Proper Gym Etiquette: How to Not be a Newbie in the Gym

I remember the first time I ever set foot in a gym.

I was 16, a day removed from getting cut from the basketball team, and I planned on getting “big and strong.”  The problem, was…I didn’t know what I was doing!  I sheepishly wandered from machine to machine, doing a set of this, 10 reps of that…and then I tried to do the ONE exercise I thought I knew: the bench press!

After loading up more weight on the bar than my total weight, my spaghetti arms shakily removed the weight from the safety rack, and I proceeded to drop it directly on my chest.  Panicking, I slowly rolled my body to the left, and watched as the weights spiraled off the end of the bar.

BOOM!

The weight hit the ground and sounded like a gunshot. My entire body (now lopsided due to only having weight on ONE side of the bar) drastically shifted to the right. Those weights spun off and hit the ground too. Another gunshot.

I quickly raised the bar to the safety rack, and hoped nobody noticed…until I saw about 40 pairs of eyes staring at me.

That was day 1.

Fortunately, since then, I’ve made every mistake known to man when it comes to training in a gym over the past fourteen years. Today I’m going to review all of the fundamentals of gym etiquette to give you the confidence to get out of my dreams your head and into my car the gym!

Let’s take a field trip to the gym.

How to Become a Morning Person

I have been on Team “Night Owl” for as long as I can remember.

Sure, I remember waking up as a kid to watch Mr. Wizard before taking the bus school, but as I grew older I shifted my daily routine further and further back.  By high school, I was struggling to get out of bed to get to school on time, and all through through college an “early” bed time was 2 am.

Even in my adult life I struggled to get to bed before 1 am.  During my nearly six years of writing articles for Nerd Fitness, I’d guess that 90% of my writing was done after 10 pm.

And I wanted to be a morning person, but I just couldn’t do it.  I remember asking on Twitter:

“I can’t seem to get myself to focus during the day, and do my best work at night. How do I become a morning person?”

And the responses all came back saying the same thing: “You’re a night person, just learn to live with it.”

But as we explained in our comprehensive article on sleep, just two in ten of us are true “night owls.” The rest of us are morning people (larks) or somewhere in the middle (hummingbirds).

Little did I know that I fell where most people do – somewhere in the middle! I wasn’t a true night owl – just someone with bad habits! And I was missing out on all sorts of stuff as a result – namely quality sleep, sunlight, and a social life!

So, I stopped making excuses, and over the past six months, I’ve turned a corner. 

Today, I’m going to talk about HOW I became a morning person and why you should consider it too.

If you’re somebody working weird hours, don’t worry, we got you covered there too.

Limitless: What if you could access more of your brain?

“You know how they say we can only access 10% of our brain? This lets you access all of it.”

And just like that (with the help of a tiny myth), the plot for the book/movie Limitless was established, and my brain started to go absolutely bonkers thinking of all of the possibilities.

I know I’m not alone.  Although this novel came out years ago and the movie came out in 2011, I’ve continually heard it mentioned in excited conversations amongst my friends.

It’s no surprised it garnered so much attention – it’s a story that we’ve all probably dreamed about for years:

Limitless Trailer

A scatterbrained writer, down on his luck, takes a pill that gives him unlimited brain power, allowing him to write a book in four days, learn new languages, stop smoking, lose weight, get healthy, and even conquer the stock market.

As a guy who’s turned his life into a video game, and taken inspiration from fictional characters to have real world adventures (like that time I became James Bond), I figured it was my duty to explore the nuances of Limitless and find out if it’s truly possible to become more productive, without the use of medication.

Shall we see how deep the rabbit hole goes?

Stop Delaying the Inevitable

“Do you hear that Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability.”  - Agent Smith, The Matrix

Whether it’s the Matrix, Terminator, or just about any comic, inevitability is a pretty awesome plot device. But it’s also a whole lot more than that.

Without you realizing it, “inevitability” can govern our lives, and become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, we get to choose the ending of this prophecy:

Person A: Blah, I’m just going to end up fat and sad and have blood pressure problems like my dad.  It runs in my family and I’m going to become him.  No wonder I keep failing.

Person B: I’m going to break this cycle.  My kids are going to be the first in my family who grow up with a healthy dad and healthy habits.  It’s gonna happen.

Person A: I’ll just fail at losing weight like I did the last dozen times. I’m stuck at this weight and I’m not going to win against my genetics.  Why bother.  What’s the number for Voodoo Doughnuts?

