Don’t Cheat Yourself: Do a Full Rep!

Word Count: 1057 NF Difficulty: Advanced

I wanted to kick off today with a link to a podcast I did for Mike Vardy, creator of , a satirical site aimed at helping people ‘get things done…eventually.  It’s like a site that Stephen Colbert would run if he decided to run a productivity website.  You can listen on Mike’s site, download it here directly, or get it in iTunes here.

Let’s move onto today’s topic, “Doing a full rep.”

I was at the gym last night, and in a span of 10 seconds I watched 3 guys half-assing it.  A guy was doing squats with three plates on each side of the bar, and he would go down like four inches before going back up.  Next to him, I watched a guy swinging all over the place as he did “pull ups” where he only went down halfway and then barely brought his chin over the bar.  In between the two, a guy was doing ‘bicep curls’ while throwing his back into each rep because he couldn’t actually lift the weight with just his arms.

Picture 2If you got a chance to read through yesterday’s article from Henry Rollins, you know that “200 pounds is always 200 pounds.” Mark Twight, the lead trainer for the actors from the movie 300, has slightly amended that statement: “to ensure valid measurement a yardstick must be one yard long and two hundred pounds is only that when moved through a complete range of motion — regardless of the speed at which it moves.”

Mark had a lot of competition between actors while getting everybody ready for the film; in this article (thanks for the link Evan!), he discusses how the majority of people in a gym will very quickly sacrifice form and completeness for speed:

“As our training group grew during the last year we noticed that, in the quest for faster times work quality was easily sacrificed. Such may be unconscious behavior but I like to call it cheating. When movement quality declined we couldn’t use the stopwatch to monitor improvements because other parameters must be fixed for the time to be relevant: if the load is fixed, and the movement is always the same then posting a faster or slower time is useful knowledge. If the load is fixed but the range of motion (ROM) is shortened a second variable has been introduced and knowing the time is no longer useful.”

“We train in preparation for sport-specific tests or work-related challenges, we do not train for the sake of it or because conditioning is our sport or hobby. We don’t do this because we want to look a certain way or to lose weight (these are consequences). We suffer during training to improve ourselves physically and psychologically and we measure those improvements on mountains, on frozen waterfalls, in burning buildings, facing cunning adversaries, on the battlefield, on the mat and in the cage. Because these tests occur outside the gym we don’t compete in the gym, we work hard, and we work together to make the sum greater than its individual parts. Cheating here won’t help us get where we are going so we enforce all quality all of the time.

“That’s our yardstick, how long is yours?”

If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.  I highly recommend reading the whole article, but if you don’t have time, here is the description for various exercises and what the guys at Gym Jones consider full reps:

Pull-ups: elbows must pass behind centerline of the body, if this happens the entire head rises above the bar, active shoulder position at bottom (as opposed to full dead hang)

Push-ups: chest touches the floor first, active shoulder and full extension at the top, body held as a solid plank, the hips do not move

Squats: thighs must be parallel to floor (at minimum) in the bottom position, full extension at the top of the movement

Lunges: trailing knee must “kiss” the ground but may not support any weight

Push-Press and Thruster: arms must lock out overhead, hips displace horizontally to the rear to initiate recovery of the weight, Thruster includes all attributes of a proper squat

Kettlebell or Dumbell Swing: weight must be raised higher than the head (arms about 45 degrees)

Box Jump: once established on the box the athlete must stand up completely, whether jumping for reps or max height taking steps to gain momentum is not permitted

Ball Slam: full extension at the top with hips forward, ball must actually be slammed (imagine that), catching it on the bounce is better style, rounded back not permitted during recovery

Burpees: includes a proper push-up, explosive finish (jump), overhead clap, and feet remain together throughout movement to ensure maximum hip displacement

Wall Ball: full squat required, ball must hit target

Dips: upper arm must be parallel to the floor (at minimum) in the bottom position, arms lock out in full extension at the top

Picture 3I love it! If you exercise each week and find ways to ‘cheat’ the system so you can lift more weights or do more reps, you’re not getting any better or stronger.  Practice perfect form every single time you’re in the gym.  Practice perfect form with each repetition.  Practice perfect form if you’re in a competition or trying to set personal bests.  If you don’t remove all variables except weight or reps, you won’t really know how successful you really are.  I know we have a few Crossfit readers on here; my concern with Crossfit is that due to the highly competitive nature of Crossfit, form is far too often sacrificed for faster times and more repetitions.  If you are a Crossfit guy or girl, do everything you can to promote full repetitions at your gym and amongst your peers so you’re all on a level playing field (and you’re all safe! sacrificing form is the fastest way to get injured).

You know the famous 300 challenge? When actors and stuntmen attempted to complete it, there were spotters watching each repetition to make sure each was done completely.  No three-quarter pull ups, no half-assed deadlifts, no fake box jumps.  I have ten thousand times more respect for amguy doing complete squats with just the bar than I do for a guy with 400 lbs on his shoulders only going down a quarter of the way.

Do a full rep!


What’s Your Excuse, Chump!

Every day, you have a choice to get in shape or perpetuate an unhealthy lifestyle.

kingsizehomerIf you have been a couch potato for years, probably anything seems better exercising, so you come up with excuses to make yourself feel better about putting things off for one more day.  I’ve heard pretty much every excuse in the book, but there are three that repeat themselves over and over that drive me crazy.  Are you guilty of any of these?

I don’t have time to exercise – To (loosely) quote Boiler Room, You know what I say to that? I say, hey look, man, tell me you don’t like my firm, tell me you don’t like my idea, tell me you don’t like my ****ing neck tie, but don’t tell me you can’t put together 20 minutes of exercise a day.  I know there are single moms, with three children and two jobs, that still find a way to get up 20 minutes early to go for a walk or jog.  I don’t care what you do, as long as you find a way to do something.  If you tell me there’s not enough time in the day, what you’re really saying is that you’re not actually serious about getting in shape…which is perfectly fine.  Come back when you’re ready.

Don’t think you can actually get anything done in 20 minutes? Try some high intensity interval training or jump rope.  20 minutes will get the job done.  Want to really push yourself – try Tabata exercises.  This will only take 4 minutes and will probably destroy you.  Don’t say you weren’t warned.

fat-homer-simpsonI can’t afford a gym – Oh realllllllly? Sure they all have “initiation fees,” but if you show up, then tell them the price is too steep, and you’ll have to think about it, I guarantee that price will get cut in half.  Ask around your office or your group of friends; if any of them have a membership at a gym, you can probably sign up as a friend of theirs and get reduced rates and no fees.  “I can’t afford the 35 or 40 bucks a month, though” –  That’s one less night out at a bar a month, one less dinner date, one less video game.  If you’re serious about getting in shape, 40 bucks a month is a small price to pay.

Still too cheap? Find 4 different gym chains in your area, and go into each as a potential buyer.  They’ll give you a free week’s guest pass.  Find enough different gyms and you work out for free for quite a while!  Read about picking the perfect gym here.

I don’t like gyms – Before we deal with this one, do you really hate the gym, or are you just afraid of going to them? If you just don’t like them, that’s fine.  Personally, I LOVE to lift weights and get stronger, but I can’t stand my gym.  It’s a bunch of meatheads in spandex ogling themselves in the mirror while they do bicep curls or half-assed squats.  90% of the people in there do exercsises improperly, 50% of them are there to socialize, and probably 2/3rds of them have no idea what they’re doing.  I made up all of these statistics, but I bet I’m not far off from the truth.  Because of this, I make sure I go to the gym 1st thing in the morning when it’s practically empty, I put in headphones, keep my head down, and just do my thing.

