Happy 4th of July Weekend!

I’m off to the gym this morning to try the 300 challenge for the 2nd time, and then I plan on spending the rest of the afternoon in a tube floating down the Chattahoochee River.

Hope you all have a great weekend, and I want to leave you with one of the funniest, most random Simpsons clip in history:


Simpsons Clip

USA! USA!

-Steve

An Open Letter to the United States of America

captain_america-thumb-400x546Dear United States of America:

Congratulations on your upcoming 233rd birthday!  Unfortunately, the celebration must be short-lived, because I’m here to warn you about a threat to our nation that is greater than any we have faced in the past.  Yesterday, it was reported that this enemy has infiltrated and infected over 1/3rd of our population and it’s numbers continue to grow every day.  I am not talking about a supernatural biological weapon.  I am talking about a disease that is 100% preventable: obesity.

Right now, our economy is in the gutter, 10% of our workforce is unemployed, 200 million of us are overweight, and in some states almost half of our children are considered obese. I love this country with all of my heart, but we have GOT to turn things around.  We may be down but we’re not out, damnit.  Today is a new day, and we can start making that change right now.

We are better than this! I know it, you know it, even Captain America knows it.  If you’re overweight right now, it probably seems like a lost cause to you.  This attitude will get you nowhere, which I’m sure you’ve heard millions of times before.  What makes this time different?  I’m going to help you.  All I ask is that you take responsibility for yourself, take control of your life, and stay on target.

It’s never too late to change.  It will require hard work, sacrifice, determination, and sheer will-power.  If you are really interested in turning your life around, email me at steve@nerdfitness.com and I’ll gladly get you started down the right path if you’re willing to work for it.  I want to help.

If you’re already in shape, please me help out and lead by example. Continue to eat right and exercise, and work on getting others to join you.  If you have loved ones in your family who are overweight, tell them that you’re worried.  Help them help themselves.  Show them how to eat healthy.  Take them with you to the gym.  Ask them every single day how they’re doing.  Just let them know you care!

I love this country, and I want to us to be the standard upon which all others are judged. If we want to be considered a shining beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, why not be a shining beacon of long life, prosperity, and healthy living too?

On Christmas Day 1776, George Washington and his troops gathered on the shores of the frozen Delaware River and exchanged this password: “victory or death.”  233 years later, the same belief holds true: victory over obesity or death.  This 4th of July, celebrate your independence from an unhealthy lifestyle.  Start to make changes that will increase your quality of life.  Ask your friends for help, and help those in need.  This is a battle we can win if we work together.

Are you in?

-Steve

Protein Shakes for Newbies: What to Buy & When to Drink

“Protein shakes make you bigger and stronger. Buy our super secret formula for max results!” 

That’s what every magazine ad and supplement company will tell you about their protein powder.

You’re reading this article because you want to learn more about protein shakes:

  • Can they help me build muscle? I’m a skinny dude.
  • Can they help me lose fat? I’m an overweight male/female.
  • Are they a waste of money? Are certain brands better than others?

Regardless of what you’ve heard about protein shakes, I wanted to set the record straight and help you get started with drinking them, including what to buy and when to drink them!

I’ve been drinking them off and on for the past 15 years, and have tried pretty much every flavor and type under the sun.

A quick note: protein shakes are a tiny piece of the puzzle. You ALSO need to train properly and eat right to get the results you’re after. For that reason, we created a ton of free resources here at Nerd Fitness to help you start reaching your goals:

  • Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know
  • Skinny Nerd Bulk Up Cheat Sheet and Shopping List

Grab both guides (along with another half-dozen free bonuses) when you Join the Rebellion and put your email in the box below. I’ll send the guides over right away so you can start getting results from your hard work!

What You Need to Know About Protein Supplements

A protein supplement should supplement a healthy diet.

This means that whenever possible, you should aim to get your daily protein intake from actual food sources:

Chicken, steak, burgers, almonds, peanuts, eggs, fish, milk, etc.

Now, depending on how much food you are looking to eat every day (or if you are a skinny nerd that needs to bulk up), eating all of that food can get expensive.

In addition to that, constantly prepping and eating and cleaning up a ton of meals can be a a pain in the ass, which is where protein shakes come in! I’m no dietitian or bodybuilder, so the advice below comes from personal experience and suggestions from respected people that I trust.

Things to keep in mind when buying, which is this nerd’s humble opinion:

  • To start out, buy 100% whey protein. There are other kinds of protein powders that I’ll go into on another post – egg protein, hemp protein, etc. For now, keep it simple and basic and look for something that says “100% Whey on it”
  • When buying protein powders, you want to try and buy a product with minimal other ‘stuff.’ Low carbs, low sugar, low sodium, low calories, low fat, etc. If you go into a vitamin or nutrition store, always check the label before buying.
  • Pick a flavor that you like! Protein powders generally come in a few flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc.
  • If you’re a picky eater, buy a few single servings before you invest in a 3 month supply of protein powder.
  • Like the flavor? Buy in bulk when possible. Many places online will offer free shipping on orders over $x amount. If you’re serious about fitness and think you’ll be drinking shakes for the foreseeable future, buy a few tubs at once and save on shipping.

If you’re somebody that just wants to be told WHAT to buy, you can see my two preferred choices from the past decade here:

  • Jay Robb’s Grassfed Whey Protein: my current favorite and absolutely delicious (I go with Vanilla)…but expensive. This comes from grass-fed cows, and thus is much more difficult to come by. I find it to be the best blending option in my powerbomb smoothies
  • Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein: former favorite and the whey I used for years. Optimum nutrition is known in the fitness space, and I’ve used their product for close to a decade without issue. If you are on a tighter budget and can’t afford grassfed whey protein, go with Optimum Nutrition.

The grass fed whey is significantly more expensive than the Optimum Nutrition option, but I found both to be delicious, full of protein, and helpful for me to reach my protein numbers each day. As I said above, your protein supplement should be PART of a healthy diet.

Just drinking a protein shake while eating like crap will not get you the results you’re after. You need to be eating well, following a strength training routine, and focused on making progress!

If you feel lost with your workouts or are not sure what to do with your diet, download our free guides when you sign up in the box below and you can stop worrying and start making progress TODAY:

HOw Much Protein DO I need Every Day?