Person B: I’m going to get healthy.  This is a long journey and I’m going to hit some rough patches, but my success is mine for the taking.  I know that as long as I put one foot in front of the other, I’m going to get to where I want to go.

If you associate more with Person A, today we’re going to take the first steps towards making you into Person B.

After all, it’s inevitable, so you might as well just go along with me :)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Workout

I grew up with Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo.

Not literally. That would have been sweet, though.

But I did spend the formative years of my childhood wondering what it would be like to be part of the Ninja Turtle team: learning from Master Splinter (aka Mister Miyagi in Rat form), sneaking around, saving the world, and eating pizza ALL DAY. Wow, did they really nail the trifecta.

In fact, I think my entire existence is a combination of the following:

With Michael Bay taking a crack at rebooting this franchise (which I’m not sold on), I thought I should at least pay homage to the original Ninja Turtles who inspired me to run around my house in TMNT pajamas, swinging plastic swords and nunchucks made out of sticks, and fighting an imaginary Shredder to help save New York City.

To go along with our other nerdy workouts (Legend of Zelda, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars), today I’ve created a workout designed to turn you into a legitimate ninja. I can’t do much about turning your skin green though.

How Anthony the Developer Lost Over 200 Lbs…in ONE year.


Anthony is a 30 year old application developer out of Raleigh, NC, and one of the most amazing transformations I’ve ever seen.  He dropped 210 pounds in one year as part of the Nerd Fitness Rebellion, and documented the entire process along the way!

I’ve been watching Anthony since he first shared his journey with me months ago, WAITING for the day to finally share it with you.

Let’s meet Anthony!  He describes his old self as an “elite” gamer as depicted by South Park (NSFW language…obviously). Anthony used video games (specifically World of Warcraft) to retreat from the world:

I would get up in the morning and put back two bowls of cereal and an easy 12 -14 ounces of coffee loaded with sugar and milk or creamer and begin my day of gaming.

Whenever I would get hungry I would snack on chips of some form. Lunch and dinner were frozen foods or takeout. I would continue to play video games until I had to go to work, and then until 3 in the morning after I get home. If I did not work I would play games straight through the day. And to top all of that off I could easily crush a 12 pack of soda a day, MT. Dew, Dr.Pepper, and Orange Crush were my poison.

Video games and our favorite sci-fi and fantasy series have the ability to inspire us to explore new things and push our limits. Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, have used these awesome nerdy resources to withdraw from leveling up in real life (leaving us happy and unproductive).

But one day, Anthony realized that he needed to do something more than level up his World of Warcraft character – he needed to level up his real life too.

Today Anthony’s life is completely changed – he’s no longer living someone else’s life, but has used his nerdy powers to write his own epic story.

Let’s take a look at how he did it.

The Improved Nerd Fitness Academy: Literally Level Up Your Life

DING!

Do you hear that? That’s the sound of Nerd Fitness leveling up.

And the sound of YOU leveling up.

When I started Nerd Fitness 5.5 years ago, I created the tagline “Level up your life, every single day.”

I wanted to encourage people to look at life like a game, and look at themselves as the main character. I wanted to gamify how we changed and grew in our lives.

About four years ago, I created “professions” based on different methods of exercise and video game archetypes:

  • Warrior - power lifting
  • Ranger - cross training
  • Scout - endurance training
  • Assassin - bodyweight and gymnastics
  • Druid - yoga and tai chi
  • Monk - martial arts

At the time, I had this vision for a massively mutliplayer online fitness “game” in which Nerd Fitness Rebels could select their classes and start leveling up by completing health and fitness quests. The game was called “Rising Heroes,” and we even spent over a year and significant resources trying to bring it to life.

Ultimately, the timing wasn’t right, and I had to put the project on hold.  This broke my heart, as I knew the NF community was as excited for it as I was!  However, I knew there would be a way to eventually make this massive dream a reality.

Nerd Fitness started as just a blog, then it became a community, and now it’s evolving even further to literally turn life into a game.  Although we have been around for five years, I feel like this is a new beginning.

The start of a new phase in our Rebellion’s history.

Rising Heroes isn’t a reality quite yet, but today we get to take a giant step closer to building the perfect platform for this “life is a game” vision.

After years of idea mapping, planning, and building the right the right team around us to make it happen, we’ve overhauled the Nerd Fitness Academy, our online fitness course and community that’s been helping over 5,500 people get fit just this year.

After months of behind the scene work, we can finally announce all of the epic and awesome changes that have come to the Academy.  

Including, yes… the ability to track quests, earn experience, and literally level up your character on your way to a healthier life!

Growth Happens At Our Limits: Embrace it.