If you really don’t like the gym and have no desire to use one, find another way to stay in shape.  Run every morning.  Go for a hike with your kids.  Join an ultimate Frisbee league.  Take your dog for a walk.  Get outside and enjoy this beautiful weather!  You can get in great shape doing just bodyweight exercises, so don’t think you need weights and treadmills.

Which one is keeping you from getting started?  If you did find a way around them, how were you successful?

Leave your comments below!


Always Have a Battle Plan: StarCraft and Fitness

How many of you guys have played StarCraft?

Picture 2Hopefully everybody, because it rules.  How many of you got your asses handed to you on for the first few weeks until you figured out what you were doing?  Okay maybe that was just me.  I’d always play as the Protoss, have illusions of grandeur, and kinda start building this and that, without any real direction, hoping to eventually end up with a full armada of Carriers (damn I loved those things) and destroy the other guy.  Of course, five minutes in, I’d get rushed by a bunch of Zerglings, I’d have no defense, and I’d get lit up like a Christmas Tree.  Those were the days!

With the upcoming release of StarCraft II‘s beta, I started thinking about how much fun I used to have with the original game, and how long it took me to recognize the fact that not having a battle plan ahead of time was suicide.  Obviously your plans change if the other guy rushes, but you still have a basic, specific strategy: set up defense, build an army, expand to new resources, develop your tech tree, kick some ass, GG.

Exercising is no different: if you walk into a gym with no clue what you’re doing, you’re gonna get slaughtered (not literally).  Don’t wander the gym aimlessly, looking at machines and say “oooh that looks like it might work the right muscles,” sit down for a quick set of 10, and then go back to wandering.  First of all, don’t EVER use machines – stick to free weights.  Secondly, don’t wander: have battle plan, noob!  Before you step in that gym, ask yourself what you want to accomplish, and be specific:

  • Use the rowing machine for 20 minutes. Great; how far do you expect to row in 20 minutes?  If you did 4000 meters last time, aim for 4050 meters this time.
  • Lift weights. Awesome; what muscles do you want to work?  Upper body?  Okay.  You’re going to do 3 sets of increasing weights of dumbbell chest presses, followed by 3 sets of pull ups, followed by three sets of increasing weights on dumbbell shoulder presses.  How much are you going to lift?  More than you did last time (which you’ll know because you wrote it down).
  • Run – Don’t like the gym?  That’s fine, it’s certainly not for everybody.  Where are you going to run, how long are you going to run for, and how much faster are you going to do it today than yesterday.  If you don’t know what you need to beat, you won’t push yourself, and you won’t get better.

Picture 3Remember last week when I said you need to find a way to be better than yesterday?  Without a battle plan, and without a battle history (what you did last time, and how you’re going to improve), you’re never going to get better.  With today’s technology, its ridiculously easy to keep track of everything you do.  Set up a simple Excel spreadsheet, and write down your sets, reps, amount of weight, and time.  Done.

Napoleon (the guy from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) would spend hours and hours setting up his battle plans, only to watch them become obsolete as soon as the battle began.  Ya know what?  **** happens.  You go to the gym, and there are dudes in spandex using all the benches.  You want to go for a run, and it’s raining buckets outside.  You’re playing Starcraft and you get rushed but manage to fight off the first wave of Hydralisks.  Things change, and some stuff is out of your control, so make sure you have a backup plan!  If you were going to do bench presses but they’re all taken, grab some dumbbells and do them on that lonely bench in the corner instead.  Jump rope in your house for 20 minutes rather than run in the rain.

protossIf you’re reading this site, I’d like to assume you have an intelligent head on your shoulders (if you’re a dumb nerd, we have a lot of work to do).  You are 37% more likely to get stronger and faster when you have a battle plan.  I totally just made up that statistic by the way, but I bet it’s pretty close.

Now who’s ready for StarCraft II? I’ve been watching these Battle reports on IGN – this game can’t come soon enough.


13 Tips For Guaranteed Weight Gain – The Skinny Nerd Manifesto

So you’re a skinny nerd.


If this were an RPG, you’d be an elf.  If this was Maniac Mansion, you’d definitely be Bernard. In the fitness world you’re called a “hardgainer.”  You weigh 125 lbs., you eat whatever you want, and you still can’t gain weight.  You’re ready to bulk up, build some muscle, and get strong like a mofo…but you have no freaking cue what you’re doing.  Luckily, you’ve found this site, and I’m here to help (I used to be a skinny guy too).

Here are 13 tips for you to get started:

  1. Eat a lot – This sounds much easier than it really is.  Whatever you’re eating now, you should probably double it.  If you eat three meals a day, instead eat six.  You need to be eating every 2-3 hours, and each meal needs to be the size of a normal meal.  This is going to be difficult for a few weeks, because you’ll often have to force yourself to eat even when you’re not hungry.  500 extra calories a day = 1 extra pound gained per week.  Whatever you’re eating now, add an additional 1000 calories (spread throughout the day), and you’ll put on 2 lbs a week.  Not just any calories though…
  2. Eat a lot of good things – You need to eat a ridiculous amount of calories (probably 3500+ per day) if you want to gain weight, but you want to make sure most of those calories are GOOD calories.  You could easily get 3500 calories eating Taco Bell and Twinkies, and drinking Mountain Dew, but that will just make you fat.  If you want to build muscle, you want to eat healthy calories that are loaded with good protein, good carbs, and healthy fats…which brings me to my next point:
  3. Protein = building block for your muscles. Chicken, fish, meat, eggs, milk, almonds, peanuts.  Eat lots of this stuff, all the time.  Read more about protein here.
  4. Carbs will help you put on weight, but it won’t be muscle – pasta, brown rice, wheat bread, oatmeal, etc. will help you put on weight, but a lot of that weight will be fat.   Every meal should have vegetables and fruit.   If you just eat protein, your body will resort to using it for energy rather than building muscle.  I learned this the hard way in college; four years of exercising and three protein shakes a day got me NOTHING.  Unless you’re eating tons of good fats (almonds FTW), good carbs (fruits and veggies), and protein, you won’t be gaining weight.
  5. Keep track of everything you eat – Sign up for a site light (it’s free), input your stats and start to track every one of your meals.  It will tell you if you’re eating enough calories, enough protein, and enough carbs.  This site has helped me put on 15 lbs since last fall.
  6. Compound exercises are your friend– Concentrate on complex, compound exercises that recruit as many muscles as possible: bench presses, dumbbell presses, squats, deadlifts, pull ups, chin ups, and dips.  Do these exercises, and concentrate on lifting as much weight as possible.  Don’t worry about triceps extensions, shoulder shrugs, bicep curls or crunches.  All of the compound exercises listed here use every muscle in your body, and when you overload your body with calories and protein, those muscles will grow.  Don’t worry about isolation exercises until you’re up to your goal weight and ready to tone down.  Read about squats here, deadlifts here, and pull ups here.
  7. Appearance is a consequence of fitness – This is the mantra of the actors of who trained for the movie 300 – would you be okay looking like a Spartan?  Concentrate on being really strong and lifting heavy weights, and your body will follow suit.  It doesn’t matter if you can only bench press 10 lb dumbbells right now.  Wherever you’re starting out, concentrate on being stronger each and every time you exercise.  Push yourself, get stronger, lift more, and before you know it you’ll be ripped.
  8. When exercising, keep your rest between sets to a minute or less, and don’t do more than 12 reps in a set – Keep your range of reps between 6 and 12, and try to keep the time you rest between sets to a minute or less.  Example: incline dumbbell chest press – 12 reps of 50 lbs, wait a minute, 10 reps of 55lbs, wait a minute, 8 reps of 60 lbs.
  9. Let your muscles rest – never exercise the same muscle two days in a row.  Your muscles get rebuilt (larger) during your days off, so never exercise the same muscle before it’s ready.  I usually wait at least 48 hours before I hit the same muscle again.
  10. Sleep – you need to be getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night for maximum gains.  Your body is doing nothing but lying there and building muscle while you’re sleeping.  If you are only getting 6 hours or less, you’re not going to get all the benefits of your exercising and diet.  I know it’s tough, but those 3AM raids on Runnyeye need to be put on hold for a few months.  SLEEP.
  11. Cardio is your enemy – Running long distances isn’t going to help you.  If you’re going to run, do sprints or run up a hill.  Think about it: would you rather look like a sprinter or a marathon runner?  Keep your distance cardio to a minimum if you want to put on some pounds.
  12. Make it part of your routine – It’s okay to skip a workout here and there, but it is NOT okay for you to skip a meal if you’re serious about weight gain.  You need to be always eating.  It sucks, it’s practically a full time job, but it’s what you have to do.  Eat.
  13. Realize you will put on some fat – with all of this eating, you are going to be putting on some fat along with your muscle.  That’s okay!  Figure out what your goal weight is, and then add another 5-10 lbs on top of it.  Once you get to that weight, cut back on the carbs in your diet, do more sprints, and keep exercising: you’ll shed the fat quickly and be left with a killer figure.  Eat all the vegetables you want, but cut back on breads, pasta, rice, and oatmeal.

