How to Work Out Properly In a Commercial Gym

At one point or another, you’re probably going to end up working out at a commercial gym on your quest to level up your life.

I know many NF readers are hardcore Crossfit fanatics (with good reason), but for a lot of us the monthly cost of that membership is incredibly prohibitive.   Home gyms often lack the necessary equipment (squat racks, barbells, heavy dumbbells, etc.) to get a full workout, so we resort to the LA Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness, or Gold’s Gym right down the street.

Let’s be honest, it’s tough to train like a rebel when you’re trapped within the confines of the Empire. You’re surrounded by crappy music, useless machines, and people who generally have no idea what they’re doing (this includes both clients and trainers).  Fortunately, I’ve devised a solid training mentality that allows me to work out without being bothered by imperial soldiers.

I’ve been exercising in various commercial gyms since I was sixteen, and they’re all pretty much the same:

  • Walls full of treadmills and elliptical machines
  • Dozens and dozens of “weight-lifting” machines
  • A room for low-impact cardio aerobic classes
  • A section in the back or upstairs for the free weights

Although it’s certainly possible to exercise like a rebel in a commercial gym, it’s practically impossible to do so undetected: I always get weird looks (thanks to my Vibram Five Fingers), I usually piss off the meatheads for using the squat rack for squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and power cleans while they impatiently wait to do their fifteen sets of bicep curls.  I usually get at least two “are you crazy?” looks when I load up a belt with weights to do my pull ups and chin ups.  I totally feel like an outsider in there, as I’m doing things differently than anybody around me.

You know what?

I LOVE IT.

I look at each day in the gym as a battle that I need to win.  I’ve already covered how to not suck at working out in a previous article, so today’s post is more of a “how to have the right mentality while working out.”

Pick a Good Target

If you’re going to get a gym membership, there are certain things that absolutely need to be there if you’re going to get a good, rebellious workout:

  • Free weights – if your gym doesn’t have any dumbbells (or only has dumbbells up to 20 pounds) because “we think machines are safer,” don’t even bother – move onto the next one.
  • Squat rack (either full or half) – I think any workout (for men or women) should have some good barbell squats in it.  This rack will also make overhead presses really simple, and can double as a place for you to do bench presses, deadlifts, and power cleans.
  • Bench press bench and adjustable benches – for doing bench presses (duh), 1-arm dumbbell rows, incline dumbbell presses, and so on.
  • A pull up bar – for pull ups, chin ups, and hanging knee tucks.
  • The rest of it – a place to stretch, cardio equipment (for interval training), exercise balls (for full range of motion crunches and knee tucks), maybe a rowing machine, and a cable machine (for triceps pull downs and such).

Other than that, make sure you actually test out the gym before giving them your money.  Read this article I wrote on how to pick the right gym for you.  Once you’re ready to start working out, it’s time to get fired up.

Bring your own music

The music played in a commercial gym is always terrible, so make sure to bring your own. I don’t have statistics to back it up, but I feel like I can lift at least 10 pounds more on any exercise when listening to my favorite songs instead of a techno remix of Ke$ha and Miley Cyrus.

Other than getting pumped up, there’s one other big advantage to bringing your own tunes: it allows you to zone out those around you. Remember, you’re training and doing exercises that 99% of the people there wouldn’t even consider, so you’ll probably get funny looks.  Rather than worrying what these people think (which I explain next), keep your headphones in, your head down, and just focus on YOU.  Block out your troubles from the work day, the stress from your home life, or the worry of tomorrow’s big presentation.

For those 45 minutes, just focus on pushing around those weights!

Here’s my definitive workout playlist, if you’re curious.

Ignore 95% of the equipment

Although I have no problem with the cardio equipment in the gym (treadmills, rowing machines, ellipticals, stair climbers, and so on), I don’t think a workout can really be complete if the whole thing is spent in that section of the gym (explained further in the comments).  As you hopefully already know, weight lifting can burn way more calories than doing just cardio (plus it will build up your muscles, WIN!).  Lift weights first, then go do some intervals to finish out your workout.

Stay away from almost all of the weight-lifting machines. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: machines rob your muscles of valuable stabilizer movements which can set you up for disaster in the real world.  You might think it’s safe to use the Smith Machine for controlled squats, but it’s actually pretty terrible for your back.  The ONLY thing I use the Smith Machine for is for inverted body weight rows.

Here’s my full stance on weights vs. machines. Now, if you’re not using machines, you’ll be using…

Dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells, oh my! The back of the gym is going to be your best friend.  I spend almost all of my time back in the dumbbell and barbell section of the gym.  If you’re a lady, don’t be afraid of this place – the guys that are juiced up and intimidating are too busy gawking at their own biceps in the mirror to notice you.

Don’t know what to do?  Here’s how you can build your own workout.

Ignore 99% of the people exercising

Ignore and block out pretty much every single person in the gym, including the trainers. I’d guess nine out of ten people in a gym have no idea what they’re doing, which means that as an informed individual you will tend to get funny looks when you train properly.  Every single day I shake my head while watching people around me doing useless exercises, using too much weight, and performing every movement improperly.  In my ten years in commercial gyms, I’ve probably seen only a dozen people do a proper squat.

Yikes.

Unfortunately, correcting these people never works – just hope that they will one day become enlightened like you and start reading Nerd Fitness :)

Additionally, be careful taking advice from anybody else, because they probably have no clue what they’re talking about.  Listen to their advice, nod politely and smile, decide if there’s any truth to their assessment, and then go back to your workout.

I hate making generalizations, but in my experiences these two are 100% true. In commercial gyms, guys are only worried about two things: bench presses and bicep curls.  Meanwhile, women tend to spend their time doing hours of cardio, thirty minutes of ab work, and 5-pound dumbbell exercises for sets of 50 without breaking a sweat.  Don’t be like these men and women: you’re reading Nerd Fitness, and you’re better than that.

As I’ve stated in my Billy Madison article, don’t worry about these people or what they think about you while you’re exercising.  They’re probably more self-conscious about themselves than you are.  Remember: headphones in, head down, zone out.  Do your thing and get out of there.

Tips and Tricks

Pick out your workout time carefully. Try to exercise during the day while everybody else is at work if your hours are flexible, or late at night before it closes.  I’m a big fan of circuit training, which is difficult to do when when every single piece of equipment is being used.  Avoid the after-work rush whenever possible, as that tends to be more frustrating than productive.

Bring a towel, your keys, backpack, and/or water bottle. While you’re taking a break to get some water between sets, somebody will always try to steal the equipment you’re using, without fail.  Either bring a water bottle so you don’t have to go to the fountain, or bring a towel, keys, whatever that you can lay on the equipment to “stake your claim.”  Don’t be a jerk about it though – don’t spend time socializing between sets, and take care of business.

Get the hell out of there! Your workout shouldn’t last longer than 45 minutes.  If you’re not dead tired by then, you weren’t pushing yourself hard enough.  I actually despise gyms, but I love lifting weights, so I do what I can to get in and out of there quickly.

Put on Your Helmet, Go To Battle

When I go to the gym, I picture myself going to war with the Empire. My music is already playing when walking from my car to the gym, my head is down, and I’m focused on my battle plans: what exercises I’m going to do, how many sets and reps for each, and how long the workout should take.

As rebels in commercial gyms, “we are the outsiders.”

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

-Steve

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Which Ninja Turtle Are You?

I have been writing for Nerd Fitness for 19 months now, and I’ve published 267 articles that cover pretty much every nerd subject under the sun.  While driving to meet up with my friend Jason at CoreBody in Decatur for some workout advice yesterday (if you live in Atlanta and you’re looking for a great trainer by the way, Jason’s your guy), I realized I had never written a single thing about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!

For that, dear Nerd Fitness reader, I apologize.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the Ninja Turtles: I watched the cartoon, owned the first two movies on VHS (the third one sucked though), wore Ninja Turtles pajamas, adored TMNT2: the Arcade Game, and I can still do the dance from Vanilla Ice’s cameo in the second film.

“Go ninja go ninja go!”

With this being a safe haven of nerdy, fitness enthusiasts, I thought today would be a great opportunity to analyze the intricacies of the personalities of each turtle and how they can apply to your own fitness training. After that, we can discuss which personality most resembles your training style, or which turtle you’d like to model yourself after.

Oh, and don’t bother telling me which turtle is the best, because we all know that answer.

