Nerd Fitness: A Look Back and A Look Forward

Yes, I realize every other website out there has done one of these articles in the past week, blah blah blah, shut it!

Did THOSE articles have a picture of kick-ass fireworks?  DIDN’T THINK SO!  Ahem.  Let’s start with a quick look back at how this site started, and then move onto where it’s headed in 2010:

Nerd Fitness Begins

I won’t go into too much detail about what my goals were for 2009 because I really didn’t have any.  Way back in January, I made the decision to start writing this blog simply because I wanted to bring a unique perspective to the online fitness community which was oversaturated with super-generic, give-me-your-money websites.  This was my “plan”:

  • Write every day
  • Figure out what the hell I was doing later.

I spent 9 months executing part 1 of this plan to perfection: I spent all of my free time writing and none of my time doing any marketing or relationship building because I simply didn’t know any better.  Part 2 of the plan didn’t come into play until September – Josh over at WorldsStrongestLibrarian.com wrote an article saying he’d write a guest post for any fellow blogger that wanted one (and he ended up writing like 50 guest posts in a few months…Josh is the man).

This was the ah-ha moment I needed.

I nervously emailed Josh asking him for a guest post on Nerd Fitness and instantly received an email back saying he’d love to write one.  This was my first experience with a well-respected blogger and I realized he was a lot like me: hard-working, honest, and eager to connect/help.  A few weeks later, I wrote my first guest post ever for his site, 7 Life Lessons we Can Learn from Where the Wild Things Are, and things have snowballed since then.

The best decision I ever made for this site was changing my post-frequency from five relatively generic articles a week to two well-researched, unique articles that are actually worth reading (I hope). Now that I don’t have to focus on publishing an article every night, I can actually take some time to build relationships with NF readers (that’s you) and other writers out there.  Not surprisingly, Nerd Fitness’s growth and my own happiness have increased incredibly since I’ve made this change.

Time to Grow Up!

Now that I’ve hit my stride and started to connect with a lot more people, I want to take Nerd Fitness to the next level.  I don’t mean that in a corporate “think outside the box” kind of way (which would be super lame), but actually level up this website like an RPG.  I have a great feeling that 2010 is going to be the best year yet. This is what I expect to accomplish:

  • Create an LLC – Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to you guys, but I’d like for this website to bring in a steady income some day (gotta pay the bills, right?).  I still plan on writing two kick-ass free articles every week until forever, so don’t worry.  I feel like ads would kind of devalue the site, so plan on getting creative to bring in the dough.  One of the biggest ventures will be to…
  • Create an E-book available for purchase - Expect a more in-depth post on this in the near future complete with all the details on what will be in it.  I received such a great response from my free E-book that I fell like this is the next logical step.  Now, a big reason why I’d like to start bringing in money through the site is that I want to…
  • Completely redesign NerdFitness.com - I’m currently using a stock WordPress template, but I’m getting to the point where a custom design needs to happen – this page needs more personality!  I have a great vision in my head and it will certainly cost money to make that vision a reality.
  • Create a Nerd Fitness Army/Militia/Clan/Guild - I’d like to start keeping track of all people interested in being a part of the Nerd Fitness community, yet I have no way in getting in contact with everybody right now.  Chris has his small army, Baker has his Militia…I just need to come up with a kick ass name for the NF Community.  Suggestions are welcome!
  • Earn At Least One More Training/Fitness Certification – I am not a fitness expert.  There are far more qualified and experienced individuals out there who could give you scientific, biological explanations for exercise and diet.  I don’t have that type of background: my degree is in Economics and my day job involves the production of music cruises.  I just happen to love fitness, I have a thirst for knowledge, and I really enjoy helping people get in shape.  I do have a basic personal trainer certification, but I want more and I want to learn more.  In the meantime, I fortunately have some friends in the industry with over 20+ years of experience – they’ve been nice enough to offer their advice and answer any questions I might have when writing articles or filming videos.  Thanks guys.
  • Increase my subscriber count by at least 400% -  Why 400%?  Why not!  I think this is a goal within reach if I continue to produce inspirational/educational/comical content worth reading.  I feel like I’m doing a lot of things right and helping a lot of people turn their lives around(I hope so anyway), so I just need to find a way to get in front of a bigger audience.  To do that, I plan to..
  • Write at least 6 Guest Posts on Other Prominent Sites – I already have one guest post in the works for one of my favorite sites that I can’t WAIT to finish.  Moving forward, I plan on targeting great websites with strong active followers that have nothing to do with fitness.  I’d imagine most of you guys would never in a million years visit a generic fitness website, so I’d rather try to snag the intelligent blog readers from awesome sites that want to get in shape but are turned off by all of the crap that exists out there in the fitness industry.

Phew! I realize that sounds like a lot to accomplish in the next twelve months, but I think these are all goals within reach if I continue to bust my ass.  If you have any concerns, comments, or questions about where Nerd Fitness is headed in 2010, please email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly talk to you about it.

When I started this website I never expected to feel so good about helping others, and I never expected to bring together such a kick-ass group of readers. I feel like I’ve really gotten to know a lot of you extremely well, and I look forward to getting to know the rest of you (email me!).  Thank you for making Nerd Fitness what it is today, and thanks for coming back.  I’m going to make all of you proud in 2010.

Everybody have a great Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Festivus), and we’ll see you on Monday!

-Steve

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If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness” and please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

photo from Bob Jagendorf

How to Guarantee Victory Against the Motivation Monster

Today marks the the shortest day of the year.

If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, you’re currently dealing with minimal daylight, decreasing temperatures, crappy weather, and probably a strong desire to channel your inner brown-bear and just hibernate until Spring.  Some of you might think this is due to stuff like “seasonal depression” or the “winter doldrums” or whatever.

Nope.

It’s all the Motivation Monster’s fault.

What the hell is a motivation monster, you ask? It’s this tiny little monster that lives inside of you, surviving only on your wasted motivation.  He gets hungry early in the morning, after long days of work, definitely on weekends, and especially during the winter months.  Want to know the worst thing about him?  Feeding him only makes him stronger and hungrier.  Skip a workout here, take a few days off to stuff your face there, and suddenly that little monster is all grow’d up and hungry for more.  Next thing you know, it’s March, you’re up 30 pounds, and in even worse shape than when you started.

Yep, he sucks.

Luckily, I’m going to arm you today with so much freaking motivation and determination that you’ll be able to kick the Motivation Monster square in the crotch and keep the “level up my life” train a’rollin!  Here’s exactly how you do it:

Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to

Want to know the greatest anti-”motivation monster” movie ever?  The Shawshank Redemption, hands down.  If you’ve seen it then you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about: Andy Dufresne spent 20 years in jail before finally breaking free, moving to a beach in Mexico, fixing up an old boat, and filming Corona commercials (I imagine).  I’ll never forget what Red (Morgan Freeman) told Andy earlier in the movie:

“Let me tell you something my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

You see, at this point in the movie Red’s motivation monster had already got the best of him.  Luckily, by the end of the movie Red got his ass in gear, made it out of prison, and found this note from Andy before joining him down on the coast:

“Remember Red.  Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Motivation Monsters HATE hope – it’s their kryptonite. Andy never lost hope; he had a distinct future in mind that he fully expected to live, and then spent every day working towards that future.  It was his incredibly strong willpower that allowed him to survive all the bull**** and eventually get everything he ever wanted out of life.

As Jimmy Valvano famously once said, “Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.”

What specifically do you have to look forward to? What do you hope will happen in your future? Do you have a vacation coming up in February?  How about a 5/10/20-year high-school reunion to go back to where you can show all of your classmates how much weight you’ve lost?

Whatever it is, paint a picture of your future and be as specific as possible.  David Turnbull wrote a great post last week on how to design your future and work towards it.  You’ll be surprised how effective this is at keeping your motivation monster at bay.  Visualize this future, and find a way to do one thing every day to get closer to it.

Form New Habits

Humans are creatures of habit.  These habits can be positive or negative, pushing you closer to the life you want or holding you further back.  It’s your job to determine which of YOUR current habits are beneficial and which ones are feeding the monster.  Once you know which ones you need to change, it’s your job to get started.

Luckily, Leo over at Zen Habits wrote a great post on 29 ways to successfully ingrain a new habitHere it is in a nutshell:

  1. Write down your plan.
  2. Identify your triggers and replacement habits.
  3. Focus on doing the replacement habits every single time the triggers happen, for about 30 days.

Although Leo’s plan will work for ANY habit (and I encourage you to use it as a guide for whatever you need), I specifically want to discuss exercise in this post – I know for a fact that once exercise becomes a regular habit for you, the rest of your life will start to fall in place as well: you’ll have more energy, you’ll have a better outlook on life, and other habits will start to change more quickly.