I was definitely a skinny guy, but managed to go from 162 lbs. to 185 lbs. following these principles.

We have recently written a MASSIVE post on how to gain weight properly, which you can read here: “The Skinny Guy’s Guide to Getting Bigger.” 

Now go eat something!



How to Do a Proper Pull Up, and Why You Need to Do Them

UPDATE: I’ve written an updated article on “how to do a pull up” that is a must read.

So you want to do a pull up, eh?

When many people think of fitness and the gym, they picture meat-heads doing countless arm curls, staring at themselves in the mirror.  Sounds about right to me.  As I stated in a previous blog, I have yet to see a single person in my gym do a deadlift, and I’ve probably only seen a handful of people (in a year and a half) doing legitimate pull ups.  As far as I’m concerned, if you’re not doing deadlifts, squats (going all the way down to parallel!), and pull ups and you want to “build muscle,” you’re just wasting your time.

When preparing for their roles in the movie 300, all the actors went to train with Mark Twight, who had them train by emphasizing “athleticism by combining compound movements, lifting, and throwing. Primitive tools – medicine balls, Kettlebells, rings – were used instead of machines. Each session was competitive, with a penalty-reward system tied to performance and results posted daily for all to see.”

Appearance is a consequence of fitness

That’s right, these guys weren’t training to have bulging biceps and chiseled abs.  Their motto, “appearance is a consequence of fitness,” meant that these guys worked on getting in the best shape possible – doing deadlifts, running sprints, Olympic ring push ups, doing pull ups until their arms fell off, etc. – and then doing it all over again.  This type of training really struck a chord with me, because I’ve always been fascinated with turning myself into an absolute machine; if I happen to look good as a side effect, awesome.  There’s a reason you need to do 50 pull ups to complete the 300 challenge: only the fitness elite can attempt such a thing.

You can read Mark’s article on 300 training here. It’s fascinating and highly recommended.

Proper Pull Ups

Personally, I believe pull ups are one of the most important exercises in a routine and I recommend them to anybody that comes to me for advice.  Forget bicep curls; show me a guy who can do 25 pull ups and 25 chin ups and there’s no WAY his arms aren’t well-developed.

Find a bar that will support your weight, anywhere. I don’t care. Just find one. If you have a gym membership there will be pull up bars all over the place.  At your house you might have “the perfect pull up” in your door way.  If you have neither of these things, find a local playground and use their monkey bars.  This is one piece of equipment that NEEDS to be in your arsenal, so find a way to get one.  No excuses, play like a champion.

  • A PULL UP is when your hands are facing away from you.  This will work your back and biceps.
  • A CHIN UP is when your hands are facing towards you.  Although this also works your back, it has more emphasis on your biceps.

Grab a bar with a grip slightly wider than shoulder width, with your hands facing away from you.  Hang all the way down.  Pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar.  Slight pause  Lower yourself all the way back down.  Go up, and really concentrate on isolating your back and biceps.  Don’t swing!

Once you can do a single pull up, work on doing them in sets. Do one pull up, then wait a minute or two and do another one.  Then wait a few more minutes and do another one.  A few days later, try to do two in a row, and do a few sets of two.  You need to start somewhere, but as soon as you can do one, you can find a way to do two.  After that, find a way to do three, and so on.  Remember, don’t cheat yourself by only going halfway down and not going all the way up.  Straighten your arms out at the bottom, and get your chin over the bar!

Want big biceps? Do close-grip chin ups.  I guarantee if you’re banging out 3 sets of 12 at the gym, maybe even hanging some weight around your waist, your arms will be built like cannons.

Remember, appearance is a consequence of fitness.  Pull ups are a true test to somebody’s level of fitness, so where do you fit in?  For those of you who follow the blog, you know my obsession with Ninja Warrior on G4tv.  Here’s a video of a guy on stage 3, which is extremely back-intensive.  I guarantee this guy trains like crazy and as a result has one of the most chiseled frames I’ve ever seen:

Ninja Warrior

Happy Friday!


Are You Better Than Yesterday?

Word Count: 795 NF Difficulty: Beginner

Work has been kind of hectic in a good way, so I didn’t get a chance to start thinking about today’s blog until late yesterday afternoon.  I had no idea what I was going to write about when the perfect concept literally dropped itself into my email inbox.  Tim Ferriss, life hacker extraordinaire, had just posted a blog with the same title (HIGHLY recommended reading by the way) as the one I chose for today.  Hopefully he doesn’t mind, but I stole his blog title simply because it’s something you should be thinking about every day.  “Level up your life” isn’t this blog’s motto for nothing.

Are you better than yesterday?

If you can find at least one thing about yourself to improve upon every day (fitness, diet, work, health, family, video games, starting a company, etc.), then you will always go to sleep a better person than you were the day before.  As long as it’s something, no matter how small, you get to enjoy a small victory and build upon that success for the next day.

How about your diet? If you decided to throw out everything in your fridge and switch to 100% fruits, vegetables, and nuts, you’re probably going to freak out and quickly give up because you’re used to eating frozen pizzas, big macs, and cupcakes.  However, if you try every day to eat just a little better – drink one less soda than yesterday, make one less trip to the vending machine, bring in a healthy lunch once a week rather than going to Firehouse Subs – in a few months you’ll have a completely different diet and probably a different pant-size.  No more COSTCO sweatpants for you!