Leonardo

The Turtle: Leonardo is the leader of the Ninja Turtles: he’s slightly older, wiser, and studies harder to perfect his talents that any of the others.  Always trying to learn as much as possible from Master Splinter, this blue-masked turtle takes his life very seriously and tries to lead by example.  Although loves his brothers, Leo often worries that they don’t train with enough dedication.  He is generally the calmest of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean you should piss him off – this badass will light you up like a Christmas tree with his two katana blades if you make him angry.

The Human: You are Leonardo, and you take your fitness training very seriously.  You wake up at the same time each morning, go to bed at the same time each night, always eat healthy structured meals, and train with absolute conviction.  You scour the internet for fitness blogs, you read any book or magazine that will help you along your journey, and your time spent exercising is always considered an opportunity to push harder or learn more.

Although you still have fun with with your friends, you eat well on the weekends, you’re the responsible one in your group, and you try to set examples for those around you by making good decisions at all times.  You’re level-headed, take criticism well, and are always looking for ways to better yourself.

Donatello

The Turtle: Don is a ninja who can wear purple and get away with it.  Using his bo staff, Don will pick apart any enemy with surgical precision.  Widely considered to be the smartest Ninja Turtle, Donatello is a known for his skills as a scientist, inventor, engineer, and technological genius.  Because he’s so damn smart, he does what he can to avoid conflict when possible, instead solving situations with his cunning intellect.  He loves fixing things, hanging out with his brothers, and devising plans to defeat the evil Shredder.

How you train: You are Donatello, and you are one ANALytical s.o.b.  Before you walk into a gym or begin a run, you have a specific game plan – exactly how many sets, reps, and exercises (or how far and fast you need to run) in order to be better than last time.  You probably have an excel sheet on your computer that has chronicled your last few months of training with graphs to show your progress, strengths, and weaknesses.  You count every single calorie you eat on SparkPeople.com or DailyBurn.com, and you probably weigh yourself daily.

You’re always looking for a way to improve, whether it’s new equipment that can shave a few seconds off your time, a new exercise that can build muscle with greater efficiency, or a minuscule change to your diet that can drop your body fat by a percentage point.

Raphael

The Turtle: Raph is known for his quick temper, sarcastic deadpan humor, and ability to do some serious damage with his deadly pair of sai.  This red-masked turtle is incredibly aggressive, never hesitating to throw the first punch.  He often chooses to go out and do things on his own, which can get him into trouble when he bites off more than he can chew by overestimating his abilities.  Stubborn as a mule and known for going to emotional extremes, Raph has a tendency to go absolutely berserk while in battle. Don’t make him angry.

How you train: You are Raphael, and you like to train alone.  When at the gym or out running, you go into “the zone:” headphones in, block out everything around you, focusing only on the task at hand.  You have the ability to push through pain and limitations, often accomplishing feats that you previously thought impossible.  If you’re a weight lifter, it means you can pump yourself up to lift heavier than normal; if you’re a runner, it means you always have something left in the tank for those last thirty seconds.

However, you’re also quite stubborn, which means you have a hard time giving any less than 100% and will accept nothing less, which means you’re more prone to over-training and injury.  You don’t really take criticism very well, as you’d rather learn the hard way by trying it yourself before learning it from somebody else.

Michelangelo

The Turtle: Youngest of the bunch, Michelangelo “is a party dude!”  Mikey tries not to take life (or his training) too seriously, but that doesn’t mean he’s a pushover – he’ll still own you with his nunchakus.  Light-hearted, friendly, and non-confrontational, this orange-masked reptile enjoys spending his time skateboarding through sewers, reading comic books, and cracking jokes.  Mike has an “an unparalleled level of sensitivity to the feelings of those around him and, as a result, feels a very real and serious need to help those less fortunate.”  Thanks Wikipedia!

Oh, and nobody loves pizza more than him.

The Trainer: You are Michelangelo, and you are a free spirit when it comes to your training.  You’d prefer to get your exercise through rock-climbing, yoga, and surfing rather than spend one minute in a stuffy gym with a bunch of stiffs.  If you’re a runner, you do so barefoot, without a stopwatch, and you do it because you enjoy it.

You try not to take life too seriously either – sure you eat healthy (and natural) when possible, but if somebody put a plate of hot wings or cookies in front of you, you’d still eat them.  The world is a giant playground – the sun is shining, the waves are crashing, and you’re smiling.

Which turtle are you?

In the comments, I don’t want you to debate over which turtle is the best, because we all know it’s clearly Raphael.

Instead, I want you to think of which turtle above most closely resembles your training method (or your planned training method).

Here’s me - At the end of the day, above all, I’m Raphael - I like to train alone and can often push myself too hard. Though I also resemble Leo: I try to lead by example, I’m always learning, and I do what I can to take my training seriously.  I’m trying to add in more of Michelangelo’s outdoor training, and I want to be more analytical of my workouts like Donatello.

Your turn: who’s your favorite Ninja Turtle, and which one do you most resemble?

-Steve

PS – Here’s the cartoon theme song…sigh….memories….

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How to Fight Your Food Addiction And Win.

I recently finished reading The End of Overeating by David Kessler, and it opened my eyes to a side of food that I didn’t know existed.

Although there were a few things in the book that I didn’t completely agree with (namely how fats were vilified along with sugar and sodium in ‘bad’ foods without explaining that some fats can be good), it was loaded with fantastic information and advice on how to break the mental chains that food can have over people.  It was certainly a great read.

Now, rather than just recap the book and present its information in a clear, concise manner, I’m going to recap it in the only way I know how: by nerding the sh** out of it and relating it to a universally nerd-loved concept:

The Matrix.

Yes, I know I’ve written extensively about the Matrix before, but I couldn’t help but draw all sorts of parallels to the movie once again while reading this book.  Allow me to explain:

  • People that are addicted to food have been put into a “prison for the mind,” just like people trapped in the Matrix, and are unaware its existence. Food decisions are often made without thought, stomachs are full and yet more snacks are consumed, and unhealthy meals become more and more appealing and rewarding with each passing day.
  • Most people (a huge portion of the American population anyway) are unaware of this ‘prison’ and continue to eat whatever they want, whenever they want.  Unfortunately ignorance isn’t bliss here, as it usually results in decreased quality of life and an early exit.
  • Agents exist to keep us within that prison. Agent Smith and his cohorts kept order in the Matrix, making sure people remained docile and in their prisons.  In our world, these agents are restaurant food and consumer product creators, who painstakingly test different combination of unhealthy ingredients to stimulate our senses to make us more addicted to their products.
  • You are Neo. You’re reading Nerd Fitness, which means you’re aware the Matrix (a food addiction) exists, and you want to get out.  Once you break free, with a little help from a dude named Morpheus, you can become the One, fight the Agents, and help inspire others to break free as well.
  • I am Morpheus.  Not only do I know Kung Fu (okay not really, but that would be awesome), but I’m here to open your eyes, set your mind free, and help you break out.  What you do after that is up to you.

Agents Suck

In the Matrix, Agent Smith and his agent buddies were part of a computer program designed to keep humans trapped while their bodies were harvested for energy; these Agents kept the peace by making sure nobody could break free.

In the real world, Agents exist, and they exist to keep us fat, addicted and complacent. They are scientists, marketers, product-testers, chefs, and entire companies who dedicate their existence to making unhealthy food that is more appetizing and addicting than ever before.  They spend countless hours testing out different ratios of sugar to fat to sodium to find the highest balance of ‘addiction,’ applying different layers of food on top of each other to create new sensations that envelope your senses and make you feel amazing…for about 20 minutes.

Not cool.

Here’s how it works: when you reward yourself with sugary candy, a high-calorie sodium-filled meal, or super-processed junk food, your body feels a little bit happy for a while.  However, after that happiness wears off (which happens quickly), your body returns to normal but craves that happy feeling again.  Each time you eat that particular type of food again, your body gets more and more trained to eat poorly to chase that happy feeling.  Yeah, it sounds like I’m talking about a drug addiction, but for some a food addiction isn’t too different.  Like crystal meth, these foods are designed to suck you in and not let go.

Now, don’t start blaming the agents for your predicament; they’re merely programs doing what they’re told.

As Matt points out in the comments: We can’t fault the [agents] for trying to make tasty foods; they are in business to make money.  When the public votes with their wallets and makes a dent in the bottom lines of the companies, then they will change what they offer.