We all search for inspiration. Sometimes we find it in a movie montage, other times in real life stories.

And sometimes something awesome happens right in front of us that gives us a fresh perspective.  Here’s a story from Taylor, NF’s Chief Wordsmith:

For about 6 months now I’ve seen a guy in a wheelchair come into my gym. He comes with a physical therapist, and does a variety of assisted rehabilitation exercises.  He usually uses low weight dumbbells or assistance bands. He can’t stand up, nor can he walk on his own, and it looks like he is rebuilding the coordination in his upper body as well.

This guy has been training along side me, while I usually am doing basic powerlifting movements.  For the last 6 months, he’s been an inspiration…but last week, he reached an all new level.

You see, in my gym, it is rare to see people take big lifts to failure, especially a squat or deadlift (for the few people who do actually squat and deadlift).  When I fail on a big lift, dropping heavy weight onto safeties, I definitely get some weird looks.

Last week I nailed a new 5 rep squat PR.  It felt great, like I just beat an end-game boss. Then, as I’m headed for the water fountain after my set, I saw my rehab friend.

But this time he isn’t working with bands or dumbbells. In fact, the therapist isn’t even assisting him, he’s just coaching him. This guy was standing up out of his wheelchair, without help, for the first time in his training.

I have NEVER seen anybody work this hard. I watched him fight to lift his own bodyweight. I saw him struggle for every inch. I watched him put every last ounce of effort he had into his legs and posterior chain - and then some. He could have fallen flat on his face, sideways into the weight machines, or on to his  therapist. In fact, I almost thought he was going to. But he didn’t.  He won. It was by far the most inspiring and impressive feat I’ve ever seen.

In a way, it was more impressive than a 500 lb squat, a perfect human flag, or a sub 4-minute mile. And it was “just” his body weight. “Just” standing up.

Healthy Hacks for Staying Fit On the Road

Greetings from Las Vegas, Nevada!

Over the past six months, I have not missed a workout despite spending time in quite a few different places:

  • Nashville, TN
  • Dallas, TX
  • Austin, TX
  • Atlanta, GA
  • Miami, FL
  • A floating music festival
  • San Diego, CA
  • Maui, HI
  • Las Vegas, NV (three times!)
  • Portland, OR

Not only have I not missed a workout, but I’ve also managed to get in the best shape of my life over that time frame.  We receive emails every day from people who have the same problem:

“Steve, when I’m at home I am great and can stay on track, but I travel a lot for work and it’s really easy to get thrown off, help?”

Although I’ve already written extensively about being healthy as a traveling nomad three years ago, I wanted to revisit this topic for the traveling working professional and share my experiences and thoughts about staying healthy on the road.

It is absolutely possible to make great progress while traveling; one of our best success stories ever, NF Rebel Joe, managed to lose 130 pounds in 10 months while traveling TWO weeks a month, every month.

If you happen to be a road warrior, or travel junkie, and/or spend more time in an airport than an office, I got you covered!

Get your head in the game

you can

The challenge with getting fit on the road is often due to not having the right mental attitude before the trip even starts.  It’s not due to a gym, or no options for healthy eating, but because your head is not in the game.

I stopped telling myself that missing workouts and eating like crap was inevitable, and instead decided that getting fit was inevitable, no matter my location.

So, before you even set foot on a plane, or before you get into your car, you need to level up your mental game:

1) Make a commitment to yourself.  I knew I was going to be traveling like crazy for the past six months, and in the past I would always tell myself “I don’t have time to exercise.”  However, over this recent stretch, I haven’t missed a single workout. How?  By telling myself that I WOULD NOT MISS A WORKOUT!

I’ve had to work out very early in the morning, very late at night, or cram a workout in halfway through the day.  I’ve worked out in gyms, parks, playgrounds, etc.  Remember, “I don’t have time is a big fat lie.”

2) Make exercise the one constant in a trip full of uncertainty.  As pointed out in this article, I’ve made exercise into my “Constant” (to borrow a term from Lost) – when my life gets crazy and I’m always in a new environment, exercise is the constant in my life that keeps me grounded.

3) Never miss two in a row.  I realize we all have busy lives, and things happen, but I’ve added this rule to my life that has kept me on track despite a hectic lifestyle.

I had to apply this rule last week after having a bit too much fun at the World Domination Summit.  I was exhausted, with no voice, and had very little time, but I knew that if I missed a day on my workout, suddenly skipping my workout the next day would be even easier.

So, when I’m traveling, I NEVER miss two workouts in a row.