Despite what advertisements for protein supplements will tell you, you do not need to be eating hundreds of grams of protein every day.

They like to tell you this so that you use their supplement faster and need to buy more!

Although there’s no exact science to it, and everybody is a unique snowflake, we like to keep it simple here at Nerd Fitness.

Claims for the amount of protein needed vary wildly from source to source (and athlete to athlete).

Personally, I have found that 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight (2 grams per lean body weight of kg) works for most people. If you’re not interested in figuring out your body fat percentage to determine your lean body weight, that’s okay too.

Just keep it very simple:

Eating 0.8 grams of protein per pound of total body weight, or 1.6 grams of protein per kg. Done.

Note that your protein is just a portion of a healthy diet! You should be filling up your stomach with nutritious foods like vegetables, high quality, and healthy fats. Read more about healthy eating here.

What to mix it with?

Personal experience: the side of the label tells you to mix one scoop in 8 oz of water and it “mixes well and tastes great!”

I don’t know about the chocolate version, but the vanilla/strawberry powder mixed in just water isn’t great, though it’s manageable. I find it to be better when mixed with a blender than a shaker bottle, but do what you can.

Instead, I mix one scoop in with 8+ oz of whole milk or almond milk.

Want some variety? Add bananas, strawberries, blueberries, peanut butter, almond milk, etc.  Try different combinations and find something that you actually like.  If you can choke down straight water & protein powder, you are a stronger man than I.

What to mix it in? For over a decade, I simply used a cheap blender like this on Amazon!

Depending on your budget, you can also go to your local Walmart, Target, Kroger, Publix, Sam’s Club, Stop & Shop, etc. and buy a blender for 20 bucks.

I will say that as I got older and had more disposable income I have become a Vitamix fanboy. They are expensive, sure…but you get what you pay for. I’ve probably burned the motors out of 10+ cheap blenders, and since switching to a Vitamix it’s been crushing my powerbomb shake ingredients twice a day in seconds.

If you have the money, it’s worth the investment. 

Your other option is to buy a cheap shaker, which has a spoke-type thing in it to break up the powder when you mix it in with milk, water, OJ, whatever.  Personally, I’ve found that these things don’t work nearly as well as a blender. You could shake a mixer for 3 minutes and it still won’t be as good of a blend as 15 seconds on a blender.

Note: if you are using a shaker bottle, pour the water in first, THEN add the protein shake!

When to drink them?

In my opinion, from my experience, and in my research, I believe the most important time to drink a shake is right after you strength train whenever possible.

This is when your muscles have been broken down from exercising and in desperate need of protein to rebuild. If you can eat a nutritious meal following your workout, even better. If not, or if your stomach gets upset when eating after a workout, consider a protein supplement or homemade protein smoothie to get your body the nutrients it needs!

Looking to build muscle? Read thisIf you’re a skinny guy trying to gain muscle, you’re going to be eating a lot of calories and want to target closer to 1 gram of protein per pound of total body weight every day. Adjust this based on your progress, metabolism, etc.

A quick note here: all the protein shakes in the world won’t help you get bigger and stronger if you’re not eating enough total calories every day – I spent 5 years strength training and drinking protein shakes and didn’t put on a pound of muscle. It’s because I didn’t have a good workout plan to follow, and I didn’t eat enough calories every day.

If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough.

Struggling to eat enough calories every day? Consider making my powerbomb shake that I consume after I work out (note, you’ll need a powerful blender to make this, it’s a LOT for a cheap blender to process and will most likely burn out the motor):

STEVE’S POWERBOMB SHAKE

  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1.5 cups of quaker oats
  • 1.5 scoops of whey protein
  • 1 cup of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup of frozen berries

Adjust the ingredients based on your goals, how many calories you need to consume each day, and make it work for you!

Remember, none of the above will matter if you’re not also following a great strength training routine!

If you’re just getting started and need a workout plan to follow, download our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, and our Skinny Nerd Bulk Up Cheat Sheet when you sign up in the box below:

Protein Recap

Protein supplements should SUPPLEMENT a healthy diet, not replace it.

My recommendation is to buy a tub of Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein online if you’re on a tighter budget, in whatever flavor you like.

If you have more money, consider the Jay Robb’s Grassfed Whey Protein (my favorite).

Consider mixing in a protein shake after your workout, for sure, and then whenever you’re in between meals and in need of protein.

Think of a shake as a way to get good protein when you can’t afford/don’t have time to make a good meal.

A cheap blender will suffice if you don’t have other options, but if you have more of a budget I would recommend getting a Vitamix – you’ll have it for the next 30 years.

Hopefully this should get you started! Feel free to try out different flavors and combinations of ingredients in your smoothies to make them something you actually look forward to!

-Steve

photo credit: kidmissile Am I Doing It Right?! via photopin (license)

Tabata Part 2: Ultimate Exercises in only 4 Minutes

Yesterday we went over the Tabata Protocol, an exercise method that only lasts four minutes but can do more for your aerobic (and anaerobic capacity) than 60 minutes of cardio.  Don’t think it’s just limited to running and biking however; you can do other exercises that will work your full body and leave you crying on the floor like a baby when you’re done, and I mean that in the best way possible.  Here are some other exercises that will work burn major calories and kick your ass, while also improving your endurance, strength, and ability to operate at maximum capacity for longer periods of time.

  • Squat Thrusters – If you have a set of dumbbells, hold them up at your shoulders, do a squat, and then when you stand up thrust your shoulders up and do a shoulder press.  Your goal is to do as many reps as possible (with good form) in the 20 seconds.  Keep the weights right next to you so you keep your rest period to exactly 10 seconds.  Stand by a clock or keep a stop watch handy.  Here’s a handy video to show good form on Squat Thrusters:

    Dumbbell Thrusters
  • Jump Rope – After you read last week’s article on jumping rope, maybe you want to mix it in here with some Tabata.  Next time you’re watching Arrested Development reruns, see what you can get done during the 4 minute commercial break.
  • Push Ups – Don’t go for a specific number, just try and do as many push ups as possible in the 20 seconds for each interval.  Remember to work on good form, and write down the number of reps you do in each set.
  • Burpees – Funny name for an ass-kicking exercise.  Stand up, then squat down, kick your legs out, do a push up, bring your legs back in, and explode up into a jump.  Here’s a video showing the exercise in action:

    Burpees
  • Pull Ups – This will test your back, biceps and forearms to the limit.  Pull ups are my favorite exercise.