Picture 1If you’re a programmer and you come across bug-riddled software, you make a list of what needs to happen to fix the problems, and then you slowly move down the list and check things off.  Eventually, no matter how small the corrections are each day, you will have a solid, bug-free program.  What are the bugs in your life, and what are you doing to troubleshoot them?  Do you have a list?

I used to play Everquest 2 with my buddies; for those of you who don’t know, EQ2 is a massive multi-player online RPG (like World of Warcraft).  Between working a full time job and exercising regularly, I didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to playing (which is probably a good thing).  Luckily the game is set up so that I could log on and play for 20-30 minutes, finish a few small quests or kill some mobs and after a few days level up my character.  Life is no different.

Just saying “I want to get in shape” is far too vague and won’t give you any direction.  You need to give yourself quests and goals to accomplish.  Decide at what point you get to declare yourself You 2.0.  What accomplishments and achievements do you need before that happens?  Maybe something like this:

  • I want to lose 50 lbs
  • I want to do 10 pull ups in a row
  • I want to run a mile without stopping
  • I want to look down and see my toes.

Make your goals as specific as possible so you can measure yourself to make sure you’re getting better.  If you want to do 10 pull ups in a row, you’re going to have to increase your back, bicep, and forearm strength.  If you can only do two now, that’s fine.  Next week, go for three.  After that? Go for four.  If you eat right and work on being just slightly stronger than yesterday, eventually you’ll be doing 10 pull ups with ease.  Baby steps, son!

The best way I’ve found to gauge your success is to keep track of EVERYTHING.  Take a picture of yourself every Monday morning; write down everything you eat, and keep track of every single set, rep, and amount of weight for each exercise.  How are you going to know if you’re better than the day before if you don’t remember what you did?  Day to day it’s tough to see small changes.  However, if you find a way to better yourself every single day, I guarantee you’ll see major changes over time, as long as you keep track of where you started.

Are you better than yesterday? Hang this phrase on the back of your bedroom door.  Set your Google calendar to ask you every morning at 8 AM.  Add it to your desktop background.  Do whatever you need to, but find a way to remind yourself to be better today than you were yesterday; then, find a way to be better tomorrow than you are today.  Level up your life, one day at a time.

What are you going to do today to become You 2.0?


NF Mailbag 7/29: I want awesome abs, help!

Word Count: 504 NF Difficulty: Beginner

mirrorReader Homer asks:  I know you need to work on abs to get a nice 6 pack; can you give me an abs only workout plan that focus on upper abs, the middle section on the abs and finally lower abs (which are hard to work on) so I can get the nice 6 pack. Thanks again Steve!

Steve answers: Hey Homer.  As far as ab exercises go, I don’t do a lot of ab work.  Do you do deadlifts and squats?  Both of those exercises work your abs like crazy, and will really build your core.  A strong core (abs, obliques, and lower back) keeps you safe from injury and as a result you will certainly have a solid six pack.  My guess is that you already have abs, you just can’t see them because they’re hidden under body fat.  I realize that everybody wants a washboard stomach – it’s the reason there are hundreds of ab machines for sale, “as seen on tv!”, that are an absolute waste of time.  You could use every one of these machines for 10 hours a day, but if you’re stuffing your face with donuts while watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reruns (which I highly recommend: it’s one of the funniest shows on TV), those abs will never see the light of day.

You can do 1000 situps a day, but unless you have a body fat percentage below 10%, you’ll never see them. If you REALLY want to get the fat out of there, you’re going to need to get down to like 5% body fat – which means cutting out all unnecessary calories from your diet, eating lots of vegetables and protein, staying away from added sugar and sodas, and exercising like crazy.  Going from 30% BF to 25% is much easier than going from 10% to 5%, so it will require your complete dedication.  Ryan Reynolds got down to like 4% for Blade Trinity, and then immediately added some pounds after filming because it’s close to impossible to maintain a body like that.  You need to find a happy medium.

Want a quick ab exercise that will help with those ‘lower abs’ you’re after? Stand straight up, contract your abs, and then jump and tuck your knees into your chest/stomach.  Try to keep as vertical as possible through this whole thing, and jump as high as you can.  For each set of 10, jump immediately for your next rep right after you land.  Do 3 sets of 10 at the end of your workouts, two or three times a week.

Want another? Do crunches on an exercise ball; this gives you an extra range of motion (beyond parallel like when you do crunches on the floor), give your abs extra work and giving you a more efficient workout in the same amount of time.  I guarantee crunches on a ball when you fully extend your back on the way down will have your stomach working much harder than just a normal crunch on the floor.


Go Primal: So Easy a Caveman Can Do It

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on the Paleolithic diet, the Primal blueprint, and other sources that promote a more natural form of weight training, diet, and lifestyle.

Essentially, the plan is to follow what our 10,000 year old ancestors used to do, because it was that form of living in those terrible conditions that allowed them to thrive and make us who we are today.

If you’re interested in trying out this lifestyle, I would highly recommend reading this introductory article over at Mark’s Daily Apple.  I’m a big fan of the KISS principle (Keep it simple, stupid!), so this whole primal living thing is right up my alley.  Something about getting in touch with your primal side, and just lifting heavy stuff, running fast, and being awesome (without having to wear loin cloths and fight off saber-tooth tiger attacks) just gets me going.

Mark promotes a lifestyle that would make Bonk from Bonk’s Adventure very happy: simplify your lifestyle, your exercise, and your diet. Eat lots of healthy meat, vegetables, nuts, and berries, and stay away from over-processed foods, excess sugar, and bad trans fats.  Fresh produce is your friend.  Lift heavy weights (free weights, not machines), run sprints, get lots of sleep, exercise outside, and have fun.  By following this blueprint, you’ll end up being more “healthy, energetic, happy, lean, strong, bright, and productive,” because we’re genetically predisposed to being more efficient with this type of behavior.  It worked for Bonk – not only he he smiling and full of energy, but he’s got a huge brain in that big melon of his.  I’d guess he’s a big hit with the cave-ladies.

Although I’m not ready to give up grains and dairy quite yet, there are quite a few things I plan on taking from the Primal Blueprint and implementing into my lifestyle.  I know there are all kinds of body building supplements out there (some illegal, many legal) that will allow me to put on weight much faster and build muscle much quicker.

However, I’m not so sure how these supplements will affect my body in the long run, and I’d rather build a body now that is sustainable, healthy, and built for the future.  If it takes me six months longer to get to my goal body type, so be it.  When I get there, I know I did it right, without any help, in the healthiest way possible.

I challenge you to do the same. If you’re a big guy or girl, don’t resort to pills or supplements or weight loss tactics that aren’t safe.  Think about how long Hydroxycut was on the market before it was pulled off the shelves for being unsafe.  What about the ‘safe’ stuff you’re taking now?  What happens when you find out in 2020 that it’s been destroying your insides for years and they’re just discovering it now.  How about those crazy supplements you can buy to help you build muscle faster (one of which actually has a normal side effect of “tunnel vision.” holy ***)?  Is the reward really worth the risk?