If I was supposed to work out on Monday but due to travel had to skip it, I would work out on Sunday, and then again on Tuesday.  If I have to eat an unhealthy meal, then my NEXT meal that same day suddenly becomes the most important meal of my life, and it has to be healthy.

Plan ahead

hitch

When you get ready for a trip, you probably go through a checklist:

  • Toiletries kit
  • Socks, underwear, undershirts
  • Dress/Suit/Tie/Shoes
  • Laptop, iPad, Kindle

There’s one thing that might get left out: your plan of attack for getting fit!

I now travel everywhere with a set of olympic rings (purchased from my buddy Peter at FringeSport).  I know that with those rings, as long as I can find a tree branch or swingset to hang them from, I can complete 99.9% of a workout that I would complete if I was at home.

I also make sure I have enough workout clothes with me, as all it takes is a simple “oops, out of workout shirts” to convince myself that I’m not ready to exercise.  It’s a amazing what we can justify to ourselves to avoid something.

I put my workouts into my Google Calendar, with alerts set to remind me on the days and times I need to exercise.  This one action probably adds 50% to my probability of actually exercising.  Just as you would build a better batcave at home, you too can build a better batmobile (see what I did there?) that sets you up for success.

I do the best I can to plan ahead on my meals too.  If I know I’m going to be spending all day in an airport, or on an 8-hour road trip, I see if there’s a way I can bring a healthy snack along with me so that I can tread water (and maintain momentum) until a healthier option presents itself.

I remind myself that ANYTHING is better than nothing. Last week, my schedule was so hectic that I only had thirty minutes to work out, so I dialed my workout back to just the essentials.  I warmed up, did sets of heavy squats, then some romanian deadlifts, and got the hell out of there!

If you don’t have time to work out for an hour, do 30 minutes. If you don’t have time to run 5 miles, run 2 miles.  If you only have time to do push ups in your hotel room, do push ups in your hotel room.

YES, planning ahead requires work.  Planning ahead also puts you in a much better position to succeed.

Now that we’ve taken care of the mental aspect of travel, it’s time to dig into the logistics.

Locate your “gym”

gym

Despite spending probably 50-60 days in hotels over the past six months, I probably used a hotel gym twice.  

Why?

Because most hotel gyms are absolutely awful – they generally have a collection of treadmills, ellipticals, and non-function work-out machines (boooo machines!)

So I work out anywhere and everywhere else.  You have a few key options when it comes to training on the road. I don’t care which one you pick, as long as you pick one:

1) Find an actual gym. A simple google search will reveal actual gyms in the area that you’re staying.  I guarantee there is a 24-hour fitness, LA fitness, or local gym that will have the actual equipment you need (for me, it’s barbells for squats, deadlifts, and presses, and something to hang my rings from).  Call them before you arrive and ask them how much a week’s membership is, if they allow deadlifts, and if they have any free trials.

This is the most expensive option, but if you have room in your budget and this is something you can spend extra money on, this is my favorite option - it’s a lot easier to stay on a routine when you can replicate your home workout situation.

2) Find a playground. While traveling the world, I would pull up google maps each time I got to a new town and looked for a green square on the map.  I figured that as long as there was a park, there would be trees and hopefully a playground.

We’ve covered an extensive playground workout (which I used while living in Ecuador) that will give you a complete full body workout that can be done anywhere! Really, you just need something to hang from for your “pull” movements and everything else can be done with just your body weight.  This is where my Olympic rings come in handy!

3) Use the hotel gym.  While planning for my trips, if I can’t find a suitable gym or park in the area near to my hotel, I’ll contact the hotel or check out the hotel online and see pictures of their gym – if they have dumbbells then I know I can at least MacGyver myself a workout that still covers the essentials (build your own workout here). It’s not 100%, but you can get pretty darn close if you’re creative and plan properly!

4) Do a hotel room workout.  So busy you can’t even leave your hotel room?  Hotel gym sucks? No park or gym near you?  Do a hotel room work out!

Here’s more info on how to complete a true workout without leaving your hotel room, in 20 minutes!

5) Do a gas station workout!  Check my guest post on Mark’s Daily Apple about how to stay healthy on a roadtrip.  Pull over and do a workout using the side of your car while filling up your gas tank:

Shhhh, did you hear that? It was all of your excuses for not exercising while traveling flying out the window!  With ONE of the five options above, you literally have no reason why you cannot complete a workout while traveling.

Now, the REAL reason why exercising is so damn important isn’t just because it helps build muscle, make you stronger, and keep you healthier – it also helps ensure that the calories you consume are going towards building muscle and not getting stored as fat.