These are just a few examples.  Concentrate on exercises that work your whole body, that you can do safely but at maximum effort.  The great thing about Tabata is you can always improve.  If you did 10 burpees per segment last week, this week go for 11.  The better you get, the more reps you’ll be able to do in each 20-second set.  Always get stronger and faster.

Want to see some crazy Tabata in action? Check out this CrossFit workout in Oahu, where people did 8 rounds of Squats, Push-ups, Sit-ups, and Pull ups.  Technically it’s only 16 minutes of exercise, but look at these guys by the end of it.  That’s how I want to feel when I’m done exercising.  What did you accomplish in the last 16 minutes?


Oahu Tabata Exercise

What can you accomplish in 4 minutes?

-Steve

Tabata Training: The Most Efficient 4 Minutes of Your Life

Warning: This article deals with a highly advanced exercise routine.  Attempt at your own risk, and make sure you’re physically fit enough to do so.

Jamaica Internationa Invitational MeetThere are hundreds of websites, workout DVDs, and equipment that claim to make you lose 20 lbs, build rock-hard muscles, and look like Hercules in just a few minutes a day.  They’re all full of crap…or so I thought.  It turns out one method ACTUALLY WORKS: Tabata.

Developed by Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Tabata is a method of exercise that lasts only 4 minutes long but absolutely kicks your ass.  Here’s what you do: pick an activity and go all-out for 20 seconds, and then rest for 10 seconds.  Repeat this cycle 8 times straight for a total of 4 minutes.

Does it work?

Dr. Tabata took two groups of elite atheletes and put them through 6 weeks of training (5 days a week). Group 1 Ran 60 minutes a day at 70% capacity, while Group 2 did sprints in the Tabata principle (sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 10, sprint for 20, etc. for 4 minutes.  At the end of the 6 weeks:

  • Group 1 increased only their aerobic capacity (how long you can run) by 9.5% and anaerobic capacity (how long you can run at maximum effort) by 0%.
  • Group 2 increased their maximum aerobic capacity by 14% AND increased their maximum anaerobic capacity by 28%.

For more information on this study (that goes WAY more in depth), read this article.

Starting out?

You might think you can survive a measly 4 minutes; however, if you’re not in great shape, Tabata workouts are probably too intense.  If you’re just starting out with fitness and looking to work your way up to Tabata, start with regular interval training (explained in detail here) first until you’re ready.  Then, mix in some Tabata by starting with only 2 minutes of exercise (4 sets of intervals) and work your way up to 8.  Concentrate on safely going all out so you don’t pull a hamstring or hurt yourself.  Remember, this was developed for Olympians, and at the end of 4 minutes it left them lying on the floor.  It will take both physical and mental strength to get through these routines on a consistent basis.  Mind of matter!

Which exercises should I do?

Start with a 5 minute warm-up to get your heart pumping and loosen up your muscles.  Always end with a 5 minute cool down/stretch to bring yourself back down to earth.  You want to try and pick exercises that recruit the most muscles possible for maximum fat burning:

  • Sprints – Simple enough.  Sprint for 20 seconds, rest for 10. Sprint for 20, rest for 10.  This is tough to do without a partner yelling out your times to you.  I run with a stop watch with big numbers and glance at it around 20 seconds to make sure I stay on time.
  • Elliptical Machine – Less wear and tear on your joints, but tougher to go “all out” because it can only go so fast.  Crank the resistance all the way up if you can handle it.
  • Rowing Machine – Ow.  This will explain why guys that rowed Crew in college were freaking ripped.
  • Stationary Bike – It’s a bike.  Pedal like hell.

If you can, have a friend help you for the 4 minutes to both motivate you and keep track of time.  Tomorrow morning will be my first attempt

-Steve

Jumping Rope – Not Just for 8 Year-Old Girls Anymore!

When was the last time you jumped rope?

When you were seven in in Mr. Whathisface’s P.E. class, right?  You probably had fun, you probably wiped out once or twice, and wacked yourself in the back of the head with the rope.  I’m telling you to bring it back, son!  In any boxing gym around the world, you’ll notice jacked guys with zero body fat beating the **** out of each other, beating the **** out of a punching bag, and jumping rope.  Why jump rope?  Because it enhances coordination and builds stamina.  As a boxer, you need to be both light on your feet, coordinated, and have enough endurance to go 15 rounds.  I just bought myself one and it’s kicking my ass.  My calves hate me.  I love it.

Here’s some tips on getting started:

  • Find a surface with some give. Don’t jump on concrete if you can avoid it, because you’ll be jumping up and down repeatedly which could cause wear and tear on your joints.  On a mat or carpet is best.
  • Pick a good rope! Don’t go for the 3 dollar Dora the Explorer rope at CVS, but don’t worry about buying the gold plated one with diamond bearings either.  Find one that’s between 10 and 20 bucks with some weight to it.  If you buy one that’s too light you’ll have trouble whipping it around because it just doesn’t have enough momentum from being so light.  Any sporting good store, or even Target’s sporting good section should have one.
  • Pick the right length: step right on the center of the rope and bring both handles up to our chest.  The handles should be chest-high.
  • Wear sneakers. Don’t jump rope barefoot…same issue as with jumping on concrete.  Wear good sneakers, jump on a mat or carpet and you’ll be good to go.
  • When you jump, keep your hands down by your waist and arms out to the side. Don’t swing your arms, the movement should be all in the wrist.  Working on jumping really low to the ground rapidly.  Try jumping one foot, try crossing your arms, try jumping forwards and backwards.  More of a challenge?  Try to jump and swing the rope around you twice before landing.

I’m a big fan of interval training, and I apply that to jumping rope as well. Try jumping as quickly as possible for 30 seconds followed by 90 seconds of relaxed jumping.  Then do another 30 seconds of fast jumps and 90 seconds of slow jumps.  Try to keep this up for 20 minutes and let me know how your calves feel the next morning.