I say better safe than sorry. Our primal ancestors have been eating animals, fruits, nuts, and vegetables for years and years and years and years.  They didn’t have blenders and pills and powders and injections to keep them healthy, fit, and strong, and they turned out okay.  They lived in caves, without modern medicine, without technology, without a supermarket, and managed to still become the most dominant species on the planet.  They’re okay in my book.  Here is how I plan on changing my diet:

  • More vegetables – I don’t really like vegetables, but there are a few that I really like (asparagus, for example).  I’m going to have to start buying these things in bulk and just eating like crazy.
  • More fruit – I like fruit, but I don’t eat nearly enough of it.  More apples, strawberries, blueberries, orange juice, and others.
  • More protein – chicken, meat, almonds, peanuts, etc.  I’ll still drink a protein shake or two a day to make sure I’m getting enough, but I’m just going to have to increase the rest of the good stuff I’m eating to get enough calories.
  • Less food from a box – I’m going to try and eat as much fresh food as possible and eliminate as much of the pre-packaged processed stuff as possible.

Anybody else trying to follow a similar style? Do we have any vegetarian or Vegan readers?  You’d be amazed what people are accomplishing these days eating only fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Be more like Bonk.


Do What You Love – There’s No Time For Anything Else

Word Count: 568 NF Difficulty: Beginner

what_puravidaLife is too damn short.

You want to get in shape, but you hate the gym.  You know running will help you lose weight, but you don’t even want to think about a 5k race.  Some sites might tell you that there’s a perfect blueprint to fitness; there really isn’t.  Sure there are certain essential characteristics of being ‘in shape’ (plenty of exercise and good diet) but life has so many variables that you can control just how and where you get that exercise.  Find something that works for you.

Nerd alert – here’s a video game analogy.  Some of you want to play FPS’s like Halo and Left 4 Dead.  Others love to play Starcraft.  You might be a World of Warcraft guy, or a Madden Football guy.  You play what you like.  Now, take a guy who loves Starcraft and force him to play Halo – not cool.  Take that same guy and tell him playing Starcraft every day will make him healthier (it absolutely won’t, this is just an example), and he’ll have no problem doing what he’s told.

Back to the real world – if you hate running and force yourself to run 10 miles every day, you’re going to dread every minute of it – you’ll probably give up at the first opportunity.  However, if you love running, it’s easy for you to get out there and do it every day because you actually enjoy it.  Hell, if you’re really crazy, you could be like this guy and compete in Ultraman competitions – 6.2 miles of swiming, 260 miles of biking, and a 52.4 double marathon run.  GOOD LORD.

Personally, I hate long-distance running. I hate it more than Eric Cartman hates Scott Tenerman.  The thought of going out and running 10 miles right now bores the hell out of me and I’d do anything to avoid it.   However, tell me we’re gonna go do an obstacle course, lift weights, or play some basketball and I’m all about it.  Eventually I can’t wait to start practicing Capoeria (when I can afford it) and some Parkour (when I find a place to practice).  Who knows, I might even make it onto Ninja Warrior some day.

There is no blueprint to fitness for everyone. The correct form of exercise is the one that gets you off your ass and moving.  Basketball, running, biking, swimming, hiking, ultimate frisbee, kayaking, Wii Tennis, weight lifting, karate, surfing, Jazzersize, Tae bo, who cares!  Whatever it is that makes you happy, as long as it gets you sweating and your heart pumping, do it.  Obviously some exercises do burn more calories than others, but I’d rather spend an hour doing something I absolutely love than 30 minutes doing something I hate.  It’s not worth it.  Of course, you’re not going to look like Ryan Reynolds or Daniel Craig by jogging for 20 minutes a day, but if you’re just looking to get in shape and have more energy, start with the basics and have some fun with it.

Life is way too short to be stuck in a job you hate, hanging out with people you don’t like, and exercising in a way that doesn’t excite you.  Try out everything, find what you love, find what makes you happy, and do as much of it as possible.  Not only will you be happier, but I guarantee it will bump up your life expectancy as well.

What makes you happy?


Want to Get in Shape? Tell The World.

Word Count: 424 NF Difficulty: Beginner

the_world_belongs_to_youSo, you’ve been reading Nerd Fitness for five months now (you loyal reader you), and you finally decided to make the plunge; you’re going to get in shape!  You went out and bought some new sneakers, you stopped buying the industrial size bag of Twinkies from Costco, and your new DVD from Richard Simmons just showed up in the mail.

You’re ready to go, right?  WRONG. The next step is to tell every freaking person you know that you’re going to get in shape.  And I don’t mean “I’m gonna get healthy,” I want you telling them exactly what you expect to accomplish, and when you expect to accomplish that goal.  Hang it on your cubicle wall, make it your away message, add it to your Xbox Live gamertag profile.  I want you to have specific goals like:

  • I’m going to run a marathon in 6 months.
  • I’m going to lose 30 pounds by New Years.
  • I’m going to bench press my weight by November.

Real, tangible goals.  Personally, I don’t mind letting myself down sometimes (eating fast food, skipping a gym session), but when I know everybody else will be let down if I give up, I am that much more motivated to stay in shape.  Hell, part of the reason I started this blog was to keep myself accountable and motivated.  I can’t run a fitness blog and not be in great shape; I need to practice what I preach, because I have you guys looking to me for advice, motivation, and support.  I won’t let you down, because I hate being a disappointment to anybody.  Step up to the plate, and put your reputation on the line.  Do you want to be known as the quitter?  No, then stick with it!

If you post on a blog, write a post about your goals and what you hope to accomplish.  If your best friends, family, girlfriend, and co-workers all know that you’re getting in shape, they’ll be more likely to offer support and less likely to ask you to eat the last piece of cake or get mad at you when you skip on out another round of Left 4 Dead to go exercise.

Know what you want, and make sure everybody else knows it too. If you don’t want to let them down, then you better keep yourself in line and get the job done.  Are you making the decision to get in shape?  Email me and let me know at [email protected] , and I’ll gladly help keep you accountable.

Go get it.


Deadlift – The Ultimate Exercise. Not Just For Zombies

Word Count: 652 NF Difficulty: Advanced

heavy-deadliftI’ve been going to the gym here in Atlanta for about a year and a half now, and you know how many people (other than myself) I’ve ever seen do a deadlift?  ZERO.

Not a single person in the entire time I’ve been in there has done a deadlift. I’m sure there are some that I just haven’t seen yet, but it’s pretty crazy to think that I have yet to run into somebody doing one, considering how often I’m there.  After all, it is the most basic, primal, mass-building, testosterone pumping, results driven exercise out there.  It’s the exercise that separates the men from the boys, the heroes from the chumps.  You’re not a chump, are you?

Deadlifts work your legs, butt, back, arms, forearms, shoulders, traps, and abs. Not bad for one exercise!  Oh, and it also pumps up your whole body and can even release extra testosterone, which will help you in your muscle building.  If you’re a skinny guy looking to bulk up and you’re not doing deadlifts and squats (read my squats article here), you’re just wasting your time.

I think I have an idea why nobody else is doing deadlifts at my gym – because they’re scared of getting hurt. I was scared of deadlifts for a long time too; in fact, it probably took me a year of doing them (with light weights) before I realized that I was doing it wrong (using way too much of my back).  However, since I’ve studied the exercise and put in some time, I’ve seen massive gains in my deadlift maximum and it’s beyond exciting – I’ve added 50 lbs to my deadlifts in the past month and a half.

deadlift2Think about our ancestors: they didn’t have a weight rack to deal with, or a Smith machine to help them out – they had heavy rocks, logs, and carcasses they needed to move from one place to another.  Simple enough – you can either pick it up, or you’re too weak.  If you’re too weak, you might not have dinner for your family that night, or you might not have a place to sleep, so you found a way to GET strong enough.  Be more like the cavemen!