On top of that, how we eat is 80-90% of the battle, whether we’re trying to lose weight or if we’re looking to get bigger and stronger, and by exercising every day we always keep thinking healthy.

So let’s dig into road warrior nutrition!

Eat right, level up

unhealthy

I don’t know what it is, but there’s something in our brains that tell us “I’m traveling, TIME TO EAT LIKE AN IDIOT!”  

If we’re not careful, all of our months of hard work focused on making better eating decisions can grind to a screeching halt, not unlike getting hit with a red shell in Mario Kart (I see you Luigi!).  When you take an entire week off from eating healthy while traveling, it makes getting back on track when you return infinitely harder.

So we need to tread water and stay on target while traveling with our diet so that we don’t lose all of that momentum.

Focus on these few goals while traveling: maximizing protein consumption, limiting liquid calories, eating vegetables, and never making two “mistakes” in a row.

Protein builds muscle, and it can also be incredibly filling.  I make sure every meal has a protein source, and aim to eat as much of it as possible.  This is much preferred to filling myself with empty calories like bread.

I limit liquid calories.  I know I’m going to be drinking, so I am extra diligent with my meals so the alcohol doesn’t throw off my diet completely.

Vegetables are my friend. Like protein, I try to eat as many veggies as possible, knowing they’re full of nutrients and light on calories.

Remember that anything is better than nothing.  We’re not compounding a mistake by making two.   Saying “I ate like an ***hole for breakfast, so today is ruined” is a losing mentality.  So, if we eat poorly for one meal, the next meal HAS to be healthy. No excuses.

Mentally you’re prepared to eat right, now let’s cover an actual game plan for doing so.

Road warriors unite

polynesian resort

BOOM!  Just like that, we’ve officially conquered every barrier between you and a healthy life on the road.

It really comes down to three key things:

1) Priorities – staying healthy and getting stronger can happen on the road, but it must be front and center in your mind.  Making healthy eating decisions is a choice. Going to the gym is a choice.  No more excuses.

2) Plan ahead - know where you’re going to work out, and when.  Put your workout in your calendar.

3) Never miss two in a row - shit happens and life gets screwed up while traveling.  Don’t let one mistake become two.

What are your biggest struggles while on the road?

Have you found a way to be happy and healthy while traveling?

Inquiring minds want to know! Leave a comment below and help out your fellow road warriors.

-Steve

PS: Speaking of travel, next week I’m off to Amsterdam for 3 days and then Croatia for 10 days!  This is my first international trip since going to Brazil for Carnival last year, and I’m so freaking excited.  Time to cross a few things off the Epic Quest list :)

If you happen to live in/near Amsterdam or Split, leave a comment or hit me up on twitter at @SteveKamb so we can meet up!

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photo source: Sonia Carolina: You can, Anne: Gym, Brave Heart: McDonalds, Robert: Highway, i k o: hitch-hiking, Joe Penniston: polynesian resort

Is Muscle Memory a Real Thing?

I slid into home on a close play.

It was a few weeks back during a recreational kickball game, and because I essentially slid with 100% effort (while wearing shorts and sneakers) trying to avoid getting pegged with the ball, I scraped up my legs, arm, stomach, and hand.

All of my teammates starting laughing at me, saying “Steve, it’s just a kickball game! Why did you slide!?”

As I looked at my bruised and battered body, I couldn’t help but laugh.  It just…happened, just like it has happened a few other times this season during minor plays. No matter how hard I try to just have fun and not care about kickball, 10 years of Little League must have worn special pathways into my brain to force me to think “CLOSE PLAY! SLIDE! SACRIFICE YOURSELF!”

It’s something I have done SO many times in my life that it has honestly become part of my DNA.

I think of other instances too in which my brain reverted back to its automatic decision making processes:

  • Riding a bike!  It’s something I could do now even if I took 10 years off.
  • I remember spending hours learning Orchid’s 80-hit combo in Killer Instinct so that I could pull it off automatically in the arcade and destroy the competition.
  • When I shoot a foul shot in basketball, it’s always one spin, two bounces, then spin it in my hands, then shoot (usually a miss, as I’m not very good. ha!)
  • I can play certain songs on the piano with my eyes closed, but if I miss a note or have to start halfway through the song, it’s almost impossible for me to play it right.

As I was sitting there on the bench, looking at my bloody limbs, laughing at myself for not being able to turn off the switch, I thought about this concept of “muscle memory” and “automatic response,” and if we could apply them to making us healthier.

The answer, of course, is: “Yeah. DUH.”

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