I’d go into all the benefits of jumping rope but I’d just be wasting your time.  It’s physical activity, and if you do it long enough you will lose weight (considering you have a decent diet).  A guy weighing 180 lbs can burn 800 calories an hour with jumping rope.  Personally I’d get bored way before an hour, but good for that guy!  My recommendation: if your house is big enough, jump rope during a TV show (doing intervals) and you’ll be well on your way to elite status.  Jump rope between sets at the gym and see if you can make it through a full workout.  Build up your stamina, get coordinated, and burn fat.

Still not convinced? Well, Rocky Balboa jumps rope, and he single-handedly took on Communist Russia with his fists and WON. What more proof do you need!  “If I can change, and you can change…then everybody can change!”  If this doesn’t get you motivated, you’re dead to me:


Rocky IV Training Montage

If you’re looking to mix it up, go get yourself a jump rope and see what you’re missing. 

DRAGOOOOOOOOOOOO!

-Steve

Parkour and Free Running – Beyond Badass

Do you remember the opening sequence of Casino Royale, where Bond is chasing a man through Africa, and the bad guy jumps through cars, over buildings, under dump trucks in one fluid motion.  Almost doesn’t seem real, does it?  Well sucka, it is real.  It’s called Parkour, and it will blow your mind.

Parkour, according to Wikipedia, is defined as “a discipline with the aim of moving from one point to another as smoothly, efficiently, and quickly as possible using principally the abilities of the human body.” The idea is to look at obstacles and devise a plan to run full speed through/over/under these obstacles in the most efficient (and artistically kick-ass) way possible.  The activity that eventually become “Parkour” was created by a French naval officer named Georges Hébert back in the early 20th century, but it didn’t evolve into what it is today until David Belle took the concept and “ran” with it in the late 1990’s (get it, “ran”?! ZING!).  The background story and history is actually really cool; I could spend 2000 words explaining it, or I can just direct you to Wikipedia which will do a much better job.

This whole Parkour thing is said to be a state of mind rather than a series of actions, concentrating on efficiency and speed to conquer an obstacle. Now, there is a similar activity called Free Running, which was derived from Parkour but features more acrobatic (and less efficient) maneuvers.  Alright, enough word, let’s see it action.  Here’s a video from a French movie with three minutes of awesome Parkour, followed by a real life video of two brothers doing some free running:


B13 Escape – Parkour!


Two Brothers Free Running

What does this have to do with fitness?  Look at these guys! They’re in great shape and can run full speed through dangerous environments.  Sure, you only see the videos of these guys succeeding, and not the ones where they go face first into a brick wall, but it’s a pretty sweet example of what human beings are truly capable of when it comes to physical excellence.

So you’re probably watching these videos and saying “wow these guys are awesome, but there’s no way I can do this stuff.” or “wow these guys are idiots they’ll be dead in six months.”  Luckily, Parkour and Free Running have become so popular that they’ve even made a videogame where you play as a Parkour expert.  EA’s Mirror’s Edge is a first person adventure that will have you flipping across rooftops, disarming agents (yup, just like in the Matrix), and running like a bat out of hell over and under everything.  I just beat this game last week and had an absolute blast with it.  The combat was kind of weak but when the game works, it feels amazing.  It’s only 30 bucks right now at Best Buy, making it a great bargain:


Mirror’s Edge

I realize for most of you this post will go into the “wishful thinking” category, which is fine. I’m definitely more an admirer of the sport/art than a wanna-be-participant as well.  If you ARE interested in learning more about Parkour, check out LearnParkour.com and their tutorial movies on how to get started.  You’ll be able to pull off some of these moves without hurting yourself too badly (except for maybe the wall flip, yikes), and it will also give you a great workout…if you can stay out of the hospital.

Moral of the story: here’s another example of a group of people in great physical shape who probably never step inside a gym; they’re too busy flipping off of walls, hurdling large obstacles, and sprinting through urban landscapes.

Sounds pretty sweet to me.

-Steve

Nerd Fitness: Make Sure You’re Here for the Right Reasons

This past week was the busiest week in the history of Nerd Fitness!

This makes me happy; not because the numbers are up, but because there are more people interested with getting in shape.  With traffic increasing and new people stumbling across the site each day, I just want to make sure everybody is here for the right reasons.

First and foremost: I’m no bodybuilder.  I have no desire to be a bodybuilder.  I don’t even want to look like a bodybuilder!  I don’t have extensive knowledge of every supplement out there, and I don’t have time to spend three hours in the gym every day.  There are certainly plenty of sites out there dedicated to bodybuilders and how to become one; if that’s your passion you can find all the information you need there.  Some of the posts here might help you, but most will be too basic for you and you’ll want to find more hardcore instruction elsewhere (which is fine).

If you want to get skinny quick or get huge quick, this isn’t the site for you. Any site that promises fast results for only five payments of $59.99 is only after your money and will make these promises to get you to impulse-buy their product.  Life doesn’t work this way, and neither does fitness.  There’s no miracle plan: it takes hard work, strong will, and determination.

If you want controversial diet suggestions, three- hour gym routines, and advice on which crazy supplements will cut corners for you, this site isn’t for you. I don’t take a lot of supplements, I try to get in and out of the gym as quickly as possible, and I won’t promote a diet or practice unless it’s something I’ve actually done myself or has been proven by scientific research.

I have a full time job, I have a great group of friends, I have a lot of hobbies and passions, and I have this blog.  I’m really just a guy who wants to stay in shape and help others do the same.

Let me tell you what Nerd Fitness is:

  • A site for people who want to get in shape but don’t know where to begin.
  • A site for people already in shape who want to better themselves in all aspects of life.
  • A site for people who don’t have all day to dedicate to fitness.
  • A site that preaches personal responsibility and accountability.
  • A site for those who want to get in shape the safe, fun, and healthy way.
  • A site for people who want to help others reach their goals.

There’s a lot of bad fitness sites out there, and a lot of sites that are only after your wallet.  Most of them look like terrible infomercials with unrealistic promises and “buy now!” schemes, followed by endless “but wait there’s more” pop up windows.  They drive me nuts, and make me think that the site could care less about me as a person.  I won’t make these promises because I know fitness isn’t an overnight success.   I take a lot of pride in being honest and having integrity; I won’t compromise either on this site because it’s not worth it to me.

