to let it come up off the bench once the weight gets heavy and you really start driving through your heels. Instead of thinking about driving upwards through your heels, think about driving up and backwards. If you’re struggling with your butt coming up, either try putting plates under your feet or re-evaluating your foot position (or lower the weight).
  • Bouncing off your chest – when you come to the bottom part of the lift, don’t bounce! Lower the bar to slightly graze your shirt, and then press.
  • Half reps – One of the most common faults I have seen in the gym! Make sure you are hitting full range of motion every single rep (down to chest!).
  • Wrong starting, middle, and ending positions (pictured below) – we’ve learned in the past that a vertical line is the most efficient way to move a bar, but with the bench press, the safest is to move the bar at a slight curve. The bar will start and end above your shoulders, but the middle point of the bar will be below your clavicles. If your middle position is above your shoulders, in a vertical line, your middle position is too high.

starting ending



Spotting is a very important part of bench pressing - not only having someone spot you, but having you spot other people. It can be extremely dangerous to bench press alone.

A spotter’s purpose is to ensure the safety of the lifter – not to help the lifter with reps. The spotter always watches every rep while staying out of the way.  The only thing they may help with is giving you a lift off, but after that, it is all you!

*A lift off is when you help the lifter take the bar out of the rack, and then let go of it when it is in the correct starting position.

You don’t need a spotter for your warm up sets, but everyone should have one for their work sets.

How do you ask someone to spot you? “Hey, will you spot me real quick?” usually works (it’s really that simple!). I’ve never had anyone turn me down.

If you’re always at the gym at the same time as someone else, make friends and spot each other. That way you’re not always nervous asking someone random to spot you.

If someone asks you to spot them, always ask how many reps they are going for, if they want a lift off, and how they would like to be spotted. Some people don’t want you to touch the bar unless they tell you to; others want you to help them guide the bar up if they start to fail, and others want you to take the bar immediately if they fail the rep.  Some want a lift off, and some don’t.

When you ask someone else to spot you, they will probably ask you the same questions!

Frequently Asked Questions

“I see people with their feet up on the bench – what’s going on?”


This isn’t technically correct – but it’s really a completely different movement than your standard bench press. It eliminates the use of the lower body in the movement, and can be good for people with injuries or as an assistance exercise. I’ve seen it the most in bodybuilding routines. We recommend you stick to benching like a superhero until you master the movement.

“What if I don’t have a spotter?”

If you don’t have a spotter, you can use the power rack to bench.

Just set the pins at a level just barely below your chest, so if you miss a rep you can get out.

If you don’t have a power rack, and absolutely don’t have a spotter - you can either not put clips on the bar, and then let the weight slide off one side at a time, or do the “Roll of shame,” where you roll the bar down your body, sit up, and pick up the bar. However, both of these methods are dangerous and you’re risking injury by doing them. Please do not bench press alone – especially when just starting out. Even if the weight seems light, it’s very possible to injure yourself.


The best thing you can do is to ask someone at the gym to spot you. There’s nothing weird about it all – in fact, it’s normal and expected! If that’s not an option, consider dumbbell presses or another chest exercise until you can find a spotter.

“If the bench is one of the ‘big 4′, why do some people not bench press?”

First of all, leave, T-Rex alone. Second, while the bench press is a great way to build strength, but out of the big 4, it is the lift that has the most alternatives available. While it’s hard to replace a heavy deadlift, you can easily replace bench press with pushup and dip variations and continuously get stronger with just your own bodyweight for a very long time. I personally keep bench in my program because I enjoy it, but also because it’s a competed lift in powerlifting. Steve, however, has chosen to not bench press and replaces it with bodyweight variations of pushups and a lot of gymnastics ring work.

“Okay, I get it! What do I do now?”

Incorporating bench into your program is easy. It’s found in Starting Strength, Stronglifts, as well as the Nerd Fitness Academy workouts.  A great place to start is to add it in, once a week, and do 5 sets of 5 reps each (after warmups).

So that’s all there is to it! Next time you are in the gym, give it a shot! Start with just the bar, and add weight each time when you hit your weights. Just don’t forget to have a spotter!

So, what kind of benching questions do you have for us!?


Don’t forget to check out our other articles in the Strength 101 Series!

PS  - Today’s Rebel Hero of the day: Ridiculously cute Baby Gainsdalf rocking one of the new NF onesies!


Want to be the next Rebel hero? Send a photo of you rocking your nerd fitness gear to contact @


photo source: leg0fenris: legos, Alexander Danling: Benches, Christian Hernandez: Superman

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