NF Mailbag: When Should I Drink A Protein Shake?

wayne-gretzky-21Wayne Gretzky asks: Hey Steve.  I was looking over your site the other day.  Great stuff man.

I’d like to try protein shakes but I’m pretty clueless.  A guy I play hockey with says I should have one before the game.  I’ve read  your protein shakes for newbies article but what else typically goes in a shake?  Anything special in particular with relation to the sport of ice hockey?  Also what’s your take on drinking coffee?  I never used to drink the stuff but started a few years back.  Most I would have is 2 cups usually.

Thanks,

Wayne

Steve writes: Wow, Wayne Gretzky emailed me! Not really.  Alright Wayne, as far as protein shakes go, their main purpose is to pump your body full of protein when you need it quickly and cheaply.  What does protein do?  Help rebuild your muscles after they’ve been broken down.  You don’t really get much energy out of a protein shake, but it certainly helps rebuild your muscles AFTER you’ve destroyed them.  Drinking a protein shake after your hockey game might be a good idea, because your muscles are all worn out and beat up from playing hockey.  Hockey is lots of sprints, so your legs will be pretty beat.  This is when your muscles need protein the most.  Before the hockey game (not immediately before), I’d recommend something that will give you energy – a banana and peanut butter, whole grain bagel and peanut butter, oatmeal and rasins, etc.  You want something with complex carbs (whole grains) and a little bit of sugar to give you energy throughout your game.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you want to stay hydrated, so make sure you’re chugging water starting the day before your games.  Hockey is one of those brutal sports that can really wipe you out if you’re dehydrated.

If you’re interested in drinking protein shakes after your games or after you work out, the easiest thing to do to start out is buying yourself a tub of 100% pure whey protein.  They’re cheap, you can buy in bulk, and they come in different flavors; I’m a vanilla fan myself.  You can mix a scoop or two (check the serving size) with just water, but most of the time those taste crappy.  Instead, I’d say mix it with milk, or orange juice and frozen fruit (my new favorite mix).  Adding frozen fruit is a great idea, and try to eat a few slices of wheat bread if you can too.  You NEED to get carbs along with the protein so your body can use the carbs to refuel and the protein to rebuild.  I’ve even heard of people throwing some oatmeal packets into the blender too, as oatmeal is loaded with complex carbs that will help your body refuel.

Get a cheap blender from Walmart or target, buy a bag of frozen fruit from the supermarket, and start mixing and matching good materials until you come out with a product you like!

I haven’t done too much research on coffee as I don’t drink it, but I know lots of people that do.  I know there are some issues for some people who drink like 5 cups a day with milk and sugar and cream in it, the calories really start to add up.  I’ll do some extra research into coffee and write a post about that soon because I’m curious myself.

Thanks for writing in!

-Steve

Have a question? Email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly answer it.

You Gotta be the Man.

Word Count: 668 NF Difficulty: Beginner

Trying to get in shape by yourself is always tough.

You’re surrounded by people who make unhealthy choices, choosing to sit on their ass all day rather than exercise, and would rather go to Burger King than eat a decent meal.  If you can find somebody to partner up with and help keep you accountable, things will be much easier.  However, if you’re the lone wolf, it just means you’re going to have to show stronger leadership skills, show stronger willpower, and be the Man (ladies, you can be the woMan, it’s cool).   Maybe you’re like Master Chief and have some other marines around you to help keep you on track.  More than likely though, you’re like Sam Fisher and have to go it alone (ladies, you’re gonna have to be like Samus, which is awesome because Samus kicks ass). 

You might be married to or dating a girl/dude who is unhealthy and likes you “just how you are,” and they won’t understand why you’re trying this ‘exercise thing.’ Maybe you’d like to get in shape with your girl/guy whose motivation is severely lacking and gets mad at you every time you want to go to the gym instead of watching a movie with them.  When you have to go it alone, it seems like everything is lined up against you.  When it’s not a priority for anybody but you, you’re going to have to work extra hard to be successful.  You gotta be the Man.