If you look at a bowl of M&M’s and suddenly can’t think of anything else, then you know what I’m talking about.  It’s why you can eat an appetizer from Chili’s or Cheesecake Factory (which is often more calories than a normal meal should be), and then still eat an entire meal (which is way oversized): these meals have been scientifically-engineered to appeal to your emotions and reward your stomach.

Fortunately, that was the old you, the one who was trapped.

It’s time to take responsibility for your actions, learn from, take a deep breath, and break free.

Free Your Mind

Morpheus – Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: ‘Cause I don’t like the idea that I’m not in control of my life.

We are creatures of habit, which means overeating and eating unhealthy foods are no longer choices made, but rather habits that exist within our mind from repetition over a long period of time. This is why you might instinctively reach for a pint of ice cream after work every day despite not being hungry – the initial reward of “oooooh ice cream makes me happy” kept you coming back until it became part of who you are.   Now, it might seem like you no longer have a choice in the matter, that you can’t function without that ice cream after work.

This is untrue.

You’re not a hopeless/helpless victim – no matter how strong the emotional pull of food may be, you ALWAYS have a choice.

That choice to say no and resist might only last half a second before your stomach takes over, but it does exist.  You are 100% in control of your life and your destiny.  Every choice you make, every day, has a chance to bring you closer to your goals or farther away from them.

That choice is 100% yours to make.

Now, just as you’ve conditioned your body to crave these foods automatically, you can eventually reverse the process and condition your body to resist bad food and eat properly automatically too.  It will not be easy and will require an incredible amount of willpower, but it absolutely can be done.

Just as Neo couldn’t ‘fly’ until he learned to believe in himself, you will not be able to break free of your bad food habits until you learn to believe in yourself and your own willpower. You’re not going on a diet, you’re making permanent, fundamental changes to your eating habits.

Train Your Mind

Thanks to some cool downloads, Neo learned Kung Fu, flying, and a bunch of other unique skills to successfully kick ass while in the Matrix. Now that you recognize the Matrix for what it is (a prison), it’s time for you to start learning some cool skills too.  Unfortunately, it will take more than a few minutes, and they’re not as cool as learning Kung Fu, but they’ll certainly help you live longer.

1) Be aware of the Matrix. Start to recognize the situations that cause you to overeat, where they come from, how you felt before you started eating, and so on.  Once you are aware of these scenarios and stimuli, it will be easier for you to start the next steps to fight back.

2) Change your habits NOW. If you drive home every day past a Burger King and you can’t help but stop for a Whopper Jr. with cheese, it’s time to pick a different way home.  If you come home from work and immediately plop down on the couch while eating a bag of chips, instead come home and IMMEDIATELY go for a brisk walk outside.  This is how you will start to break the rules and get out of the Matrix – NEW HEALTHY HABITS.

3) Re-condition your brain to recognize how much food is the “right amount.” Restaurants these days all give us meals that are twice the size they should be.   You probably eat more calories per day than you realize too.  Write down what you eat, check out how many calories are in the meals you’re used to eating and start training your brain to recognize how much food is right, and how much is too much.

Just because it’s in front of you doesn’t mean you need to eat it.

4) Focus your brain on the long term result, not the immediate pleasure. Yeah, eating a family-size bag of peanut M&Ms might make you feel good for half an hour, but you know deep down inside that long-term, this is a terrible idea.  Instead of focusing on the immediate pleasure of those M&Ms, concentrate on how good you will feel later on that day from having not eaten them, or how you’ll feel when people start to ask “Hey, have you lost weight?”

I used to love fast food. Now, the thought of a greasy, overprocessed, low-quality cheeseburger made and frozen in a factory four months ago sounds absolutely disgusting to me.  Create strong negative feelings towards these bad foods while embracing positive thoughts of NOT eating the bad foods, and those ‘chains’ that are holding you down will start to come loose.

5) Set rules that you WILL not break, removing emotion from the equation. Our brains and stomachs are tricky s.o.b.’s, and once you bring emotion into the equation, all bets are off.  Before your head and heart get involved, set rules before going to a restaurant or heading to work for the day.

  • I don’t eat French fries. Not even one.
  • I don’t drink soda. Nope.
  • I don’t eat candy. I know eating one will lead to many more.
  • I don’t eat while driving, only when sitting at a table.
  • I don’t eat at my desk while working, only for lunch in the break room.

When these rules are ingrained in your head, then your decision to avoid those foods will be easier because there’s no saying “oh just this one” because we know how quickly one fry, M&M, or potato skin can turn into the whole box/bag/plate. Set rules that cannot be broken under any circumstances.  Once you’ve gotten your behavior under control you can start introducing some of these foods back into your meals in moderation, but not until you’re out of the Matrix.

6) Have support from those around you. Neo had Trinity, Morpheus, Tank, Apoc, and Switch to help him on his journey to One-dom.  Who do you have helping you out on your quest to break free?  If you live with friends, let them know that you need help – ask them not to bring home crappy foods or suggest unhealthy restaurants when going out.  If you’re married with kids, work with your spouse to prepare good foods and set new habits with healthy cooking and healthy meals.

Fight Back and Break Free

Now that you have downloaded the proper mental skills above, it’s time to fight back.

Here’s how you’ll win:

  1. Step up. No more excuses, no more “woe is me,” no more “I can’t do this.”  You have a choice, you have control, you have a chance to turn your life around.  Start believing in yourself today.  And then get it done.
  2. Replace chaos with order. Restaurants, vending machines, and fast food places make their money off of your impulse buys, making up your mind for you.  That’s bull****.  Plan out your meals, read restaurant menus before going out to dinner and DO NOT DEVIATE FROM YOUR PLAN.
  3. Eat high protein, high fiber meals. According to the book, studies have shown that protein is the most satiating macronutrient, as it empties the stomach at 4 calories per minute.  Compare this with simple sugar, which empty the stomach at 10 calories per minute, which means you’ll get hungry much quicker.  Fiber-filled foods tend to be satisfying as well, because they’re assimilated by the body more slowly.  Lean meats, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts.  Jump on it.
  4. When you fall down, get back up. Fighting these agents and trying to break out of the Matrix isn’t going to be easy, and you’ll definitely have some fights that you can’t win (on a long road trip and only fast food places are open, cousin’s wedding, Labor Day BBQ, etc.).  Remember, this is NOT a character flaw, but a biological challenge.  Who cares if you slipped up?  Dust yourself off, get back up, and keep at it.
  5. Train consistently. Exercising is a fantastic way to help you keep your weight off.  Not just because of the calories burned, but the constant “I’m getting healthy” mindset it instills.  You won’t stop to eat a dozen donuts if you just went to the gym, because you know you would quickly undo all of that hard work.
  6. Fight back. This is a battle you can win, but only one if you are dedicated to the cause.  Don’t let the Matrix keep you, don’t let the Agents win.  With this article, I am showing you the door.  You are the one who has to walk through it.

So what do you think: Can you really be addicted to food? Have you broken free before?  Are you struggling with it now?  Have any advice for your fellow freedom fighters?

Share your stories and thoughts in the comments!

-Steve

PS – Join the Nerd Fitness 28-Day Challenge on the NF Message boards! Whoever “wins” will get a free NF t-shirt when I get around to printing one.  Check out the boards for more details.

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What We Can Learn from the Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda has to be the greatest video game series of all time, right?

If you’ve never played a single Zelda game in your life, allow me to quickly explain: you’re a young boy named Link whose only possession is a wooden sword, and you’re tasked with defeating the evil Gannon and rescuing Princess Zelda. Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to relate if you have no clue what I’m talking about.  Just remember this: “a seemingly average kid sets out to become great, rescue the princess, and save the world.”

Think back to that very first game that came out in the 80′s, the one that started it all: the Legend of Zelda for the NES (bonus points if you had the gold cartridge).  Here are some important lessons about getting in shape that we can glean from this 8-bit masterpiece.

Be Wary of Shortcuts

After beating this game a few times, I came to the realization that entire levels can be bypassed! What kind of sucker goes through all of the levels in order when you can just jump ahead and use the shortcut, right!?

Well, I tried my hand at Level 8 with a wooden sword and a few hearts.  I got my ass kicked.