Keep Your New Habit Rolling

Every single day for the next month, you’re going to schedule a 30 minute block of time for exercise and NEVER MISS IT. I don’t care that Christmas and New Year’s Eve is right around the corner: use those 30 minutes to sweat out the gallons of Bud Light you drank.  Your body will thank me later.

Newton taught us that a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  If exercise is a brand new concept to you, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to get the ball rolling and keep it rolling – you’re so used to feeding the motivation monster that it won’t go quietly.  However, put in a week or two of consistent exercise, drop a few pounds, and that inertia that once kept you stopped will keep you going.  Science ftw!

A lot of people ask “when’s the best time to work out?”  And my response is always, “whenever works best for you.”  If you want a more specific and personal answer however, I would go with first thing in the morning.  At the end of the day, it seems like there are ten times the number of obstacles and distractions trying to drag you down:

  • Traffic jams
  • Staying late at work to finish a report
  • Problems with your kids’ homework
  • Wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend wants to go out to dinner to celebrate some anniversary that you probably forgot (whoops)

For these reasons, I’ve found that exercising first thing in the morning works best.  Obviously, this requires waking up at least 30 minutes earlier which probably sounds like the worst effing thing in the world to you right now.  You know what? For the first few days, yeah…it is pretty crappy.  That monster is extra hungry, your bed sheets are extra nice and warm, and forgoing sleep for sweat sounds stupid.

For all of you saying “I’m not a morning person,” when was the last time you gave it a shot? I’m not talking a day or two of “early rising” and then calling it quits either.  Give yourself a full week of waking up early before you give up.

Now, if you’re willing to give the morning thing a shot, there are a quite few tricks to getting up earlier that help a whole lot.  Medhi over at Stronglifts.com has written an incredible post on how to wake up early – I highly recommend you read the whole thing.  If I had to single out one tip that has saved my ass more times than I can count, it’s this:

Put your alarm clock ACROSS the room.

Ever since high school, my alarm clock has been as far away from my bed as possible.  I can’t reach up and hit SNOOZE so I have to physically GET UP and out of bed to go turn it off.  If you’re a snoozer and you want to start waking up earlier, this will probably change your life.

Now, let’s say you’ve managed to crawl out of bed 30 minutes early…what the heck do you do now?  Get your heart pumping: jump rope, do the Nerd Fitness beginner body weight workout, walk the dog, go for a run, etc.  Whatever it is that gets you moving, do it.

This is now your new habit, and soon enough it will become part of who you are.

Stay Inspired

Once you have something to hope for, something to look forward to, and a habit you’re going to fix, the next thing you need to do is find a way to STAY motivated.  The monster inside you never sleeps and is always hungry, so you need to constantly fill yourself up with motivational awesomeness so the well never runs dry.  I’ve found that the best way to stay motivated is to have a “go-to” library of quotes and videos for whenever the situation requires it. Here are some of the quotes and videos that keep me going:

  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying”I have this quote hanging on the wall in my bedroom.  It’s the first thing I see every morning before going to work and it’s the last thing I see at night before going to bed.  It reminds me to be thankful every day for what I have, but to constantly strive for more.  It’s this quote that keeps me writing for Nerd Fitness, and it’s this quote that helps me push myself beyond my limits.
  • Where the Hell is Matt?I watch this video on a weekly basis.  There is a whole world out there for me to see, and that working as hard as possible at Sixthman (my day job) and working as hard as possible at Nerd Fitness will eventually allow me to see these places and have stories of my own.  If you have any desire to travel and/or start a small business, I also HIGHLY recommend reading Chris Guillebeau’s blog as he is one of the best in the business at travel-hacking and inspiring people (myself included) to create legitimate small businesses.
  • 300 – If I have time, I’ll watch the movie.  If not, I’ll just watch the trailer.  These dudes are in such peak physical condition and kick so much ass that after watching, all I want to do is lift weights, train in the wilderness, and yell things like “THIS IS SPARTA” when kicking people into bottomless pits.  This movie has shown us what’s possible in terms of human physical perfection if you’re willing to work for it.  As they say, “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”
  • 40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes – If there were an Oscar for “editing awesome movies into awesome YouTube clips, Matthew Belinkie would have my vote.  This video is guaranteed to immediately inspire you while simultaneously beating down the motivational monster in you.

Remember folks: there’s more to this life than sitting behind a desk until you’re 65. Life is happening right now, not tomorrow.  Life doesn’t care that it’s cold, or dark, or rainy.  Therefore, you can’t either.

How do You Plan on Winning?

What’s your defense against the motivation monster?  What do you do to make sure you get your exercise in every day?  Care to tell me that this is the corniest thing you’ve ever read?

Whatever it is, let’s hear it.

-Steve

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If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

photo from: Jelene

Advanced Body Weight Workout – WARNING: This Will Kick Your Ass

If this little dude can get in shape without a gym, what’s your excuse?

Most gyms these days are loaded with chumps, meatheads, pushy salesmen, and people who suck at working out.  (If you DO go to a gym, make sure you DON’T suck at it).  Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  Most of you saw the Beginner Bodyweight Workout I posted last week.  If you didn’t, I’d recommend starting there before moving onto this routine, because this is uber-advanced and designed for nerds looking for a brutally difficult challenge.

Are you ready for this?

NF Advanced Body Weight Workout

Warning: this workout that will have you sweating like a pig and leave you sore all over the next day. If you’re just moving beyond the beginner body weight workout for the first time, this workout might seem ridiculously difficult.  That’s because it IS ridiculously difficult – the first time I did this routine, taught to me by fitness guru and mentor Mike Rickett, I wanted to throw up afterwards and couldn’t walk straight for two days.  You’ve been warned!

Obviously, if this routine is too tough, there are quite a few variations you can make to lessen the difficulty and then build your way up to the real deal. Remember, it’s important to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but safely.  Don’t try to do too much or you’ll just end up hurting yourself.

NOTE: I do use a pull up bar in this routine. If you don’t have one at your home, you can head to a park and use their pull up bar, or substitute inverted body weight rows until you are strong enough to do pull ups and chin ups.  I include a video of how to do these inverted rows in your home at the end of this post.

Before you start, WARM UP - Never ever ever ever forget to warm up.  If you’re strapped for time, cut short your workout, not your warm up.  You can run in place, jump rope, do a few push ups, pedal on a stationary bike, jog up and down your stairs, etc. 

Here’s the NF Advanced Body Weight Workout:


Nerd Fitness TV – Advanced Body Weight Workout

If you want to write down everything, here it is:

  • 10 one legged squats – each side [warning super-difficult, only attempt if you in good enough shape]
  • 20 body weight squats
  • 20 walking lunges (10 each leg)
  • 20 jump step-ups (10 each leg)
  • 10 pull ups [or inverted body weight rows using your kitchen table]
  • 10 dips – bar stools
  • 10 chin ups [or inverted body weight rows with underhand grip]
  • 10 push ups
  • 30 second plank

That’s one complete rotation.  If you’re up for it, try to do 3 complete circuits.  Stop when you need to, get water when necessary, but try to finish it as quickly as possible while still practicing PERFECT FORM.  The first time I went through this routine it took me right around 18 minutes.  What is it with me and 18 minutes of hell?

You can cut short the number of repetitions, but never half-ass a rep.  If you can only do five or six pull ups, bring a chair over to the bar, hop up above the bar and lower yourself down.  If you can’t do a plank for 30 sec, hold it for 15, and work your way up to 30.  If 20 body weight lunges is too many, only do 10 and work your way up to 20.  Challenge yourself safely and within reason.

Can’t Do Pull Ups? Do These Instead

I’m going to guess that the most difficult exercise for most people in this routine will be the pull ups and the chin ups. If you don’t have a pull up bar, or if you’re not strong enough to do pull ups yet, here is a video on how to do Inverted Body Weight Rows using just your kitchen table.  Most importantly, make sure your table is strong enough or you’re going to snap it in half.  It isn’t optimal, but it’s better than nothing, and a good step up from the dumbbell rows in the Beginner Body Weight Circuit.  Inverted body weight rows are certainly tough, but not as tough as pull ups and chin ups.  Attempt these at your own risk!


Nerd Fitness TV – Inverted Body Weight Rows

How to Scale Your Routine

As I said earlier, this whole routine is scalable based on your ability. For example, here is a sample routine for somebody who has conquered the beginner workout but can’t do the full routine above:

  • 10 Body Weight Squats
  • 10 Walking Lunges
  • 15 Jump Ups
  • 3 Pull Ups (or 6 inverted body weight rows – overhand grip on table)
  • 8 dips (or 10 decline push ups if these are too tough)
  • 3 Chin ups (or 6 inverted body weight rows – underhand grip on table)
  • 10 push ups
  • 30 second plank
  • 30 jumping jacks

Whatever your fitness level, find a way to push yourself a litter harder, get better, be faster, and grow stronger (thanks Daft Punk!) Keep track of your exact routine, how long it took you, which exercises wore you out, exactly how many reps you did, etc.