What do you get out of this site? What do you want to get out of this site? Shoot me an email at steve@nerdfitness.com and let me know how I can help you.  As traffic picks up, it will certainly take longer to get back to my readers (due to also having the full time job), but I promise I’ll respond as quickly as possible with the level of attention you deserve.

Thanks for reading!

-Steve

Keeping Your Gym Routine Fresh and Fun

weightsAsk somebody in really good shape if they look at exercising as a chore.  They’ll tell you “it’s not something I do, it’s just a part of who I am.”

It’s a great feeling, and I want to help you get there.  I’m a firm believer that a person in great shape will go farther in life and have a better chance of being successful than somebody who doesn’t take care of himself.  Sure it’s probably not fair, but it’s certainly true; good looking people get more breaks!  Although you can’t control your genetics, you can certainly control the rest of it: look good, have more energy, and live longer.  These three things are yours for the taking if you’re willing to work for it.

Now, more important than how you look is how you feel. Sure, you could take tons of supplements and steroids and get really strong really quickly…but who knows what that will do to your life expectancy.  Or, you could just lift weights all day, get strong, and have NO endurance.  Instead, I try to promote efficient workouts that help you be well rounded and actually have some fun with it.  You won’t “look like a bodybuilder in just 12 weeks!” but you’ll have a level of fitness that’s sustainable, doesn’t take up your whole day, and won’t burn you out.

Let me take you through my current routine. Click on each of the links if you want a further explanation of what I’m doing on these days.

Week 1

Week 2

  • Monday: Full body Workout
  • Tuesday: 20 minutes of high intensity running
  • Wednesday: Circuit Training
  • Thursday: 20 minutes of high intensity running
  • Friday: Full body Workout #2

My routine is a combination of lean muscle building (full body workouts on Monday and Friday), endurance and fat burning (Circuit Training), and complete strength building (Olympic Lifting).  Each of these routines work my muscles in a different way, keeping them guessing and keeping me from getting bored.  If you do the same thing every single day, it can get boring very quickly and you’ll probably give up on yourself.  Also, your muscles can adjust and adapt when you do the same thing over and over, bringing you decreasing marginal returns.  By mixing up your routine, your muscles are getting stronger and bigger in different ways.  You know how you’re always told in business to diversify your portfolio?  Your body is no different.  Mix it up, have some fun, keep your muscles guessing, and you’ll be ready for anything and everything.

Now, this looks like a LOT of exercising and many of you are probably saying “I don’t have time for that amount of exercise.” Stop making excuses.  Each of my workouts (on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) are done in 45 minutes, and my runs on other days are done in 20 minutes.  Factor in travel time, stretching, etc., and I’m only exercising about 3.5 hours each week.  I guarantee the amount of time I spend exercising gives me enough energy to require 3.5 hours less sleep each week.  For those of you who say you don’t have time to exercise: look what you can accomplish in 30 minutes a day if you keep the intensity at 100% and really push yourself.  Efficiency is key.

To summarize: don’t concentrate on just strength, size, or endurance. Mix up your routine so you (and your muscles) don’t get bored, you get to have some fun, and you “diversify your portfolio.”

-Steve


Look Like Jamie Bamber in Battlestar Galactica

Alright Battlestar Galactica fans (and NF reader Mianbao), this one is for you.

So you want to look like Captain Lee “Apollo” Adama, huh?  Who doesn’t! The guy is a freaking machine.  Not only is he jacked and looks like he could rip your arms off and beat you with them wookie-style, he even has chest hair.  That’s right, chest hair, like a real man!

Let’s talk about Jamie Bamber and how he prepared for his role as captain on this TV show.  Unlike other superhero workouts (Ryan Reynolds in Blade 3, Gerard Butler in 300, etc.) Jamie couldn’t just get in shape for a two-hour movie and then slack off; he had an entire season for which he needed to stay in amazing shape (which is far more admirable and makes him a much better role model in my opinion).  Jamie had to develop a routine and diet that would allow him to sustain the look for most of the year because he was either in the middle of a season or getting ready for the next one.

Mindset

Normally I’d start with diet and exercise, but I wanted to make a special note of how Jamie would prepare for his role on BG every year.  Jamie told Men’s Health, “I’m freakishly competitive, so I set a date to achieve a certain weight or fitness….I have a tendency to punish myself in my workout, which is hard when you want to keep something up all year round.”  I love this guy!  Freakishly competitive, completely self-motivated, and kicks his ass in the gym without being asked.  This is the kind of guy that should serve as a role model to other people.  Instead of just going through the motions in the gym, Jamie would always set a goal for a specific goal weight or amount of strength he should have by a certain date.  Without that specific date ahead of him, he wouldn’t know what to aim for.

I strongly recommend you do the same; once you have your goal weight and date, tell EVERYBODY you know about it, hang up the date on your calendar, put it in your cubicle, post it on a blog, in your journal and then hold yourself accountable.

Jamie JackedI think another important thing that separates Jamie from the pretenders is that fitness is a way of life for him; it’s not an hour in the gym here, a meal there.  It’s just who he is and what he does.  After each season is done, Jame gives himself a break and takes a month or two off from his ridiculous pace in the gym and with his diet.  Why? It gives him something to aim for when he starts to get in shape again for the following season.  And ya know what?  He probably wants to live a normal life too, which is why he takes a break every once a while.  It allows him not to get burned out, and stay focused.  In the same Men’s health interview listed earlier, Jamie said, “I’m happiest when I’m really physically fit and I feel best about myself but there comes a boredom point where I just can’t sustain it.”  When the filming season is done, he takes a few weeks off, eats burgers and fries, lives his life however he wants, and then he jumps right back into fitness and gets back at it.

Diet

Diet is ALWAYS the most important reason for somebody’s physique.  If you see somebody with 4% body fat and ridiculous muscles, it’s because they workout AND eat right.  Let’s go through a typical day for Jamie according to what he told Men’s Health:

  • Breakfast – Oatmeal loaded with dried fruits, nuts, and dates
  • Lunch – Salad, cottage cheese and balsamic vinegar. Grilled chicken with salsa in a burrito
  • Snack – Plain yogurt with almonds, walnuts or pecans
  • Dinner – Grilled chicken, tuna, or other lean meats

As you can tell, it’s all good stuff: Oatmeal for good carbs, almonds and pecans for good fats, chicken and tuna for good protein.  Once again, if this seems like a boring diet, it’s because it is.  Although the interview doesn’t explicitly say it, I can guarantee there is more to this diet than Jamie lets on; I have to believe there is at least protein shake or bar here and there, and he probably eats the food listed above in mass quantities so that he has enough energy to get through a morning of weight lifting and an afternoon of running 8-10 miles.  If he ran 10 miles a day and worked out in the gym without eating a LOT of healthy calories, Jamie would be built like a marathon runner instead of what he looks like now.