What being THE MAN requires:

  • Make good decisions, even when everybody else around you isn’t. I don’t mean you can’t have any fun.  Go out for beers, eat bad food every once and a while, but more often than not, you need to be the guy that sets a good example.  Suggest places other than fast food joints for dinner/lunch.  Order the healthy stuff while others are ordering deep fried.
  • Start exercising, and become knowledgeable about how and why certain exercises do what they do. If you like running or climbing or swimming or lifting weights, become the go-to guy in your group for information about that stuff.  If you know how to do basic exercises properly like squats, deadlifts, pull ups, chin ups, and presses, you’ll be more knowledgeable than 90% of the people in your gym.
  • Speak softly and carry a big stick. Don’t start preaching to people, because nobody likes hanging out with “that guy.”  Be a silent leader, but be ready to talk about your success if they ask.  People will have a lot more respect and admiration for you when you just go about your business and let others do the same.  Eat healthy, exercise regularly, and do it without insulting those who don’t.
  • If you don’t have anybody to look up to for information, find somebody less knowledgeable than you and help them out. The best way to get better at something is to teach somebody else about it.  I started this blog not because I was an expert, but because I wanted to become one by helping others.

Ya know what, most of your friends might make fun of you or tell you that you’re being ridiculous with your healthy behavior; let them.  When you’re all at the pool and you’re the only one without a gut, I think you’ll get over their playful insults. 

What if you’re married with kids? Want your wife/husband to get in shape with you but don’t know how to bring it up?  Start exercising and eating right, and then when your wife asks you why you’re wasting your time with exercise, that you already ‘look good enough,’ tell her that you’re doing it because you want to be around for a long time for your kids.  When you tell her you’re doing it for the kids, she can’t argue…and it might even kick her ass into gear.  Set a good example!

It’s a constant daily battle, are you up for the challenge.  If you start to get discouraged or begin to lack the motivation to keep up the fight, email me at [email protected] and I’ll gladly help. 

Stick with it.

-Steve

Do you know these Fitness Equations? You Should.

Word Count: 607 NF Difficulty: Beginner

C4743rWe’re all nerds here, right?

We’re all relatively intelligent, we don’t mind math equations, and we want to get in shape.  Every day, your body burns a certain number of calories just existing.  This is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (calculate your BMR here), and it’s based on your height, weight, and age.  You also burn calories when you expend energy doing physical activity (walking to work, swimming, climbing stairs, playing with your kids, etc.)  When you combine your BMR with the calories you burn doing physical activity, you have your total calorie expenditure.  Conversely, you get your energy from the calories you consume with each meal, drink, whatever.  Let’s take a look at some of the fundamental equations of fitness that you need to knowe.  This will seem overly simple, but so many people don’t realize these things when trying to get in shape:

  • Calories consumed > total calorie expenditure = weight gain. Although this is a quite simplistic look at things, it really works.  If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight.
  • Calories consumed < total calorie expenditure = weight loss. If you consume less calories than you burn, you’ll lose weight.  What a novel concept!
  • 3500 calories = 1 pound of body weight.

Okay, so when you’re just getting started with fitness, these are the only formulas you need to worry about, because they’re easy to remember, and they’re simple!  Let’s explore more closely.  If 3500 calories = 1 pound of body weight, then 500 calories per day (3500/7) = 1 pound of body weight.

For you big nerds trying to slim down – if you’re interested in LOSING a pound a week - you need to decrease your daily calories consumed by 500 calories, increase your calorie expenditure by 500, or find a combination of the two that equals a 500 calorie deficit.  My recommendation, find a healthy combination of less calories and increased calorie expenditure (by exercising more).  Obviously if you want to lose 2 pounds a week you’ll have to manufacture a 1000 calorie deficit.  I wouldn’t recommend too drastic of a deficit, or your body will think it’s starving and go into starvation mode.  (Read why starvation mode is bad here).