Then, the next time you do this routine (make sure you wait at least 48 hours before attempting it again), try to do the whole routine with one or two more repetitions or with less down time between exercises.

Your thoughts?

There you have it guys.  I would love to hear what you think! I got a lot of great comments on the Beginner Body Weight video, and hopefully those of you who are looking for more of a challenge are getting it here.

Do you want to see more routine-based videos? More videos like the Inverted Body Weight Row videos showing you how to do specific exercises? Let me know what you want to see, and I’ll make it happen.

-Steve

PS – For any of you who plan on doing this routine during the next few days, I apologize in advance for how your whole body will feel the next morning!

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photo: eyeliam

Daft Punk’s Kick-Ass Guide to Fitness

Whenever I head into a gym, out onto a field, or attempt to do any sort of physical activity, I try to ask myself one question:

What would Daft Punk do?

Now, I realize this sounds bat-sh** crazy, and it probably is, but hear me out. Today, you’re going to learn how two kick-ass French DJs in robot costumes can teach you how to level up your life.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the song “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger.” (this video is part of a full-length cartoon by the way, which is awesome). Whenever you head out onto the field of battle (read: get exercise), you need to ask yourself, “WWDPD?”  You have four choices:

  • Push yourself HARDER
  • Get BETTER
  • Move FASTER
  • Become STRONGER

If you don’t have one of these goals in mind when exercising, you’re just spinning your wheels and wasting your time.  Luckily, Daft Punk is here to help!

Harder

If you go into a gym and do the same routine every time, with the same amount of weights, you will NEVER get any stronger. If you run on a treadmill at the same speed for the same amount of time every day, you will NEVER get any faster.  Your muscles and your body adapt to the stress applied to them, which means what was once challenging will become the norm.  There’s only one solution to keep your body from becoming complacent:

You need to constantly push yourself a little bit harder than the day before.

Let’s take the most important muscle in your body: your heart – Heart attacks happen when your heart faces a sudden high level of stress and pressure, freaks out, and then shuts down.  Suck.  To keep this from happening, you need to find a way to push your heart safely outside of its comfort zone on a consistent basis.  By pushing it further and harder each time, your heart’s range of “acceptable stress before shutdown” will continue to grow and you’ll be at less risk for heart complications.

How does one accomplish this? Interval training. You can read all about interval training in this previous post; but to summarize: you essentially screw around with your heart by sprinting then walking, or running then jogging instead of simply running at a constant pace for the whole time.  By keeping your heart guessing, it grows accustomed to these rapid changes in beats per minute and after a few weeks will become more versatile, adapt quicker, and get stronger.

Win.

Here’s how to make sure if you’re pushing yourself harder:

  • Write it all down: keep a journal or sign up for an account over on DailyBurn.com and keep track of all of your workouts as accurately as possible.  If you’re running on a treadmill, record your times and speeds.  If you’re doing a workout like the nerd fitness beginner body weight workout, remember how long it takes you to finish.  Then, the next time you’re doing that same routine, find a way to do it faster (while still keeping perfect form).
  • Compete with others: Crossfit is built on this principle. Each routine has a specific number of exercises that need to be completed as quickly as possible.  If you’re Mario and you found out Bowser did a routine in 15:00, I guarantee you’ll do everything in your power to finish in 14:59 or less.  Competition will make you work harder.

Better

Let’s talk video games for a second – the first time you play a new game, you probably die every three minutes as you figure out the controls.  Eventually with enough practice, the tough levels become easier, bosses start to fall on the first try instead of the tenth, and so on.   In this giant video game we call life, things are no different.  When you pick up a new hobby, it’s going to take a while for you to level up:

  • If you’re doing yoga, you should be getting more flexible with each session. I suck at yoga, but I know if I started taking classes eventually I could be doing the Warrior and Downward Dog poses with the best of them (I think those are yoga poses anyway).
  • If you go to a rock climbing gym - you can either climb a particular route, or you can’t.  As you gain experience and get stronger, you’ll find routes and holds that weren’t previously accessible, and then you’ll eventually succeed.  At this point, you’ll pick a new, more difficult route and work on conquering that.
  • How about jumping rope? If you haven’t done it since you were a kid, your coordination will probably keep you from getting more than one or two jumps before you mess up.  Soon enough you’ll be jumping rope without errors for minutes a time.  As you get better, you’ll simultaneously improve your hand-eye coordination and endurance.  There’s a reason all boxers jump rope.

Not surprisingly, the only way you’ll get better at something is to do it repeatedly. Once you find an activity that makes you happy, find a way to get better at it.  Ultimate frisbee, karate, free running, beer pong (just kidding), whatever.  Just get better.

Faster

When being chased by a bear, they say you don’t need to be faster than the bear…just faster than the guy next to you. I don’t expect you to get chased by a bear any time soon, but if it does happen, wouldn’t you feel better knowing that you’re the fastest piece of meat he’s chasing?

Here’s how to tell if you’re getting faster:

  • Run a distance and time yourself.
  • Run that same distance again, and see if you can run it faster than you did before.
  • If this is too complicated for you, just give up.

Applying the two previous goals, by getting better at an activity and pushing yourself harder, you will also get faster as a side effect. For example, the first time I did the 300 challenge, I sucked at doing floor wipers and I completed the challenge in like 90 minutes.  After spending a few weeks getting better at floor wipers I was able to complete the challenge in 46 minutes, essentially chopping my time in half.

One of the best ways to get faster is to train with somebody who is faster than you. A few weeks back I ran a 5k along with my friend Joe who is in better shape than I am. Because I forced myself to try and keep up with him, I finished probably two or three minutes faster than if I had run by myself.  Sure I was exhausted, felt like crap, and wheezed my way across the finish line, but I survived and felt much better about myself afterwards.

Stronger

I hate running, but I love lifting weights – I’m fascinated with the concept of being able to pick up something that I couldn’t lift just one week earlier.  It’s a great way to see if I’m leveling up: either I can lift more weights or do more reps than last time or I can’t.

As Henry Rollins says, “200 pounds is always 200 pounds.”

You get stronger by pushing your muscles safely outside of their comfort zone (just like your heart). They constantly need a new challenge or they become complacent:

  • Stronger legs means faster sprint times, stronger ligaments and joints means less uncoordinated adventures and less injuries.
  • A stronger heart means less risk of a heart attack.
  • Stronger lungs means longer workout sessions, longer sprints, and better marathon times.
  • A stronger desire to succeed means more triumphs in the face of adversity.  Giving up is no longer an option.

Once again, you need to be keeping track of exactly what you did last time at the gym or in your house, or you won’t know if you’re getting stronger. Let’s say you’re doing the NF Beginner Body Weight Circuit on a consistent basis:

  • You can now do 20 body weight squats easily? Next time wear a backpack full of text books or give your 3 year-old a piggy-back ride and then squat.  Still too easy?  Hold the bag way above your head; I wouldn’t recommend this tactic with the kid, unless you want to spend the next week sleeping on the couch.
  • If you can do the dumbbell rows with a milk jug 10 times and it’s not a challenge, make it tougher! Take your carry-on suitcase, fill it up with encyclopedias and text books and use THAT for your dumbbell.  Get creative.
  • Every time you do the plank, keep a timer right in front of your face, and go for ONE MORE SECOND than before.

A Few Things to Consider

By concentrating on just one or two of the four goals above when exercising, the other two (or three) will improve as a side-effect:

  • By getting stronger at pull ups and chin ups, you are setting yourself up to be better at rock climbing.
  • By pushing yourself harder on your morning jogs, you will run a faster 5k.
  • If you get faster at running sprints, your legs, lungs, and heart will all be stronger.

You need to keep track of what you’re doing or you’ll never know if you’re improving. I bring a small notebook with me to the gym and write down a few things:

  • Time of workout – what time I got to the gym, how long my workout was, how long I spent on my warm up and cool down.
  • Sets and reps for each exercise – How many warm up sets, how many reps, how much weight, if I’m ready to go up in weight for the next routine, and so on.
  • Any notes I have – If I worked out in the morning, did I eat breakfast before?  If I worked out late at night, was exhaustion a factor?  These things are super important to help you figure out why your workout went well or sucked.

If you don’t feel like bringing a notebook with you, set up a simple word doc or excel sheet with all of your data.  If you’re lazy and don’t feel like doing that, you can track your workouts on DailyBurn.com.  NF reader Jacob took the time to set up the NF beginner body weight workout on DailyBurn, so you can now track that workout on there as well.  Thanks Jacob!

