A Newbie’s Guide To Nerd Fitness

I’ve been running Nerd Fitness for over three years now.

What began as A Boy and His Blog has developed into 14,000+ subscribers, 250,000+ visits a month, and an active community of thousands of people of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, religious beliefs, professions, and socioeconomic backgrounds, all chasing the same goal: a better life.

As the site has grown, so has the number of newbies joining the community who are absolutely terrified of eating the wrong thing or exercising the wrong way.  Along with that, I receive tons of emails and comments from folks who disagree with what I have to say and explain that their particular way of thinking/diet/exercise is superior, which I have absolutely no problem with!

Today, I wanted to look at WHY I created Nerd Fitness, how it became the site that it did, and where it’s headed.

The Goal of Nerd Fitness

I started Nerd Fitness because I thought I had a chance to help people live better lives.

I started Nerd Fitness because there was way too much crap to sift through on the internet related to diet and health.

I started Nerd Fitness because I wanted to chronicle my own adventures in trying to level up my life. 

When I started exercising back in high school, I had no clue what I was doing – over the next decade, I stumbled my way through workouts, diet plans, and exercise philosophies that confused the hell out of me until eventually arriving at a place where I felt healthy, strong, confident, and happy.

Looking back, I realized how many mistakes I had made and how much time I had wasted, and I wanted to create a place where people could learn from my mistakes and avoid them.  I wanted to create a place where people could find actionable, practical advice that could be applied IMMEDIATELY for living a better life.

Hopefully this isn’t a surprise to you, but I don’t consider myself a fitness expert (it says it in bold right on my about page) – hell, I graduated with a degree in Economics!  I do consider myself to be a normal dude with nerdy habits that happens to love learning about diet and exercise and helping people understand themselves better.

So I started Nerd Fitness.  It was simple really: I’m a nerd…I like fitness…let’s combine the two!

Over the past 1000 days, I’ve come to realize that people come to Nerd Fitness for three reasons.  They want to:

  • Be healthy – They just had their first kid and decided they want to see that kid grow up.  Maybe their doctor said they need to make changes or they’ll die at an early age.
  • Be happy – They’re stuck in a rut: overweight, out of shape, unhappy, depressed, and lacking confidence.  They’re looking for some direction and good life balance.
  • Look good naked – Absolutely NOTHING wrong with this.  I want to look good naked.  I bet you do too.  I’d honestly put EVERYBODY in this category, combined with the first and/or second.

Honestly, I don’t care what gets you here – all I care about is that you’re here, you’re entertained, and you’re interested in changing your life.  My goal through this site is to get you off the couch, out of the drive through line, and onto a path to a better life.

When I think of a Nerd Fitness success story, I look back at those three reasons…people who:

  • Happy – exercise because they enjoy it, and constantly try to get better and improve.  They also have fun activities that keep them active and moving.  They enjoy waking up each day, look forward to exercising, and generally feel good about their life.  They radiant confidence.
  • Healthy – they get a clean bill of health from their doctor, they don’t need to take medication to correct imbalances that can be fixed through proper nutrition and/or exercise, they are injury free, and plan on staying active well into their older years.  They have a base line level of functional strength and can protect themselves and family should the need arise.
  • Looks good naked – “appearance is a consequence of fitness.”  They are comfortable in their skin. Their wife/husband/boyfriend/girlfriend finds them irresistibly attractive.  They look in the mirror and say “I like how I look.”

The Benchmarks of Nerd Fitness

When it comes to my diet and training philosophy, Nerd Fitness is quite different from most fitness sites out there.

I consider a Spartan Warrior to be at the pinnacle of fitness – strong, quick, fast, resilient, and has the ability to survive and thrive in any situation.  Now, because Spartan warriors only exist in movies, I’ve come up with a series of benchmarks that I think a nerd who trains consistently (but not ALL DAY EVERY DAY), has time to hang out with his wife/girlfriend/significant other, spend time with his kids/friends, play video games, get his work done, and is in GREAT shape, should be able to accomplish.  (Note: this ISN’T a workout to be attempted daily, but rather a series of benchmarks to aim for):

  • 50 push ups in a row
  • 10 pull ups in a row
  • Bench press his body weight 10 times
  • Press 75% of his body weight overhead 5 times
  • Deadlift 1.5 times his body weight 5 times
  • Squat his body weight 10 times
  • Run a 5k in under 24 minutes.
  • Hike for many hours with a 30-pound backpack
  • Touch his toes

I asked Staci to come up with similar benchmarks for a nerd female in REALLY GREAT shape:

  • 35 push ups in a row
  • 5 pull ups in a row
  • Bench press .75 her body weight 10 times
  • Press 75% of her body weight overhead 5 times
  • Deadlift 1.5 times her body weight 5 times
  • Squat her body weight 10 times
  • Run a 5k in under 24 minutes.
  • Hike for many hours with a 30-pound backpack
  • Touch her toes

Now, here’s the thing – your benchmarks for somebody in GREAT shape might be COMPLETELY DIFFERENT from ours.  Maybe for you, being incredibly healthy is:

  • Being able to run a marathon in under three hours
  • Run for 24 hours without stopping
  • Being insanely flexible
  • Deadlift 700 pounds
  • Do 10 handstand push ups
  • Sprint 40 yards in under 4.5 seconds.