A few things to take from this: every calorie counts!  You know that half cookie you ate at lunch?  How about that half a can of soda you had left in your fridge.  Those calories definitely count, and they add up throughout the day.  Be smart.

For you skinny nerds trying to bulk up, if you’re interested in GAINING a pound a week - you need to increase your daily calories consumed by 500 calories, decrease your calorie expenditure by 500, or find a combination of the two that equals 500.  Now, if those 500 calories are all junk food, and you decrease your calorie expenditure by doing less exercise, the weight you’ll be gaining will be fat which is undesirable…unless you’re going for the fat look.  My recommendation, eat 1000 extra calories a day (GOOD calories), and then exercise with heavy weights (which will burn many calories, but less than 1000), and you’ll gain lean muscle.

Now to be honest, not all calories are created equal…but hopefully you knew that. Obviously a Mr. Pibb (dude didn’t even get his degree) and bag of Funyons isn’t equal to grilled chicken and rice, even though they have the same number of calories.  If you’re going to create a calorie deficit, do so by cutting the junk food out of your diet; Because that stuff is so bad for you, finding 500 calories to get rid of on a daily basis isn’t the tough part.  It’s actually having the fortitude and willpower to do it.

What can you cut out of your equation?

-Steve

The Big Nerd Manifesto – 15 Tips for Guaranteed Weight Loss

So you’re a big nerd.

234085-hoagie_largeIf this were an RPG, you’d be an Ogre.  If this was Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, you’d definitely be Hoagie.  You weigh 300+ lbs. and this whole fitness thing seems like a lost cause to you.  You’re ready to lose some weight, eventually build some muscle, and get strong like a mofo…but you have no freaking cue what you’re doing.  Luckily, you found this site, and I’m here to help!

Here are 15 tips for you to get started:

  1. Realize that your diet is 90% of the battle – You can’t outrun your fork.  If you exercise 20 minutes a day but continue to eat like crap, you’re not going to get much accomplished.  The first change has to start in your mind, and the second change has to happen with your diet.  Without making changes to what you eat, you’re just treading water.
  2. Keep track of everything you eat - Sign up for a site like dailyburn.com (it’s free), input your stats and start to track every one of your meals.  It will tell you if you’re eating too many calories or carbs or not enough protein.  You might think twice about that 3rd coke when you know it will put you over the calorie mark for your day.
  3. Eat breakfast! Read this article about why breakfast is so important.  When you eat a high protein breakfast first thing in the morning, your metabolism gets started right away and starts processing those calories.  If you don’t eat breakfast, you’re more likely to stuff your face for lunch, and your metabolism (which hasn’t processed food since the night before) will be rusty and inefficient.  This is one is non-negotiable.
  4. Eat more often – If you eat generally three meals a day, instead eat six.  Try to eat every 2-3 hours, and each meal needs to be the half the size of what you used to eat.  By eating more often, you will keep your metabolism operating at peak efficiency.
  5. Remember this equation: 500 less calories a day = 1 pound lost per week.  Evaluate your diet, and find out where you can knock out 500 calories a day.  This can be a small change with each meal, but the calorie deficit will certainly end up more in your favor.  If you can burn more calories per day than you consume, you will lose weight.  It’s science
  6. Eat only good things - Taco Bell, Twinkies, and Mountain Dew aren’t getting the job done.  You need to use common sense and evaluate your diet.  If you don’t think it’s good for you, if you bought it at a drive-thru window, or it came out of a deep fryer, it’s PROBABLY not good for you.  You need healthy calories that are loaded with good protein, good carbs, and healthy fats.  Be smart.
  7. Muscle burns more calories than fat – A person with lots of body fat will have a slower metabolism than a person with lots of lean muscle.  Work on building more lean muscle, and your metabolism will reward you with burning more calories, even when you’re not exercising.  More calories burned = more weight lost = a happier and thinner nerd.
  8. Protein = building block for your muscles. Chicken, fish, meat, eggs, low-fat milk, almonds, peanuts.
  9. Not all carbs are created equal – if you must eat carbs, eat good ones!  Bagels, muffins, white bread, candy, french fries, donuts, sugary cereals are NOT good carbs, but you already knew that because you’re using common sense.  Load up on vegetables and fruits, cut out breads, grains, and pastas and you’ll lose weight, guaranteed.
  10. Low fat does not mean healthy! Read your labels on those ‘healthy choice’ frozen meals.  They all say “low fat,” but if they’ve just replaced the fat with tons and tons of sugar, it will instantly go to your ass/gut.  All that added sugar isn’t good for you, so make sure you read your labels!
  11. Fruits and veggies, go nuts – Want some good carbs?  Eat all the vegetables you want!  Find ones that you like, and eat them all the time.
  12. Liquid Calories still Count – Drink water all day long.  STAY AWAY FROM sugary sodas, alcohol, lemonade, fruit punch, massive Coolatas from Dunkin Donuts, etc.  These drinks will derail your weight loss train faster than anything.  Drinking water instead of those two Cokes a day will result in almost 20 lbs lost in a year.  Evaluate your liquid calories, and cut them out of your menu.  Water!
  13. Do what makes you happy – If you don’t have a gym membership or you don’t like lifting weights, that’s fine.  Ride a bike, play basketball, jump rope, go hiking, live action D & D, whatever you want, just find something active that makes you happy, and do it for at least 20 minutes a day.
  14. If you do like lifting weights, compound exercises are your friend– All of the compound exercises, like squats, lunges, deadlifts, and benchpresses practically use every muscle in your body.  The more muscles you use, the more lean muscle you’ll build and the more fat you’ll burn.  Everybody wins. Do you like lifting weights but no gym membership?Check out this blog on body weight exercises.  You’d be amazed what you can accomplish without any equipment.
  15. Set realistic goals – If you try to lose too much weight too fast, your body will revert back to caveman mode and assume the reason you’re only eating 900 calories a day is because food is scarce and you’re starving.  When this happens, your body will start to hoard the food you’re eating and shut down your metabolism, so you’ll burn even less calories and you won’t lose any weight.  Then, when you start to eat more, your stays in starvation mode for a while and you gain back even more weight than before.  Aim to lose 1% of your body weight per week or less.  More than that and it might not be healthy.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I’m sure many of these suggestions seem overwhelming.  Just take it a day at a time!  Pick a few things on this list, and make them a habit.  After they become routine and you start to see results, pick a few more and work on those.  If you work on getting a little better each day, stay determined and motivated, you’ll see results.  Email me at [email protected] if you have any questions, and I’ll gladly help.

As Morpheus tells Neo, “I can only show you the door.  You are the one who must walk through it.”  Take the first step today.

-Steve

If you liked this post, sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email!

Don’t Cheat Yourself: Do a Full Rep!

Word Count: 1057 NF Difficulty: Advanced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wall Ball: full squat required, ball must hit target

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

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

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

Do a full rep!

-Steve

What’s Your Excuse, Chump!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leave your comments below!

-Steve

Always Have a Battle Plan: StarCraft and Fitness

How many of you guys have played StarCraft?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Steve

13 Tips For Guaranteed Weight Gain – The Skinny Nerd Manifesto

So you’re a skinny nerd.

DayoftheTentacle

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

Here are 13 tips for you to get started:

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

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

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

Now go eat something!

-Steve

###

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

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

So you want to do a pull up, eh?
wrk_pullups

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

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

Appearance is a consequence of fitness

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

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

Proper Pull Ups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ninja Warrior

Happy Friday!

-Steve

Are You Better Than Yesterday?

Word Count: 795 NF Difficulty: Beginner

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

Are you better than yesterday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Steve

Previous Next View Archive