If you’re not lifting weights or running, tracking your progress might be a little tougher, but it’s still important to find a way to keep track of your improvements.  Whether it’s flexibility in yoga, number of minutes you can run on the frisbee field without getting winded, or whatever, you and only you will know if you’re putting in the work to get better.

Random tip: want to get better at losing weight? Tired of sucking? Keep track of  every single calorie you eat for a week or two and I guarantee you will lose weight.

What Are You Working On?

Right now, I am working on getting stronger and more flexible. I’ve had chronic back problems (thanks to a summer job 8 years ago), so I’m doing tons of exercises to strengthen my lower back and improve my hip flexibility, which is helping me get stronger with my squats and deadlifts.  As for my exact routine, I just picked up a copy of Mark Rippetoe’s “Starting Strength” and I’ve gone back to the basics.  If you want to know my exact workout, you can check out this Starting Strength Wiki and download the free excel sheet – I’ll be doing the advanced beginner routine for the next few months.

Tell us exactly what you’re working on in the comments. I want to hear answers like:

  • I want to improve my time by 1 minute in my next race.
  • I want to be able to bench press my body weight by June.
  • I want to look better in a bathing suit by next summer.
  • I want to get better at Karate by obtaining the rank of black belt.
  • I want to lose 100 pounds in 2010.

Next time you ask yourself “WWDPD,” what will your answer be?

-Steve

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picture: ComicCultureWarrior

Beginner Body Weight Workout: Burn Fat, Build Muscle

So you want to get in shape, but you have no gym membership.

That’s fine, screw gyms!

They’re loaded with chumps, meatheads, pushy salesmen, and people who suck at working out.  (If you DO go to a gym, here’s how to make sure you DON’T suck at working out).  Luckily, you can burn fat, build muscle, and get a great workout using just your body weight.  Learn why cardio is one of the least efficient methods of burning calories, and how you can get a lot done in a little bit of time.  By doing body weight circuits, where you complete one exercise right after the other without stopping, you’re both building muscle and getting a cardiovascular workout.

Why Body Weight Circuits Kick Ass

What makes body weight circuits work so well? Every exercise involved utilizes multiple muscle groups, gets your heart rate pumping, and burns tons of calories.  Check out this interview from Jason Ferruggia and Alwyn Cosgrove, two fitness gurus whose opinions and research I highly respect.  Essentially, circuit weight training burns more calories than interval training, which burns WAY more calories than steady cardio.  Essentially, if you’re trying to lose weight, spending hours doing cardio on a treadmill is a really crappy use of your time.

I’m going to take you through a basic workout today that can be completed in your house, apartment, out at a park, in your parents’ basement, wherever.  As always, make sure you are cleared by your personal physician for physical activity before attempting these exercises.    Proceed at your own risk!

Beginner Body Weight Workout

This is a basic body weight circuit. In a circuit routine, you’ll do each exercise in succession without a break in between (if you’re able).  Once you’ve finished all exercises in the circuit, you do it again.  If you’re still able after the 2nd run through, go for a third.  Because all of these exercises come one after another, you’re bound to get tired.  It’s better to stop and take a break than to do an exercise incorrectly.  If you can’t do all three circuits without stopping, that gives you something to build towards.

Before you start, WARM UP - Never ever ever ever forget to warm up.  Make sure to get your heart rate pumping and get your muscles warm or you’re just asking for injury.  If you’re strapped for time, cut short your workout, not your warm up.  You can run in place, jump rope, do a few push ups, pedal on a stationary bike, jog up and down your stairs, etc.  Don’t wear yourself out completely, but get your heart rate elevated and little bit of sweat never hurt anybody.  After the warm up, here is exactly what you need to do:

Beginner Body Weight Circuit Video

And so you can write it down, here is the write up for the exercise routine.

  • 20 body weight squats
  • 10 push ups
  • 20 walking lunges
  • 10 dumbbell rows (using a gallon milk jug)
  • 15 second plank
  • 30 Jumping Jacks

After you’ve completed your workout, make sure you stretch. All of your muscles have been contracted from lifting and need to be stretched back out and rebuilt.

For either the body weight squats or lunges, if you can’t do them properly yet, it’s okay to put your hand on a support to keep your balance.

For the body weight squats, think of it like sitting back into a chair. If you can sit down onto a chair, and then stand immediately right back up without having to lean forward, you are in balance.

For the lunges, keep your eyes ahead and your upper body completely vertical. I had a slight bend at times in the video due to trying to exercise and explain at the same time.

I used a milk jug for my dumbbell, but you can use whatever is heavy enough for you. Find something that is challenging to lift 10 times in a row.

Do this routine 2-3 times a week, but never on consecutive days.  You don’t build muscle when you’re exercising, you build muscle when you’re resting.  Generally I follow a pattern of strength training on one day, then 20 minutes of interval training on the next, then strength training, then interval training, and so on.  You never want to do a strength routine two days straight (of the same muscle groups), as your muscles haven’t had time to recover.

Along with this routine, you need to make sure you’re eating properly! A good workout and crappy diet will not get you anywhere.  Lots of real foods (fruits, vegetables, lean meat, nuts, etc.).  Eat natural, whole foods whenever possible, and leave the soda, candy, and junk food out of your system.  Your diet is at least 80% of your success or failure.

Help Me Help You

Leave a comment and let me know how it was for you, and your fitness level (total n00b, beginner, some experience, etc.). If you can get through all three circuits, let me know how long it took you.

If you have a YouTube account, you can subscribe to the NerdFitness channel, which will alert you any time I put out a new video.

If this routine is too easy for you, I have an Advanced Body Weight Circuit too.  You’ve been warned :)

-Steve

PS: If you’re looking for a little more direction, high definition video demonstrations of each exercise, more than a dozen more workouts, and a full guide on how to eat properly, check out the Nerd Fitness Academy!  I’m really proud of what we’ve put together.

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picture: Joe Shlabotnik

Organic Food: Is it Really Worth It?

How many of you buy organic food?

In the past six months, I’ve started to put some serious consideration into what I put into my system. After reading the Paleo Diet, Mark’s Daily Apple, and Vin Miller’s Natural Bias, I’ve realized that I was completely unaware of where my food actually came from and what was in it. Up until recently, I was completely okay with this. In fact, I often went out of my way to stay ignorant and oblivious purely out of spite. Let me explain why:

I Hate hype

I hate hype, I don’t like fads, and sometimes I go against what’s popular simply because it gives me something to do. When this organic trend started a few years back, I figured it was just an evolution of the previous food fad: Low Fat! Take out the fat (most of which is probably good for you), add sugar and other super-processed ingredients (which is all bad for you), call it “healthy choice,” and then watch the money roll in. I didn’t buy into that fad, and I didn’t plan on buying into this “fad” either. I mean, come on: they sell organic pop tarts.

When I combined my general skepticism, inherent ability to rebel against certain things for no reason, and the truckloads of money brought in by the organic food business ($52 billion in 2008), it’s easy to see why I refused to jump on the bandwagon.

Then, yesterday happened.

Food Inc.

Yesterday I finally watched the documentary, “Food, Inc.”

I won’t go into great detail about the movie as that can be found anywhere on the net (Read Ebert’s really good review here). Just go rent it or watch it on instant queue through Netflix. After all the reading I’ve done, books I’ve studied, and people with whom I’ve conversed over the past year, I was already tipping in this direction – the movie finally put me over the edge: I’m going to start eating more organic foods. I’ve come to this decision for a few main reasons:

  • My health – All of the various outbreaks and diseases and recalls come from food products that are heavily engineered and loaded with all kinds of artificial/dangerous crap. If I’m going to put something in my system, I’d like to know what it’s made of and where it came from.
  • Competition is good – Right now, a few big companies control the food industry in this nation. McDonald’s is the world’s biggest buyer of tons of products, giving them incredible influence and power. Supporting local farmers and organic food is sort of like supporting Linux over Windows. Everybody loves a good underdog story; here’s your chance to be a part of one.
  • Primal Reasons - We’re designed to eat naturally grown fruit, vegetables, and meat. Adding chemicals and pesticides, and genetically engineering our food isn’t natural and can’t be good. Not enough studies have been done to prove that these changes we are making to nature aren’t going to come back and bite us in the ass.
  • My spite was misdirected – Turns out eating organic food is how to go against the trend, considering the rest of this country is eating poorly, getting sick, and becoming more overweight by the day. I had it backwards.

What does Organic Mean?