  • Lots of good protein and complex carbs every two hours throughout the day.
  • Lots of good carbs in the morning to give him energy for his exercise and running.
  • Good fats that his body can also use for energy while running.
  • NO JUNK FOOD. NO SODA. Strict Diet.

If you think this is too much to handle, then you have to ask yourself how badly you want this physique.

Workout

Jamie is a big fan of both exercising and running, which allows him to stay both muscular and extremely lean. If you watch this video of Jamie, all he talks about is running, hiking, and tennis which is quite misleading.  This man obviously has spent considerable time in the gym as well, he just keeps extremely lean with the running.  If you’ll notice, he talks quite a bit about interval training, explained further below.


Jamie’s Men’s Health Interview Video

Weight lifting

1BSGbrC06Jamie works out in the mornings by himself with just his iPod.  When asked why he works out in the AM, he said, “I love the idea of the whole day being in front of you and not having to think about it — just getting up and going…I love the feeling of having that muscle burn.”  Let this be a lesson to you: just because you don’t have a work out partner or a personal trainer doesn’t mean you can’t look like a superhero.  Rule number 87: no excuses, play like a champion.

I also work out alone.  I put in my headphones, I keep my head down, and my do my thing.  I can’t tell you how important music is to me in the gym.  It allows me to block out all distractions, put on my favorite song, and use the motivation from the music to help me through the stronger lifts.  I’m convinced I can lift an extra 5 to 10 lbs each time because of a good song.

Unfortunately, Jamie’s specific routine is tough to find on the internet, so most of this will be estimated guess work and comparable routines from similar looking guys.  Now because Jamie works out alone, I’d guess he does a lot of work with dumbbells and free weights instead of a barbell and machines.  Dumbbells help recruit as many muscle fibers as possible in your body to both lift and lower the weight while keeping the weight balanced and steady throughout the exercise.

For gym exercises, Jamie most likely does a lot of complex lifts like incline dumbbell chest presses, squats, lunges, pull ups, deadlifts, and shoulder presses.

If you don’t have time to hit the gym 5 days a week (and most people don’t) I’d recommend instead doing a full body routine like this a few times a week.  Just make sure you keep the intensity up BIG time, keep the time between sets 60 seconds or less, and keep your range of repetitions between 6 and 12 to build maximum muscle size.

Running

Picture 3Interval training. Jamie loves it, I love it, you should learn to love it.  If you don’t know why intervals are so fantastic for building muscle and losing weight, read my article here.  Even though Jamie loves to run, he hates running on a treadmill: it’s way too boring!  Instead, he tries to run on open trails, along a river, on the beach, up some hills, etc.  He finds a great spot to run wherever he is to keep his body constantly guessing and his mind away from boredom.  He usually goes on an 8-10 mile run (NF note: damn Gina!), and will do different intervals throughout the run by picking a spot half a mile ahead, then sprinting 3/4ths of the way and then slowly jogging the final quarter to recover.  I think the most important thing is that he doesn’t put a lot of thought into it: no heart rate monitor, no timer to keep track of pace.  He just runs, sprints til he’s tired, jogs til he’s not tired, and then sprints again.  How does your effort in the gym or running compare?

To read more about Jamie’s running techniques, read this Men’s Health article here.

There you have it.  Jamie’s a machine when it comes to diet and fitness, so you should expect to be the same if you want to look like him.  I don’t think you need to run 10 miles a day and work out two hours every morning, but I think you need to be absolutely dedicated and competitive like Jamie if you want to get anywhere close to his physique.  Pick a date two months from now, set your goals, and then tell everybody about it.  Bust your ass to reach those goals, and keep yourself accountable. 

Eat right, lift heavy, run fast.

Who do you want to see in the next Superhero Workout?  Leave a comment on this blog or email me at steve@nerdfitness.com and I’ll do the research.

-Steve

Other posts in the Superhero series:

Circuit Training – Build Some Muscles, Burn Some Fat!

ist2_5614813-strong-manYesterday morning I did my first round of circuit training.

I’m in pretty good shape and have been lifting weights regularly for a few years, so I figured the routine would be a challenge but not too exhausting.  Fail. This thing kicked my ass.  For those of you looking to build lean muscle, cut some fat, and avoid boredom in the gym, here’s something that might catch your eye.  Want proof that it works?  Daniel Craig did two days of circuit training a week to prepare for Casino Royale.  Read about his full workout by clicking here.  My theory is this: if it’s good enough for 007, it’s good enough for me.

Sounds good right?  Alright, now let’s find out exactly what circuit training involves: essentially you’ll be doing one exercise per body part, in order, without stopping.  Then, once you’re all the way through a cycle, you do it again.  And then again.  3 full circuits without stopping.

This is what I did yesterday morning:

  • Squats – 12 reps
  • Lunges – 12 reps (if your legs are REALLY tired, doing squats and lunges could seriously hurt you if you’re not careful.  In this case I’d recommend doing some machine leg exercises (12 reps of leg extensions, 12 reps of leg curls, and 12 calf raises instead).
  • Incline Dumbbell Press – 12 reps
  • Assisted Pull Ups – 12 reps
  • Tricep Rope Pulldown – 12 reps
  • Barbell Bicep Curl – 12 reps
  • Lateral Shoulder Raise – 12 reps
  • Jump rope for 60 seconds or do 50 jumping jacks

And that’s 1 circuit. You will do each exercise, with perfect form, and then move onto the next exercise immediately.  You can only stop for water after you finish the circuit (after you jump rope or do your jumping jacks).  Now, I cut the amount of weight I can normally lift by 25%, and I still had to stop a few times to get through this loop of exercises 3 times.  If you can do it without stopping, you should be able to get through the routine in 30 minutes or less.