Because my ideas for fitness might not line up with yours, you might get bummed out at some of the articles I write.  It’s no secret that I’m not a huge fan of long distance endurance and cardio.  In fact, often times I advise people AGAINST running or doing cardio in favor of free weights and interval training if they’re just getting started.

If your benchmarks are different then mine, and you have no desire to strength train, or you want to run long distances, or you just want to stretch and become really flexible, this is my advice to you:

Are you happy?  Are you healthy?  Do you look good naked?  If you can say yes to those things, then KEEP DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING – IT’S WORKING!

In my opinion, I’ve tried to come up with methods that have the best chance of success in the widest range of people for happiness, health, and good looks.  In my opinion, that answer is strength training, functional happy exercise, and clean eating.

If somebody comes to me and wants to look better and feel better about themselves, that’s the protocol I start with because I know how successful it can be.  Whether they need to lose a LOT of weight (like 128 pounds in 10 months), get down to less than 10% body fat, or get stronger and feel better in a bathing suit, I believe that they’ll have the best chance of doing so and maintaining success and momentum with quick powerful workouts that give them enough time to live the rest of their life.

Now, can people get these results with 5-10+ hours of steady cardio every week?  It’s certainly possible (if combined with a clean diet), but other than cardiovascular health no functional strength is being created.  Take the person who passes the NF benchmarks listed and they are prepared for  anything and everything, including running if necessary.

Many people get started with fitness and then decide to specialize into other things: marathons, strength competitions, and so on.  That is awesome!  If you’ve found something you love that makes you happy and keeps you healthy and you want to get better at that one thing – keep doing it.

Regardless of what you read here, my goal is to get you excited about exercising and thinking about your future.  My advice is to train like the people you want to look like and be like:

  • Want to look and run like a marathon runner?  Train and eat like a marathon runner!
  • Want to look and be strong like a world’s strongest man competitor?  Eat and train like a worlds strongest man competitor!
  • Want to look and feel like one of the actors from 300?  Eat and train like the actors from 300!

The Nerd Fitness Diet Philosophy

This is and will always be a controversial topic in the exercising world: “What should I eat?”

In this blogger’s humble opinion, the most optimal way of eating for the typical, average, overweight sedentary person (Mr. Joe Average) is closely in line with the Paleo diet.  From a scientific, evolutionary, biological, and logical point of view, it’s the diet that makes the most sense to me.

It’s also the diet that I’ve seen cause the most drastic physical and medical changes in people, along with creating some of the most impressive physiques in people of all ages.  I believe a cleaned-up diet can help fix a lot of internal issues that people have and can keep them out of the hospital and off medication.

If you have 17 minutes on your lunch break today, watch this absolutely fascinating video on Dr. Terry Wahls’s experience and dramatic transformation (including the reversal of MS) by changing her diet:


Dr Terry Wahls Video

Yes, I understand that this is one woman who could very well be a statistical anomaly, and I’m sure there are just as many videos out there from people who go raw vegan or vegetarian and see equally drastic changes.  I’m not presenting this as proof that Paleo cures all (I’m sure I could track down a video of somebody who had similar results making vastly different dietary changes), but just that I found it to be a really fascinating video, coming from a respected source who knows her stuff, and is encouraging people to eat more natural foods – something I’m all for.

This is not to say that the Paleo Diet is the BEST DIET EVARRRR without a doubt, but rather then one I’ve found lines up with my philosophies and produces results.

Now, I understand that everybody is different and everybody has different genetics, family history, metabolisms, personal beliefs, etc …so not every diet will work for everybody.  It’s why some people can eat whatever they want and not put on weight, others can pack on muscle while eating just rice and grain and LOOKING at a set of weights, why some people struggle with weight loss, why some people are lactose intolerant and others can consume dairy without issue.

The only person that will know the best diet for you is YOU.

I get emails every single day from people who say things like “Steve, I’d like to try this Paleo diet but I’m afraid about giving up _____________” or “I’m a vegetarian, can I still do this diet?”

I also get lots of emails from people who are curious about what diet is the “best optimal diet.”  Let’s be honest, for every person whose life has changed by cutting out grains and lifting weights, there are as many people whose lives have changed by running marathons and cutting out meat.

For every Primal Blueprint and Good Calories Bad Calories, there’s a China Study.

(steve’s note:  I’ve read the China Study, and after doing my research, I still stand in the Paleo camp.  here’s the best critique of the China Study I’ve found – warning: it is extensive.)

I can’t tell you what diet is best for you personally – the best I can do is get you to open your mind and start putting thought into the food that fuels your body.  I believe the Paleo diet is the best option, but I encourage you to question, test, and decide what diet works best for you:

  • If eating 30 bananas a day makes you happy, your doctor gives you a clean bill of health, you look good naked, and pass your own personal fitness benchmarks, more power to you!  That is awesome.
  • If you don’t want to eat meat for whatever reason, don’t!  If you are happy and healthy and like what you look like, clearly whatever you’re doing is working for you – KEEP DOING THAT!
  • If the concept of the Paleo diet sounds miserable to you, don’t do it!  If you look in the mirror and like what you see, if you are strong and can move and your doctor says you’re healthy, stick with what’s working.
  • If you want to count calories and eat whatever you want, DO IT!  Do you like your body, do you have enough energy to get through the day, and does your doctor say “Keep it up!”?  If so, don’t change a damn thing.