In the Legend of Zelda, all levels exist for a reason: You need to get stronger and build momentum off the early levels to allow you to survive in the later ones.  Sure, it certainly takes a lot longer to go through all the levels in order, but you’ll be far better prepared for battle and have a greater chance of success down the road.

  • If you’re building strength – Don’t be a hero and lift more than you should without learning the proper techniques first.  I spent a few weeks doing squats with just the bar to make sure I was doing them properly, and only then did I start adding weight (5 pounds a week).
  • If you’re losing weight – Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts, despite what you hear on TV and see in advertisements.  No magic pills you can take, no special machine to give you abs, no ‘secret diet’ that gets better results than others.  It’s hard work, healthy eating, and exercise.
  • If you want to run a marathon - Don’t just go sign up for one.  Try running a 5k first and see if you survive, then a 10k, then a half-marathon, and THEN conquer that full marathon (like Tony did this past weekend, congrats Endorphin Dude!).

Burn Every Bush, Bomb Every Wall

Back before the Internet and strategy guides, us kids had to figure out how to beat video games from trial and error. How do you kill that guy?  Turns out you had to shoot him in the eye three times with an arrow.  Did you know there was a secret heart container in a cave if you burned a certain nondescript bush?  How about that secret passageway if you bombed a hole in a specific wall that looked like every other freakin’ wall?

How did we learn about any of this stuff?

Because we TRIED IT OUT!

  • Before you go deciding you don’t like lifting weights, or that you think barefoot running is stupid, or that eating like a cavemen doesn’t make sense, TRY IT.
  • Before you make fun of Ultimate Frisbee, LARPing, or geocaching, TRY IT.
  • Before you tell yourself that it’s too hard or too far or not something you’re interested in, TRY IT.

Sure, you might fail, or you might fall down.  You also might LOVE it and succeed.

Only one way to find out…

Reward Yourself With Things That Can Reward You Back

I love the concept of awards and achievements. I’m not talking about eating a dozen cookies because “hey, I went to the gym!” either.  I’m talking about good rewards that actually help you push harder and live better.

Every time you beat a new level in a Legend of Zelda game, you generally receive a heart container (upping your health meter), a piece of the Triforce (which you need put back together in order to succeed), and a new weapon or item that allows you to advance further.

Add some real life prizes and achievements to your life, but make sure they’re prizes that take you closer to your goals, not farther away:

  • Once you lose 50 pounds, reward yourself with new workout clothes; you’ll feel better about yourself and actually WANT to go to the gym.
  • Once you complete 10 inverted rows for the first time, go buy yourself a pull up bar and work towards 10 of those.
  • Once you’ve completed your first 5k race, treat yourself to a new pair of shoes (or Vibrams) that will allow you to run faster next time.

Momentum is a powerful thing.  Enjoy each victory, celebrate your success, and use that momentum as stepping stone for your next goal.

The Impossible Is Possible

We play video games because they give us a chance to step into a fantasy world, doing impossible things like killing zombies and slaying dragons all from the comfort of our couches.

Put yourself in Link’s shoes for a second: you’re an ten year old kid with a crappy sword, and it’s your job to save the world and rescue a princess from an evil monster.  When I was ten, I played baseball and struggled with long division (that was 4th grade, right?).

So how did this little dude achieve greatness?

By putting one foot in front of the other.

Starting out, the thought of saving the world would be overwhelming to anybody, let alone a kid in a green tunic.  However, rather than concentrating on the big scary goal, Link focused on getting through the smaller ones, beating Level 1, then Level 2, then Level 3, and so on.  With each passing level, his strength and health grew, giving Link enough confidence to attack the next one.

Before all was said and done, this pre-teen from the forest was kicking ass and taking names, swinging the Master Sword and firing silver arrows like nobody’s business!

As Robert Heinlein famously remarked: “Everything is theoretically impossible until it is done.”

One day, I hope to attempt the Ninja Warrior course in Japan. It certainly seems impossible to me right now, but I know I can eventually get there if I take it one step at a time and stay focused.

What seems impossible to you right now? It might be 10 pull ups, losing 200 pounds, climbing a mountain, or completing a triathlon.  Whatever your “impossible” goal is, focus on finding smaller “levels” that you can conquer first.

What’s your “impossible” goal, and what’s one step you’re going to take today to get closer?

-Steve

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Photo 1, Photo 2

The Rebel Fitness Guide is COMING SOON!

Holy crap I wrote an e-book!

Well, a bunch of small books actually. As you hopefully know, I quit my day job back in June and have since been tirelessly working to put this guide together for the Nerd Fitness Community.  Whether you’re just getting started on your fitness journey and don’t know where to begin, or you’re well on your way to a healthy lifestyle and you’re looking for some new challenging workouts, this might be just the thing you’re looking for.

I’ll be launching the guide in mid-August.

This is my first attempt at writing sales copy, so bear with me. Below is all of the cool stuff that you get when you buy the Rebel Fitness Guide.  Check it out!

Note: THIS IS AN E-BOOK.  It’s a product you download to your computer, there will be no physical products shipped to you!

39-page Rebel Fitness Guide

  • The Nerd Fitness Training Philosophy – Burn calories and build muscle with effective, efficient routines that don’t require hours in the gym (or even a gym at all).
  • How to Succeed - Prepare mentally and physically for the challenges that await you on your journey.
  • How to Get Started - Definitive steps that you can take to make sure you get started on the right foot.
  • What You Need in Your Inventory -What kind of equipment you can acquire to improve your chances at success.

32-page Rebel Diet Guide

  • Diet 101 – Learn the basics of food, nutrition, and nutrients, and why your diet is 80% of the battle.
  • The Nerd Fitness Diet Philosophy – Learn what to eat, what not to eat, and what to eat in moderation.
  • How to Succeed – The battle with your diet is often a mental one – here are techniques and tactics that you can use to free your mind and free your stomach.
  • How to Get Started – Definitive steps you can starting today to start living healthier today.

6 Separate Workout Exercise Books

  • Enough routines for over six months of exercise – designed in conjunction with Mike Rickett, a fitness professional with over 20 years of training experience.
  • Workouts that only require 30-45 minutes of your time and some dumbbells – We all have lives, so I’ve designed challenging workouts that don’t require a huge commitment.
  • Four separate experience levels of workouts – Advance at your own pace and build up your fitness level with workouts that become more challenging.
  • Excel files and printable PDFs for each workout so that you can track your progress by hand or online.
  • Descriptions and videos for every exercise.

What kind of results can I expect to see with the Rebel Fitness Guide?

I don’t have some secret muscle building or weight loss formula (hint: nobody does), so I won’t try to make any outrageous promises. Your success will completely depend on your dedication to the exercises and diets (along with your genetics, experience level, outside factors, and so on).

What I WILL promise is a program that breaks down the whole “get in shape” process into simple concepts and digestible pieces so everything is easy to understand and enjoyable to learn, making it FUN to get started.

If you’re willing to put in the time and effort, you will see results that make you happy.

I have a huge desire to see you accomplish your goals, and I’m willing to do what it takes for you to get there.

Try out this program and see for yourself if it’s something that can help you level up your life, no strings attached, no pressure.

Who Shouldn’t Buy the Guide?

Who puts a “who shouldn’t buy” section into their sales article? This guy.

I’m going to be completely honest with you: if you’re in fantastic shape, know what you’re doing in the gym, a hardcore CrossFit fanatic, and/or a power-lifting Starting Strength disciple, this probably isn’t the guide for you (but my NEXT book might be…).  You’re more than welcome to buy it and see if there’s something in here that you’ll like, but I just want to put that out there.  Instead, consider buying it for your friend who wants to get started, your folks who need to get in shape, or the bum down the street who dances at cars as they pass by.

100% 90-Day Money Back Guarantee

I’ve poured my heart and soul into this fitness guide, and I’m confident it will help you get in great shape. If you’re on the fence about buying it, I want you to know that you can email me at any point within 90 days of purchase and let me know that you’re not happy with it or you aren’t seeing the results you expected and I’ll gladly issue you a 100% refund, no questions asked.

Really, I just want to help you be happy and live healthy. If this guide isn’t doing it for you, I’ll help you find one that will. Why not give it a chance?

How Much Does it Cost?

I’m selling the Rebel Fitness Guide for $??? in Mid-August.