When you walk into a supermarket, you see all kinds of stuff that are labeled “organic.” Other than the higher price tag, do you really know what you’re getting? I certainly didn’t, so I did some digging. Here is what’s required in order for food to be labeled organic:

  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo.
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • What about meat? Every piece of meat these days is labeled with some term that insinuates “good and healthy,” but it’s pretty unclear what all of these things mean. Fortunately, Tim Ferriss over at the 4 Hour Workweek broke down what these different labels mean, and which ones you should be looking for: (“humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic” are the ones to look for). There’s a lot of marketing terms thrown around when it comes to meat, so you need to be careful:

    We can’t be sheep – I came across a great article over on Vin Miller’s “Natural Bias” site, discussing the issues with the “organic” labeling system. It’s up to us to actually take the time and understand what we’re eating instead of blindly buying into the hype. This is a “for profit” industry, which means there will definitely be people out there trying to exploit it. Yes, doing so requires a few extra minutes reading a label or finding out where the food came from. In the long run though, a few extra minutes here and a few extra bucks there could mean a world of difference for your health.

    Are these companies selling out? Or scaling up? As it turns out, the major food makers are buying as many organic companies as possible (here’s a great PDF showing what’s up). Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me thinks these companies are just looking for the cheapest way to take over the organic food industry too, while the rest of me thinks this might be a good thing – by operating under these big umbrella companies, the smaller brands (as long as they keep their standards) will have better access to a larger market with improved channels of distribution.

    What’s Important to Buy Organic? What Isn’t?

    Is it important to eat EVERYTHING organic, or can you get away with just some stuff? Once again, I had no clue, so I set out to find the answer. Research FTW!

    FRUITS AND VEGETABLES – According to the Environmental Working Group, these thirteen fruits and vegetables purchased from normal stores had the most toxins and pesticides in them. That means you should be buying organic whenever possible:

    • Peaches
    • Apples
    • Sweet bell peppers
    • Celery
    • Nectarines
    • Strawberries
    • Cherries
    • Lettuce
    • Grapes (imported)
    • Pears
    • Spinach
    • Potatoes

    If you have a tight budget (and who doesn’t these days), you can get away with not spending more for organic versions of the food fruits and veggies listed below:

    • Bananas
    • Kiwi
    • Mangoes
    • Papaya
    • Pineapples
    • Oranges
    • Asparagus
    • Avocados
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Broccoli
    • Onions

    There’s a pretty good read up on Smart Money on how to not break the bank when buying organic food. They discuss which foods to buy, which to avoid, and where to look to get the deals. They also explain why some fruits/veggies should be organic and others don’t need to be.

    MEAT – After research, meat is clearly one thing that absolutely needs to be purchased from organic sources. Your options are to either buy from a local butcher or search out meat that is “humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic.” In case you missed it earlier, here’s a link to how to read meat labels properly.

    DAIRY – From what I’ve found, it sounds like it’s a smart move to buy organic eggs. However, the jury is still out on organic milk. According to MSNBC, the benefits don’t really outweigh the cost. I found this other controversial article where a veterinarian advises against buying organic milk for other reasons. I still don’t know if organic milk part of the organic hype machine or is there enough benefit to outweigh it’s incredibly high price. (More about this at the bottom.)

    My Plan

    I’m still a skeptical S.O.B., but I think this is a good move. I’m going to have to be creative with my money, decisive on what I decide to eat organic and what I continue to eat normally, and I need to make sure I cut through the BS and buy the stuff that is ACTUALLY good for me. Here’s the plan:

    • Make a list of everything I eat, and determine what I need to buy from where. I eat a lot of apples, strawberries, lettuce, and spinach. After reading about how these are four of the most pesticides-filled fruits and veggies, I’m definitely going organic for these things.
    • Visit a Whole Foods. I have never been inside a Whole Foods, and I’m actually a little scared to go in there. I like the safe confines of my Kroger right down the street, but I feel like I need to at least walk into one Whole Foods to see what it’s all about. Also, I want to see if the prices are really as bad as everybody says.
    • Hit up Trader Joe’s more often – I drive right past a Trader Joe’s every day to and from work, but never go in because it’s so freaking busy. However, the one time I did make it in there I found tons of products with reasonable prices and a stronger emphasis on being of really high quality. It might be worth an extra trip late at night when it’s not so busy.
    • Find a solution for all the chicken I eat. I eat a ridiculous amount of chicken, so I’d like to find a way to eat a ridiculous amount of HEALTHY chicken.  Looks like I need to do more chicken research. [CHECK THE COMMENTS - good discussion on "Free range" chicken and what that really means]
    • Farmers Markets – I realize that I’ve missed the window for farmer’s markets…but I found one that’s located right down the street from me and operates from April through November. Come April I’ll be prepared to start making it a weekly visit. Eat better+ support local farmers = win.
    • Research Organic Dairy – I’m not much of an egg guy, but I do love me some milk. At this point, I really don’t know if it’s worth the extra money to buy organic milk. From a health perspective it looks like it might not be, but I need to do more research. Your input on this would be extremely helpful.

    I Need Your Help!

    I’m a total n00b on this stuff, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you eat organically, what do you do during the winter months when your favorite foods are out of season? Is Whole Foods full of it, or is it priced high for a good reason?  Is organic milk worth it?  How would you change my plan?

    Let’s hear it. I need your help!

    [edit - if you're just reading now, make sure you check out the comments.  Lots of good discussion in there]

    -Steve

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    photo from NatalieMaynor

    How to NOT Suck at Getting In Shape

    This post title pays homage to Baker’s “How NOT to Suck at Blogging” over at ManVsDebt.com.  Baker’s the man, so make sure you check out his stuff!

    Do you suck at getting in shape?

    It seems like everybody is trying to get in shape these days but nobody is actually succeeding.  Ask anybody, and 9 out of 10 will say “I’m trying,” or “I’m on a diet,” or “I’d like to lose a few pounds.”  However, considering two thirds of the United States is overweight…it seems like everybody sucks at this stuff.  Most reasons fall into these categories:

    • I don’t care
    • I don’t have time
    • I lack the motivation
    • I don’t know what I’m doing

    If you’re not in shape, it’s probably due to one, two, three, or four of the reasons listed above.  I want to address each of these individually and see if we can suck-proof your plan to get in shape.

    The “I Don’t Care” Crowd

    For a lot of people who are overweight and out of shape, getting healthy is the last thing on their mind.  They’re too busy wrapped up in their job, their families, World of Warcraft, etc. and getting in shape is NOT a priority.  I’d guess that for a lot of these people, they are extremely unhappy with how they look and feel, but have hit a point of giving up and instead hide behind a “I don’t care” shield.  I don’t want you to be one of these people.

    You need to find a reason to care:

    • People that are in shape are more successful in life. Let’s not tip-toe around this issue: good looking people go farther in life.  It’s true – it’s not fair, it sucks, but it’s true.  There’s a reason everybody is after plastic surgery, lipo-suction, and ‘the Hollywood look’.  Everything else being equal, the good looking guy/girl will get the job.  The good looking dude will get the girl.  The good looking guy will be a better salesman.  That’s how life works.  If you want to be successful, you should care about your appearance if you want to keep up.  Yes, I know it’s not fair, but that’s how it works.
    • Do you have kids? Do you want to see your kids graduate high school?  Do you want to see your grand kids?  If you do, you better get started down the path to being healthy today.  I don’t have kids yet, but I want to be around to see my great-grandchildren.  I know a lot of you readers are young (20s) and probably haven’t even thought that far down the road.  Think of this like a 401k investment – if you start investing now, you’ll be loaded by the time you’re 65 (as long as the economy doesn’t collapse again) thanks to all that extra time for your savings to grow.  If you start eating healthy and exercising now, before you have health issues, you’ll be in much better shape later on.  Don’t try to play catch-up after the damage has already been done.
    • Being unhealthy is freaking expensive. I haven’t been to a doctor for anything health related in years.  No co-pays, no expensive medicines, no stupid forms to fill out.  The only time I ever get sick is generally during my day-job’s cruise season, when I go four or five days straight on minimal sleep.  Our nations health care debt is spiraling out of control, and instead of attacking the source (prevention), we’re dumping money into treatment.  Why continue to put band-aids on a cut when you can stop the cut from happening in the first place?

    I’m going to guess that very few of you are in the “I don’t care” club, because you probably wouldn’t be reading a fitness website if you were.  If you ARE in that club, here’s what you need to do to stop sucking:

    • FIND A WAY TO CARE. I don’t care if it’s your doctor telling you to get in shape, your kids poking you in the gut and saying “daddy you’re fat,” or just taking a long look at yourself in the mirror.
    • Be selfish and vain – You know what?  I want to live as long as possible, and I want to look as good as possible.  I’m sure you do too.  I don’t care what your reasons are: maybe you want to pick up chicks, look better at the beach, and live long enough until they figure out cryogenic freezing.  Whatever your reasons are for getting in shape, if it gets you in shape I’m all for it.  The ends justify the means in this case.
    • Be smart – I just read “Spark,” a book that talks about exercise and the brain.  I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s the gist of it: you’re an idiot if you don’t exercise.  From making you more alert in school and at your job to helping stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia when you’re older, exercise has WAY more benefits than just making you look good.  It can make you smarter too.