Deadlifts work your entire body. Forearm curls? Waste of time.  Shrugs with dumbbells? Useless.  500 sit ups? Why bother?  I guarantee you by the time you’re deadlifting big weight you’ll have massive arms and legs, forearms that you can hammer nails with, a crazy strong lower back, and abs that are beyond ridiculous.

Rather than explain it to you in 1000 words, I found a great video that shows great form and emphasizes proper technique.  After the video, I’ll describe the most important things to keep in mind:

Proper Deadlift Technique Video (1:30)

Things to keep in mind when doing deadlifts:

  • Don’t arch your back (or roll it in the other direction). Keep your abs tight the ENTIRE TIME, and keep your back straight (the guy in video does really good job with this).
  • Keep the bar as close to you as possible – almost roll it up your shins until you get to your knees, and then almost roll it up your thighs until you’re upright.
  • As you bring it past your knees, don’t think about pulling up with your back, thrust in with your hips (um, that’s what she said? COME ON)
  • Keep your head up and chest out as you lift – this will help you keep your back aligned properly.
  • As you bring the weight up, you want your legs to straighten out simultaneously as your hips come in completely – form a straight line at the same time with your hips, knees and feet.

Did this article help you? Was it enough of a motivator to get you to want to do deadlifts?  Let me know at [email protected] if it didn’t and let me know what I can explain better.


Almonds – Make your Heart Happy and Lose Weight

Word Count: 574 NF Difficulty: Beginner

almondsLooking for a quick and easy snack that doesn’t require any preparation and is extremely good for you?  Almonds, my friend. Almonds!  Today’s post is short and sweet because I don’t think 1000 words on almonds would appeal to anybody….and I don’t really need 1000 words to explain them.

Let’s talk about why Almonds are so great for you:

  • High in Monounsaturated fats – Look at the nutrition label on a bag of almonds – high in fat, but extremely low in saturated fat (the bad kind).  What’s left?  Monounsaturated fat has been linked in multiple studies to a reduced risk of heart disease.  Heart disease is a real bummer, so any time you can eat something and reduce your risk of getting it, do it.
  • Lower cholesterol – When you substitute almonds in place of the bad fats (saturated and trans fat) in your diet, you can decrease your LDL-cholesterol (the BAD kind of cholesterol) as well.  Lower cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease?  Flippin’ sweet.
  • High in Magnesium and Potassium – Magnesium is almost like Drain-o for your arteries and veins, keeping them clean so blood, oxygen, and nutrients can move throughout your body without a problem.  Potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure.  Woot.
  • High in Protein, low in carbs – You know how important protein is to building muscle – 1/4th cup of Almonds has almost 8 grams of protein in it.  Not bad for something that’s ridiculously cheap at the moment and couldn’t be easier to prepare (step 1: open bag. step 2: eat)
  • Tasty – Seriously! Grab a handful and go to town.  Yum.
  • Curb your appetite – Studies have shown that people who eat almonds in moderation have experienced a decreased appetite, which is obviously great for losing weight.
  • Healthier Skin? Some say that almonds can also improve your skin quality!  I’m not sure on this one, but not a bad side effect to have if it’s true…better than “may cause your arms to fall off.”  That would suck.
  • Dozens of other health benefits – there are way more great thing about almonds that I won’t get into; if you haven’t realized they’re good for you by now, it’s a lost cause.

One thing to keep track of: almonds are high in calories, so if you’re on a low calorie diet, don’t start eating two full bags a day.  Instead, take a look at your diet and see if an extra 200 calories (1 serving) can be spread throughout your day.  Remember, if you are eating too little, your body goes into starvation mode and your diet can actually backfire (read why here).  One of my friends is losing weight at the moment and is struggling to eat enough healthy calories every day.  Because he doesn’t want his body to go into starvation mode, he’s added a serving of almonds to his diet.

If you have a Kroger or Ralph’s Supermarket in your area, big bags of almonds are on sale for like $3.99.  Just make sure you buy the natural ones without extra stuff added (like sugar).  Try Almond butter (instead of peanut butter) or almond milk if you’re looking to mix things up.  Raw almonds too boring?  Try the dry roasted, unsalted kind (this goes for peanuts too).  As long as they were roasted in oil and covered in unhealthy stuff, you’re good to go.

Take the bowl of Skittles off your desk and replace it with a bag of almonds. You can thank me later.


Monday Motivation – Mario Kart and Weight Loss

Word Count: 685 NF Difficulty: Beginner

mario-kart-64Last week, I received an email from a few NF readers who are on the bigger side of average and struggling to find the motivation to get healthy.  To put it in nerd terms, it’s like playing Mario Kart as one of the bigger guys (Bowser, Donkey Kong, Wario).  When you first start out the race, your acceleration sucks  (unless you time it right, but that’s besides the point) – because you’re a big dude, it takes some extra effort to get you started.  However, once you get going and your momentum kicks in you have one hell of a top speed.

Fitness is no different. When you’re overweight and you’ve been eating poorly and not exercising for years, it probably feels like you’re stuck at the starting line of DK’s Jungle Parkway.  You don’t know the first thing to do; you want to make a change but you don’t know how, and this fitness thing seems like a lost cause by now.  You’re wrong, you just need to step on the gas, dude.

Here are a few ways you can get started:

mario-kart-ds-20050515002459596Pick one of these things and do it.  Obviously the more of these things you do simultaneously the faster you’re going to accelerate, but as long as you’re moving towards the finish line, no matter how slowly, you’re going in the right direction.  Think of each small thing, each victory every day, as a step towards success.  It might not seem like much, but it’s sure as sh** better than sitting on your ass eating Twinkies.

I could go on and on and on about WHY you need to step on that gas pedal, but I know you’ve heard it all before: you’ll live longer, you won’t have to deal with things like heart disease and shopping at the fat man store, you’ll look and feel better, etc.  If you’re not interested in getting in shape, then you’re reading the wrong blog.  I’m can’t really help you out until you’re willing to help yourself.

Now, the first few steps and your first few weeks might be tough; the pounds won’t come off as fast as you like, you’ll start to crave a Mountain Dew because you’re used to drinking a case a day, and maybe you’ll really want that microwave pizza at 2 in the morning while playing WoW.  Think about it, if it was EASY then everybody would look like King Leonidas and Jessica Alba.  It isn’t easy, and people don’t look like that, so you’re going to have to work for it.  As you starting to pick up speed, those choices you used to struggle with become easier and easier.  Get there.

blueshell-702258Banana peel.  Red shell. Stupid blue shell with wings (wtf?) – You stay out too late one night partying and eat an entire pizza.  You get sick and take a whole week off from exercising.  You drive cross-country and all you can find to eat is fast food.  These things happen to everybody.  You can complain about how Mario Kart (life) is unfair, how your green shell blocked the red shell, how the computer cheats, OR you can play the hand your dealt and step on that gas pedal!

Always move forward.  If you hit a speed bump, get back on the kart and keep going.

Here are some other posts that might help:

If you’re a bigger dude and looking for some help, hopefully this post gives you the motivation and the direction you need.  Not enough? Email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly help.