When you purchase the guide, you’ll get instant access to:

  • Rebel Fitness Guide
  • Rebel Diet Guide
  • Level 1 Workout – Rookie
  • Level 2 Workout – Recruit
  • Level 3 Workout – Outcast
  • Level 3 Workout – Outsider
  • Level 4 Workout – Rebel
  • Level 4 Workout – Renegade

Each routine will provide 4-8 weeks worth of exercise, depending on your progress and experience. As you level up, you can choose different workouts to keep things fresh and keep your body guessing! My friend Joe (who did all the design for the guide) was nice enough to put together this fancy flow chart to show how things work.

When Will It Be Available Again?

After working with this first class over the next few weeks, I’ll be officially launching the guide to the public in mid-August at a higher price point (to be determined).

How Does this Change Nerd Fitness?

It doesn’t!

I’ll still be writing two free articles a week, every week, until the end of time (approximately).  This is just one way that I hope to support myself so I can continue devoting all of my time to this site and this community.

Whether or not you buy the guide, thanks so much for reading Nerd Fitness!

Note: THIS IS AN E-BOOK.  It’s a product you download to your computer, there will be no physical products shipped to you, no shipping cost, just a quick download and you’re ready to go!

A Free Workout and a Free Background = win.

Purdy lookin’ cover, ain’t it?

Since quitting my day job a month ago to devote my full time to this site and this community, I’ve been busting my ass to put together the Rebel Fitness Guide, my first product for sale on Nerd Fitness.

Next week, I’ll finally get a chance to launch this sucker, and I can’t wait. It contains a full-blown fitness guide, diet guide, and 6+ months of exercise routines with descriptions and videos of each.  I’ll get into all of the details and good stuff next week, because today is devoted to something that everybody loves: free stuff!

Free Workout

I’ve gotten a bunch of emails in the past from people who want to start lifting weights but don’t know where to get started.

Although I’m hoping these guys and girls considering buying the guide next week, I wanted to put together a free workout today that you can do at home with just your yourself and a set of dumbbells or some resistance bands.  This workout is similar to one of the Level 2 workouts that you’ll find in the Rebel Fitness Guide, but you can adjust this to be easier or harder based on your ability.

Just in case you’re not familiar with the term, a “superset” is when you do the two listed exercises without resting in between. So, a superset of squats and push ups means you’ll do a set of squats, then IMMEDIATELY do a set of push ups, and then rest for 60 seconds before starting over again with the squats.

The Warm Up:

The Workout (rest 60 seconds between supersets, and 60 seconds between regular sets)

Now, after you’re done with the lifting, you could do some interval sprints if you’re up for it, or save those for the next day.  This is your routine for the Interval training – you can do it on a treadmill, elliptical, bike, rowing machine, whatever.

  • Warm up for 4-5 minutes.
  • Alternate 5 sessions of jogging for two minutes and running hard for one minute.

Whether you did the intervals or not, it’s important to stretch after every workout. Here’s a basic stretch closer that I do to end my workouts.

If the workout above is too hardYou can make some simple adjustments to make it easier, like switching out regular squats for overhead squats, doing incline push ups instead of walking push ups, and/or giving yourself 90 seconds instead of 60 seconds between exercises.

If the workout above is too easy – Put some dumbbells in your hands while doing the overhead squats and step ups, go with divebomber push ups instead of walking push ups, do pull ups instead of dumbbell rows, and hold that plank for as long as you can.

Mix it up - This is just one way to do this routine.  If you want to work your heart harder and sweat more, do ALL of the exercises in a circuit, where you do each one without stopping until you get to the end where you can rest for 60 seconds before starting from the beginning again.  If you want to make it more of a strength building workout, don’t worry about supersets and instead do 4 sets of 8 or 6 reps with heavy weights for each exercise.

That’s pretty much how a workout comes together – a few leg exercises, a push exercise, a pull exercise, and some core work.  Make sure you don’t do this workout two days in a row, because your muscles need time to recover.

This is a pretty good example of what you’ll find in a Level 2 workout in the Rebel Fitness Guide, with more introductory routines in Level 1 and tougher/more challenging routines in Level 3 and Level 4.

Onto the next free thing!

Free Desktop Background

My friend Joe is one hell of a graphic designer. He designed all the artwork for the Rebel Fitness Guide, all of the cool graphics for the site, and just for fun he put together a subtle (but kick-ass) desktop background for me that is currently occupying my laptop screen.  In case your computer is in need of a makeover, try this on for size.

Oh, and if you’re looking to get some graphic work done for your site, shoot me an email and I’ll put you in touch with Joe – he’s damn good.

The click on the image to download the widescreen version, or go with the 4:3 version instead.


Join the Rebel Army

If you enjoyed any of the free stuff above and you want to stay up to date with Nerd Fitness, go ahead and sign up for the Rebel Army. You’ll get updates when I post a new article here on the site, have the chance to win cool stuff when I have things to give away, and special treatment when it comes to the stuff that I’ll sell through the site.

Your email will never be shared and you can unsubscribe at any time.

And if you don’t want to sign up, that’s totally fine too; we can still be friends.  Whether or not you buy the Rebel Fitness Guide next week, thanks for reading Nerd Fitness.  I have such a blast writing for this site and connecting with so many great people; it’s pretty awesome.  So, thank you.

Have a great weekend; next week is gonna be a big one over here at NF Rebel Headquarters.

Get ready…

-Steve

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43 Ways to Level Up Your Life, Starting Right Now.

Today, you’re going to level up your life.

If you’re anything like me, you’re big on the whole “come up with ideas” part of life and slightly lacking in the “JUST DO IT” part.  You’ve told yourself for days, weeks, months, years that you’re going to get in shape one day – enough with the excuses, procrastination, and delays.

It’s time for action!

Here are 43 different ways to improve your life right now. I’m a huge fan of momentum, and I’m confident that picking a thing or two off of this list and following through with it could help you turn that little snowball of yours into an avalanche of awesome.  While most of these are fitness related, some have nothing to do with fitness but will help you either feel better, look better, or help make this world a slightly better place.

Let’s do this!

1) Write down everything you eat today. Every calorie, every bite of a donut, every sip of a soda. Everything.  I’ll bet you eat more calories than you think…unless you’re trying to gain weight, in which case I bet you eat less than you think.

2) Eat less. If you want to lose weight, you have to burn more calories than you consume.  If you want to gain weight, you need to burn less calories than you consume.

3) Try a new vegetable. They won’t hurt, I promise.

4) Stop slouching! Pull your shoulder blades back and pick your chin up.  You’ll look thinner, project more confidence, and your lower back will stop hurting from sitting improperly all day.

5) Write down three goals. Write down three things right now that you need to accomplish in order for your day to feel productive.  Do the first thing, and then then second, and then the third.  Simple.

6) Stop drinking soda. Even the diet kind.

7) Start lifting weights. I don’t care who you are or what your goals are: they should involve some sort of weight training if you want to see legitimate results (here’s why).  If you’re a woman, you should be lifting weights too.  Lift HEAVY too (while staying safe).

8 ) Run one second faster today than you did yesterday.

9) Lift one more pound today in the gym than you did last time.

10) Drink more water.

11) Eat breakfast. Eggs and old fashioned oatmeal, good.  Sugary cereal with a big glass of OJ (pretty much sugar water), bad.

12) Learn how to do a proper squat. No squat machine, no leg press…a REAL ACTUAL SQUAT with a bar across your shoulders.

13) Don’t eat fast food for lunch.

14) Write down what you’re going to do in the gym. Don’t walk in there blindly, know exactly which exercises you’ll do and how much you’re going to lift.  And then, write down your results as you do them.

15) Stretch after you exercise. All of your muscles are sore and broken down…kick-start the recovery process by stretching out your muscles after working out.  Look at the stretching channel on the Nerd Fitness YouTube page if you need examples of some stretches.

16) Start a weight-loss contest at work – Everybody throws in 20 bucks, whoever loses the highest percentage of body weight in a month gets to keep the cash.  Money is one hell of a motivator.

17) Go for a brisk walk on your lunch break.

18) Ride your bike to work.

19) Download new workout music.

20) Stop making excuses – Matt lost 157 pounds in only one year because he stopped making excuses and started taking action.

21) Stop using weight machines – They suck and they’re dangerous.  Be a big boy/girl, go to the free weight section, and pick up some dumbbells.

22) Try interval training. Only have 20 minutes?  Try 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training.  Kick your ass, burn extra calories, and build up your oxygen capacity in a short amount of time.