    The “I Don’t Have Time” Crowd

    This one is my favorite, because I don’t buy it for a second.  After hearing story after story about single mothers with two jobs who find the time to exercise and venture capitalists who work 80-hour weeks and still squeeze in a morning jog, I find it hard to believe that people can’t find 20 lousy minutes a day to get in shape.  My guess is, “too busy” involves at least an hour or two of television at night and mindless hours spent crawling Wikipedia and YouTube.  If you really analyze your day, I have no doubt that you have time:

    Make time – There’s no excuse.  I don’t care what yours is, because nobody will listen.  Put it in your daily planner, add it to your Google calendar, schedule it as a “Meeting with Major Pain” or whatever.  They say those who find success are often too busy to be looking for it.

    Exercise in the morning – According to the studies referenced in the previously mentioned Spark, people that exercise in the morning retain a ****-ton more information in the hours after exercise than those who don’t exercise.  Here’s another reason why you should exercise in the morning: how many times have you made a plan to exercise after work, and then you get stuck at your desk for an extra two hours, or you come home and your friends have broken into your house and are playing Halo on your TV (this happens at my house approximately twice a week), and suddenly all that exercise time you just had to go out is now gone.  This is what you need to do:

    Set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier - While your wife is sleeping, while your kids are asleep, while your roommates are asleep, get your ass out of bed, and get your 30 minutes of exercise done.  You’ll be more alert at work, you won’t drag ass through your morning meetings, and your afternoons are free to do whatever the hell you want (like playing Halo with the aforementioned roommates that break into your house).

    Don’t think you can get a workout done in 20 minutes? Try 20 minutes of interval running and then tell me you’re not worn out.  Not enough?  One of the actors from 300 completed the 300 challenge in under 20 minutes.  Only have 5 minutes?  Do some Tabata. Just don’t come crying to me after.

    I think everybody who says they don’t have time either fall into the previous “I don’t care” category or the “No motivation” category and are just hiding under the “I don’t have time” clause.  let’s talk about why that group sucks, and how to get out of it.

    The “No Motivation” Crowd

    I bet quite a few of you have been in this crowd before.  You’ve tried to get in shape, you had a good two weeks where you went to the gym every day, you ate right, and you lost 10 pounds!  Then, it rained, a new video game came out, you got sick, whatever, and all of a sudden you’re right back to where you started.  Your heart is in the right place, but something just didn’t line up.

    What didn’t work last time? What is going to be different this time?  You’re a smart person (this might be a stretch, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are), so you need to determine why you failed last time.  That way, when the same thing happens this time, you can recognize it and plow through it.  Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    Find your motivation – You’ve seen Rocky IV, right?  When Rocky arrived in Russia, he put a picture of Drago on the mirror that he looked at every morning.  Every freaking day, Rocky would wake up, probably at 4AM, load on four layers of clothing and go run in three feet of snow.  Why did he do it? Because Drago killed his best friend!  Maybe you don’t have a giant Russian man that you’ve sworn revenge against, but I bet there’s a picture of something you can hang up to make you hungry for success.

    I’m going to be honest, I sat down last night after a long day of work and didn’t want to write today’s blog post.  I sat at my desk, stared at a blank Word doc, and then read the sign I have hanging above my computer:

    “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – The Shawshank Redemption

    If you’ve met me, you’re probably aware of my unhealthy obsession with The Shawshank Redemption.  This movie is the reason I made the move to Atlanta, it’s the reason I started Nerd Fitness, and it’s the reason I have my current day job at Sixthman (the absolute best company in the world to work for).  Every morning, I wake up and read this quote before I go out the door.  It’s this quote that makes me want to make something of myself and appreciate what I have.

    Whatever your motivation is, find a way to live it every single day.

    Set Specific Goals – To reference Shawshank again, the main character Andy Dufresne had specific goals in mind.  He wanted to:

    • Break out of Prison
    • Move to Zihuatanejo
    • Open a hotel on the coast
    • Fix up an old boat
    • Play chess with his friend Red

    It’s these goals and  dreams that kept Andy going for 19 YEARS while he sat wrongfully imprisoned.  Without those goals, I bet Andy would have been given up in that tiny jail cell.  Instead, he ended up with everything he ever wanted (spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie). What are you specific goals?  Don’t tell me you want to ‘lose weight,” I want to hear something like, “I want to lose 50 pounds by June, I want to do 10 pull ups, I want to fit into a pair of jeans with a 34 inch waist, and I want to finally ask out the cute girl at the coffee shop that I go to every morning.”  Get specific, and then work every day towards those goals.

    Tell Everybody – When you have people counting on you to pull through, you pretty much have to do it.  Last week, I didn’t post a blog on Friday because I was home for vacation and simply too tired and worn out to write anything.  That day on Facebook (become a Nerd Fitness fan), NF reader Jack jokingly (I hope) left the comment, No Friday post. I feel like a blind man this weekend.”

    I’m sorry Jack!  It won’t happen again, because I HATE letting people down – hopefully today’s post will get you through the weekend.  Want to see what accountability can do for somebody’s health?  Check out Tyler over at 344pounds.com, who has lost over 125 pounds since January, Steve over at 265andfalling.com, and Juncti at ScatterShotMind.  Accountability works.

    If you don’t want to start a website, then tell all of your coworkers, your friends, and have them keep you accountable.  Don’t suck!

    The “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” Crowd

    This one is tough.  You care, you have time, and you’re motivated, but you’re still not losing weight.  You think you’re eating right, you go to the gym, but the weight just doesn’t seem to come off.  That means something ain’t workin’.  Luckily, you have the three toughest reasons for sucking out of the way, let’s take care of the fourth.

    You Can’t Outrun Your Fork. I’ve said it before, I’m saying it now, I’ll say it again – you can’t outrun a bad diet.  It can take you an hour to burn 500 calories, and then 2 minutes to put them all right back.  I’ve already written 2000+ words on how to NOT suck at losing weight; to sum up those 2000 words in two sentences: stop eating junk food, stop eating fake food, start eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.  Cut out the sugar, processed grains, simple carbs, and soda.

    Do you really know how many calories you’re eating? If you’re overweight, I’d wager that you’re probably underestimating how many calories you eat on a daily basis.  That handful of animal crackers, 5 Hershey’s Kisses, and half a can of soda all add to your calorie total for the day.  Keep track of your calories for a week, and if your weight didn’t go down, find a way to knock off 500 calories a day and you’ll start to lose a pound a week.

    Get Better - Your diet is probably 80-90% of your success or failure, so just fixing that will fix 80-90% of your issues.  However, if you’re interested in building some muscle while losing fat, you’re going to need to do some strength building exercises.  If you don’t have a gym membership, start doing some of these body weight exercises.  If you do have a gym membership, make sure you don’t suck at working out.  Whatever it is you’re doing, make sure you’re getting better or faster at it over time.  There’s only one way to know if that’s happening…

    WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN – Did you get stronger or weaker since your last workout?  Faster or slower?  The only way you’ll know this is if you keep track of what you did last time.  I don’t care if it takes you 20 minutes to walk a mile.  The next time better take you 19:59 or less.  Everybody has to start somewhere – make sure you always know where that “somewhere” is so you can do better than that next time time.

    What did I leave out?

    These are the four biggest reasons I could think of.  What other reasons are out there for why people suck at getting in shape?  Have you been in one of these groups and worked your way out?  How did you do it?

    -Steve

    ###

    Picture from:  MikeBaird

    My Struggle With the Paleo Diet

    I’ve always been skinny.

    For the past 8 years, I’ve ridden the roller-coaster of weight gain and weight loss in a perpetual effort to build muscle and bulk up.  Over the course of that time, I’ve tried every workout imaginable, dozens of different protein and meal replacement shakes, good diets, bad diets, gained 18 pounds in 30 days, lost it all, and confused the hell out of my digestive system and body.

    Before we get to where I’m at now, let’s see how it started.

    High School – No Clue

    After getting cut from the basketball team in my Junior year of high school, I signed up for a gym membership at the local gym.  I spent two years there ‘lifting weights,’ although I never really knew what I was doing.  I took advice from anybody willing to give it out, which unfortunately resulted in me getting pretty crappy tips from some pretty dumb people.  I managed to survive these two years without killing myself, but I don’t think I put on a single pound.

    That’s okay though, because I was headed to college soon!  After all, everybody puts on the “freshman fifteen,” right?