No Gym? No Problem – Bodyweight Exercises and Nerd Fitness Challenge

Word Count: 1224 NF Difficulty: Beginner – Intermediate

300You want to get in shape, but you’re broke as **** and can’t afford a gym membership.  It’s cool, Spartans didn’t have gyms back in the day either, and I think they turned out okay (except for the whole dying thing).  So what can you do to burn some fat and build build some muscle without a gym?  READ ON SUCKA!

The only equipment I’ll be suggesting here is a pull up bar, and a bench.  If you don’t have these, head down to the local school and use their monkey bars and park bench.  Just make sure you’re wearing pants, or Chris Hansen will be on the scene faster than you can say “pedophile.”

Nerd Fitness Challenge – In honor of the 300 workout, I made a few challenges for you to try this weekend.  Depending on your fitness level, pick the right test, and see how fast you can do it (with GOOD FORM).  You don’t have to do all exercises in one set by the way, split it up how you need to, just try to minimize rest and finish as quickly as possible.  Descriptions of all exercises are after the challenge below:

Level 1: 20 Jumping Jacks, 1 Pull up, 20 Squats (hands out in front), 20 Push ups, 20 Lunges (10 each leg), 20 Decline Pushups (feet up on bench), 1 Chin up. 102 total reps

Level 2: 40 Jumping Jacks, 5 Pull Ups, 40 Prisoner Squats, 40 Pushups, 30 Lunges (15 each leg), 25 Decline Pushups, 15 Jump Ups, 5 Chin Ups,. –200 total reps

Level 3: 50 Jumping Jacks, 15 pull ups, 50 Arms-Up Squats, 50 Pushups, 50 Lunges (25 each leg), 15 Jump Ups, 40 Decline Pushups, 20 Single-Leg deadlifts (10 each leg), 10 chin ups. – 300 total reps

Only attempt the level of fitness that you’re capable of completing.  If you have to time your challenge with a calendar because it took you two days to do 25 pull ups, maybe you should have stuck with level 2.  Pull ups = get used to them, because they’re a great test of strength and fitness.

Feel free to post your finished times in the comments.

Here is a description of all exercises if you need more explanation:

Push Ups – Still the bread and butter of all body weight exercises.  You know why?  Because they don’t require a gym, they work your shoulders, your chest, and your triceps all at the same time.  You can do these in your hotel room, in your parent’s basement (don’t tell anybody you still live there), out in a park, wherever.  Keep your stomach tight, your back straight, your hands wider than shoulder width apart.

Level 2: Put your feet up on a bed, and do the pushups at a decline angle.  This will require more effort from your shoulders, and is a great replacement exercise for the incline dumbbell press that I love so much.

Level 3: Close grip push ups.  Keep your hands just barely wider than shoulder width apart, and your elbows close to your side.  This will work your triceps extra hard.

body_weight_squatSquats – One of the best exercises you can ever do to build power and muscle, the squat is pure gold.  Just because you don’t have weights doesn’t mean you can’t get anything out of squats.  To do a proper squat, take two steps forward quickly and crouch like you’re getting ready to jump/tackle somebody.  Keep an eye on your feet (how they’re angled out slightly), and your back (it’s flat and your abs are tight).  This is the stance you want to be in.  Put your arms straight out in front of you for balance.  As you squat, contract those abs (I know you have them, they might just be under a few layers of flab), keep your back straight, your chin up, and your butt back.  Go down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and explode back up.

Level 2: For more of a challenge, put your hands behind your head like you’re a prisoner, or put them both way above your head like you’re getting robbed at gun point.  Ha, those probably aren’t the best analogies to use, but damnit they work.

9451Level 3: Do one legged deadlifts.  Pick a leg and stand on it in the crouched position.  Lift your other leg out behind you.  As you bend your leg (keeping your ass back and your abs tight), go down until your thigh is parallel to the floor, your hands can touch the ground, and then explode up on that leg.  That’s one rep.  If you don’t have the coordination for this yet, do it while standing next to a wall and use the wall for support.  This will greatly help build your stabilizer muscles in your legs.

Lunges – Stand with your feet together, and your hands on your hips.  Step way out with one leg, and drop the other knee (almost) to the ground.  Explode up and back with your front leg.  That’s one rep.  Now do the other leg, unless you just want one giant leg (which could be funny).

Level 2: Put your hands behind your head (like you’re a prisoner), and step forward with your right foot, and drop down.  At the bottom of your lunge, twist your torso to your right 90 degrees. Twist back to straight ahead, then explode up and back with your right leg and bring them back together.  Now step forward with your left, twist to the left at the bottom, then explode back and up to your legs.

img_48d4643f3d444200-bulgarian_split_squat_1Level 3: Stand 3 feet out in front of a bed, facing away from it.  Take your right leg, and step backwards with it so that your right foot is now on the bed, and you’re ready to do a lunge (still facing away from the bed).  Put your hands on your hips, and slowly lower your left leg until your thigh is parallel to the ground, then explode.  (Does this explanation work for you?  Email me at [email protected] if it doesn’t).

Step ups – If you have a bed/bench/chair and a high enough ceiling, put one foot on the bed, the other on the floor and “step up.”  See where the name came from?  Then, step back down, and step up with the same leg again.  Do 10-15 reps on one side, then switch to the other.

Level 2 – Jump ups.  These are used in the 300 Challenge.  Only do it if you have a big enough platform to jump on, and you’re not going to hit your head!  Keeping your abs tight and back straight, jump up onto the bed/bench, and as you land come down into a squat position.  Important: don’t jump back down, step down with both feet, then jump back up for your next rep.

Pull Ups – Probably my favorite exercise of them all.  Head over to those monkey bars, grab the bar with your palms facing away from you, and pull yourself up.  It’s that simple.  If you can’t do a full pull up yet, have a friend come with you, and have him pick your legs up as you do them.  Your other option is to sort of jump and get yourself above the bar (like you just finished a pull up), and then slowly lower yourself back down.  Keep working on these until you can do a real pull up.

Mix it up: Try chin ups, do pull ups with your palms facing towards you.  This will work your biceps especially, along with your forearms and back.

Have a great weekend, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.


NF Mailbag: July 16, 2009 – Office Worker Wants to Add 15 Lbs. of Muscle


Post length: 1800 words NF Difficulty: Advanced

NF Reader Ryan asks: I wonder if you can help me design a workout/diet routine, since I have a feeling I’m in a relatively similar situation to you when you started your bulk up quest.

For starters, I’m working your typical 8-4 desk job.  I use the gym in my building at work, which is nice because it costs me nada, but sucky because it’s got limited equipment.  It’s got some treadmills; machines for chest press, bicep, triceps, ab crunch, pull downs, shoulder press, leg press; free weights; and some benches.  There’s also a squat station, but I have never really done squats in my life.  I’ve always stuck to leg presses since my knees/ankles are shit and I’d rather be in a sitting position if my knee gives out than standing with XXX pounds on my shoulders.  With respect to time, if I work out, I like to do it during lunch, because at the end of the day I just want to get the F out of here.  So, if I do that, I have an hour.

I’d say the main problem for me is admittedly my diet, and that’s because I’ve never really smartly combined diet and exercise before.  Food was always one thing and working out was completely separate, and never the two did meet.  I never eat breakfast, because I’m one of those ‘get up-shower-gtfo the door’ kind of people.  Ok, I eat a weak ass cereal bar when I get to work — but that’s basically nothing.  And I don’t eat “right” for dinner, because I despise the time and effort it takes to cook a decent meal haha.  So, tell me what I need to go get for groceries and I’ll begrudgingly follow suit.  Right now I probably weigh about 165, which is decent considering my height, but I want to add maybe 10-15 lbs-ish of muscle and tone up a bit to be more cut.  My metabolism (like yours) has always kept me in decent shape and not overweight, so that’s a bonus; but I’d like to get into a more solid routine and figured you could weigh in (no pun intended…. seriously).