23) Sign up for that class you’ve always wanted to go to but haven’t. I signed up for a Capoeira class last week, after putting it off for months.  There’s never going to be a “perfect” time for anything.  Call them today.

24) Do one thing that scares you. Ask out the cute girl at the coffee shop, speak in public (gasp), volunteer for a difficult task at work.  It’s time to step out of your comfort zone, and grow some bal…confidence.  This is one of the most important things you can do for yourself today.

25) Sign up for a race two months from now, and pay in advance. Once you’ve put the money down, it’s going to be tough for you to avoid training unless you want to get beat by a 10-year old girl.

26) Take 15 minutes to clean off your office desk/bedroom. Clutter can cause all kinds of stress and makes life way more complicated than it needs to be.  Get rid of the crap, unclutter your desk, unclutter your mind.

27) Sign up for your local library! I’ve rediscovered the library in my town, which has a surprisingly great collection of fitness and diet books.  Just last week I picked up The End of Overeating and The New Rules of Lifting.

28) Start working towards a pull up. You should be doing an exercise that works your ‘pull muscles’ with every workout.  If you can’t do pull ups, try doing body weight rows on a smith machine (or your kitchen table), and if you can’t do those yet, do some lat pull downs.  Your goal should be to do a few sets up pull ups eventually, so get stronger with each workout.

29) Chuck your junk food. I don’t care if you just bought it – get rid of the cookies, crackers, ice cream, soda, Ho-Hos, Twinkies, sugary cereal, whatever.  GET RID OF IT, so you won’t be tempted.

30) Sign up for a free fitness class. Find a Crossfit gym in your area, and sign up for your free class.  Sure, you might puke and you’ll be sore as hell, but it’s a free ass-kicking…and who knows, you might like it!

31) Give yourself 15 minutes of “me time.” Lock yourself in your room, put on your favorite song, turn off your phone, and just do NOTHING.

32) Run. Stop by the park on the way home, strap on a pair of sneakers, and just start running.  Feeling crazy?  Try it barefoot.

33) Shake the hand of any person you see that is/was in the military.  These brave men and women don’t get enough recognition, and you’ll be surprised how far a “thank you for your service” and a handshake will go towards making their day and making you feel better.  Random? Yup.  Good for the world? Yes.

34) Do some push ups! Puff up that chest a little bit.  Do incline push ups if regular ones are too hard, and try some dive bombers if they’re too easy.

35) Smile more. Not a creepy smile either, but a genuine one.

36) Stop thinking so much. We tend to over-analyze every situation until it’s far more complicated and stressful than it needs to be.  Sometimes you just need to shut off your brain and go for it.

37) Stop spending thirty minutes sculpting your abs. Add some planks, bird dogs, or knee tucks to your routine to work your core at the end of your routine for no more than five minutes.  Your abs are a direct result of your diet anyways, so clean THAT up first, and then worry about abs.

38) Call somebody and tell them that you love them. Your wife/husband, boyfriend/girlfriend, kids, parents, grandparents, whoever.  You probably don’t say it enough, and you know how great it is to hear it.  Spread the love!

39) Sign up for the Nerd Fitness Rebel Army (don’t worry, it’s free). Get these blog updates delivered to your e-mail inbox, win free stuff if I have things to give away, and get insider info about any cool Rebellion-type stuff going down.

40) Sign up for the Nerd Fitness Message Boards.  Join the 280 other people who are posting on there already, and start holding yourself accountable.  Plus, then we can discuss the ending to Inception.

41) Get ready for the Rebel Fitness Guide. That’s right, this sucker is going to be officially released to the Nerd Fitness population next week!  I’ve poured my heart and soul into this sucker and I’m excited to finally publish it.  Check back here next Monday for all the details.

42) Share this article with somebody you care about.

43) ???? What else would you stick on this list?  How else can people level up their lives starting today?

Add your suggestions in the comments!

-Steve

PS – Today marks the end of the 4th Nerd Fitness 28-Day Challenge! How did you do? Post on the NF boards how ya did, and start preparing for the next challenge starting next Monday, July 26th!

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Reader Spotlight: Learn How Matt Lost 157 Pounds in One Year.

In this edition of the Nerd Fitness Reader Spotlight, I had to opportunity to interview Matt (67Alecto on the NF Message Boards), a guy who has lost 157 pounds in ONE YEAR.  Yup, Matt is the man.  I love his story because it wasn’t just “running on a treadmill for four hours a day,” it was an adjustment in his diet, mindset, and weight training!

Steve: Hey Matt!  Thanks for the interview man.  If you could, describe a typical day before you decided to change your life.

Matt: Apathy is a good word. I could detail eating 4000-7000 calories on a regular basis, but what it really came down to was apathy. I’d eat without thinking, eat without even really being hungry, and then snack simply because it was the usual time to have a snack.

My activity level was basically nil. I had torn my rotator cuff a few years ago and it took me from playing tennis 5x a week, playing on softball and flag football teams, plus working out at the company gym to nothing. My shoulder wasn’t much better after finishing physical therapy, and I only made a half-hearted effort the following year to try to workout again. It was “hard”, so I quit.

I went from being active enough to where I could at least keep up with the fork, to zero activity and no change in eating habits. I was already overweight, but over the next 4 years it added 100+lbs.

I’d go to work, come home, play computer games, go to bed sometime after midnight, wake up 6 hours later and start all over again.

Steve: What was your motivation to make that change? What put you over the edge?

Matt: The infamous “Ah hah!” moment that all obese people have when they decide to lose weight – I didn’t have one. I knew I had to lose weight, and that my health was horrible (I was taking 4 medications for cholesterol and bloodsugar). I just always told myself I’d get to it later.

I had been vaguely aware of Tyler over at 344pounds.com starting his weight loss blog. Consumerist had a few updates over the course of 6 months, and I had been curious as to how he would do. When he hit 100lbs lost, my thought was “If some random blogger can do it, I sure as hell can”. I set aside the excuses and got to work. I wasn’t happy, wasn’t feeling good, and it was no longer an option to continue this way.

Steve: So that was you a year ago.  What does your life look like now?  What’s a typical day for you?

Matt: Instead of letting the day happen to me, I attack it.

I value time I can spend outside being active. I started in July of 2009 and it was a mild summer. I could work in the yard, go walking in the neighborhood, and hiking on the weekends. I went from playing computer games 20+ hours a week to less than half that. It’s not that I’ve felt I had to sacrifice playing on the computer, it’s just that if I’m going to do it, I want it to be a richer experience rather than doing it just to do it.

Oh, and picking clothes out to wear is actually an enjoyable experience…or at least doesn’t suck like it used to.  In 1 year, I have lost 157lbs, went from 48″ pants to 34″, and in shirts from 5XL to 2X/XL (depending on the cut of the shirt, I wear either an XL or a 2XL to accommodate my shoulders). Shopping for clothes, needless to say, is much easier.

Steve: Congrats man, that’s a hell of a transformation in just one year.  If you could pick, what’s the one thing you think that had the most impact on your weight loss?

Matt: Setting aside all of the bull****. One of my favorite scenes from both the graphic novel and movie “Wanted” is with The Repairman. When asked by Wesley what he repairs, he simply states “A lifetime of bad habits” and then he proceeds to punch him over and over. That’s it right there.

At some point, we all need someone to tie us to a chair and beat the crap out of us (metaphorically speaking) until we realize we have to be accountable for our actions and stop making excuses. [Steve's note: AMEN.]

“I’m tired. I’m hungry. I gained 10lbs after eating a Hershey’s kiss last night. It’s hard. It hurts. I’ll just circle the parking lot one more time to see if that spot opens up. I drank 12 beers and ate 40 wings over the weekend, but I don’t understand how I didn’t lose weight this week. It’s a holiday, so I’m federally required to eat 10,000 calories.”

If you can’t be accountable to yourself…if you can’t stop lying to yourself, then you just aren’t ready to change.

Steve: That’s a helluva attitude Matt, I love it.  This is question I couldn’t wait to ask: wow important has weight training been to your success?

Matt: Extremely. I started out walking, and supplemented it with resistance band workouts every other day. Eventually, I discovered the “No Gym, No Problem” post at Nerd Fitness and started doing level 1. I couldn’t do a pushup, but instead of skipping it because it was hard, I tried it on my knees. Nope, not happening. Should I quit? Nope…do them on the stairs. I started about 5 stairs up and was able to do the sets with wide and close grips.