    College – Freshman Fifteen Fail

    Unfortunately, my time in the gym for four years of college was pretty much a monumental waste of time.  Although I learned more about fitness and exercise, I blindly followed the muscle-building routines from muscle mags like an idiot.   I worked out five or six days a week, chugged protein shakes like it was job, and STILL couldn’t put on my weight.

    By blindly following those body building magazines and not actually doing any of my own research, I now realize I was doomed before I even started.  At this point, I had all but given up on gaining weight – I just assumed it was impossible for guys like me.

    San Diego – It Finally Makes Sense

    After graduating from school, I moved out to San Diego with my brother, joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and finally overhauled my diet.  I started drinking three Muscle Milk collegiate shakes a day, gallons of milk, ate pounds of spaghetti, peanut butter sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and meatball subs.  I drastically scaled back my time in the gym and concentrated on eating all day every day.

    After: 

    September 28, 2006 - AFTER - 180 lbs.

    September 28, 2006 - 180 lbs.

    Before: 

    August 28, 2006 - Me Before Hitting The gym

    August 28, 2006 - 162 lbs.

    In 30 days, I gained 18 pounds.

    Looking back, I’d guess that it was probably 4 or 5 pounds of muscle, and 15 pounds of fat, water, and glycogen stored in my muscles.

    I quickly realized that spending all day in a gym was a waste of time without a calorie surplus to stimulate growth.  More calories eaten than burned = weight gain.  I’m a pretty smart kid too, so I’m baffled as to why it took me like six years to figure this out.

    As for what I did in the gym: my workouts centered around big movements (squats, bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, deadlifts, lat pulldowns, and shoulder presses).  I kept my rep range between 8-12, minimized my time between sets, and really pumped my muscles up.  It worked.  If you want to see exactly what I my workout and diet during those thirty days, you can read my full article on how I gained 18 pounds in 30 days.

    So What’s the Problem?

    I looked better, got stronger, and finally managed to gain weight after years and years of failure. So what’s the problem?  In the past eighteen months, I’ve become more educated on how the body functions with diet and fitness.  I realized that I my plan of action to gain weight wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world.

    This past summer, I was turned onto a book by Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet.  It really resonated with me, and I made the decision that constantly stuffing my face with 4000 calories of processed foods every day was a recipe for disaster.  I finally gave up my Muscle Milk shakes and adopted a more Paleo Lifestyle.  Not surprisingly, this change had a dramatic effect on my weight.

    In the five months since switching up my diet, I’ve dropped from 180 lbs. back down to 162 lbs., essentially losing every pound that I fought so hard to keep for two years.

    Why This Doesn’t Make Me TOO Mad

    Initially I stepped on the scale, saw that my weight had dropped all the way back down, and got extremely frustrated. However, I then looked at a picture of myself from four years ago at 162, and a picture of myself NOW at 162.  I have 8-10 pounds of muscle more on me, and 4-5% less body fat.  I’m still thin, but I’m in much better shape, far stronger, and more muscular compared to a few years back.  Most importantly, I’m not shoveling enormous quantities of processed foods, lab-created meal shakes, and gallons of milk down my throat.

    Essentially, I’ve taken my life back, and I don’t have to spend all day every day eating.  Win!

    My Plan For the Future

    Despite feeling much better about my health these days, I would still like to pack on another 10-15 pounds of muscle.  After all, if I’m going to run a fitness website I feel like I need to look the part.  I know that I could order two tubs of Muscle Milk tomorrow, start crushing meatball subs from Subway, and fly right back up to 185 pounds in a matter of weeks – but that doesn’t really line up anymore with my long term plans of staying healthy, physically fit, and alive.

    Instead, I’m going to try and build this muscle while maintaining a Paleo lifestyle.  I think the biggest reason I’d like to try it with a Paleo diet is simply that I want to see if I can do it.  I’m always up for a challenge, and doing it the old way is “been there, done that.”  This is the plan:

    Continue lifting heavy in the gym. I just picked up a copy of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, 2nd edition, and I’m excited to dig into really study the nuances of squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and olympic lifts.  I also ordered a weight-belt that will allow me to do weighted dips and chin ups.  Essentially, I’m going to concentrate on getting stronger and stronger and not worry so much about my weight.  After all, “appearance is a consequence of fitness,” and I figure the muscle will come in time.

    Continue with my predominantly Paleo Diet. What I’ve realized over the past five months is that I just can’t find a way to eat enough calories while eating like this.  There are a few things that I’ve been eating to maintain my current weight, and I don’t know if I can get away from them if I want to create a calorie surplus and pack on some muscle:

    • Brown Rice
    • Oatmeal
    • Flaxseed Bread
    • Whey protein

    Honestly, I’m okay with this stuff in my diet.  It’d be nice to go without it, but I haven’t had any issues WITH it, so I think finding a good balance of great healthy foods is most important.

    Bringing back dairy into the equation? I like milk, I’m not lactose-intolerant in any way, and it would be extremely helpful for me to consume enough calories every day.  If I do start drinking milk again, I’ll make sure it’s from healthy cows whenever possible.  Essentially, I want to find a way to eat enough calories but doing so without packing my system with bad foods.  I have a feeling I’ll be upping my intake of almonds and walnuts – loaded with protein, calories, and good fats.

    Get some more damn sleep! I certainly don’t get enough sleep, as I dump all my free time and a lot of my sleep time into this site (not that I’m complaining, I love what I’m doing).  This is something I often preach but never practice -sleep is one of the most important parts of getting in shape, losing weight, and/or building muscle.

    I had a super productive Thanksgiving break, and I now have a BUNCH of kick-ass projects in the works that you’ll hear about soon.  Because of these this, I’ve made the decision to post new articles on Nerd Fitness on Mondays and Thursdays for the time being.  In a few months once I get these projects launched I hope to go back to three posts a week, so thanks for your patience guys.

    Do we have any Paleo Dieters here?  Has it worked for you?  Any skinny guys that have bulked up on it and want to offer advice?

    Let’s hear it!

    -Steve

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    photo: FloodLlama

    Eat Whatever the Hell You Want on Thanksgiving

    Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the most gluttonous holiday in the history of the world.

    If you look anywhere on the internet today, you’ll find article after article on how to avoid weight gain during the holiday season, what foods to eat, what foods not to eat, how to politely say no, and so on.

    Here is the best article I’ve found. If you’re interested, make sure you download the free Survival Guide PDF at the end:

    Deadly Holiday Drinks, Weight Loss Scams, and Seasonal Weight Gain Survival Guide over on Fitness Spotlight

    Now, instead of regurgitating this same information (that has been presented more completely elsewhere), I’m going to tell you to eat whatever the hell you want on Thanksgiving.  You want to treat gravy like a beverage?  Fine.  Want to go up for seconds, thirds, and fourths on the turkey?  Go right ahead.  That case of Bud Light in your fridge isn’t going to drink itself either.  Go right ahead and eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want, stay up too late (or pass out too early), and generally disregard your health tomorrow afternoon.  You’re probably wondering how this will help you lose weight.

    Here’s the truth: it isn’t. Well, at least not physiologically.  You’re still filling your body up with tons of calories.  However, you’re really not doing TOO much damage and you’re also taking care of something far more important:

    Your sanity and your family.

    You deserve a break every once and a while, and you really can’t destroy yourself in just one day (unless you decide to start hard-lining lard into your veins), so live a little.  After all, we only get one chance on this planet, and if you’re not having fun with those you care most about, you’re just wasting your time.

    Thanksgiving is a day to spend with your family and friends – the most important thing in life is to love and be loved.  I want you to eat too much food with your parents, steal food off your niece’s plate over at the kid’s table, and drink beers with your buddies while watching the Lions lose another football game.  Just pray for Calvin Johnson to score a buttload of points, because he’s on my fantasy football team and I need a big win this week.

    Okay, so let’s say you take my advice (which you will) and eat until you pass out in a food-induced coma tomorrow, here are two things you can do to make sure you don’t completely derail your weight-loss efforts.

    Exercise Before

    Tomorrow, I’ll be getting up bright and early to run in a 5k Thanksgiving race with my family. I don’t even WANT to run this race (not after my last experience in a 5k), but if my DAD and MOM are going to do it, I feel like I should too.  After all, it’s because of my blog that they’re now suddenly inspired to run races and eat better, and I don’t want them to stop.  So, why not burn a few hundred calories first thing in the morning, and then feel a little less terrible about stuffing my face later on?  Get up early, take your dog for jog, take the kids for a walk, find a race in your town (which will probably benefit a really good cause), and get your blood pumping and calories burning.