Steve writes: Hey Ryan, thanks for the email; let’s break this down into two parts, diet and exercise.  We’ll start with diet, because that’s by far the most important thing:


As I tell most people, the most success I’ve found with tracking my weight has been by using the free account at, so I’d recommend you sign up there, input your height, weight, and goal weight, and it will tell you how many calories you need to eat per day.  Then you divide that number by 5 or 6 (depending on how many meals you can eat per day), and you have how many calories, carbs, and grams of protein you need to eat with each meal.  First of all, you need to start with a great healthy breakfast.  Eggs and wheat toast, oatmeal and a protein shake, etc.  I don’t have much time in the morning either, so my mornings usually start with a giant shake that has 40 grams of protein and 60-70 grams of carbs in it to get my morning started.  Get that metabolism started and the muscle building as soon as you wake up!

I try to get 25-30 g of protein with each meal.  Here are the best sources of protein: eggs, milk, chicken, fish, lean ground beef, almonds, peanuts, and most legumes too.

veggietales1Throw in some good carbs: vegetables are your best bet, wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and sweet potatoes.  The more vegetables you can eat and the less refined carbs you can eat, the more ‘cut’ you’ll end up looking.  The most important meals are breakfast (read why here), the meal right after your workout (generally a shake with equal parts protein and carbs), and then the last one right an hour before bed (just protein, no carbs…don’t want them to turn to fat while you sleep).

If you can’t stuff your face with good food right after your gym workout, it’s a waste of time.  So either eat a good meal, or bring in a blend and some whey protein powder.  I do it in my office, and you get the occasional joke from a co-worker, but it’s usually coming from somebody who has a donut in their hand.  You win, trust me.

The reason you need to eat as often as possible (every 2-3 hours) is because after you work out, your body is constantly rebuilding the muscles you just broke down, so you want to supply your muscles with a constant supply of building material (protein).  Because you’re looking to bulk up, you’re going to want to eat carbs too, so that your body doesn’t run out of energy and use the protein for that instead of building muscle.  Vegetables are low on calories, high on fiber, really good for you, and can count for your carbohydrate intake.

You’ll probably put on a few pounds of fat as you put on 15 lbs of muscle.  I’d recommend bulking up (by eating like crazy in the manner listed above), and then we can make a few changes to your diet and exercise routine to burn off the fat and leave behind the muscle afterward (more sprints, more vegetables, less refined carbs).


Okay, so you have a free gym at work, and you have an hour for lunch.  This sounds perfect, because I don’t like workouts to go more than 45 minutes AT THE MOST.  I’d start off with a quick 3-5 minute warm up (treadmill, jumping jacks, jumping rope) just to get the heart pumping and your muscles warmed up.

457mI’d try to stay away from the machines if possible (read why here), only because they don’t allow your muscles to have free range of motion, which is crucial. When you use free weights, you have to recruit extra muscle fibers to keep the weight steady, so you’re building extra muscle on top of muscle while you’re working out, sort of like a two for one.  I know you say you have knee problems, so I think sticking with the leg press is okay.  However, I would recommend trying out squats (read my article on squats) with just the bar on your back, practice good form (watch the video), and go down til your thighs are parallel to the floor, and you’ll be amazed how much you work practically every muscle in your body.

If you’re not ready for squats, try some lunges with just your body weight (or with dumbbells in your hand) to build up strength in your legs and knee ligaments.  After initially being scared of both exercises for years, I’ve finally come around on the squat and deadlift and now I can’t get away from them.  As long as you do them right, by starting with low low low weight and just work on getting the motion down, you can do them safely and still see gains.

For the rest of your exercise, you want to keep your exercises intense, with minimal rest between sets, and keep your number of reps in your sets in the 6-12 range for maximum size.

The weight bench and the free weights are going to be your friend.  If there’s a pull up bar there, even better.

To start I would recommend full body routines that will work every single muscle in your body, and then to eat like crazy.  Here is a sample full body workout routine that I do on Mondays:

Exercise Routine

For each exercises, aim for 4-5 sets, waiting 1 minute between reps (example: 12 reps at x weight, 1 minute rest, 10 reps at x + 5 weight, 1 minute rest, 8 reps at x+ 10 weight, 1 minute rest, 6 reps at x+15 weight, 1 minute rest, 12 reps at x weight).

Picture 1Incline Dumbbell Chest Press (set bench at 35-45 degree angle, press dumbbells up and together) – 5 sets, 1 minute rest between sets.

Keep the rest between sets to just a minute, and obviously pick weights that work for you.  If you’re used to waiting 3 minutes between sets, you’re going to need to drop your weight BIG time.  After this your chest will burn, your shoulders will burn, and your triceps will burn.

Wide Grip Pull Ups (5 sets)

Do however many reps you can on the first set (stop at 12 if you can do more), then wait a minute and do the next set, etc.  By the 5th set you should be exhausted and probably only be able to do 1 or 2.  If you don’t have a pull up bar, I’d recommend a single arm dumbbell row (just alternate hands, increasing weight just like above for the Incline Dumbbell press, and don’t take any breaks.  By the time you finish the right side, the left side will have already waited 1 minute, so just rapid fire this one).

Squats, Lunges, or Leg Presses – 5 sets, 1 minute rest between sets

If you’re up for squats, try em out.  Even just the bar or 10 lb weights on each side is enough for you to feel it if you squat properly.  If you keep your butt back so that your knees don’t extend out over your toes, the pressure should be off your knees.  Squats really build up the strength of your core and abs, which will help with your quest to look shredded with six pack abs.

Romanian Deadlift

5 Sets, 1 minute rest between sets

This exercise is a little weird to explain, so here is a good instructional video.  Head over to the squat rack, grab the bar, put a slight bend in your legs, and then just bend over from your waist like a drinking bird, pushing your butt backwards and lowering the bar down to the middle of your shins.  This will work your butt, lower back, and hamstrings.

In 4 Exercises, you’ve worked every single muscle in your body, and you’re done in 35-40 minutes. Stretch for 5 minutes AFTER you workout to prevent injury, get the blood pumping into the muscles that are all tightened up, and then get the heck out of there.

You always want to keep your muscles guessing, so never do the same exercise two days in a row.  You can work that body part again after a few days, but hit it from a different angle with a different exercise to promote stronger growth.

Example: For chest, do dips between parallel bars (if your gym has them) or close grip bench press, chin ups instead of pull ups (palms facing you instead of away from you), regular deadlifts, and lunges.  The guys from 300 never did the same workout twice, and I think they turned out okay.

If you want to REALLY get dedicated, add 20 minutes of interval training/sprints on Tuesday and Thursday.  You’ll be surprised how crazy you can get in 20 minutes.  Read all about interval training here; you can burn fat and boost your metabolism in these 20 minutes, perfect for building lean muscle and shredding fat.  And if you’re dead set on looking shredded, cut back on soda and drinking and those pounds of fat will fly right off.


Have a question for Steve? Email him at [email protected] and you might be featured in next week’s Mailbag.

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