I couldn’t do pullups, nor inverted rows, so I had to skip those. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t do the squats, lunges, and so on.

Once winter was truly here, I went ahead and joined a gym since walking outside wasn’t an option. The gym is 24×7, and I started with a mix of dumbbell and machine work. Farmer’s carries, squats on the smith machine, cable rows, bicep curls, tricep extensions, seated shoulder press, and so on. It could have been worse, but it wasn’t as good as it was once I discovered Stronglifts 5×5. I started out doing the overhead, bench, and squats in the smith machine because the freeweights were always being used by these two guys who worked out at the same time.

Like most gym goers they eventually stopped coming, and I switched to the free weights.

I started out with the bar, and have worked up to overhead 115, squats 340, bench 165, and deadlift 235. The ego kicks in every now and then about how my bench and overhead are so far behind, but I remind myself that I am running a calorie deficit and can’t expect big gains. I’ve currently deloaded on bench and deadlift and am working my way back up to ensure my form is good.

Steve: Had you tried losing weight in the past? If you had failed then, what has made you succeed now?

Matt: When the mood would strike me, I could lose weight by portion control and working out 5x a week. About 10 years ago I started working for a company that had an on-site gym, and I lost about 50lbs over the course of 2 years. As my job changed, I’d like to say that I didn’t have time to workout, but really what it was was the apathy…I let it drop down in my priorities. I remember just before I started the new position, I bought a pair of 38″ jeans that I couldn’t quite button. I figured that I’d be in them in the next month. Never happened. Donated those jeans a few years later.***

As a young person, you always think that you’ll have time for everything you want to do. 10 years later, I know that I can’t be wasting my time anymore.

The reason why it is working for me now is because I’ve cut out the excuses.

Steve: Do you have any specific advice for other guys in the same boat, trying to lose a large amount of weight?

Matt: 4 things are essential:

  • Figure out what your calorie needs are. There are tons of online calorie calculators out there. The one at http://www.phord.com/cc/ is great. Losing weight is “calories in < calories out.”
  • Set your calorie goal at a point where you will lose weight regardless of your activity. Don’t let being sick, or getting an injury be an excuse to shovel food in your mouth.
  • Keep a food log and track all of your calories. I use http://caloriecount.about.com/ because they were always coming up near the top of searches when I’d look up calorie information. All free, it has online logs for everything, and a giant database of foods and activities that are easily accessed.
  • Be more active. Get at least 30 minutes of some sort of activity a day. I started out walking, and shooting around on the basketball court. But do the little things, too. Take the stairs, park in the first spot you find, walk to the mailbox, and so on.

Steve: Thanks Matt, that’s great advice. Onto the Nerd Stuff: favorite video game of all time?

Matt: Toss-up between Max Payne 1 and 2, and GTA: Vice City.

Max Payne 1 and 2 had amazing writing and great gameplay. I keep them together because the sequel had practically no changes to game play and just extended the story. The user mods for it like Kung Fu 3.0 took it even further. I used to love making gameplay movies since the developer keys enabled you move the camera around, slow things down, and more. Here’s one of my videos that has gotten a lot of attention over the years:

Vice City was such an immersive world. I’m still floored about how much they put into the 80s radio stations. Being the nerd that I am, I have ripped those files out of the game and have MP3s of VROCK, Flash, and Wave 103 that I still listen to regularly. I’d just drive around listening to the radio stations and try insane stunts. A big advantage of playing on the PC vs the consoles is having built-in replay functions which allow you to save out all the insanity.

Steve: Are you playing any game right now?

Matt: Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 are the ones I play on a regular basis.

Steve: If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and why?

Matt: Super strength. Chicks dig it when you can open jars for them.

Steve: Hahahahaha, touche’.  What’s your movie to live by?

Matt: They Live. “I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick ass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.”

Steve: What’s one piece of advice you would give to a random stranger?

Matt: Set a goal and start yesterday.

There ya have it folks – this is what’s possible when you “put aside all the bull****,” start to eat better, and pick up some weights.  And if you’re a female reading this article, don’t think weight lifting is only for guys – just ask Moe: the powerlifting gamer-girl you didn’t know existed.

-Steve

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The Donkey Kong Guide to Weight Loss

Today, an 800-pound virtual gorilla is going to help you get in shape.

Everybody has played the original Donkey Kong at one point or another, right?  If you haven’t, here’s the premise: Donkey Kong has kidnapped the princess, and it’s your job as Mario to climb up ladders and over obstacles until you reach the top of the level where she’s being held captive.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take 30 seconds to watch this video, and then join the conversation.

Who’s your princess?

Mario is constantly risking life and limb to scale a treacherous obstacle course, climbing faulty ladders, dodging rolling barrels, and escaping pesky flames. Why?  Because his lady friend has been captured by an damn dirty ape and he is her only hope of survival!  If you were put in Mario’s comically oversized boots, I bet you would do the same thing.

Take a look at your life and your quest for health: who is your “princess?” Why do you want to get in shape?  If you say “why not!” or “my friend told me to,” you probably won’t be jumping through hoops or over barrels to get there anytime soon.

Now, if you said, “because  I want to grow old with my wife” or “because my father died of heart failure at 53, and I want to actually see my kids grow up,” I bet you’ll actually take steps to turn your life around.

It doesn’t have to be this serious either: maybe your motivation is “I want to impress the cute waitress at the coffee shop and I know she works out” or “I want to look in the mirror and be proud of what I see.”  Whatever your “princess” is, keep that in your mind every day, especially on days when you feel like sleeping in/pigging out/doing nothing.

Secondly, do you have a set goal? Mario’s girlfriend was waiting at the top of the level, which meant Mario had a specific challenge to accomplish to rescue her.  What are your specific goals?

  • Lose 95 pounds.
  • Run 3 marathons in 2010.
  • Bench press 200 pounds 5 times.
  • Get down to a 34-inch waist.

Depending on how far away you are from your goal at the start, the longer  and more perilous the level might be.  No matter how far away that goal is however, as long as it’s in your mind and SPECIFIC, you’ll remember why you’re going through all this trouble and you’ll know how much further you need to go.

Barrels and Hammers

Mario’s journey from the bottom of the screen to the top is no cakewalk.  He’s got all kinds of garbage to contend with, including barrels hurled with ferocity by our furry villain.  Fortunately, Mario’s quite the acrobatic plumber, and provided he’s paying attention he can leap over these rolling barrels with ease.  Of course, he can also grab a super hammer instead, turning temporarily invisible and whacking the hell out of those things.

What are the barrels in your life? These are the obstacles that have derailed your previous weight loss efforts and will threaten to do so again if you’re not prepared.  Let’s see if any of this sounds familiar:

1) Extra difficult project at work. In the past, these stressful times at work are a reason to say “hell with it” and order pizza, hit up Taco Bell for fourth meal, and generally completely disregard your own well-being while putting the company first.

  • Jump - Although it’s difficult, find a way to eat sensibly while going out for food during these few bad days and make a pact to get right back on the train once the workload slows down.  You also de-stress by going for a brisk walk every few hours to clear your mind.
  • Hammer - In anticipation of a rough work week, you fire up a bunch of grilled chicken and cut up a bunch of veggies on Sunday night so you have all meals ready for the week.  You deftly avoid the vending machines and instead chomp down on a healthy snack brought from home.  Recognizing the importance of a clear mind, you still find time to exercise and come back to your desk refreshed.

2) 3-day holiday weekend. Ugh.  A million beers, six dozen hot wings, a truckload of hamburgers, and a pallet full of Ruffles have all been invited to a party in your stomach.

  • Jump - You know that a long weekend is coming up, so you eat extra diligently for the days leading up to it.  A few days off the wagon aren’t enough to sabotage your adventure, and you get right back on track when the holiday is over.
  • Hammer – It’s a weekend in the US, which means there’s probably a fun race going on that morning.   Instead of sleeping in, you sign up for the race, maybe raise some money for a good cause, and get something accomplished before you would even normally wake up!  That runner’s high carries you through the rest of the day while you enjoy some beers and surprisingly decent eating.

3) Freak snowstorm. Aw crap, you were going to go to the gym today, but there’s now eighteen inches of snow on the ground.  Oh well, looks like you now have the perfect excuse to lie the couch, eat Oreos, and watch a marathon of America’s Funniest Home Videos, right?  Fail.

