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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Here are some other popular posts you might like:
- Become a Jedi: Learn the Ways of the Force
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- The Definitive Guide to Hacking Into the Matrix – Are You the One?
- Is Barefoot Running Really Better For You?
- How to NOT Suck at Working Out