    If you don’t like running – put yourself through a quick body weight workout.  Head down to your parents’ basement – unless you already live down there – and try the Nerd Fitness Challenge.  Bang out some squats, decline push ups, pull ups or inverted bodyweight rows, and jumping jacks, and THEN go eat your turkey and mashed potatoes.

    If you’re a skinny guy looking to bulk up, Thanksgiving is the greatest day of the year for you.  Hit up the gym first thing in the morning, pump up those muscles, and THEN start stuffing your face.  Pack on those pounds, son!

    Eat Less After

    Let’s assume you plan on jamming pounds of turducken down your throat while hanging with your family.  Then, you’re going to drink yourself into oblivion while playing Modern Warfare 2 with your friends or watching football with your family.  Needless to say, you’re going to create a huge calorie surplus in your system.  Luckily, your metabolism is kind of a dumbass and can’t really discern what’s happening in the extreme short term.  How do you use this to your advantage?

    Take it easy the next few days! According to Katherine Tallmadge, dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association: “If you immediately go back to healthy eating, those calories you ate on Thanksgiving really can just average out.” On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, cram your system full of vegetables, fruits, and lean meats.  Drink gallons of water, cut way back on the drinkable calories (juice, soda, booze), cut out the processed carbs, and put yourself in a calorie deficit – things will even themselves out.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so after a day of overeating…GET RIGHT BACK ON THE TRAIN.

    I realize there are pounds of left-overs in the fridge, and if you have parents like mine they’ll try to force-feed you every second of the day.  However, here you can choose to be picky.  Go with the veggies, the turkey is fine, stay away from the bad stuff.

    My Thanksgiving Plans

    What good would I be if I don’t practice what I preach? Tomorrow, I plan on eating gravy-smothered turkey like it’s my job, cramming my face full of everything else on the table, taking a nap on the couch while watching football, and then drinking some beers and playing pool in the basement with my dad and brother.  After that, my old high school friends will probably end up coming over and the beers and pool will continue.

    This sounds like a perfect day to me.

    What’s your plan for tomorrow?  Favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving?

    -Steve

    On a completely unrelated note, it looks like YouTube has added 1080p support, which means you can watch the Muppets sing Bohemian Rhapsody in true high definition.  God bless YouTube:


    [Via: Mashable]

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    photo: floodllama

    Winter Cardio, a.k.a. Frozen Chestnuts

    Screen shot 2009-11-23 at 10.14.30 AM

    When winter rolls around, everybody generally goes into hibernation by stockpiling Twinkies, wrapping up in a Weezer Snuggie, and packing on the pounds.  However, if you’re one of those people interested in staying in shape and you DON’T want to spend all your time on a treadmill, you’re going to have to brave the elements.  Luckily, my friend Jim (the man who lost over 100 pounds and just completed his first IRONMAN this summer) was nice enough to put together this guest on how to exercise outside when it’s cold.

    Take it away Jim!

    Whether you are a cyclist, a runner, or just someone who wants to drop a few lbs. over the winter, laying down some base miles and putting in your cardio over the chilly months can only help. You can do this inside on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, but if you ask me, being on those things is the exercise version of self gratification. You know the kind I mean.

    I trained all winter this past year and raced a Christmas 5k, a February bike time trial with a half marathon the next day, and a full marathon in March, so I had to learn how to keep my cardio kickin’ through the frosty winter. I knew I couldn’t afford to slack off because I was on track to complete all the distances of triathlon there are, starting from a sprint distance, in one year.

    n1544984318_213408_326429I did my first sprint on August 23rd 2008, and completed my full Ironman on August 30 2009, doing Olympic and Half-Ironman distances along the way in September and May respectively. The detail-oriented among you will notice that it was in fact one year and one week, but the “one year” thing sounds better and I’m reasonably certain that no one cares.  At least, no one takes sufficient notice of my Ironman finisher’s cap and shirt which I have not taken off since the race and constantly point to [NF note: hahahaha]

    It’s also true that staying warm is mostly common sense, but I am, sadly, not a person to whom common sense has spoken in a loud voice through my life.  Just ask my dad.

    Having said that, in order to do this you are going to need some proper clothes. After all, you are made largely of water, and water likes to freeze around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s zero degrees for anyone who lives in a slightly less awesome country full of nerds who like numbers that make sense. Or 273 degrees Kelvin if you are a turbo nerd.

    Start a little cold

    My typical rule of thumb is to start my workout kinda chilly. If you step outside and you are toasty warm, when you get going you are going to be roasting. So you want to allow for your body to heat up during your workout.

    Cyclists will want to be slightly chilly just like runners, but need to focus a bit more on the effects the wind will have due to their greater speed. Swimmers have the option of a full body wetsuit, but their best option in my opinion is an indoor pool.

    Freddy got (cold) fingered

    If you were a tree, your fingers would be your twigs. Far from the warmth of your sexy, toasty torso, by the time blood arrives at their outer reaches it’s had a lot of chances to radiate heat while traveling down your supple limbs.

    Oh yeah, there’s a clothes for that.

    My method for slightly chilly days in the 55-65 degree range is usually just to start my run in a fleece with my hands tucked into the sleeves.  This may not be an option for every jacket, but as a man who has lost over 100lbs I have a rain jacket and a fleece that are far too big for me so this is an option. Typically when it’s just a little bit chilly, once I get going I’m warm enough.

    If it’s a little colder, I will put on a pair of gloves. Sometimes I get hot, but my jacket has pit vents which can be opened to vent heat.  A lot of times I’ll also push my sleeves up, imitating a look pioneered by Michael Jackson in the “Beat it” video.  This lets me vent heat with my forearms and also lets the ladies know that I have an eye for style.

    Ace of Base

    When it gets even colder, it’s time to start thinking about a base layer. Base layers come in a lot of shapes and sizes and there is a right answer for everyone, but I bought a Patagonia Capilene 3 layer. The important thing to remember is that you want a wicking base layer. Cotton long johns are going to get wet and be heavy, saggy, and cold. You need something that is designed to keep you warm even when it’s wet.

    When I finished my February half marathon in my base layer, there was frozen sweat on it’s slightly pushed up sleeves but I was toasty warm. Thanks for wicking, base layer!

    Another great option is wool, and some pretty cool wooly base gear is made by Smartwool. I bought my
    Patagonia synthetic base layer because it was cheaper by a large margin than the Smartwool option at REI, but wool has the advantage of not getting stinky. Wool is also historically harder to clean. You can’t just toss a merino wool garment into the washer and dryer unless you want it to come out being the proper size for your house cat.

    The Smartwool stuff, though, is reported to be resistant to this phenomenon, and as an owner of several pairs of Smartwool socks, I can attest that they are still human sized as well as quite awesome. I don’t have a Smartwool base layer, but I assume they wash just fine based on the company’s claims. I definitely want one.

    There are also options from companies like Under Armour, but I am even less familiar with their products. I do know that they have a letter “u” in “Armour” which means “European fancypants” even though they are and always have been an American company. Hey, business is business!

    During a cold-weather running event, people will shed clothes like crazy, often times leaving them on the street. I try to get a friend to come watch my race so that I can toss clothes to them if necessary, but usually I just start cold and warm up without having to drop anything. I am far too poor to be dropping expensive cold weather gear like that.

    Try to catch me ridin’ chilly

    I much prefer to be running than riding bikes in the winter cold, so last year I did a cyclist- and ironman-specific indoor spinning class at Athletic Training Services under the watchful eye of Tony Myers. It was a two-hour base building class from 5:00-7:00am and it tended to kick my ass. I’m lucky to have a local cyclist spin class like this to go to so I don’t have to do the spin classes they have at gyms.

    At the ATS spin class we watch DVDs of previous Grand Tour cycling events and ride bikes with real cycling saddles and clipless pedals just like a real bike. I also got to meet and ride with people who had done multiple Ironman races as well as sub 3hr marathoners. I also got to get cycling advice and coaching from Tony. I’m not sure I’d have gotten as much from a big-box gym’s spin class.

    This year, however, I’m planning to ride outside much more with my buddy Chris Kelly, who believes that
    there is no such condition as too cold. I’m planning to invest in some heavier gloves and a balaclava, in addition to my usual cycling cap, gloves, and glasses.

    Wrap it up

    Well that about wraps it up. Make sure you are layered, start a little cold, and get out there and exercise regularly. When spring comes around you’ll be looking hotter and going faster than ever!

    Jim

    Do we have any winter runners out there?  Anybody sick of treadmills? Let’s hear it. Do you want to train like Drago in Rocky IV, or do you want to train like Rocky!?


    Rocky IV Training Montage video

    “DRAGOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Follow Jim over at Jim Hodgson.com, follow him on twitter at twitter.com/jimhodgson, and check out his business at HodgsonCo.com.

    1st photo from JPCTalbot

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