  • Jump - Just because you’re stuck inside doesn’t mean you have to put your life on hold.  Go about your normal routine, do a kick ass body weight exercise routine inside, and take care of business.
  • Hammer - Screw the gym and pretend like you’re recreating the training montage from Rocky IV: go shovel the driveway, chop some wood, and climb a freaking mountain while screaming the name of your arch rival.

Our lives are full of these barrels.  Identify yours and have a game plan for how you’re going to deal with them.  Be prepared, plan ahead, and then either jump over them or hammer the hell out of them.

What happens if you get hit by one? Sh** happens, and every now and again you’ll get hit.  We’re all human, and this game of life isn’t easy.  Fortunately, unless you literally got run over by a barrel, you’re probably okay to get up and try again (wooo extra lives!).   So you ate like a pig, drank like a fish, and exercised less than Jabba the Hutt, WHO CARES.

Set your alarm for 7AM the next morning, get your ass out of bed, and get back on track.  That princess isn’t going to save herself.

The flames

As Mario is climbing the level, dodging barrels, grabbing hammers, and scaling ladders, there’s this little rinky-dink flame hanging out at the bottom.  It’s slow and clumsy, but it will eventually catch up to Mario should he become complacent and not advance further.

That flame is chasing you too.  Standing still and jumping over obstacles as they come to you can only take you so far – it’s time to make some progress.  Be stronger and faster today than you were yesterday – find a way to lift one extra pound, do one extra rep, and be one second faster.

Always be leveling up, and always be moving forward.

How’s your game of life going?

This is the part where we all help each other win.  Who’s your “princess,” what are your barrels, and how do jump/hammer them?

Leave your advice for others in the comments!

-Steve

PS – Exciting news!  Over the weekend, I was contacted by the cool folks that run The Daily Brainstorm who asked me to be a contributor!  This online newspaper pulls in articles from a select group of bloggers, including Leo at ZenHabits, Everett at Far Beyond the Stars, and Darren over at ProBlogger.  I’m a BIG fan of these guys (and most of the other contributors too), so I’m quite honored to have my name occupy the same webspace. If you got a few minutes I’d encourage you to check it out!

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photo 1, photo 2, photo 3, photo 4

22 Fitness Milestones to Mark Your Journey From Chump to Champ

This post is heavily inspired by Corbett Barr’s great article over on ThinkTraffic.net. I couldn’t help but think how a similar article based around fitness milestones would work well for Nerd Fitness (with some Super Mario Bros. thrown in there).

As Corbett explained in his post, everybody’s journey will be different.  If I left something out or you think I put things out of order, let me know in the comments!

Level 1-1, Start! (Here we go!)

1. You lose your first pound. You step on the scale after a few days of eating less and you’re down a pound, headed in the right direction for the first time in your life!  Hopefully you don’t celebrate by eating everything off the dollar menu at Wendy’s.

2. You prepare your your first healthy meal. After realizing that it actually was pretty good and saved you some money, you decide to bring your lunch in to work at least two times a week instead of fast food.  Somewhere, the Burger King silently weeps.

3. You walk your first mile. Dusting the cobwebs off your old running shoes, you head out for a walk around your block and make it a whole mile without stopping.  Sure you were huffing a puffing along the way and you got passed by a kid on a tricycle, but it’s a start.  You take note to start the couch to 5k program.

4.  You do your first set of 5 push ups. Using the success and confidence from your first few weeks of weight loss, you’ve worked your way up to five whole push ups and that distant pipedream (get it? Mario? Pipe? ZING!) of 20 in a row no longer seems impossible.

5. You tighten your belt a few notches. You put on your favorite pair of jeans and realize that your belt is now two loops farther over from where it started.  Take that, pants!

First mushroom (Yahoo! Big Mario!)

6. You get your first “hey, did you lose weight?” comment, and DAMN it feels good. “Thanks, Marcia from Accounting!  I HAVE lost weight, thanks for noticing.”  You reside on cloud 9 for the rest of the day, even after getting yelled at for not putting cover sheets on your TPS reports.

7. You run in your first 5k, and survive. Who cares that you lost to an 80 year old grandmother pushing a stroller with two grandkids in it.  You signed up for a race, you trained for it, and then you did it.  You briefly entertain the thought of sabotaging future grandmothers pushing strollers before deciding to just train harder next time.

8. You buy new clothes. Your shirts now feel two sizes too big, and your pants keep falling down!  You drop your old clothes off at Goodwill and make the trip over to the mall for a whole new wardrobe, punching one of the ‘real life mannequins’ at Abercrombie & Fitch in the face while you’re there.

9. You finally stop drinking soda for good. It took you two months of weening yourself off that daily case of Mountain Dew, but you’re at the point now where you water actually sounds like a good idea to you.  Sure you’ll have the occasional Jack and Coke on the weekends, but other than that, soda is a distant afterthought.

10. You sign up for your company’s softball team/Ultimate Frisbee team/running club. You’re no longer ashamed of your body and start exercising with other people that you know.  You might still end up at the end of the lineup or back of the pack, but damnit you’re having fun.

Hit by your first enemy (Booo, back to little Mario)

11. You hit a weight-loss plateau. Despite an great week of eating healthy and running, you step on the scale and see the same damn number you saw last week!  WTF, mate?

12.  A friend of yours has already lost more weight than you in half the time. You start to blame your poor genetics and/or assume he took a shortcut (when in reality you have no idea how hard he’s trained or how clean his diet has become).

13. You get hurt and can’t exercise for two weeks. You twist an ankle when you play Wii Tennis with a little too much intensity, and the doctor says “no exercise until you recover.”  Damn!  All of that hard work and momentum comes to a screeching halt.  Oh well, at least you’re still eating well, right?

14. You have a bad week of eating. Crap.  A destination wedding, vacation with college buddies, or a trip with your kids to Grandma’s for the week means TONS of bad food.  Back home, you step on the scale while covering your eyes, afraid of what you’ll see.

Fire-Flower time (Back on track, picking up steam…)

15. You mix things up. Up to this point, you’ve been counting calories (instead of paying attention to the quality of your calories) and only jogging for your workouts.  After the wake-up call from your previous bad week of vacation, you step it up a notch – You adopt a healthier diet of mostly lean meats, veggies, fruits, and nuts, and you start putting serious effort into legitimate weight training and interval training.

16. You do a pull up. You struggle, sweat, and squirm your way until your chin is above the bar before dropping like a sack of hammers to the floor.  When you recover twenty minutes later, you realize that you just lifted your entire body weight off the ground and over the bar!  If Chuck Norris was presented, he would have started a slow clap for you, before roundhouse-kicking a criminal in the face.

17. You buy a new bathing suit and can’t wait to show it off. No more t-shirts in the pool for you!  You have a weekend beach trip coming up and for the first time in your life you’re excited about it.  Tickets to the gun show are free, ladies!

18. You hit a big weight milestone. 100 pounds lost, 30% of your body weight, etc.  Whatever that big number was in your head, you’re actually THERE.  Now, instead of focusing on the scale, you’re solely focused on getting stronger and faster.  Big day.

Star Power (It’s go time!)

19. People start to ask YOU for advice. Bob from IT wants to know if he’s doing push ups properly, Linda from Reception asks you questions about eating healthy, and your Dad emails you with questions on how to get rid of his beer gut.

20.  You can see your abs. Holy crap, they exist!  It’s taken months/years of hard work in the gym, a dedicated approach to your diet, and time for the extra skin around your gut to tighten up, but that six pack of abs is finally starting to pop out.  “Giddy” hardly describes your disposition these days.

21.  You get seriously excited about exercising daily. Bench pressing your body weight, deadlifting twice your weight, doing 10 pull ups in a row, running a 5k in under 20 minutes, and so on.  It’s weird, but now for some reason you can’t WAIT to exercise each day.  You’ve been transformed into a completely different person.  Optimus Prime would be proud.

22. You look back at an old picture of you and don’t even recognize yourself. You stumble through some old pictures of yourself on Facebook and your jaw drops.  Looking at pictures of yourself feels like looking at pictures of a different person.  In many ways, it is.

Where you at?

So, where are you on your journey?  What milestones do you look for?  Did I mix up the order on any of these?

Let me know in the comments!

-Steve

photo source

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