Regardless of what you end up eating, I hope it’s less processed stuff, more healthy stuff, and you think about what goes into your system.  Don’t worry if a particular food is Paleo or not if you enjoy it.  Eat it in moderation, and live a little.

We don’t get extra lives or continues in real life, right?

How Nerd Fitness Can Help

If you’re here on Nerd Fitness because one or two or three of those goals (health, happiness, looking good naked) above have thus eluded you…how can I help?

My goal, no matter what reason got them to NF, is to have them feeling great about all three concepts:

I understand that Nerd Fitness won’t be right for everybody…that my training and diet philosophies might not line up with somebody else’s core beliefs.  THAT’S OKAY.

At the end of the day, I hope Nerd Fitness accomplishes two goals for everybody that reads it:

  • They take a more active approach into what they’re eating rather than going to the nearest drive up window.
  • They get off their asses and find an activity that makes them happy.

Pick the stuff that works for ya, ignore the stuff that doesn’t, and level up your life in the best way that works for you.

Decide what’s important

As you’re reading through Nerd Fitness, I want you to decide what’s most important to you.

If you’re happy with looking pretty damn good and being in pretty darn good shape (and 99% of people will), then your happiness will come from finding a balance in work, diet, and fitness.

Personally, I’m content with “pretty good” on almost everything – I’m pretty close on all the benchmarks listed above, but I also enjoy beer, Chipotle burritos, chips and guacamole, a bowls of cereal, and video games – I keep my intake of this stuff to a minimum, but I certainly don’t cut it out of my life.  I know I could be stronger, bigger, and more ripped if I spent more time in the gym, but I’m really happy with exercising 3-4 times a week for 45 minutes at a time and still haven’t plenty of time left over to live my life.

That’s what works for me.

For the past few weeks, I’ve gone full Paleo and increased my workout frequency in a quest to see how ripped I can get (yup, 100% vain…sue me) for the Rock Boat next week (yes, it’s working)...but after I get off that boat I’m going to mix back in some unhealthy foods occasionally and scale back my workouts and not feel bad about it…because I’ll have balance and sanity.

I need you decide what’s important to you, and what level of dedication you can commit to: do you need to get to 5% bodyfat?  Do you need to be able to deadlift 700 pounds?  If either of those things are your goals – that’s awesome, and I hope I can help get you there.

But for most people, looking pretty good and feeling pretty good is the goal (myself included).  For those people I encourage steps in the right direction, and changes that they can live with permanently.  Don’t worry about the tiny details or how many reps or sets or if one meal is going to destroy you…just get started, and make adjustments along the way.

If you want to try eating 50% paleo (every other meal), or 80% paleo (most meals), or not at all…awesome.  If your body is changing in a positive way, if your doctor sees proper improvements, and if your strength is increasing…keep doing that.  Make adjustments when you level out or start heading in the wrong direction.

When people who email me that want to change their life but refuse to make any actual changes (and there are plenty of them)…if what they were doing was already working, they’d already be where they want to be.  However, because they’re not there, something they’re doing/not doing isn’t working, so it’s time to make some changes.  I can offer up advice based on what I think is best, but it’s up for that person to decide what works and doesn’t work for them.

Decide what kind of life you want, and how hard you’re willing to get there.  Then, put steps in place to get a little bit closer each day.

My pledge to you

Nerd Fitness is as much a fitness site to help others live better lives as it is a site to help me level up my own life (literally).

I promise you that I will continue to do my best to present you with the best information in the most easily-digestable way possible.

If there are controversial issues, I’ll do my best to explain both sides of the story and cite as many sources as possible, but I WILL give my personal opinion in case people are curious about my thoughts.  I’m not saying my opinions are facts or rules above all else, just one guy who did some research and experiments…nothing more.

I’d like to think that Nerd Fitness that can be a home for everybody, but we know that’s not true – trying to please everybody is a great way to help nobody.

Nerd Fitness is for folks that question everything (it says so in our rules).

I can’t promise that I won’t make mistakes or change my mind (go back and read some of the EARLIEST NF articles from 3 years ago and you’ll find stuff that’s different than what I present today).

I can’t promise you that what I’m saying today will be true three years from now…or even three months from now – new studies, books, resources, and experiments are happening daily and I can’t wait to analyze them.

What I CAN promise is that I’ll present the best advice I can with the information, experience, and resources at my disposal, in the funniest and most enjoyable way possible with Lego illustrations, provide my personal opinion in case you’re interested on this nerdy blogger’s thoughts, and encourage you to try new things, track your results, and make your own conclusions.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with my personal diet and fitness philosophies, I hope Nerd Fitness can be a home for you to challenge conventional wisdom, take a more active approach into how you fuel your body and what makes you happy, and level up your life.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

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