For Newbies: If you’re just starting out with fitness and trying to build muscle while losing fat, I’d recommend trying to get through one circuit, take a minute or two break, and then finish the rest of your routine normally.  So, you would go through the WHOLE circuit once, and then you’d do a set of squats, wait a minute, do another set of squats, then move onto a set of lunges, wait a minute, do another set of lunges, then onto the next exercise.  Build your way up to 3 full circuits, and work on getting through them without stopping.

Don’t have a gym membership? Try this modified circuit training routine using just your body weight  This is more of an aerobic workout compared to a strength building routine, but it get’s the job done if you don’t have any weights to use:

Circuit Training Video

The thing I love about circuit training is that there’s always room for improvement. You’re building muscles while also building up your stamina.  Circuits will help turn you into a MACHINE.  If you can do 3 circuits without stopping, add weight or try to do four circuits.  Either way, you should be able to walk out of that gym, in 30-40 minutes, drenched in sweat and exhausted.

A few tips and tricks:

  • If you’re going to do circuits, do them early in the morning or late at night.  Don’t be an ass and tie up every machine/bench in the gym when everybody is waiting to use them.
  • If you come back to a machine and somebody else is using it, don’t wait.  Pick a different exercise that works the same muscle!
  • Normally I recommend just free weights, but for circuits using certain machines is okay if you’re exhausted and worried about proper form.  When possible, stick with free weights though, you’ll get much more out of it.
  • Don’t do a full body circuit two days in a row.  I’d say start with doing it once a week (along with your normal weight training and exercise), but space them apart so you don’t work the same muscle two days straight.

Be like Bond, become a machine!

-Steve

The Grocery Store: What I Buy and How You Can Eat Better

Picture 1Your diet is at least 80% of your success/failure when it comes to getting in shape.

Muscles are made in the kitchen and not in the gym, so I wanted to do an article on what I buy at the grocery store.  I’m a picky eater, and I don’t have time to prepare extravagant meals all day long.

Between having a full time job, exercising, playing piano or the occasional video game, and running this blog, the amount of time I have to prepare, eat, and clean up six meals a day.  I checked my past receipts, and I realized that I’ve been buying the same thing over and over and over, so I wanted to pass along what I actually buy:

  • 3 Gallons of 1% Milk – I mix all of my shakes with milk, so I go through a LOT of this stuff.  I drink two Muscle Milk (Collegiate Edition) shakes a day, each with two cups of milk – one after I work out/for breakfast, and then another one in the afternoon between lunch and dinner.  Before I go to bed, I drink a protein shake mixed with one cup of milk.
  • 1 Bag of Romain Lettuce and Lite Caesar Dressing – Salad prepared in 30 seconds.  I’m not a big fan of salads but I know I need to eat them, so why waste more time preparing them than I need to?
  • Sarah Lee Whole Grain Wheat Bread and 2 Jars of Skippy Natural Peanut Butter. Peanut butter sandwiches, 2 a day. Carbs, protein, good fats.
  • 1 Bag of Tyson Chicken – Frozen Chicken Tenderloins – coat with Pam cooking spray, add some spices, stick in over on cookie sheet for 30 minutes.  Easy.
  • 1 Bag of Whole Wheat Tortillas (Cut up 4 chicken tenderloins, add some cheese, and bam you got yourself a 5 minute chicken quesadilla.
  • 1 Box of Boil-in-a-bag Brown Rice Packets. Good Carbs!
  • 2 Lbs of 90% Lean Ground Beef, 1 BIG Jar of Prego, 1 Box of Angel Hair Pasta (along with some spices, Worcestershire sauce, and Extra Virgin Olive Oil to make the spaghetti sauce).  I’ll write a blog soon on how I make a week’s worth of spaghetti.
  • Box of Granola Bars/Protein Bars – I eat these first thing in the morning when I’m going to work out before work.
  • Bag of apples, bag of raisins.  More fruit!

Notice anything missing? That’s right, there’s no junk food on this list!  If you don’t want to be tempted with eating it, don’t put it in your house.  No Oreos, no chocolate chip cookies, no Twinkies, no soda, no candy bars, etc.  I don’t have a lot of money, and I have to buy a LOT of food to eat 4000 calories a day, so every penny I spend needs to be good for me.

I realize I don’t eat 100% healthy foods and I certainly don’t eat enough vegetables, but I make sure I don’t eat any crap.  Also, I’m always trying to get better, making my trips to the grocery store a constant work in progress.  Over the past few year and a half I’ve made the transition from white rice to brown, white bread to wheat, and flour tortillas to whole wheat tortillas.  Each week I try to make one change or mix something up to make my meals even healthier.  I know I still don’t eat enough vegetables, I want to start eating more natural foods, etc.; I always try to be better.

I challenge you to do the same. Every time you go to the store, buy one less junk food item, buy one more healthy thing, or take something you normally buy and find a healthier version of it.

-Steve

Be Careful Where You Get Your Fitness Advice

SantaAerobicsEverybody in the world thinks they know best when it comes to fitness. Of course, like 90% of people have no idea what they’re talking about, so you need to be careful who you get your advice from or you could be either wasting your time or even hurting yourself without knowing it.  Here are a few examples:

  • In my gym, there is an aerobics instructor that teaches a full class of step aerobics. The guy teaches a class every night…AND HE HAS A HUGE GUT.  If I was interested in getting into shape, I certainly wouldn’t take a class from a guy that’s out of shape because clearly it’s not working.  Would you take personal trainer lessons from a guy that’s really out of shape?
  • I was doing dips the other day at the gym and some random dude came up to me to lecture on how I should be doing the exercise. He went on and on and on about how much farther I should drop my shoulders at the bottom.  After he left, I kept doing them the way I’ve always done them; why? because doing them his way would destroy my shoulders and possibly cause long term damage. Keep this in mind: just because a guy is giving you advice in the gym doesn’t mean he has ANY idea what he’s talking about.
  • Hydroxy-cut was recently pulled off the shelves because it apparently caused all kinds of liver problems for a small percent of its users. These products were on the market for over seven years before finally getting pulled off the shelf.  What products are out there today that will get pulled seven years from now for screwing up people’s insides?
  • Open a Muscle and Fitness magazine, and you’ll see ads for every supplement under the sun, pictures of body-builders, many of them probably on steroids, and routines that require you to spend 5 hours a day in the gym.  Unless you want to look like those guys, you’re not the target audience for the magazine and probably won’t get much from their advice.

If you’re just starting out with fitness, all of these issues with false information and false advertising can be intimidating.  Now, I’m not saying “only read Nerd Fitness and only get your advice from this site,” because there are still plenty of great sites/books/people out there who are full of great information.   I’m just saying be smart when you get advice from a source.  On Nerd Fitness, the advice and recommendations I give come from first hand experience.  I won’t endorse a product, routine, diet, supplement, or another website unless it’s something I’d use myself.  If I am endorsing something, it’s because I’ve done it and it works.

If you go to the gym, if you read a muscle magazine, if you hear through the grapevine about this amazing weight loss pill or miracle workout, do your research before you put all your eggs in that basket.  As with everything else in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I promise that I’ll continue to do my research before posting an article.  It’s very tough to find 100% reliable information out there, so shoot me an email at steve@nerdfitness.com if you come across something you’re considering but not sure about and I’ll give you a straight answer.  If I don’t know the answer right away, I’ll do the research to make sure you don’t waste your money on a crappy product or do serious damage to yourself.  Just know that the advice I give will always lean towards “better safe than sorry,” because I just don’t thinks health risks are worth the extra few pounds lost or muscle gained.

Life is too damn short. Why not have fun with fitness, be safe, and feel good about yourself?

-Steve

Oh Hai NerdFitness 2.0

Check out the new look!

I finally buckled down and got Nerd Fitness 2.0 off the ground. Sure most of the changes are cosmetic, but what’s wrong with looking good, right? Plus, now you can see my face on the home page, so you can tell who the hell is writing these things every day.

  • I added some survey functionality so I can add a poll at the end of posts to get your thoughts on the article.
  • For those of you on Twitter, it’s now really easy to tweet a post you like. Just click the retweet button at the bottom of the post and there you have it!
  • At the top of the page, I’ll be working on posting the best articles in each category, followed by a whole section just for newbies trying to get started.

I’ve finally recovered from the Olympic workout from last Thursday, so I’m ready to get back in the gym this morning and bust my ass.

Other than being freaking tired, it’s nice when you actually feel good on a Monday.

-Steve

Olympic Lifting – Run Faster and Jump Higher

Last night, my friend and mentor Mike Rickett was in town to teach some personal trainer certification classes, and asked if I’d be interested in working out with him while he’s in town.  Mike is the guy I go to with all of my fitness questions.  He has trained everybody from high school athletes to world-class Olympians, so I knew I was in for something that would kick my ass.  When he told me we were only going to do four exercises and be done in 25 minutes, I couldn’t wait to see what the hell we could do that would destroy me in such a short amount of time.  Welp, 25 minutes later, my shirt was drenched and sweat was literally pouring off my face in buckets.  What the heck did I do that has me sore all over today?  This is how sore I am; my forearms hurt every time I type word in this damn blog.

Olympic Lifting

To borrow from this Men’s Health article: “Olympic lifts, as they’re called, have no equal for developing speed, flexibility, and coordinated, total-body strength and muscle.”  Sounds good to me!  Also, Olympic lifters, on average, have the highest vertical leaps of all athletes.  Ever wanted to dunk a basketball?  This is what you need to be doing.  Every single muscle in your body will be worked to lift more weight than you’ve ever lifted, in a much quicker fashion.  Also, because you’re doing all of these exercises with such speed, you’re recruiting every Fast-Twitch muscle fiber, which has the greatest capacity for increased size and strength (you can read about fast twitch vs. slow twitch muscles here).  I have no desire to look like a heavyweight Olympic lifter, but the thought of lifting tons of weight, becoming more powerful, faster, stronger, and have the ability to jump much higher sounds freaking awesome.

The Routine

We did the Jerk, the Clean, the Snatch (stop laughing), and then the Clean and Jerk.  For almost all of these exercises I was just using the bar (45 lbs) because I wanted to make sure I could get the form down properly before attempting with serious weight.  Mike told me for some of these exercises it will take a good year before I have the form down perfectly.  I’ve never left a gym more excited or sweaty than last night.  I did 4 sets of each exercise, for a total of 8 reps.  I made sure to err on the side of caution by just doing exercises with the bar until I got the form down properly.

The Jerk, The Clean

These are generally done together for the “clean and jerk,” which is explained below, but the two movements that make them are called the clean (picking up the bar from the ground and bringing it up to your shoulders), and the the jerk (pressing the weight from your shoulders over your head).  Now, don’t think of these movements as just a dead lift, and then a shoulder press.  Speed and form are of the utmost importance in these exercises, allowing you to lift crazy amounts of weight in just a few seconds.  We warmed up with these to get my body used the movements so I could do the next two exercises (which are done in the Olympics).

The Snatch

Think of the snatch as a deadlift, barbell shrug, jump squat, and overhead squat, all done in one motion.  Sounds complicated?  It is, which is why you should watch the video below.  If you’re going to attempt this on your own, study this video over and over again and do it with a very light weight until you have the form down properly.  Keep your abs contracted the ENTIRE TIME so you don’t mess up your back.  A strong core is crucial.


The Snatch

The Clean and Jerk

This is another one of those exercises that works your entire body in just a matter of seconds.  Think of this one as a deadlift, upright row, front squat, and push press all done in a few seconds.  Also complex, so this video below is a great resource to show you how to complete one properly.  Sorry for the ads that show before the video, but it’s worth it:


The Clean and Jerk

After 4 sets of 8 reps for each exercise, I was exhausted and excited. After some dynamic stretching (an absolute must after lifting weights), I was ready to drink 8 gallons of water and eat an entire cow.  No wonder most Olympic lifters eat like 8000 calories a day and have probably 5% body fat.  I realize these are super advanced moves, and unless done with 100% proper form can result in serious injury, so attempt them at your own risk.  If you are interested in getting started with Olympic lifting, I’d recommend asking your gym if there is a coach in the area who can give you a lesson so you start out on the right path. If you’re worried about injury, follow this workout to get most of the benefits without the huge risk of messing up your body.  Stick with it, and eventually you might even be able to do something like this:


HUGE lift

I got a long way to go before I can lift like that guy, but you gotta start somewhere, right?

-Steve

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